Year: 2011

David Ehrenfeld

Five minutes of pure sanity

I can’t recall how I came across this wise Professor but it was in recent times.  Not going to say any more at this stage. Just watch the following.

There will be more from David Ehrenfeld over the coming weeks.

Humanity is on the march, earth itself is left behind.

David Ehrenfeld, The Arrogance of Humanism, 1978

The day after April 1st!

When it all gets real close and personal.

I have been a great fan of the BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, and read his Blog as often as I can.  Recently, the focus has been on Ireland.

A few days ago, before the announcement by the Irish premier and finance minister as to their vision for the future of Ireland’s banks, Robert penned a post that started as follows:

The unbelievable truth about Ireland and its banks
Ireland’s central bank and new government will confirm on Thursday that the hole in the country’s banks is even wider, deeper and darker than seemed to be the case last November, when those bust banks forced the country to go with a begging bowl to the eurozone’s rescue funds and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for 67.5bn euros (£59bn) of rescue loans.

That article then led me to Paul Mason, BBC Newsnight’s economics editor, who also writes a Blog.  He wrote on the 30th March,

A short summary of the Euro snafu that’s about to happen:

1) Tomorrow Ireland publishes the results of bank stress tests. It has to find – or the EU has to find – another E18-25bn to shore up its failing banks.

etc., etc.

Again, while the article is interesting, the whole point of this Post was one comment made to that Paul Mason piece.  Here it is,

At 00:47am on 31st Mar 2011, tawse57 wrote:

I am bored with all these posts about the economy now. Can we go back to cheese and crackers and the mysterious case of Paul Mason’s mobo contacts?

I was just talking with a 35 year old young man who is married and has a young child.

His wife, quite rightly, does not wish to move away from the place where she was born and brought up – Cornwall.

But he tells me that, despite almost saving £100,000 by putting in every hour they could in working and saving, that they stand no chance of ever owning their own home.

He says the house that he rents have asking prices of about £450,000 despite most of them just sitting on the market for years because no one, no one local anyhow, can afford them. What does sell goes to rich Londoners.

He is destined to pay out most of his wages in private landlord rents. He can’t get into a Council house or a Housing Association property because they either no longer exist or the waiting lists are measured in decades.

He is not prepared to have such a millstone of stress, worry and financial drain around his neck. It would kill him. I don’t blame him.

His story is one of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people in the UK today.

I mention this as the bank stress tests are directly connected with the massive credit bubble, much of it a housing bubble of liar loans, that brought the global economy to its knees, bankrupted banks and still threatens to bankrupt nations.

All of us on here know this. We are an enlightened bunch.

But I think it is worth remembering that the affects of the global credit binge are still directly affecting so many in this country.

The UK is almost alone in the World in not yet seeing a massive housing crash. The Government and the Bank of England have gone out of their way stop it happening in order to protect the banks who so stupidly, but also so greedily, loaned so many liar loans on bricks and mortar not in other countries but here in the UK.

Those UK banks that keep threatening to leave our shores are up to their eyeballs in global liar loans. You name a country in trouble and you can bet your bottom dollar, which might be the only thing most of us have left soon, that British banks are at the heart of it all.

It is long overdue that this giant house of cards came crashing down. It is long over-due that, as a Society, we cut out the cancer of dirty banks and dirty bankers from our lives and from these shores.

They are leeches on the souls of Men. Gosh, I am getting poetic in my anger. It must be that teaspoon of Jack Daniels I put in my midnight cocoa.

So what if the banks fail their stress tests today, next week or next year. It won’t make a squat of difference to that couple in Cornwall. It won’t make a squat of difference to most of us.

The worst thing that can happen is, as Alistair Darling so panicked, that the ATM machines run empty. Well, what would happen then? Would the sky fall in? Would us polite British all sit at home and do nothing.

Or would we take our cue from the Egyptians, the Tunisians and all the rest?

Perhaps what this country needs most of all is for another even bigger banking crisis? If it happens I think I would feel safer being one of the masses instead of one of the banking elite.

I do hope the banks fail the stress tests. I do hope it brings about another crisis. I do hope that, this time, the People say enough is enough and that this rotting cancer within Humanity is lanced with a fiery lancie thingy.

I could murder a bit of cheese on a nice cracker now.

Whoever you are tawse57, I like your style.  Very powerful words.

“It is error alone which needs the support of government.  Truth can stand by itself.”

~Thomas Jefferson (third President of the United States from 1801 to 1809)

April Fool!

If only it was all a giant spoof, a huge joke played on us all!

I was intrigued by a quick look-up on WikiPedia to see that the history of April 1st, as a day for foolish ideas, goes back a very long way.  Here’s a small extract from the relevant page on WikiPedia,

In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two<. Chaucer probably meant 32 days after March, i.e. May 2, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381. However, readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean “32nd of March,” i.e. 1st April. In Chaucer’s tale, the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox.

I mean wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a press release today from, say, Goldman Sachs, sort of along the following lines,

At Goldman Sachs, success without integrity is failure.

Goldman Sachs’ culture reflects more than a structure. It is a statement of values. Our commitment to integrity, teamwork, excellence, meritocracy and innovation enables us to build our relationships, with clients and with colleagues, on honesty and trust. It drives our ability to deliver extraordinary client service and to generate superior long-term financial performance for our shareholders. Our values inspire us to give back to the community through volunteerism, philanthropy, scholarships and outreach. Each of us in the firm takes pride in our role as a steward of the Goldman Sachs legacy. We understand that our assets are our people, capital and reputation. If any of these is ever diminished, the last is the most difficult to restore.

The above part is taken from the Goldman Sachs website.  Great stuff.  Let me see if I can add to that, in recognition of the date.

Since the publication in the Financial Times in August 2009 of an article referring to our reputation, from which is quoted, “In a survey of 17,000 Americans, Brand Asset Consulting found that Goldman’s stature – as measured by several gauges of brand strength – had suffered in 2008 and 2009.” the Board of Directors have this day resolved:

  • to ensure that no person in the company is paid more than 25 times the annual pay of the lowest worker
  • that the company shall end the practise of claiming tax favours for any form of executive compensation, including stock options
  • that the money saved from the previous two resolutions shall be paid into an industry-wide fund to support all those citizens that are homeless and destitute as a direct result of the global financial crisis of recent times.

There, isn’t that nice!


Time for a laugh!



Joseph Campbell interlude

Just ran out of time!

My apologies but events yesterday conspired to get in the way of me offering a more thoughtful article for today.  So I hope you will be happy with another video of Joseph Campbell.

For those wanting to explore more, this is the link to the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

Inside job

The shocking documentary film about the global financial crisis.

I’m sure many have already see the film Inside Job but we only watched it a few nights ago.  Here’s the trailer.

The film is also available to watch on Top Documentary Films and is summarised on that website thus:

As he did with the occupation of Iraq in No End in Sight, Charles Ferguson shines a light on the global financial crisis in Inside Job.

Accompanied by narration from Matt Damon, Ferguson begins and ends in Iceland, a flourishing country that gave American-style banking a try – and paid the price.

Then he looks at the spectacular rise and cataclysmic fall of deregulation in the United States. Unlike Alex Gibney’s fiscal films,Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Casino Jack, Ferguson builds his narrative around dozens of players, interviewing authors, bank managers, government ministers, and even a psychotherapist, who speaks to a culture that encourages Gordon Gekko-like behavior, but the number of those who declined to comment, like Alan Greenspan, is even larger.

Though the director isn’t as combative as Michael Moore, he asks tough questions and elicits squirms from several participants, notably former Treasury secretary David McCormick and Columbia dean Glenn Hubbard, George W. Bush’s economic adviser.

Their reactions are understandable, since the borders between Wall Street, Washington, and the Ivy League dissolved years ago; it’s hard to know who to trust when conflicts of interest run rampant.

If Ferguson takes Reagan and Bush to task for tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, he criticizes Clinton for encouraging derivatives and Obama for failing to deliver on the promise of reform. And in the category of unlikely heroes: former governor Eliot Spitzer, who fought against fraud as New York’s attorney general (he’s the subject of Gibney’s documentary Client 9).

Sony have available on their website a useful study guide.  It appears to be written with students in mind but there is much valuable background information there for all.  The guide, in pdf, may be seen here.

It would all have been worthwhile, if that’s the correct term, if we had seen effective regulatory responses from strong governments but, as the film points out, the millions of people on the receiving end of harsh, downward adjustment of personal wealth are still waiting.

Meanwhile, Europe continues to bleed, American housing is still trending downwards and the real effect of the Japanese earthquake is far from clear.

We are living in interesting times!

Sciences becomes magic.

Only a mystical view can speak to the soul.


The Helix nebula

(More on the Helix nebula here.)

I have referred yesterday to the series on the BBC hosted by Professor Brian Cox called Wonders of the Universe.  Well we managed to watch the last episode last night, entitled Messengers.  Like the other three episodes, it was breath-taking.

In this last episode, Prof. Cox speaks of the universe still expanding with the outer edge, if edge is the appropriate word, being about 8.7 billion light years away.  Thus the age of the Universe is about that; 8.7 billion light years.  Note: NASA has a piece that suggests that this figure may not be confirmed.  But let’s not worry too much about the precise value.  But we will take a short detour to understand a little more about the ‘light year’.

From here.

So to measure really long distances, people use a unit called alight yearLight travels at 186,000 miles per second (300,000 kilometers per second). Therefore, a light second is 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers). A light year is the distance that light can travel in a year, or:

186,000 miles/second * 60 seconds/minute * 60 minutes/hour * 24 hours/day * 365 days/year = 5,865,696,000,000 miles/year

A light year is 5,865,696,000,000 miles (9,460,800,000,000 kilometers). That’s a long way!

That is a single light-year. Now reflect on the outer edge of the universe being, say, 8,700,000,000 multiplied by 5,865,696,000,000 miles away.  Don’t know about your mind, but my mind has no ‘feel’ for that distance whatsoever.

OK, next proposition put forward by Prof. Cox.  That is that scientists believe that ‘The Big Bang’ was the instant that the universe erupted, if that’s an appropriate word, from a single point, smaller than the size of a grain of sand.

That has no rational meaning whatsoever. Now my mind just goes into la, la land!  But at the level of magic, mysticism, the spiritual, then one does experience the deep meaning of the creation.  Our creation.  For we are part of the universe and the universe is part of us.

Just like the rose.  Trying to describe it cuts nothing compared to closing one’s eyes and simply breathing in the perfume.

Here is that last episode, in four parts from YouTube. Watch and prepared to be transformed.

All in the meaning, conclusion

Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.

The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.

Being alive is the meaning.

It would be so easy to stay with this theme for a very long time, perhaps to the end of one’s mortal days.

Anyway, my topic has taken sufficient shape for me to conclude with this article and then leave these ideas with you, or just out there in the universe. The ‘shape’ being that whether the facts about the way we treat Planet Earth depress you, or whether taking a mystic, spiritual view is more your scene, it’s up to you.  Let’s recap.

The first article was to show that there are very strong and valid reasons to take an incredibly dim view of where it’s all heading.  In fact, those that stay with Learning from Dogs over the weeks, you hardy lot!, will know that the premise that we, as in mankind, are well and truly in the midst of a massive transition, unlike anything ever experienced before, is an idea that crops up here every so often.  This piece on the 22nd is just an example, and there are many more articles resonating around this theme on the Blog.

Then the second article was to show that a simple change of perspective can make all the difference to how we see the world. (Oh, and such a big thank-you to Sue Dreamwalker for that beautiful poem from her.)

OK, to the point of this article!

The BBC have been showing the most beautiful episodes in recent weeks from a massive production hosted by Professor Brian Cox- The Wonders of the Universe.  Here’s the BBC trailer.

Did you pick up on that key sentence?  “Ultimately, we are part of the universe.”

Here’s a recent piece from the British Guardian newspaper, I think written by Brian Cox, the presenter of the series.

The universe is amazing. You are amazing. I am amazing. For we are all one. Everything we are, everything that’s ever been and everything that will ever be was all forged in the same moment of creation 13.7bn years ago from an unimaginably hot and dense volume of matter less than the size of an atom. And that is amazing. [Understatement! Ed.] What happened before then in the Planck epoch is a matter of conjecture; we lack a theory of quantum gravity, though some believe the universe was formed from a collision of two pieces of space and time floating forever in an infinite space, but I feel I’m losing you at this point, which isn’t so amazing.

Read it in full here, but it concludes, almost poetically, as,

Time feels human, but we are only part of Cosmic Time and we can only ever measure its passing. As I stand in front of the great glacier that towers over Lake Argentino, time seems to almost stand still, yet as I explain the effects of entropy in the Namibian desert as sandcastles crumble around me, you can see that the transition from order to chaos can happen almost in the blink of an eye. One day, perhaps in 6bn years, our universe will stop expanding, the sun will cool and die, as all stars must, and everything will collapse in on itself, back into a black hole singularity. I leave you with this last thought: that we, too, will only really die when the universe dies, for everything within it is intrinsically the same.

Brian Cox takes an almost mystical perspective of the size of the universe and the almost unimaginable number of stars and planets it contains.

So, how many stars are out there?  From here, I quote,

It’s a great big Universe out there, with a huge numbers of stars. But how many stars are there, exactly? How many stars are there in the Universe? Of course it’s a difficult question to answer, because the Universe is a vast place and our telescopes can’t reach every corner to count the number of stars. But we can make some rough estimates. Almost all the stars in the Universe are collected together into galaxies. They can be small dwarf galaxies, with just 10 million or so stars, or they can be monstrous irregular galaxies with 10 trillion stars or more. Our own Milky Way galaxy seems to contain about 200 billion stars; and we’re actually about average number of stars.

So an average galaxy contains between 1011 and 1012 stars. In other words, galaxies, on average have between 100 billion and 1 trillion numbers of stars.

Now, how many galaxies are there? Astronomers estimate that there are approximately 100 billion to 1 trillion galaxies in the Universe. So if you multiply those two numbers together, you get between 1022 and 1024 stars in the Universe. How many stars? There are between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion stars in the Universe. That’s a large number of stars.

Even if one writes down in longhand the number, 1022 , as in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 it still has no real meaning whatsover.  That, of course, does not even get close to estimating how many planets there are out there.

Let’s say, just as a muse, that each sun only had a single planet.  Let us also continue this musing and say that only one in a billion planets had life on it.  In other words, if we divide 1022 by a billion, we still get the eye-watering result of there being 1013 or, longhand, 10,000,000,000,000 planets with life forms. That’s 10 trillion, by the way!

OK, cut it down some more, and then some more, and even more.

But whichever way you cut it, the conclusion is inescapable, the universe must be teeming with life and much of that life intelligent and wise.

So let me leave you with this thought about the meaning of it all.  It’s this.

It is said that the world reflects back what we think about most.  As I hope to have shown, we can think our way into extinction, or we can think our way to more mystic and spiritual outcomes. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.

In the end, if we screw up this planet as place for mankind to prosper and grow, it’s no big deal.  There will be many other humankinds out there in the universe who have taken a different route.

Sleep well tonight!