Tag: Yves Smith

Runaway Antarctica

Do you hear the turnstile about to click!

Not so long ago I wrote a series of three posts under the titles of Interconnections One, Interconnections Two and, yes you guessed it 😉 , Interconnections Three. They were about the consequences of rising sea levels.

Now one might argue that this has nothing whatsoever to do with Learning from Dogs but I would disagree. For as I declare in The Vision of this blog:

It seems to me that a Vision statement should encapsulate just why the owners of the enterprise are committed to that venture.  The author of Learning from Dogs is committed to this project; here is the Vision.

Our children require a world that understands the importance of faith, integrity and honesty

Learning from Dogs will serve as a reminder of the values of life and the power of unconditional love – as so many, many dogs prove each and every day

Constantly trying to get to the truth …

The power of greater self-awareness and faith; faith that the only way forward for us is through the truth …

For in a very real and devastating way even a small rise in global sea level is going to cause tens of thousands of dogs, and their loving owners, to become homeless. We are long overdue a commitment from our global leaders and power-brokers to that, “.. faith, integrity and honesty.”

However, championing that greater self-awareness is what blogger Patrice Ayme does almost all of the time. With his kind permission, I republish his latest post on the state of the Antarctic Ice.

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Runaway Antarctica

I have written for years that a runaway Antarctica was certain, with half the icy continent melting rather spectacularly on an horizon of two centuries at most, and probably much less than that. This rested on the fact that half of Antarctica rests on nothing but bedrock at the bottom of the sea. At the bottom of what should naturally be the sea, in the present circumstances of significant greenhouse gas concentrations.

Visualize this: until sometimes in the Nineteenth Century, GreenHouse Gas (GHG) concentration was 280 ppm (280 parts per million), including the man-made sort. Now we are close to 500 ppm, using a variety of exotic gases we produce industrially, among them, CO2. In CO2 alone we are at:  Week beginning on March 20, 2016: 405.62 ppm. Weekly value from 1 year ago: 401.43 ppm. Weekly value from 10 years ago: 382.76 ppm. So the CO2 alone is augmenting at a bit more than 1% a year. Thus we will be at an equivalent of 550 ppm in ten years (including the full panoply of all the other man-made greenhouse gases, not just CO2). There is evidence that, with just 400 ppm, disaster is guaranteed.

Now visualize this:

antarctica-truth-revealed-nyt-2016-450
How Antarctica would appear if its ice melted: it’s half under the sea.

Why so watery? Because the enormous glaciers, up to nearly 5,000 meter thick, press down on the continent with their enormous weight. Since the end of the last glaciation, 10,000 years ago, Scandinavia has been rising, and is still rising (I long used a picture with a similar information about Antarctica’s bedrock.)

A paper published on line in Nature on March 30, 2016, that is, two days ago, “Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise” opines that:

Polar temperatures over the last several million years have, at times, been slightly warmer than today, yet global mean sea level has been 6–9 metres higher as recently as the Last Interglacial (130,000 to 115,000 years ago) and possibly higher during the Pliocene epoch (about three million years ago). In both cases the Antarctic ice sheet has been implicated as the primary contributor, hinting at its future vulnerability. Here we use a model coupling ice sheet and climate dynamics—including previously underappreciated processes linking atmospheric warming with hydrofracturing of buttressing ice shelves and structural collapse of marine-terminating ice cliffs—that is calibrated against Pliocene and Last Interglacial sea-level estimates and applied to future greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500, if emissions continue unabated. In this case atmospheric warming will soon become the dominant driver of ice loss, but prolonged ocean warming will delay its recovery for thousands of years.

Notice that the scenario evoked in the last sentence is different from my  very old scenario, which is similar to the one advanced in November 2015 by the famous Hansen and Al. (I raised the alarm before Hansen, at least seven years ago). In my scenario, and Hansen’s the ice sheets melt from below, due to warm sea water intrusion.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is larger than Mexico.

Here is a taste of the paper (I have a Nature subscription):

“Reconstructions of the global mean sea level (GMSL) during past warm climate intervals including the Pliocene (about three million years ago)1 and late Pleistocene interglacials2, 3, 4, 5 imply that the Antarctic ice sheet has considerable sensitivity. Pliocene atmospheric CO2 concentrations were comparable to today’s (~400 parts per million by volume, p.p.m.v.)6, but some sea-level reconstructions are 10–30 m higher1, 7. In addition to the loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS)2, these high sea levels require the partial retreat of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), which is further supported by sedimentary evidence from the Antarctic margin8. During the more recent Last Interglacial (LIG, 130,000 to 115,000 years ago), GMSL was 6–9.3 m higher than it is today2, 3, 4, at a time when atmospheric CO2 concentrations were below 280 p.p.m.v. (ref. 9) and global mean temperatures were only about 0–2 °C warmer10. This requires a substantial sea-level contribution from Antarctica of 3.6–7.4 m in addition to an estimated 1.5–2 m from Greenland11, 12 and around 0.4 m from ocean steric effects10.”

So notice: when CO2 ppm per volume was at 280 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, sea level was up to ten meter higher than now. And now we are at 500 ppmv…

And notice again: When CO2 ppmv was at 400, sea level was up to 30 meters (100 feet) higher than today. And now we are at 500 ppm, and, in a blink, in ten years, at 550 ppm.

Here is another example from the paper. I said all of this before, but to have scientists paid to do research in this area write it black on white in the world’s most prestigious scientific magazine, will no doubt endow me with greater, and much desired, gravitas. So let me indulge, not so much for my greater glory, but because it should help taking what I have long said more seriously.

“Much of the WAIS sits on bedrock hundreds to thousands of metres below sea level (Fig. 1a)13. Today, extensive floating ice shelves in the Ross and Weddell Seas, and smaller ice shelves and ice tongues in the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas (Fig. 1b) provide buttressing that impedes the seaward flow of ice and stabilizes marine grounding zones (Fig. 2a). Despite their thickness (typically about 1 km near the grounding line to a few hundred metres at the calving front), a warming ocean has the potential to quickly erode ice shelves from below, at rates exceeding 10 m yr−1 °C−1 (ref. 14). Ice-shelf thinning and reduced backstress enhance seaward ice flow, grounding-zone thinning, and retreat (Fig. 2b). Because the flux of ice across the grounding line increases strongly as a function of its thickness15, initial retreat onto a reverse-sloping bed (where the bed deepens and the ice thickens upstream) can trigger a runaway Marine Ice Sheet Instability (MISI; Fig. 2c)15, 16, 17. Many WAIS grounding zones sit precariously on the edge of such reverse-sloped beds, but the EAIS also contains deep subglacial basins with reverse-sloping, marine-terminating outlet troughs up to 1,500 m deep (Fig. 1). The ice above floatation in these East Antarctic basins is much thicker than in West Antarctica, with the potential to raise GMSL by around 20 m if the ice in those basins is lost13. Importantly, previous ice-sheet simulations accounting for migrating grounding lines and MISI dynamics have shown the potential for repeated WAIS retreats and readvances over the past few million years18, but could only account for GMSL rises of about 1 m during the LIG and 7 m in the warm Pliocene, which are substantially smaller than geological estimates.”

I said it before. Including the details. So the evidence was clear, and out there. The optimism (it will take 5 centuries for 50 feet of sea level rise) is not supported by evidence. Actually collapsing channels coming from inverted rivers running up on the bellies of ice sheets are now obvious on satellite pictures and collapse of major ice shelves is going to be a matter of years, not centuries.

But science is made by tribes and these tribes honor the gods (of plutocracy) who finance them, and their whims. So they don’t want to make their sponsors feel bad. So they say unsupported, optimistic stuff, contradicted by a first order analysis.

Science is good, metascience, better. Metascience includes the sociological reasons which explain why some scientists will take some “facts” for obvious (although, coming from another sociology, they are not).

Deep in the Nature paper, in the quote above, or in four drawings and graphs of future sea level rise, one can find projections according to what various models “predict”… 130,000 years ago (!) The “Old Physics” model predicts one meter rise of the sea (this is the official UN maximal prediction for 2100). The new model, again starting with the present conditions, predict more than a six meter rise (!) This is a case of metascience playing with sea level.

This way, the authors of the paper will be able to say, one day: we told you so. While at the same time not irritating their sponsors now (because to understand what they are really saying takes quite a while, and has to be understood as tongue in cheek, when they pretend to apply the analysis to 130,000 years ago… What they really mean is six meters now, not just one meter… Bye bye Wall Street. Punished by its own instruments…)

The question is not whether we will be able to avoid a twenty meter sea level rise: that’s, unbelievably, a given (barring unforeseeable, yet imaginable technological advances to extract quickly a lot of CO2 from the atmosphere). The question is whether we will avoid a 60 meter rise.

Patrice Ayme’

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Let me add a footnote.

Namely, that on Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism blog on Saturday was an item under the heading of A Wake-Up Call on Climate Change and Clean Energy.

By Eric Beinhocker, Executive Director, INET Oxford. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

A stark warning from Institute researchers on the probability that ‘2°C capital stock’ will be reached in 2017

A new study from the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School and the Smith School for Enterprise and Environment, University of Oxford, shows that we are uncomfortably close to the point where the world’s energy system commits the planet to exceeding 2°C.

In the paper, to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Energy, the authors calculate the Two degree capital stock – the global stock of electricity infrastructure from which future emissions have a 50% probability of staying within 2°C of warming. The researchers estimate that the world will reach Two degree capital stock next year, in 2017.

Read the full item here.

It’s enough to make us all feel angry and hopeless. That would be understandable but wrong.

Go and read my Inconnections Three for within that post is this:

Want to fight climate change? Here are the 7 critical life changes you should make.

For the sake of millions of us and our wonderful pets stay with it and demand change from our politicians and leaders in every way that you can.

We live in interesting times!

The impending ‘banquet of consequences’.

The Welcome page of this blog includes this:

Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming,  thence the long journey to modern man.  But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite.  Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

I continue that theme in Part Two of my book (Chapter 7: This Twenty-First Century)

Bad news sells! Bad news also causes stress and worry. In my previous explanation, I explained that the last thing you want is a catalogue of all the things that have that power to cause you stress and worry. However, I do see three fundamental aspects of this new century that have their roots in that loss of principles that I referred to in the previous chapter. They are

1. the global financial system,
2. the potential for social disorder, and
3. the process of government.

Because they are at the heart of how the coming years will pan out.

The first aspect, our global financial system, was selected because it underpins all our lives in so many ways. When I was living in southwest England I was a client of Kauders Portfolio Services[1]. The founder of the company, David Kauders, published[2] a book, The Greatest Crash, in 2011. It was an obvious read for me at that time and I still have the book on my shelves here in Oregon.
David explained that whether we like it or not, our lives are inextricably caught up in the twin dependencies of the global financial system: credit and debt. As he wrote in his opening chapter:

Households can barely afford their existing debts, let alone take on more. Since households now prefer not to borrow, indeed some even choose to pay back debt, it follows that those who have already borrowed, as a group, can no longer contribute to economic expansion.
People can be divided into borrowers and savers. With existing borrowers unable to afford or unwilling to take on extra debt, can new borrowers be found instead? Those who do not need to borrow are unlikely to volunteer. Except for the young wishing to buy houses, facing the reality that house prices are beyond their pockets, where are the new borrowers?
Businesses are also under pressure. There has been an inadequate recovery from recession, business prospects are poor as households cut back their spending. Lack of bank lending is a symptom rather than a cause, for if existing businesses were to be given more credit, they would probably be unlikely to find profitable growth opportunities in a world of austerity.

Later on in the book David describes this as “the financial system limit”. In other words, the period of growth and expansion, especially of financial and economic expansion, has come to an end in a structural sense. This was his perspective from 2011.

Recently, I chose to reread The Greatest Crash. What struck me forcibly, reading the book again some four years later on, was how visible this “system limit” appeared in the world today. Everywhere there are signs that the era of growth has come to an end. Many countries are now indebted to a point that reinforces the proposition of there being a financial system limit. The United States is greatly in debt[3] but the only thing mitigating that situation, for the time being anyway, is that the American dollar is the quasi dominant global currency.
The changing nature of the global population is also reinforcing the fact that this is the end of a long period of growth. Even without embracing the question of how much longer we can increase the number of people living on a finite planet, the demographics spell out a greater-than-even chance of a decline in consumption and economic activity. Simply because in all regions of the planet, except for India where there is still a growing youth element in the country, people are ageing. To state the obvious, ageing persons do not consume as much as middle-aged and younger persons.
Thus, the world’s economy that is just around the corner is certainly going to be very different to what it has been in the past. It is not being widely discussed. Worse than that, there is a widespread assumption adopted by many governments that a return to the “normal” economic growth of previous times is a given. Many do not share that assumption.

The second aspect that isn’t being spoken about is the potential for massive, widespread social disorder. All summed up in just three words: greed, inequality, and poverty. Just three words that metaphorically appear to me like a round, wooden lid hiding a very deep, dark well. That lifting this particular lid, the metaphorical one, exposes an almost endless drop into the depths of where our society appears to have fallen.
Even the slightest raising of awareness of where this modern global world is heading is scary. I have in mind the author Thomas Piketty who warned[4] that, “the inequality gap is toxic, dangerous.” Then there was the news in 2015[5] that, “Billionaires control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, 67 billionaires already own half the world’s assets; by 2100 we’ll have 11 trillionaires, while American worker income has stagnated for a generation.”

The third and final aspect that isn’t being widely discussed is the process of government. Not from the viewpoint of “left” or “right”, Labour or Conservative, Democratic or Republican (insert the labels appropriate to your own country), that is being discussed ad nauseum, but from the viewpoint of good government. It might be a terrible generalisation but it is still a fair criticism to say that many peoples of many countries have lost faith in their governments.
There appears to be a chronic absence of open debate about the need for good government, what that good government would look like, and how do societies bring it about.

If we were a dog pack, then our leader, our female mentor dog, would have moved us all to a new, pristine territory!


[1] My relationship was terminated when I became a resident of the United Staes in 2011.
[2] 2011, Sparkling Books.
[3] http://www.usgovernmentdebt.us offers on the 14th November, 2014 that the Federal Debt of the United States was about $18,006,100,032,000.
[4] In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press, 2014).
[5] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/capitalism-is-killing-americas-morals-our-future-2015-05-22.

Yes, these are indeed very interesting times!

So, dear reader, you can understand why a recent article over on Naked Capitalism spoke to me. It was penned by Satyajit Das, a former banker and the author of a number of books. Both Satyajit and Yves, of Naked Capitalism, were delighted to offer me permission to republish the full post.

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Satyajit Das: Age of Stagnation or Something Worse?

Yves here. If you’ve read Das regularly, one of the characteristics of his writing is wry detachment. The shift to a sense of foreboding is a big departure.

By Satyajit Das, a former banker and author whose latest book, The Age of Stagnation, is now available. The following is an edited excerpt from Age of Stagnation (published with the permission of Prometheus Books)

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only . . . wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C.S. Lewis

The world is entering a period of stagnation, the new mediocre. The end of growth and fragile, volatile economic conditions are now the sometimes silent background to all social and political debates. For individuals, this is about the destruction of human hopes and dreams.

One Offs

For most of human history, as Thomas Hobbes recognised, life has been ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. The fortunate coincidence of factors that drove the unprecedented improvement in living standards following the Industrial Revolution, and especially in the period after World War II, may have been unique, an historical aberration. Now, different influences threaten to halt further increases, and even reverse the gains.

Since the early 1980s, economic activity and growth have been increasingly driven by financialisation – the replacement of industrial activity with financial trading and increased levels of borrowing to finance consumption and investment. By 2007, US$5 of new debt was necessary to create an additional US$1 of American economic activity, a fivefold increase from the 1950s. Debt levels had risen beyond the repayment capacity of borrowers, triggering the 2008 crisis and the Great Recession that followed. But the world shows little sign of shaking off its addiction to borrowing. Ever-increasing amounts of debt now act as a brake on growth.

Growth in international trade and capital flows is slowing. Emerging markets that have benefited from and, in recent times, supported growth are slowing.

Rising inequality and economic exclusion also impacts negatively upon activity.

Financial problems are compounded by lower population growth and ageing populations; slower increases in productivity and innovation; looming shortages of critical resources, such as water, food and energy; and manmade climate change and extreme weather conditions.

The world requires an additional 64 billion cubic metres of water a year, equivalent to the annual water flow through Germany’s Rhine River. Agronomists estimate that production will need to increase by 60–100 percent by 2050 to feed the population of the world. While the world’s supply of energy will not be exhausted any time soon, the human race is on track to exhaust the energy content of hundreds of millions years’ worth of sunlight stored in the form of coal, oil and natural gas in a few hundred years. 10 tons of pre-historic buried plant and organic matter converted by pressure and heat over millennia was needed to create a single gallon (4.5 litres) of gasoline.

Europe is currently struggling to deal with a few million refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. How will the world deal with hundreds of millions of people at risk of displacement as a resulting of rising sea levels?

Extend and Pretend

The official response to the 2008 crisis was a policy of ‘extend and pretend’, whereby authorities chose to ignore the underlying problem, cover it up, or devise deferral strategies to ‘kick the can down the road’. The assumption was that government spending, lower interest rates, and the supply of liquidity or cash to money markets would create growth. It would also increase inflation to help reduce the level of debt, by decreasing its value.

It was the grifter’s long con, a confidence trick with a potentially large payoff but difficult to pull off. Houses prices and stock markets have risen, but growth, employment, income and investment have barely recovered to pre-crisis levels in most advanced economies. Inflation for the most part remains stubbornly low.

In countries that have ‘recovered’, financial markets are, in many cases, at or above pre-crisis prices. But conditions in the real economy have not returned to normal. Must-have latest electronic gadgets cannot obscure the fact that living standards for most people are stagnant. Job insecurity has risen. Wages are static, where they are not falling. Accepted perquisites of life in developed countries, such as education, houses, health services, aged care, savings and retirement, are increasingly unattainable.

In more severely affected countries, conditions are worse. Despite talk of a return to growth, the Greek economy has shrunk by a quarter. Spending by Greeks has fallen by 40 percent, reflecting reduced wages and pensions. Reported unemployment is 26 percent of the labour force. Youth unemployment is over 50 percent. One commentator observed that the government could save money on education, as it was unnecessary to prepare people for jobs that did not exist.

Future generations may have fewer opportunities and lower living standards than their parents. A 2013 Pew Research Centre survey conducted in thirty-nine countries asked whether people believed that their children would enjoy better living standards: 33 percent of Americans believed so, as did 28 percent of Germans, 17 percent of British and 14 percent of Italians. Just 9 percent of French people thought their children would be better off than previous generations.

The Deadly Cure

Authorities have been increasingly forced to resort to untested policies including QE forever and negative interest rates. It was an attempt to buy time, to let economies achieve a self-sustaining recovery, as they had done before. Unfortunately the policies have not succeeded. The expensively purchased time has been wasted. The necessary changes have not been made.

There are toxic side effects. Global debt has increased, not decreased, in response to low rates and government spending. Banks, considered dangerously large after the events of 2008, have increased in size and market power since then. In the US the six largest banks now control nearly 70 percent of all the assets in the US financial system, having increased their share by around 40 percent.

Individual countries have sought to export their troubles, abandoning international cooperation for beggar-thy-neighbour strategies. Destructive retaliation, in the form of tit-for-tat interest rate cuts, currency wars, and restrictions on trade, limits the ability of any nation to gain a decisive advantage.

The policies have also set the stage for a new financial crisis. Easy money has artificially boosted prices of financial assets beyond their real value. A significant amount of this capital has flowed into and destabilised emerging markets. Addicted to government and central bank support, the world economy may not be able to survive without low rates and excessive liquidity.

Authorities increasingly find themselves trapped, with little room for manoeuvre and unable to discontinue support for the economy. Central bankers know, even if they are unwilling to publicly acknowledge it, that their tools are inadequate or exhausted, now possessing the potency of shamanic rain dances. More than two decades of trying similar measures in Japan highlight their ineffectiveness in avoiding stagnation.

Heart of the Matter

Conscious that the social compact requires growth and prosperity, politicians, irrespective of ideology, are unwilling to openly discuss the real issues. They claim crisis fatigue, arguing that the problems are too far into the future to require immediate action. Fearing electoral oblivion, they have succumbed to populist demands for faux certainty and placebo policies. But in so doing they are merely piling up the problems.

Policymakers interrogate their models and torture data, failing to grasp that ‘many of the things you can count don’t count [while] many of the things you can’t count really count’. The possibility of a historical shift does not inform current thinking.

It is not in the interest of bankers and financial advisers to tell their clients about the real outlook. Bad news is bad for business. The media and commentariat, for the most part, accentuate the positive. Facts, they argue, are too depressing. The priority is to maintain the appearance of normality, to engender confidence.

Ordinary people refuse to acknowledge that maybe you cannot have it all. But there is increasingly a visceral unease about the present and a fear of the future. Everyone senses that the ultimate cost of the inevitable adjustments will be large. It is not simply the threat of economic hardship; it is fear of a loss of dignity and pride. It is a pervasive sense of powerlessness.

For the moment, the world hopes for the best of times but is afraid of the worst. People everywhere resemble Dory, the Royal Blue Tang fish in the animated film Finding Nemo. Suffering from short-term memory loss, she just tells herself to keep on swimming. Her direction is entirely random and without purpose.

Reckoning Postponed

The world has postponed, indefinitely, dealing decisively with the challenges, choosing instead to risk stagnation or collapse. But reality cannot be deferred forever. Kicking the can down the road only shifts the responsibility for dealing with it onto others, especially future generations.

A slow, controlled correction of the financial, economic, resource and environmental excesses now would be serious but manageable. If changes are not made, then the forced correction will be dramatic and violent, with unknown consequences.

During the last half-century each successive economic crisis has increased in severity, requiring progressively larger measures to ameliorate its effects. Over time, the policies have distorted the economy. The effectiveness of instruments has diminished. With public finances weakened and interest rates at historic lows, there is now little room for manoeuvre. Geo-political risks have risen. Trust and faith in institutions and policy makers has weakened.

Economic problems are feeding social and political discontent, opening the way for extremism. In the Great Depression the fear and disaffection of ordinary people who had lost their jobs and savings gave rise to fascism. Writing of the period, historian A.J.P. Taylor noted: ‘[the] middle class, everywhere the pillar of stability and respectability . . . was now utterly destroyed . . . they became resentful . . . violent and irresponsible . . . ready to follow the first demagogic saviour . . .’

The new crisis that is now approaching or may already be with us will be like a virulent infection attacking a body whose immune system is already compromised.

As Robert Louis Stevenson knew, sooner or later we all have to sit down to a banquet of consequences.

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henrifredericamiel148210Very interesting times indeed!

We are what we eat.

A thought-provoking presentation on the role of food in our society.

The last time I used this title for a post was back on July 20th.  However, the topic then was very different to today’s theme.  Then I wrote about how the genetic modification of our food represents as big a danger to the long-term survival  of man as does the damage to our biosphere.

So this comes as a very pleasant contrast.  I am indebted to Yves Smith’s blog Naked Capitalism for drawing this presentation to my attention. As was written in that NK post,

This is a super presentation by Ray Patel for Michael Pollan’s class at Berkeley, Edible Education 103. The presentation and the question period together come to about an hour.  Ray Patel follows after Michael Pollan handles administrative stuff and then does an introduction.

There are plenty of charts, but I really enjoy the anecdote on Northern Malawi at minute 43:54 — too long for me to transcribe, so I’ll quote Patel’s closing line:

What makes it really sail is not just the democracy, but the joy which comes through people cooking together as equals and eating together as equals.

Bon apetit!

Published on Dec 7, 2012
Raj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist, and academic. He has degrees from the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics, and Cornell University, has worked for the World Bank and WTO, and protested against them around the world.

He’s currently a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for African Studies, an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a fellow at The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First. He is currently an IATP Food and Community Fellow.

He has testified about the causes of the global food crisis to the U.S. House Financial Services Committee and is an Advisor to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. In addition to numerous scholarly publications, he regularly writes for The Guardian, and has contributed to the LA Times, NYTimes.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Mail on Sunday, and The Observer. His first book was Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and his latest, The Value of Nothing, is a New York Times best-seller.

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Raj Patel’s website is a great reference so do spend a little time wandering through the material.  For example, this item jumped off the page for me.

What I Did This Summer

By Raj on 08/11/2012

The good folk at Canada’s Globe & Mail asked me to write a piece called “What I Did This Summer.” Never having written one before, I thought I’d channel my inner 12 year old.

Cuzco, Peru: This summer I started to write a book and film a documentary with my hero. His name is Steve James. He filmed ‘Hoop Dreams’ which was about basketball and hope and disappointment and race and inequality and America. Our film is called “Generation Food”. It is about how we will eat in the future.

So I went to Japan. People used to live long lives in Okinawa because of the traditional diet. Lots of people lived until 100. Now grandparents are burying their children. They don’t eat as they used to. When the Americans came with their military base, they brought fast food for the GIs. Everybody eats it now. I visited farmers who plant crops on US bases. They did it so often that the Americans gave up and just let them do it. I ate goat sashimi because it would have been rude not to.

Won’t reproduce it in full as I haven’t sought permission.  So do go here to read it.  But I just can’t resist offering you Raj Patel’s closing words.

I have learned that: People are kind. Everyone has contradictions. Raw goat tastes funny, but it’s not as bad as Cuban food. The world is more beautiful than I imagined. There is more hope for the future of food than I dared to believe, against impossible odds. And it comes from unlikely places.

And after the summer, I was never the same again.

What a lovely sentiment to end on.

I must go down to the sea again, spelt H2CO3!

Starting to feel like a long way from John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever.

The call of the sea.

One of my all-time favourite poems.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Why do I start this piece with that poem?

Well, read this,

Carbonic acid is a weak acid that is created when carbon dioxide (CO2) is dissolved in water (H2O), resulting in the chemical formula H2CO3. When the acid dissociates, or gives up a hydrogen ion, the resulting molecule is called a bicarbonate ion. Carbonic acid appears frequently in the natural world. It can be found in sodas, champagne, and blood. The acid even appears in rain.

But like so many things in nature, it’s all about balance.

A week ago, the 2nd March, Patrice Ayme gave me permission to reproduce an essay of his The collapse of the biosphere.  In that essay he wrote,

Besides, it’s not all about “climate change”. Half of the CO2 is presently dissolving in the oceans, so a rise of two degrees Celsius means extremely acid oceans (CO2 turns into carbonic acid after it reacts with water). At the present rate of acidification, marine life will dissolve big time by 2100. That’s how a lot of the oxygen is produced, by photosynthesizing unicellular animals, with acid sensitive skeletons. Atmospheric poisoning deniers do not want just to warm us up.

On that same day of March 2nd, Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism published an item that reinforced what Patrice wrote.  Yves very kindly gave me permission to republish her Post in full, as follows:

Current Rate of Ocean Acidification Worst in 300 Million Years

Science has published a troubling but not entirely surprising article on the fact that the oceans are acidifying at the fastest rate in 300 million years. Actually, it could be the fastest rate over an even longer time period, but we can only go back with any degree of accuracy for 300 million years

We first wrote about this issue in early 2007, and this section, which quoted Stormy from Angry Bear, will help bring readers up to speed:

….there are side effects to our love affair with CO2 that are not often mentioned. In fact, whether the earth cools or warms is absolutely irrelevant to these effects. I repeat: Absolutely irrelevant.

One of the most startling effects is the acidification of the oceans. Since 1750, the oceans have become increasingly acidic. In the oceans, CO2 forms carbonic acid, a serious threat to the base of the food chain, especially on shellfish of all sizes. Carbonic acid dissolves calcium carbonate, an essential component of any life form with an exoskeleton. In short, all life forms with an exoskeleton are threatened: shell fish, an important part of the food chain for many fish; coral reefs, the habitat of many species of fish….

The formation of carbonic acid does not depend upon temperature. Whether the oceans warm or cool is irrelevant. Of concern only is the amount of CO2 that enters the oceans.

Fast forward to today. Consider the scope of the paper in Science, per a very good discussion in ars technica:

A new paper in Science examines the geologic record for context relating to ocean acidification…The research group (twenty-one scientists from nearly as many different universities) reviewed the evidence from past known or suspected intervals of ocean acidification…They find that the current rate of ocean acidification puts us on a track that, if continued, would likely be unprecedented in last 300 million years.

There is an important driver of this process that this overview mentions only in passing further on, and it’s useful to have it in mind when you review the discussion of the historical record:ocean acidification depends primarily on the rate of atmospheric CO2 increases, not the absolute concentration. Look at how attenuated the rate of past CO2 changes was in the past versus the speed now:

The first period the researchers looked at was the end of the last ice age, starting around 18,000 years ago. Over a period of about 6,000 years, atmospheric CO2 levels increased by 30 percent, a change of roughly 75 ppm. (For reference, atmospheric CO2 has gone up by about the same amount over the past 50 years.) Over that 6,000 year time period, surface ocean pH dropped by approximately 0.15 units. That comes out to about 0.002 units per century. Our current rate is over 0.1 units per century—two orders of magnitude greater, which lines up well with a model estimate we covered recently.

The last deglaciation did not trigger a mass extinction, but it did cause changes in some species…

During the Pliocene warm period, about 3 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 was about the same as today, but pH was only 0.06 to 0.11 units lower than preindustrial conditions. This is because the event played out over 320,000 years or so. We see species migration in the fossil record in response to the warming planet, but not ill effects on calcifiers…

Next, the researchers turned their focus to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (or PETM), which occurred 56 million years ago. Global temperature increased about 6°C over 20,000 years due to an abrupt release of carbon to the atmosphere (though this was not as abrupt as current emissions). The PETM saw the largest extinction of deep-sea foraminifera of the last 75 million years, and was one of the four biggest coral reef disasters of the last 300 million years…

The group also examined the several mass extinctions that defined the Mesozoic—the age of dinosaurs. The boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic included a large increase in atmospheric CO2 (adding as much as 1,300 to 2,400 ppm) over a relatively short period of time, perhaps just 20,000 years. The authors write, “A calcification crisis amongst hypercalcifying taxa is inferred for this period, with reefs and scleractinian corals experiencing a near-total collapse.” Again, though, it’s unclear how much of the catastrophe can be blamed on acidification rather than warming.

Finally, we come the big one—The Great Dying. The Permian-Triassic mass extinction (about 252 million years ago) wiped out around 96 percent of marine species. Still, the rate of CO2 released to the atmosphere that drove the dangerous climate change was 10-100 times slower than current emissions…

In the end, the researchers conclude that the PETM, Triassic-Jurassic boundary, and Permian-Triassic boundary are the closest analogs to the modern day, at least as far as acidification is concerned. Due to the poor ocean chemistry data for the latter two, the PETM is the best event for us to compare current conditions. It’s still not perfect—the rate of CO2 increase was slower than today…

The authors conclude, “[T]he current rate of (mainly fossil fuel) CO2 release stands out as capable of driving a combination and magnitude of ocean geochemical changes potentially unparalleled in at least the last ~300 [million years] of Earth history, raising the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change.”

Translation: “We’re probably fucked, but the data is so far outside of historical parameters, we can’t say anything with a high degree of certainty.”

Worth protecting, worth saving, worth caring about!

The Versatile Blogger Award

My rather slow response to my Versatile Blogger award!

Last Friday morning, the 16th, I turned on my PC to discover that lovely Kathryn Johnston of 4amWriter had nominated Learning from Dogs for the Versatile Blogger Award.  I was blown away especially as since then the connections I have made with other writers have been wonderful.

However, a more prompt acknowledgement on LfD seems to have escaped me until today.  I quickly learnt that there is a proper protocol associated with the response to the award.

  1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Pass this award along to 15 blogs you enjoy reading.
  4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

So here goes!

Award logo

So first, a very big thank you to Kathryn of 4amWriter for including me in her list.  As she said on her post, “This title says it all! If you love dogs, this is a must-visit!”  That’s generous of Kathryn.  Dogs are a very powerful reminder of an uncomplicated way to live, as described on the Home Page.  The Vision behind the Blog is:

  • Our children require a world that understands the importance of faith, integrity and honesty
  • Learning from Dogs will  serve as a reminder of the values of life and the power of unconditional love – as so many, many dogs prove each and every day
  • Constantly trying to get to the truth …
  • The power of greater self-awareness and faith …

Seven things about me!

H’mm, what to say.

  1. Born in London 6 months before the end of WWII,
  2. Been a business-to-business salesman most of my life,
  3. Started my own business in 1978 and remained in ‘self-employment’ until quite recently,
  4. Lived on my own boat, based in Larnaca, Cyprus, for 5 years,
  5. A keen glider pilot for many years at Rattlesden Gliding Club in Suffolk, later a private pilot,
  6. Always wanted to write,
  7. And, finally, happier than I have ever been being married to Jean, having met in Mexico in 2007, moving out there with Pharaoh, my GSD, in 2008 and subsequently arriving in Payson, Arizona in 2010 with 11 dogs and 6 cats!

So here are the 16 Blogs (I use that description loosely) that I wish to pass this award to:

  • Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism.  How Yves finds the time to produce the huge volume of articles and website links every day is beyond me.
  • James Kwak and Simon Johnson of Baseline Scenario.  James and Simon were, for me, an early source of openness about the key issues affecting the global economy that slammed into our collective faces in 2008.
  • Patrice Ayme of the Blog of his own name.  Patrice’s sub-heading on his Blog reads, “Intelligence at the core of humanism.”  Again, a prolific writer with a huge intellect that he puts to wonderful use.  Just pick anything that he has written to see that proved in spades.
  • Patrick Smith of Patrick Smith Photography. Just breath-taking photographs.  Do visit his website.
  • Bill McKibben of 350.org.  The headline on the website says, “We’re building a global movement to solve the climate crisis.”  Say no more!
  • Michelle of Dog Kisses’s blog.  Wonderful blog – just go there and enjoy it.
  • Sue of Sue Dreamwalker. Again, just a wonderful Blog – do please visit.
  • Vlatko, the owner of Top Documentary Films.  We do not subscribe to any television channels at home so Vlatko’s resource is so valuable for us.  Huge selection of free documentary films to watch.
  • Deanna Raeke and Andrea Rosebrock of the Blog For The Love of a Dog.  Very active in fighting all corners on behalf of man’s oldest companion.
  • Rob Hopkins and his team at Transition Network.  Rob is one of the leading voices for changing to a sustainable relationship with this planet.  He is based in Totnes, Devon, my local town for many years when I lived in the village of Harberton.  His books on Transition are masterpieces.
  • Victoria Brown, Daniel Honan and team at Big Think.  As their headline says, “A forum where top experts explore the big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century.”  Fabulous resource.
  • All the Directors and team at Sustainable Arizona.  As is described on their site, Sustainable Arizona is about, “Our nonprofit organization is made up of volunteers and professionals committed to making sustainable development possible. We accomplish this by encouraging businesses that add true value to our communities while preserving the environment.
  • Anthony Watts of Watt’s Up With That. With over 9,000 followers and over 98 million viewers this very reasonably can be regarded as the world’s most viewed climate website.  Anthony’s 3 million monthly visitors puts my 40,000 into perspective!
  • The whole team at the US-based National Wildlife Federation.  Their MissionAs America’s largest conservation organization, National Wildlife Federation works with more than 4 million members, partners and supporters in communities across the country to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future!
  • Peter Russell of Spirit of Now.  Peter writes on his Blogsite, “There are many observations I make in daily life—some profound, some mundane—mostly concerning the natural world around, or the nature of the inner world of mind. Some incline us to wonder and awe. Others make us think, and question our assumptions.”  Never before have we needed so much to think about the way we think!
  • Nakibul Hoq, blogging from Bangladesh in the city of Dhaka under the Blog name of Freedom to Survive.

I shall be passing on the ‘award’ to all bloggers today.

Let me close again by saying such a big thank you to Kathryn of 4amWriter and, from that, how quickly I came across Limebird Writers who, I know, will be a great source of support as I face 2012 and ‘the novel’!

Hearing clearly?

Perhaps intuition is all we have to hear clearly.

John O’Donohue, in yesterday’s post, touched on the essence of today’s theme, “The greatest philosophers admit that to a large degree all knowledge comes through the senses. The senses are our bridge to the world.

Dogs, of course, demonstrate powerfully how their senses provide a ‘bridge to the world’.

This odd collection of writings (ramblings?)  that comprise Learning from Dogs is based around the ‘i’ word – Integrity.  The banner on the home page proclaims Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them. Ergo, dogs offer a powerful metaphor for the pressing need for integrity among those that ‘manage’ our societies.

Thus my senses are more tuned, than otherwise, to the conversations in the world out there that support the premise that unless we, as in modern man, radically amend our attitudes and behaviours, then the species homo sapiens is going to hell in a hand-basket!

End of preamble!

Professor Bill Mitchell is one person who recently touched my senses.  As his Blog outlines he is an interesting fellow,

(Photo taken in August 2011 in Melbourne, Australia)

Bill Mitchell is the Research Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, NSW Australia.

He is also a professional musician and plays guitar with the Melbourne Reggae-Dub band – Pressure Drop. The band was popular around the live music scene in Melbourne in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The band reformed in late 2010.

He also plays with a Newcastle swing blues band – The Blues Box. You can find music and other things on his Home Page.

Professor Mitchell’s Blog is not for the faint-hearted, it can be pretty technical at times.  Nevertheless, I have been a daily subscriber for a couple of months now.

On the 24th, Prof. Bill wrote a long article under the heading of ‘What if economists were personally liable for their advice‘.  I want to quote a little from that article.  Starting with,

Economists have a strange way of writing up briefing documents. There is an advanced capacity to dehumanise economic advice and ignore the most important economic and social problems (unemployment and poverty) in favour of promoting non-issues (like public debt ratios). It reminds me sometimes of how the Nazis who were brutal in the extreme in the execution of their ideology sat around getting portraits of themselves taken with their loving families etc. The training of economists creates an advanced state of separation from human issues and an absence of empathy.

In a sense, we all understand this, this use of language to separate us from our collective humanity.  A random Google search came up with this.  A statement by British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to Parliament on the 24th regarding Europe, as in,

Mr Speaker, let me turn to yesterday’s European Council.

This European Council was about three things.

Sorting out the problems of the Eurozone.

Promoting growth in the EU.

And ensuring that as the Eurozone develops new arrangements for governance, the interests of those outside the Eurozone are protected.

This latter point touches directly on the debate in this House later today, and I will say a word on this later in my statement.

Resolving the problems in the Eurozone is the urgent and over-riding priority facing not only the Eurozone members, but the EU as a whole – and indeed the rest of the world economy.

Britain is playing a positive role proposing the three vital steps needed to deal with this crisis – the establishment of a financial firewall big enough to contain any contagion; the credible recapitalisation of European banks; and a decisive solution to the problems in Greece.

Read the last paragraph.  Wonderful words that seem to make sense to the casual listener but picking up on Prof. Bill, an utter ‘separation from human issues and an absence of empathy‘.  There is no humanity in those words from the British Prime Minister.  We all know there are hundreds of other examples from mouthpieces all across our global society.  Back to Bill Mitchell’s article,

Linkiesta say:

Greece has failed. To say this is not another report of investment banks or research centers, but directly Troika officials who have just completed their review on Hellenic public finance. Linkiesta is in possession of the entire report of the troika, composed of officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and European Commission.

I have a rule of thumb that I use when considering documents such as these. The rule is to assess how strong the concern for unemployment is. How often is unemployment mentioned? The answer is zero. The document never mentions the word or concept.

So obsessed are the Troika and their bean counters about public debt stabilisation that they have completely lost sight of one of the worst problems an economy can encounter – the failure to generate work for all.

Read those last words again, “completely lost sight of one of the worst problems an economy can encounter – the failure to generate work for all“.  One last extract from the article,

There is absolutely no historical evidence which shows that when all nations are contracting or stagnant and private spending is flat (or contracting) that cutting public spending will create growth.

So why did these economists think that a nation would grow when all components of spending were strongly indicated to fall or were being actually cut? The answer lies in acknowledging that they operate in an ideologically blinkered world and are never taken to account for their policy mistakes. They are unaccountable and do not suffer income losses when the nations they dispense advice to and impose policies on behave contrary to the “expectation” which results in millions being unemployed.

In my view, my profession should be liable for the advice it gives and economists should be held personally liable for damages if their advice causes harm to other individuals. If the economists in the IMF and elsewhere were held personally responsible then the advice would quickly change because they would be “playing” with their own fortunes and not the fortunes of an amorphous group of Greeks that they have never met.

Very powerful words that strike at the heart of the matter, that of integrity. (If you want to read it in full, then the article is here.)

Let me move on a little.  The 24th also saw a powerful essay on Yves Smith’s Blog Naked Capitalism, from Philip Pilkington, a journalist and writer living in Dublin, Ireland.  Here’s a taste of what Mr. Pilkington wrote.

Every now and then a terrible thought enters my mind. It runs like this: what if the theatre of the Eurocrisis is really and truly a political power-game being cynically played by politicians from the core while the periphery burns?

Yes, of course, we can engage in polemic and say that such is the case. But in doing so we are trying to stoke emotion and generally allowing our rhetorical flourish to carry the argument. At least, that is what I thought. I had heard this rhetoric; I had engaged in it to some extent myself; but I had never really believed it. Only once or twice, in my nightmares, I had thought that, maybe, just maybe, it might have some truth.

Can you see the parallels between Prof. Mitchell and Philip Pilkington?  The latter wrote, “a political power-game being cynically played by politicians from the core while the periphery burns“, the former wrote, “If the economists in the IMF and elsewhere were held personally responsible then the advice would quickly change because they would be “playing” with their own fortunes and not the fortunes of an amorphous group of Greeks that they have never met.”

It’s clearly obvious to all those that have commented to both the Bill Mitchell and Philip Pilkington items.  That is, in my words, a complete lack of integrity, truth and a commitment to serve the people, from so many in places of influence and power.

We all sense this, hear it so clearly, a separation from human issues and an absence of empathy.

We have so much to learn, so much sense to learn, from dogs!

————–

Footnote.  Had just completed the above when I came across a piece by Patrick Cockburn in last Sunday’s Independent newspaper, that starts thus,

World View: A sense of injustice is growing. Elite politicians and notorious wrongdoers appear immune as ordinary Greeks reel from wage and job cuts

Up close, the most striking feature of the reforms being forced on Greece by its international creditors is their destructiveness and futility. The pay cuts, tax rises, cuts and job losses agreed to by parliament in Athens last week will serve only to send the economy into a steeper tailspin, even if it extracted a much-needed €8bn in bailout money from the EU leaders. “Nothing but a lost war could be worse than this situation,” one left-wing ex-minister tells me. “What is worse, no party or political group in Greece is offering real solutions to our crisis.

Say no more!

Consequences

Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune. 

William James, January 11th, 1842 - August 26th, 1910

The above is a quotation attributed to the late American philosopher, William James, comprehensively written about on the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.

When drafting this post last Wednesday, I used the quotation and reference to William James to soften, as it were, me reproducing an item on Yves Smith’s fabulous blog, Naked Capitalism.

I did have second thoughts about including the video below and the summary of what was written by Yves.  The second thoughts were around me not wanting Learning from Dogs to stray into sensationalism or hot pop topics.

The reason I did publish this post was that maybe, just maybe, young Mr. Alessio Rastani is saying it how it really is.  How we all have been lulled over the years into believing so much rubbish from so many movers and shakers in the world of power and politics.  Whereas, in truth, most people who stop and reflect on the world we are presently living in, intuitively sense, that something has broken.

The good news that may be interpreted from Mr. Rastani’s predictions is that we are now living through a period of change, the end of an era, and that the opportunity for a better, more caring world is wide open.

Introduced on the Naked Capitalism site, as follows,

This segment on BBC may not go viral, but it seems to be getting traction, based on the e-mails (hat tip readers Paul S and Marcus) and alerts in the comments section.

This is not an entertaining Rick Santelli-style rant, it’s a cool assessment of how the Euromarket crisis is likely to end, which he thinks is very badly. The flummoxed reaction of the BBC host suggests that the trader, Alessio Rastani, was a booking mistake.

But consider his second message: that Goldman and people rule the world and like him don’t care about what happens to the real economy. A depression is just a great investment opportunity if you see it coming and position yourself accordingly. Rastani is the bland, reasonable face of predatory capitalism.

But in the best interests of scepticism and balance, I also reproduce what was published in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper on the 27th September,

11:50PM BST 27 Sep 2011

The soundbites won Mr Rastani instant fame. He became a viral hit and was trending on Twitter. BBC business editor Robert Peston was among the fans. “A must watch if you want to understand the euro crisis and how markets work,” he told his army of 82,000 followers on Twitter on Tuesday.

The interview contained such gems as “Governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world [and] Goldman Sachs does not care about the rescue package.”

But on Tuesday night the BBC was left facing questions about just how qualified Mr Rastani is to speak about the markets.

In the interview Mr Rastani described himself as an independent trader. Elsewhere he claims he’s an “investment speaker”. Instead of operating from a plush office in Canary Wharf Mr Rastani works and lives with his partner Anita Eader in a £200,000 semi in Bexleyheath, south London. The house, complete with a mortgage from Royal Bank of Scotland, belongs to her not him.

He is a business owner, a 99pc shareholder in public speaking venture Santoro Projects. Its most recent accounts show cash in the bank of £985. After four years trading net assets are £10,048 – in the red.

How a man who has never been authorised by the Financial Services Authority and has no discernible history working for a City institution ended up being interviewed by the BBC remains a mystery.

The incongruity led to some commentators speculating Mr Rastani was a professional hoaxer. The BBC denied the allegation: “We’ve carried out detailed investigations and can’t find any evidence to suggest that the interview with Alessio Rastani was a hoax.”

However, the BBC declined to comment on what checks, if any, it had done prior to the interview.

Mr Rastani was a little more forthcoming.

“They approached me,” he told The Telegraph. “I’m an attention seeker. That is the main reason I speak. That is the reason I agreed to go on the BBC. Trading is a like a hobby. It is not a business. I am a talker. I talk a lot. I love the whole idea of public speaking.”

So he’s more of a talker than a trader. A man who doesn’t own the house he lives in, but can sum up the financial crisis in just three minutes – a knack that escapes many financial commentators.

“I agreed to go on because I’m attention seeker,” he said on Tuesday. “But I meant every word I said.”

We shall see.

 

 

Transitions, pt One

Reflections on these present times.

Want a brilliant idea for tomorrow? Stay in the present!

Dogs do this wonderfully.  I am told that followers of Zen Buddhism discover peace and grace from embracing the present. But is there more to this?  Is there some deeper psychology involved?  Does our species have an intrinsic challenge in terms of staying in the present?

My musings on this arise from a couple of recent conversations.

The first was with Peter McCarthy from the Bristol area of West England.  Peter and I go back a few years (at my age, everything goes back a few years!) and at one stage I did some work for Peter’s company, Telecom Potential.  Just a quick aside, Peter’s company was based in the magnificent Clevedon Hall, a mansion built in 1853 as a family home for Conrad William Finzel, a German-born businessman.  Here’s a picture of one of the rooms,

A room at Clevedon Hall

Peter, like me, is sure that the period in which the world now appears to be, is not some cyclical downturn, not some temporary departure from the national growth and employment ambitions promoted by so many countries.  No! This one is different.

Peter is sure that a major transition is under way, as big as any of the great societal upheavals of the past.  And, for me, a fascinating comment from Peter was his belief that the key attitude required for the next years would be innovation.  Peter reminded me that we tend to think of innovation as applying to things physical, scientific and technical.  But Peter sensed that it would be in the area of social innovation where key changes would arise and, from which, these large societal changes would flow.

Then a day later I was chatting with one of the founders of a brilliant new authentication process, Pin Plus. It is a very smart solution to a major global problem, the weaknesses of traditional password user-authentication systems.

On the face of it, Pin Plus is obviously a better and more secure way of authenticating users, and a number of key test customers have borne this out.  Jonathan C was speaking of the challenges of convincing companies to have faith in this new process.  This is what he said,

More than once, indeed many times, I am told by prospects something along the lines that the IT world has been looking so hard and so long for a password solution that a solution can’t possibly exist.

Let’s ponder that for a moment.  Are we saying that a far-sighted approach to the potential for change is not an easy place for some, probably many, human brains?

Indeed, Jonathan and I mused that here we were, both speaking via Skype, an internet telephony service, both of us looking at different web sites in support of many of the points that we were discussing and totally dependent, in terms of our mentoring relationship, on the technology of the internet, a multi-node packet-switched communications system that was a direct result of the American shock of seeing the Russians launch the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into low earth orbit on the 4th October, 1957.

Launch of Sputnik 1

At that time, it would have seemed impossible for anyone on the planet to see that the American response to Sputnik 1 would eventually lead to the vast packet-switched network that is now the modern Internet.

But why do we regard the ability to look into the future so utterly out of reach of the common man?  Look at this, the Internet Timeline here.  Look how quickly the response to Sputnik1 gathered pace.  See how Leonard Kleinrock of MIT way back in May, 1961, presented a paper on the theory of packet-switching in large communications networks.

So maybe there’s a blindness with humans.  A blindess that creates the following bizarre characteristics,

  • Whatever is going on in our lives at present we assume will go on forever.  I.e. the boom times will never end, or the period of doom and gloom is endless.
  • Our obsession with how things are now prevents us from reflecting on those signs that indicate changes are under way, even when the likely conclusions are unmistakeable.  The ecological and climatic changes being the most obvious example of this strange blindness that mankind possesses.
  • Yet, unlike animals and some spiritual groups of humans, truly living in the present appears incredibly difficult for man.
  • However, the history of mankind shows that our species is capable of huge change, practically living in constant change for the last few millennia, and that a very small proportion of a society, see yesterday’s article, is all that is required to create a ‘tipping point’.

I want to continue with this theme but conscious that there is still much to be written.  So, dear reader, I shall pause and pick this up tomorrow.

Just stay in the present for twenty-four hours!

Power of social networks in the area of finance

The nature and reach of social conversations in the investment arena.

The above sub-heading is from a recent Post on Naked Capitalism that rather spookily comes hot on the heels of one of my recent musings.  Here’s what I published on the 12th January although I wrote it on the 9th.

In the past opinion and commentary has been in the hands, more or less, of the giant media moguls.  But technology has changed that.  Now more than ever a huge people have access to the Internet.  Indeed, a quick Google search reveals that of a world population of 6.85 billion people, just under 2 billion (29%) have internet access.  In North America that percentage is 77.4% (226 million) and in Europe the percentage is 58.4% (475 million).  I.e. nearly a billion people in just North America and Europe!

My point is that, in a manner never before experienced in human history, the vast majority of us have the ability to read, learn and muse about the critically important issues facing us today, coming to conclusions that carry political weight.  We have almost infinite choice as to where and how we form opinions.

Thus having access, via the internet, to the scribblings of so many wise people may end up giving democracy the boost it really needs in the face of overwhelming powerful plutocratic forces.

Coincidentally, also on the 12th Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism published an article entitled, The 20 most influential blogs in financial media.  You can find that article here.  Here’s a flavour of what was written.

Thanks to Minyanville for publicizing this study by MindfulMoney on the nature and reach of social conversations in the investment arena. But even bigger thanks go to loyal readers and contributors for their frequent comments, leads, and critiques. The success of a blog depends on its community and I am very grateful for all the input so many of you have generously provided.

Perhaps the most interesting finding (boldface ours):

The research confirms the existence of a network of investment super-connectors with extraordinary media influence and reach. These super-connected new influentials are, for the most part, not well established voices in the media but individual bloggers who fiercely champion their independence….In the US, the network functions as the unofficial voice of Wall Street & the US federal bank with no mainstream media players at the centre of the network.

Given how many of these top blogs are critical of the status quo, this map may be hopeful sign that the blogosphere is beginning to become a important channel of discourse outside the reach of the PR machinery of major corporations and government entities.

And rather than publish all the top 20 names, you can see that list here, the top 10 are as follows:

1. Naked Capitalism
2. Infectious Greed
3. The Big Picture
4. Jesse’s Cross Roads Cafe
5. Zerohedge
6. Mish’s Global Economic Analysis
7. Calculated Risk
8. Paul Krugman’s Blog
9. FT Alphaville
10. Ludwig von Mises Institute

Anyone interested in downloading the original report as published on the MindfulMoney website can go to the article here; the link to the pdf, requiring prior registration, is towards the end of the article.  The article opens thus:

Most investors would acknowledge that social media is playing an increasing role in their investment decisions. Yet no-one has mapped the emerging network of influence likely to be playing a crucial part in those decisions.

Until now that is.  MindfulMoney’s ‘Social Finance: The New Influentials” report is aiming to better understand what this network looks like and to see if a number of super connections, so beloved of writers like Malcolm Gladwell, exist.

The research indicates that they do.

As I said, to download the article you need to register first – that link is here.

It’s a very interesting new world that we are living in and one, I pray, that is returning real power to the electorates.

 

 

 

 

Friendship – alpaca style

Yet another beauty from Naked Capitalism

Regular readers will have run out of counting the number of times that I applaud Yves Smith and her amazing blog, Naked Capitalism.  Not only is it a fantastic source of many stories of real public concern, her daily antidote du jour is often delightful.  Here’s the one that came from her Blog posting of the 19th September.

Clarence and Cindy

Cattle dog Clarence plays with an alpaca named Cindy in “Alpaca Land” in Goeming, Austria. The two have lived together on the farm since they were 3 months old. Eighty-seven alpacas, the largest flock in Austria, live on the farm.

By Paul Handover