Thursday, April 23, 2009

Greens, Shoots And Leaves

Recently Chairman Ben said he was seeing "green shoots" in the US economy. I immediately thought of Lynne Truss's wonderful book "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" and, thus, the title for today's post.

To wit, for several weeks now my thesis on the global economy has been as follows:
  • (a) Markets would stage a significant bounce on the back of massive monetary intervention to rescue the financial sector and preventing a repeat of the banking collapse that led to the Great Depression. This has already happened; the S&P 500 index is now up 30% from the bottom reached a bit over a month ago. More significantly, the BKX index of US banks is up 102%.
BKX and SPX Comparative Chart
  • b) By indirectly pointing back to markets, politicians and opinion makers would steer popular opinion towards the view that the worst is over and that a recovery is coming soon. This process is under way right now. I am already observing subtle changes in the language used by media: e.g. economic "downturn" instead of "crisis".
  • c) But the real economy is no longer driven by finance. The borrow-spend-inflate Permagrowth model has been bankrupted and can no longer function as the fat "tail" that wags the rest of the "dog", the real economy where jobs and earned incomes are generated. In fact, we can say that America has killed its vital manufacturing dog and is now left with just a stumpy, trampled-upon finance tail. Within just ten years we have lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, a scary 30% of the total.
  • d) This means that unless the administration immediately, radically and massively re-focuses its attention on creating a Sustainable real economy, the rally in stocks will soon fizzle and the green shoots will be revealed to be nothing more than the figments of the market's forward-looking imagination. This shift in focus is, unfortunately, NOT happening yet.
  • e) Putting it another way, we need to create a whole new "green" dog and we need to do it right away. The finance tail should be heavily groomed, cleaned, shortened and regulated before it is allowed to attach itself to this new dog. Green New Deal is an excellent report on the origins of the triple debt, climate and resource crises and what may be done to overcome them.
If we don't immediately refocus our efforts to the REAL economy by working towards the creation of a sustainable future, then all we're going to achieve with the current massive bailouts is what is implied in the post's title: A bit of a relief rally in financial markets, quickly followed by a pile of poop and then, bye-bye economy.

I will close by recommending a very relevant book: Herman Daly's "Beyond Growth - The Economics of Sustainable Development" is a densely written and densely argued treatise. Published in 1996, no one can accuse its author for being a Green/Sustainability parvenu; the arguments are all the more relevant today. Read it.

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) just announced the results of its semi-annual survey; at the end of 2008 CDS notional amounts outstanding have dropped significantly to "just" $38.6 trillion.

Data: ISDA


  1. But you are not analyzing the relationship between fiat money and the financial sector itself.
    Just WHAT is it in the nature of fiat money that leads to the creation of such rampant, abstract speculation ?
    I know that we have got rid of the stock markets on different occasions, and that, in my opinion, the REAL economy does better for it, but why do they just keep coming back, like those pimples I spoke about in another comment ?
    There is another book I like recommending : Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, written in the 70's.
    It is even quite prescient. And Schumacher is a humanist, and a person with hope. (For YOU, Joe.)

  2. Hell,

    You recently seemed to imply the worst may be over in the financials. Now you are qualifying that statement with an IF. The IF is a RADICAL,IMMEDIATE, and MASSIVE change. Sadly, that seems unlikely. It seems to me that your optimism is for what COULD be rather than what likely WILL be.

    Fiat money and the stock market is here to stay. The question is how will be regulate them.

  3. This comment should probably go on the previous post, but since I (selfishly) don't want any of my friends on this blog to miss it, here goes.
    I have been thinking about Susan Boyle, and Arnould's comment on the butterfly phenomenon (thermodynamics ? lol...)
    Fasten your seat belts, guys for a quick ride to one of those weird places I like to take you to...
    This one is for Arnould, who was so nice to put the clip in a link, for Thai, for Hell who knows what I am going to say, but may NOT know he knows what I say.
    And PARTICULARLY for Joe, who really needs to know, and feel the truth of this...

    Susan Boyle...
    Remember Matthew Arnold ? That great Victorian poet and critic who aptly summed up the spirit of HIS age, and ours when he said :

    "The sea of faith was once too at the full
    And round earth's shore lay like the fold of a bright girdle furled.
    But now I only hear,
    Its melancoly, long, withdrawing roar,
    Retreating, to the breath
    Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
    And naked shingles of the world.

    Ah, love, let us be true to one another...."

    Well, Matthew, whose poem is the guiding principle of an excellent novel by Ian McEwan (that you should read, Edwardo, yoyomo, Cottonbloggin, and Thai, if you haven't already...) was right about the sea of faith, but WRONG in concluding that he could counter the retreat in his pathetic cry "let us be true to one another", sending us all to our little individual homes, with our kids, and our little isolated lives to resolve this problem.

    My friends, the wave is coming back in. The sea is returning to lap the shore, in one great wave that is is breaking, and carrying us ALL in on it, a great breaker.
    And Susan Boyle is part of it. But if you look closely, it is ALL AROUND YOU. (Rosalind Russel this morning singing "Everything's Coming up Roses, with NO VOICE but with real FEELING)
    YES YES YES YES (Molly Bloom in Ulysses...)
    And Arnould, don't be afraid. We will take the bad with the good, and do something with it.
    And Joe, try to believe...
    (And I'm not talking about the church, or God, either....)
    Happy Sunday ! : )

  4. Absolutely spot on post. Real change will not happen because it would require politicians to tell the truth and do some real work. Ain't gonna happen.

    I fully expect massive collapse over Summer/Fall, I hope I am wrong.

    Joe M.

  5. Someone please describe to me any sort of plan being articlulated by our leaders for our economy's energy transfomation. I hear references, but nothing concrete. Even so, this change, which is vital, will take vast sums of money and deployment time. One could argue to the contrary, but I feel that our country just does not seem ready for such a challenge, fiscally, physically, intellectually, emotionally, etc. So, to Hell's point, I totally agree that the REAL economy is starving, but the bankers are not that concerned because they now have theirs. We, the workers who add value, are secondary. However, guess who funds the treasury of the cities, state, and local governments? The people do a lot of this heavy lifting. Money is being WASTED through bailouts. Money toward a green economy is the opportunity cost, along with the concerns of the rest of us.

  6. "Real change will not happen because it would require politicians"

    Sure, the existing politicians will try to maintain the system which has done so well by them. But in the end it will not be up to them. Or even "us".

    History is full of non-politican-driven critical events that evoked real change. Many of them nasty, of course (black plague making serfs valuable, a series of unusually severe winters provoking the French Revolution). Lately (150 yrs) they seem tech-driven (hydrocarbons, electronics, computers, medicine) and without bloodshed.

    There has to be a transition to a new system, but I don't see a new one waiting in the wings to take over so I fear chaos (for weeks? years?) while a new system evolves. Which it will, for better or worse.

    Its kind of perverse thrill when we face the unknown. Progress is made when we admit we don't know what the #$%& is going on .

  7. @ Dink

    Really great link!! This was beautiful:

    "And as far as I can tell, because I’ve had it repeatedly and rather pityingly told to me, to want to pursue the matter any further is an impulse that marks its sufferer out as a man who doesn’t know an awful lot about physics, or science, or the pursuit of truth in general."

    I've noticed for many years now the tentativeness of all scientific inquiry. It started when I was a child coming in from playing in the snow with near frostbitten hands. We were told for some "scientific" reason that I don't remember to rinse our hands in "cold" water to warm them up. This changed to "hot" than "lukewarm" and back before I finished adolescence. I don't know the state of play now but its probably gone to pills and creams in honor of the modern era of science and industry. Beautiful link, well worth a look.

    P.S. Gee I hope thermodynamics doesn't trip up on the same pitfalls!

  8. Hell,

    I don't know if I should laugh or cry...

  9. An economy can not sustain itself on financial alchemy and debt alone? Shock!!!

  10. Hell,

    you were right on the money with your calls. Nice job. I salute you!

  11. I think what Debra is talking about is a more enlightened humanity where we become one with multi-dimensional universe. An almost mythical/magic state of being.

    I fully embrace this is our destiny BUT we must first go through a nasty period of chaos as the old paradigm of human enslavement by the money-power-control peoples collapses.

    Another site I follow calls this a transformation. Much like the butterfly you mention whereby it goes from grovelling on the ground into the freedom of flight.

    A perfect analogy of where we are headed.

    Joe M.

  12. @ Anonymous
    "Really great link!!"

    Glad you liked it too. It had a Douglas Adams/"but the emperor really IS naked" feel to it. One of my favorite quotes was:

    "As far as I can tell, these virtual particles are composed entirely of math and exist solely to fill otherwise embarrassing gaps in physics"

    Curiosity over pride,

  13. Dink:

    The same could be said about gravity and a fuzzy concept of "gravitons". What exactly is the essence of the force of gravity?

    Human nature is another study in unknown forces but like gravity, we know the effects. Give people power with little negative consequence and you will likely see abuse. We can call it greed, avarice, hubris but the ugly head is reared in proportion to the risk-free opportunity.

    This is why fuzzy concepts of utopia or ideal societies fail--they ignore human nature. There is no "We" working toward the improvement of society, there are only individuals working in a system with incentives built into the system to drive society toward the ideal.

    Ignore forces of nature and you get slammed to the pavement.

  14. Marcus, interesting point.

    RE: "There is no "We" working toward the improvement of society"

    My question to this statement would be: why can we absolutely see on functional MRI/PET scans/EEGs an area of the brain responsible for religion?

    ... Indeed we can even stimulate it very precisely with certain drugs like psilocybin, etc..

    What was mother nature trying to accomplish when she put that area of our brain into our brain?

    In the same vein, why did two bacteria get together a long time ago to become mitochondria and the rest of your cell?

    And why did multicellular organisms develop? And why did these develop into more complex life forms from there?

    I certainly agree "no utopia", I certainly agree with individuals, what I have a hard time seeing why no "We"?

  15. @ Dink

    "As far as I can tell, these virtual particles are composed entirely of math and exist solely to fill otherwise embarrassing gaps in physics"

    For a long time I thought the same of relativity theory. Now at the age of 62 I have finally understood the theory and still think the same. You see if the speed of light is constant, and why not, than all observable phenomena - - you notice they chose light = observation - - are time ordered and time itself must expand and contract relative to the speed between observable vantage points but time order remains the same on both. But suppose the universe is expanding at greater than the speed of light - - the theory does not say that light is the fastest speed, - - than certain phenomena would be unobservable and their time ordering challenged, perhaps allowing for time travel at sufficient speeds.

    The possibility for this seems left open by the current science just as string theory must postulate additional dimensions to make current physics theory consistent.

    So it is, I understand, that the force of gravity on earth is much much smaller than physics would predict so that a 5th dimension is postulated to explain this. This dimension is unobservable to us but within it the gravitational force would be quite strong. Only a bit of it leaks into our 4 dimensional universe explaining the minor gravitational pull we experience, so too with the other dimensions of string theory.

    I have always understood our sensual limitations to delimit our knowledge so I am not reluctant to imagine such additional dimensions or even the bizarre implications of relativity. But as our senses are truly limited we shall never know unless a god decides to one day reveal us the truth. By the way this was also the conclusion of many early philosophers, Kant, Aristotle, Scolastic, etc. The fun of it is that he has so far been either silent or at the very least difficult to interpret.

    Perhaps anticipating the scientific dilema around hand washing - - see earlier post - - Pontius Pilate decided to use this as a metaphor that morality was beyond science? The Bible has much wisdom along with quite a bit of idiocy again raising tantalizing problems of interpretation.



  16. SS- What a great observation!
    I had a somewhat similar observation a while ago .

    Apparently Tolstoy looked at things similarly:

    An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History.
    By Isaiah Berlin.

    Most of us, I imagine, reading "War and Peace" tend to skim over the long disquisitions on history as rather tedious breaks in a marvelously exciting story, and nearly all critics hitherto have given official sanction to this habit by attempting to prove that these historical essays are an unnecessary blemish upon a great work of art. However, Isaiah Berlin--lecturer in philosophy at Oxford and famous as a scholar, diplomatist and conversationalist in at least two continents--has chosen to subject these historical passages to careful attention. In this brilliant essay he not only succeeds in making very good sense out of Tolstoy's historical theory but also finds in it an indispensable key to the complex and divided personality of the great Russian novelist.

    The fox, said the old Greek poet, knows many things, but the hedgehog only one big thing. On this ancient bit of wisdom Mr. Berlin bases his distinction between two fundamental human types: those who have sharp eyes, like the fox, for the multiple things of the world, and those, like the hedgehog, whose defense consists of a single centripetal impulse--that is, who seek an inner unified vision. Tolstoy, in Mr. Berlin's view, was a fox who all his life sought, unsuccessfully, to be a hedgehog.

    The glory of Tolstoy's novels lies precisely in their almost superhuman sensitivity to the multiplicity of things, their ability to record the individual feel and tone of persons, places and situations in their concrete objectivity; but the other half of Tolstoy, particularly during his latter years, is the agonizing search for an inner unifying vision with which his foxlike appetite for multiplicity can lie down in peace. The theory of history in "War and Peace" comes out of this deep cleft in the man himself.

    The theory maintains, very simply, that the human understanding can never comprehend history, since the historic process involves an infinity of causes that lie beyond our grasp. Mr. Berlin seems to me to be altogether right in rescuing his theory from the charge of "mysticism." It is, rather, an entirely lucid and intellectually cogent theory, and a deterministic one to boot, though rather discomforting to the facile determinism of some historians. The individual, from the point of view of history, is never free, since he is caught in a web of infinite circumstances and causes.

    On the other hand, "War and Peace" as a novel swarms with an extraordinary number of vivid personal lives each of which throbs with its own sense of decision and choice. This conflict between the feeling of freedom and the rational truth of determinism Tolstoy never succeeded in resolving for himself during his whole life.

    Dissatisfied with the patness and artificiality of the historians' theories, Tolstoy was led in turn to distrust all theory as the falsification of the fullness of life itself. Hence, the great heroes that emerge in the novel are Kutuzov, the aged general who as the embodiment of the Russian earth triumphs over the intellectual cleverness of foreign generals, and the peasant Karataev who has a much deeper human wisdom than the Petersburg intellectual Pierre. Indeed, "War and Peace" is one of the most formidable attacks upon rationalism ever penned....


  17. "What exactly is the essence of the force of gravity?"

    "a 5th dimension is postulated to explain this"

    Ah, man. If Mephistopheles were to offer to turn me into a hedgehog, I'd be pretty tempted.

    I once thought the financial world was simple. The stock market was gambling on future value, banks lent money you deposited for interest, if demand was high then prices went up. Simple stuff. And then you start digging in and find out about fractional reserves, privately owned central banks, and CDOs. And you wish you were a hedgehog again, but you can never go back.

    Quantum physics, corporate banking, or Hinduism. My cortex only has so many wrinkles...

  18. I know very little about the concepts you are writing about in physics, and have little inclination to embark on serious reading in these subjects to try to understand them.
    But, a few remarks :
    As a civilization, we are heavily under the influence of a teleological construction of time itself dependant on Judaism. And something else : a jarring prejudice in making "history" an enumeration of SUCCESSIVE, UNIQUE events, as opposed to repetitions of periodic phenomena. (This is changing, as our manner of conceptualizing history is branching out into the historical novel, very much in demand...)
    For the fox and the hedgehog, this problem seems extremely...SIMPLE to me.
    Take a picture. Now, move your head so that your nose is sticking to the page. What do you see ?
    Now, start moving your head back.
    What you see changes doesn't it ?
    Ha, you thought I was, didn't you ?
    But unless you are capable of moving your head (and thus your eyes) to see things at different angles, then you will not be able to achieve the difficult balance between analytic and global thinking.
    The ability to generalize is absolutely essentiel.
    And our specialization has moved us too far away from it, as it has also affected our capacity to make essential links between different phenomena, and even disciplines.
    For the area of the brain where "religion" is, Thai, that wouldn't be the LIMBIC region by any chance would it ?
    I HAVE THIS THEORY that we have been suffocating our emotions (thanks, frontal cortex...) for quite some time. The emotions come from the limbic system, like... "religion". Am I right, Thai ?

  19. Friends,

    I've been thinking somewhat more about relativity and time travel since our exchange. One of the constraints to time travel if it would need be at greater than the speed of light, is that according to my memory of the science, mass becomes infinite and size approaches zero as one nears the speed of light. But how do scientists know this?

    Extrapolating from the behavior of particles as they are accelerated faster and faster in giant electro-magnetic accelerators is where they begin. But it is not necessary at all that such behavior is linear as the speed of an object increases. So while in the observed range mass may increase exponentially, closer to the speed of light this behavior may alternate. Thai has already discussed non-linear probabilities in another post. And of course it is difficult to understand how one could observe infinite mass in a finite accelerator - - Switzerland where the CERN accelerator is located is not that big and even though Texans like to think of themselves as big, infinite they are not, except maybe infinitely obtuse judging by the few we have seen on the national scene.

    So how does Science get to this conclusion? I believe there are many scientists visiting this blog site and we need some help. I hope the answer doesn't resemble previous ones of the sort that it was dreamed up to explain something not otherwise explainable, sort of like the Bible in that case but not necessarily helpful.

    On an only slightly related topic, has it occured to any of you science fiction readers that these Chinese posts might be a communication from the beyond? Seriously! I cranked up my Chinese - Serbo-Croatian conversion program - - its slow and messy but does the job - - and the best I can make out is that they are saying, "beware that President Obama is being captured by non-progressive aliens!" At least that is what I hoped they would be saying!

    All the Best


  20. Obama was captured by the big money interests long ago. He is just the flip side of the same coin.

    Did you just see him trying to justify torture? It is absolutely sicko our country has been degraded to such things.

    I embrace full-on-collapse to destroy the corruption.

    Joe M.

  21. @ Debra

    "I HAVE THIS THEORY that we have been suffocating our emotions (thanks, frontal cortex...) for quite some time."


    You do really need to read Nietsche. He believes that thoughts are impacted by emotions like bowling balls hitting pins, hence analog, rather than digital emanating from deep within our brain. So courage, fear, pandering, silliness, etc. all contribute to the architecture of our thought pattern.

    Also don't forget Celine and Bataille, while Rousseau is an elegant genius, Celine and Bataille have much to offer and the advantage of being more modern.



  22. Thanks, SS.
    No to Céline and Bataille, yes to Nietzsche.
    But, Rousseau first.
    (And I swear, I get more out of Shakespeare than all of them combined, so far...)
    Joe, I kind of agree with you about Obama.
    Although, since I feel that our emotions so deeply affect our thoughts, and vice versa, as it turns out, I try to cultivate optimism these days...

  23. You make a good point Joe (and no I didn't), you really do... The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    Dink, a friend just forwarded me this, I knew you would appreciate it.


  24. SS-

    Relativity and Nietzsche in the same day? You flirt with madness. Keep nourished during your odyssey. BTW, do you really speak Serbo-Croatian? I'm a big Tesla fan...


    2. Those football players are superhuman. Is it really physically possible to throw a ball that far...underhand and behind your back?

    1. Exoplanets- extremely appreciated! It fires up the imagination intensely, no? Panspermia is a classic sci-fi theme (aliens seeding Earth with DNA to see how it would evolve; or maybe knowing sapients would eventually evolve). Since we haven't got space travel mastered yet, maybe we should hedge our bets and start sending microorganisms to these exoplanets. Hmmmm.

    You ever go down the rabbit's hole on this mitochondria thing? Neither mitochondria or chloroplasts use the universal code for amino acids. Googled; found some stuff on geneticists arguing about some unwholesome alliance between archaea and bacteria. If you have the answer handy so I can be a hedgehog again instead of a fox, it'd be super ;)

  25. "archaea"- way cool! The stories on those little buggers are unbelievable!

    Have you ever read (or in my case listened to audio on tape) to Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.

    If not, I highly recommend it. Has a way cool chapter on archaea.

    ... But beyond an awareness of the issue, I know no more than you.

    Greenie, do you know? (I know you are a geneticist)

  26. The black Swan guy argues that as life gets more and more complex, the financial system should be made more and more simple. Complex financial system coupled with increased complexity (or interdependence) of life is very vulnerable to 'black swan' events.

  27. Archaea is the third form of life. In the earlier days, biologists used to classify everything into prokaryote or eukaryotes.

    Prokaryotes typically include bacteria. Their cell division is simple. They lack many organelles. Their DNA is circular. Genes lack introns --- so on. Both prokaryotes and eukaryotes have mitochondria, which looks like another prokaryotic organism (has its own circular DNA and so on). So, it is suggested that sometime in distant past, a prokaryote got inside the cell of another prokaryote to create mito.

    Archaea is unicellular and cells are simple. So, biologists initially thought they were like any other bacteria. Later investigations showed many differences and many similarities with eukaryotes. I can't list them here, but they were numerous enough to get archaea moved to a new branch of evolutionary tree.

  28. Convergence, convergence, SS, I think that Cotton has some capacities in Serbo-Croate (unless Cotton and you are the same people...)
    Dink, thanks for the link to the article on magnetism and subatomic particles, but....
    It really shows up the extent that materialistic "scientific" dogma has totally discredited transcendance in any and all forms, and this is perhaps dangerous. After all, it seems to me that Neoplatonism, with its structure of ABSTRACT IDEAS behind a multiform, and confusing reality, has been with us for a very very long time now.
    Should we totally junk it with the perhaps equally tendentious idea that if it doesn't WORK, it is really useless ? Isn't that more crass materialism in short ?
    We shouldn't lose track of what we REALLY loathe : dogma and dogmatic positions mascarading as intemporal, and universal truths.
    We need to be able to use our minds to question what we have sometimes always held to be truth.
    And this is true everywhere : in economics, and in financial spheres, too.

  29. @ Dink

    Thanks for the compliment re: madness, Nietsche and relativity actually fit quite nicely together, Celine and Bataille less so although they both fit with Nietsche.

    My last defense of Celine for Deb, does she know he was a medical doctor? Very dedicated to the poor; a radical critic of the hypocrisies and injustices of society and simply a great writer and humanitarian, especially in French. I'm beginning to see that Bataille might not be her cup of tea but Celine is not as "noir" as he first seems. His fighting back against injustice does affirm the positive in life a la Nietsche.

    No unfortunately I don't know any serbo-croatian, was trying to do a science fiction type thing but since I don't read much sci-fi it probably missed.

    For the record I do speak French and Dutch and do not post as "Cotton" or use any other moniker other than SS. I don't do the Google posts, simply because I had trouble with my password, it seems to get kicked out every few days when I set up a new one - - so uncool of me I know - - but will probably try it again if I find anyone else signing as anonymous - SS.



  30. To give me credit, SS, I try to question whatever could possibly lodge in my mind in terms of prejudice, and I honestly just have not gotten around to reading Céline, because, believe it or not, I'm just not a major fan of French literature (outside of Baudelaire, Molière, Marivaux, Laclos, and a few others).
    My first love has always been English lit.
    From day one, and to the day I die, I suppose.
    THOMAS HARDY (sigh...) MRS GASKELL, to name just two...
    P.S., Hell, the mice are playing, the mice are playing and having GREAT FUN.

  31. Thai-
    Re: Bryson- Seems like an interesting guy. A bit like Asimov in that he could write about many, many subjects. I'll give him a try sometime.

    Re: Archaea- Mysterious. They don't seem interested in us eukaryotes(unlike the bacteria which seem very fond of us). I think I once read that archaea can be found in dental plaque, but that could easily be neural misfiring. I also read a theory that life orginally evolved around Earth's inner heat instead of the Sun's energy- not sure if it was archaea or bacteria that came first.

    Mito- Hmmm . Greenie, do you have a short lessen on redox control of gene expression? I'm sure there is a wealth of info in my old textbooks and on the net, but I really like it when other people do the work for me ;)

    Madness lit. The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness fame) has always been a favorite. You could dive into Lovecraft, but it gets weird.

  32. @ Dink

    I haven't read Conrad since adolescence and don't read much non-fiction any more. I think life is strange enough probably. But I did like Heart of Darkness, thought it a work of genius and should try to remember The Secret Sharer.

    Curiously enough a street in this far Washington D.C. suburb is named Kurtz drive. They were trying to fill in names in the "K" street section of town and hit on that among several other Ks. I don't think many people here know who Kurtz was. Life goes on.

    And Lovelace! high romantic if I remember, really crazy stuff, I used to love it. The French equivalent, for Deb, is Antonin Artaud. It was once said of him half in derision and half in praise that he was so crazy that he didn't even notice the beautiful spring day.

    One French romantic writer that had the proper appreciation of himself was Gerard de Nerval. He had traveled all over Europe writing poems as was the won't of romantics of his day. After several nervous breakdowns and celebrity on Gerard's death bed - - after an only partially successful suicide attempt he died later from the act - -he raconted that when a little boy his uncle had said of him, "This child will go far." Uttering his appreciation of this assessment was the memorable, "By that he explained by taste for travel."

    The "grand style", even in death, Vive la France!


  33. should read:

    "By that he explained my taste for travel."


  34. Copied from abstract of a paper -

    "Chloroplasts contain 3000-4000 different proteins but only a small subset of them is encoded in the plastid genome while the majority is encoded in the nucleus. Expression of these genes therefore requires a high degree of co-ordination between nucleus and chloroplast. This is achieved by a bilateral information exchange between both compartments including nucleus-to-plastid (anterograde) and plastid-to-nucleus (retrograde) signals. The latter represent a functional feedback control which couples the expression of nuclear encoded plastid proteins to the actual functional state of the organelle. The efficiency of photosynthesis is a very important parameter in this context since it is influenced by many environmental conditions and therefore represents a sensor for the residing environment. Components of the photosynthetic electron transport chain exhibit significant changes in their reduction/oxidation (redox) state depending on the photosynthetic electron flow and therefore serve as signalling parameters which report environmental influences on photosynthesis. Such redox signals control chloroplast and nuclear gene expression events and play an important role in the co-ordination of both genetic compartments. It is discussed here which photosynthetic parameters are known to control nuclear gene expression, how these signals are transduced toward the nucleus, and how they interact with other plastid retrograde signals and cytosolic light perception systems."

  35. Why does life exist? Why did some organism develop multicellularity? Why does evolution happen?

    I cannot answer those profound questions in this short space, but I may provide some food for thought.

    When you take a bottle of water or a jar full of gas, and leave it for months, it does not turn into something smarter. One may extend that observation to years, decades or centuries and say that a group of chemicals left together for long time will not by itself get more complex over time. No law of physics or chemistry supports such 'improvement' or directional change. Then why did the inert materials earth started with billions of years back continue to turn into more complex as every year passes?

    If you leave a ball on a flat surface, the ball does not go anywhere. However, if the ball is left on an inclined surface, it keeps on moving. When I described inert gases left for many weeks or months, I assumed the external conditions equivalent to 'flat surface'. In reality the surface is not flat.

    Every day, the earth absorbs huge amount of energy from the sun. That energy makes the situation for the chemicals on earth different from the test experiment of materials left in a jar. Chemicals in earth + constant addition of energy from sun is equivalent to a ball on an inclined surface. Hence the steady increase in complexity.

    Hope I confused you enough :)

  36. You're funny. Real people? Real economy? Every level of our society had been overwhelmed and overtaken by the trust fund, Ivy elite. They not only do what they want, they are sociopathic solipsists.

  37. Dink, one of the more interesting concepts in Lacanian psychoanalysis is the concept of metaphor.
    Metaphor, for the way I understand it, is when everything is going along smoothly, as planned (the ball on a flat surface ?), and then all of a sudden...
    something unexpected happens. (Who knows why ? Is it really all that important to know why ?)
    On a certain level you can postulate that our constant craving for novelty, a craving that is a big force in our collective "development" can be put down to the need for metaphor.
    But you can also say somewhere that what really caracterizes LIVING MATTER is its absolute affinity for metaphor.
    And something new usually means (hopefully means, because we are collectively working AGAINST THIS at this time...) something more complex.
    How's that for metaphysics ?
    I'm too lazy to read Nerval, SS, I think.
    But I used to read, and like, Barbey d'Aureyvilly (spelling ?).
    And it's Lovecraft, not Lovelace.
    Lovecraft is incredible...
    But don't tempt me. I'm plugging away at Rousseau, and really liking him.
    I think I'm going to do a presentation on Emile next year, for a group of philosophers, if they want/will have me.
    No simplistic comments about Ivy-Leaguers, please. I come straight out of an East Coast prep school, and don't regret it for a minute.
    Too bad there aren't more East Coast prep schools ALL OVER the U.S. And too bad they're so *****expensive...

  38. @Greenie
    "Hope I confused you enough :)"

    No, its good stuff. But I'm going to need 12-36 hours to come up with a lucid response to the plastid stuff ;)

    Regarding your second post, life took a couple billion years, but its progression makes sense thanks to Earth "being in the right place at the right time".

    Does that first one come on a t-shirt?

  39. Deb, which prep?

    I went to PA Andover

  40. Well, Thai, I went to Springside School in Philadelphia, PA, after doing a little stint at Lankenau.
    My brother went to Penn Charter.
    Ring any bells ?
    No big league, but big enough to open my mind up...and particularly to open it up to French.
    I went to an Ivy league school for graduate school. It was a REAL disappointment after my undergraduate education...

  41. Deb,

    Do you or Thai have any familiarity with Swarthmore? I am trying to get ahead of the curve on my sons education. I am not familiar with the ivy league schools but have a favorable bias toward Swarthmore, though it maybe totally misplaced. Its not based on a lot of real info or experience.. Any input on the Ivy League would be helpful too.


  42. Dink,
    I have no way of knowing but with unemployment as it is, surely some enterprising soul could make a buck off it. I liked the second one better because it has a better chance of coming to pass (though not in 2010) even though the first one is funnier. That seems to be the path Mexico is going down; 7K killed in the past year in drug wars.

    If your son(s) are interested in either accounting or engineering (especially chemical eng) then you might want to take a look at Lehigh. If you're in the Philly area LU is about an hour drive north in Bethlehem. Nice campus, strong alumni assoc. Lots of alums send their kids.

    It shows.

  43. Oh, this is good, Bush blackmailing members of Congress:

  44. Dear SS,
    After all these years, I remain undyingly loyal to my undergraduate school which really beat the pants off my ivy League graduate school...
    Whitman College in Walla Walla Washington.
    In the middle of nice wine country.
    I could wax romantic about Whitman for hours here, but was STILL enthusiastic after my 30th reunion because of the quality of the student-teacher relationship, which is the best of any place I have come across.
    It's not the East coast though..
    But Washington state is really really lovely.
    A small school.

  45. Deb,

    Don't care to say anything about your Ivy League experience? I really need all the info I can get and know almost nothing, a lot of prejudices and mis-info along the lines: like Harvard better than Yale or Princetown, heard Dartmouth is a bit racist and Brown not so good. You see the low level of knowledge on which to help make a decision.

    I will look into Whitman, is it named for the poet? but don't think we want him so far from home.

    Have a nice weekend,


  46. Yo- Are either of those your professions? e.g. accounting or chemical engineering?

    SS, Congrats on your sons' outstanding achievements.

    Re: Swarthmore/Ivy League.

    Truthfully it has been a very long time since I looked into these issues. I personally went back to California (my home state) for college/Med School and my 4 boys are still a little young.

    I will say fwiw I am a big believer in education but I think our educational system (along with our health care system) is in the granddaddy of all bubbles right now. That fact you are looking at these issues closely seems wise.

    That aside, I can truly say that every graduate of Swarthmore I have ever met has always greatly impressed me. Beyond that I know no more.

  47. Accounting, but that is not why I mention it. LU's business school was known for it's acct dept and the Big8 acct firms used to swarm campus each year for interns and recruits. I talked to a job recruiter a few years ago and he told me that was still the case.
    WRT engineering, LU had strong depts in Chem, EE, Civil and Metallurgy but since BethSteel went bankrupt the university acquired its research labs so I would guess that Met has moved up the totem pole.

  48. Well, SS, for info I went to Middlebury for my graduate work in French (makes sense, doesn't it, you probably could have figured it out...)
    I found Middlebury incredibly overrated...
    The Ivy League schools are in the cradle of American civilization, the East Coast, and it is no accident that at least one of them existed before the nation officially did (Harvard, right ?).
    For us Europeans, Boston and upper New England are a BIG BUBBLE, a European bubble, and these areas have always been European bubbles, if you think about it. It's what makes the U.S. such a SCHIZOPHRENIC place...
    I don't knock on bubbles by the way.
    They are ESSENTIAL for educaction, I feel.
    And they are essential for maintaining the spirit of aristocracy which is so LACKING in the U.S. these days... It's just that the bubble of higher education in the U.S. has been functioning basically as totally cut off from the rest of the country, I think, and that this has generated incredible resentment.
    Who wants to see the professors talking, thinking, creating in their bubble when they're working 23 hours a day at butwork ? Get my point ?
    Whitman has one BIG advantage over the Ivy League schools.
    I think it's probably CHEAPER. The same quality of education while costing a hell of a lot less. Unless you plan on your kids qualifying for scholarships, but how is our educational system going to survive with a bankrupt middle class ?
    Any ideas ?
    And the school is named for Marcus Whitman, a missionary in Washington. And probably just a little bit bonkers, while we're at it.
    You can check out one of my favorite alums, Rick Stevenson, who is a film director with an incredible curriculum vitae. And a really talented great guy.
    Look for him over the Internet.

    (Sorry, Hell, I just can't help it. When I'm not a missionary, I am an ad woman. It's beyond my control...)

  49. Oh Dink,
    You might want to share this with a certain someone:

    Plus an interesting article on atmospheric escape that I've always wondered about:

  50. Deb, Thai, Yoyomo,

    Thanks so much!

    Thai - I am particularly impressed, 4 boys, you have your hands and mind full. Note looking at your bio - I have also spent a lot of time in Africa but not Kenya, mostly West Africa.

    All the Best


  51. Greenie-
    When I first read your post my neurons replaced plastid (apparently a generic term for chloroplast which I wasn't familiar with) with plasmid (a term I was familiar with from a clever bacteria trick). So I played around with google and concluded in the same spot I usually do. Which is, that if I want to get more into genetics I'm going to have to take some classes in computer programming.

    If your son wants to go into science, CalTech or MIT. If corporate evil, Harvard. Otherwise, state universities probably offer more bang for the buck/time.

    Walla Walla! Were you around for Mt. St. Helens? Over the last decade Washingtonians have gotten very smug about Walla Walla wine country and its geographical similarities to France.


    I'm a long time subscriber to Sci Am. So I got that charming food shortage article in print right to my mailbox. That genetics article by the UC Santa Cruz researcher was very cool. She also drove home the point that I'll need to master computer programming if I want to fully understand what she's talking about. @#$%^%.

  52. So Dink,I'm dying to know, did you share it w/<1/2 and if so what was the reaction? Are you still a urine-drinking-food-hoarding-hiss-provoking deviant? I can't count all the people I know who quietly concluded I was a kook and are only now beginning to admit that they are starting to worry about my TEOTWAWKI prognostications.
    If you haven't seen this article on Carolyn Baker's site, you might want to take a  quick look at the original site, heartbreaking photo especially coupled with the info in the article:
    On two more cheerful notes coming out of Mexico:
    Anyone hear about outbreaks of fatal swine flu in Mexico?

  53. @SS Re: Kenya. I was just having fun with my bio. I have never been, though I would truly love to go!

    The only part of Africa I have ever been to is Morocco- took the "Marrakesh Express" with wifey via backpack 20 years ago when we were still dating (during Ramadan, an experience I would not repeat with an unmarried woman, two backpacks and a starving student's budget again).

    I also agree with Dink. I paid much of my way through college and almost all my way through Med School which in truth was not hard with Cal, UCLA tuitions of $1200/year back then. I am very glad I was not saddled with such debt. Average debt for med Students today is >$150,000.

    By the way, this post makes the same point I was re:education bubble.

    I am skeptical our educational establishment is always restraining itself where its interests conflict with our kids- yet one more reminder of "buyer beware".

    I commend your good fortune if you think you need not worry about this issue as much as many I know have to.

    As for "Ivys"- my wife went to Penn (which she loved) though I suspect she would go somewhere else today if she could have afforded it back then (100% academic scholarship paid a big role in that decision).

    I tend to think all brand name universities have become one of those "chicken and the egg" things. Is the "output" of the school great because they get great people? Or do the people from these schools do great things because the "great" school teaches them great things.

    My own 2 cents is probably closer to Yoyomo's, e.g. the former is more important than the latter. But the social contacts and networking these schools offer is clearly invaluable for many people/many careers.

    Alas any hopes that my wifey would translate "Ivy" into "sugar momma" went out the wayside the day she decided to "waste all that time, money and training" (she was a lawyer) to spend more time adjudging the disputes of 4 waring little boys as their "personal domestic servant". ;-)

    @Yo- "yes" I did. I have friends at NIH (it is literally a short walk down my street) and FDA CEDR who keep me abreast of these things. Further my specialty society is always email updating us on potential threats... Which reminds me on your comment- why am I "elitist" when I will be the one going to work (and may potentially die) while you camp out in your compound waiting for my services when the big one finally hits and you need help??? I will do my duty. It is my moral obligation period. Anything otherwise would be against the very fiber of who I am. ... Your own cognitive dissonance on these things can be a little offensive at times, even if you do not see them as such...

    Anyway (back on topic), bottom line- no 10 alarm fire yet. But IF I hear anything so you can get into your bunker before the wind blows the wrong direction, I'll promise to let you know. ;-)

  54. Oh, I'm sure it's more than a little offensive to you Thai but I never accussed you of being elitist yourself, simply being too sympathatic to their point of view. Leaders are less to blame than followers. A cultural form of regulatory capture. Anyway, outside of PigPharma, I don't consider medicine a hotbed of elitism and I would never ask a father of young children to risk his safety for a late-middle-aged person; I believe in triage as an unfortunate necessity too.Besides, you're no elitist if you're wife is adjudging your war(r)ing sons' disputes. Elitists have nannies to adjudicate such matters but that doesn't diminish my regard for you in the least, just your opinions.

  55. BTW, re:"I'll promise to let you know", is that contingent on some as yet undone deed, you do promise or you will, maybe?
    accus(s)ed- finger tremor

  56. Well, I will be there anyway.

    Re: regulatory capture

    -Isn't that really the story of life for all of us? ;-)

    Re: pharma

    Having watched my father-in-law literally invent an anticancer drug in his home library one evening (honest, his name is on the patent) and take it all the way from obtaining seed funding, partnering with "Pigparm" (as you say), through large phase III clinical trial (where it failed), I am endlessly stunned by the heroism of many of the people who work for us in pharma today.

    His quest took 14 years of his life, he ended up quite a bit poorer than when he started the whole thing, and I have never heard him complain once. He always understood the risks when he started... though I do think the human mind has a propensity towards optimism that be devastating for some when things don't work out as planned.

    I can find the sales and marketing side of pharma a bit much at times, though "owning" a medical practice myself, I really do understand quite well how important they are to the organization ("organism") as a whole. We certainly all certainly die without them.

    And the endless push for profit can create some truly monumental conflicts of interest at times (which are always the hardest issues of all when it comes to life and death), but the reality of this issue is it cannot be not made any different any other way.

    It is always just a matter of aesthetics/perspective. I deal with life and death literally conflicts of interest every single day.

    ... Indeed one of my best friends works for FDA (I think I mentioned him above). The "differences of opinion"/"different perspectives" he describes at FDA are stunning in their complexity. It is clear there is never a "best way" to skin the proverbial cat.

    So in the end I just trust individuals. I know I certainly trust my friend. I think if you knew him, you would too.

    That there are people I would rather not make decisions for the rest of us I too would agree.

    What about pharm most bothers you?

    PS- I have been noticing the Wash Post run a number of articles on economic suicide lately. (I actually see an average of 1 suicide threat/attempt per shift I work on average- some days way more, some way less).

    Your/the WaPo articles got me curios.

    link 1Link 2... I don't buy the Middle Eastern data- I think it is kind of like Ahmadinejad's We don't have homosexuals.

  57. This was supposed to be link 1Regards

    PS- for a long time psychiatrists focused on the content of schizophrenic voices. I think All psychiatrists now agree this was probably a major mistake. There may be a little bit of wisdom in studying them, but not much.

  58. Yomo & Thai;

    Maybe Thai's wife can grab each of you by the scruff of the neck and get you to play nice :)

    Neither of you wants innocent people to suffer due to some malevolent force outside their control (viruses, Dick Cheney, etc.). You two just seem to have different definitions of "innocent" under the various circumstances that come up. I have a hard time seeing alcoholics as innocent people suffering due to an addictive disease outside their control. This seems to be the dominant view of many people and I don't think badly of them for it. They're well-meaning, just (IMHO) misguided.


    Oddly, this month's Sci Am has yet to be discussed ;)


    The 1918 flu wouldn't have been that huge of a killer if the patient's own immune system didn't go berzerk and flood their lungs. It seems we may be close to having the immune reaction contained . So hopefully Thai will just have to plug in a few more IVs of saline solution than usual that week and the pandemic will be over. Of course, I'd be a little more comfortable with that immune reaction controlling drug already in hand...

  59. New use patents for old drugs even when most of the research was done in govt labs. A pill that farmers used to deworm their sheep and cost only $14/bottle, govt research indicated a benefit in treating colon cancer and with a new use patent in hand the price went to $1400/bottle. Can't remember the name but it started with an L, I think.

    Copy cat drugs that do the same job (usually not as well) but consume research budgets.

    "Educational" confrences for doctors that are nothing more than a vehicle for bribing those so inclined.

    Supposedly independent research paid for by the pharmas that hypes benefits and conceals side effects (see Worst Pills, Best Pills by Dr. Sidney Wolfe)

    Marketing budgets that often dwarf research budgets.

    Payments to generic mnfrs to delay the release of generics.

    I'm sure I'm missing something but this should do for now.

    WRT Ahmedinajad, Justin Raimundo did a couple of pieces on that controversy over at and Taki's Top Drawer. What Ahmedinajad really said was "we don't have a homosexual PROBLEM in Iran" i.e. family and societal pressure keeps them in the closet or at least living more discreetly than in SanFran. When Ahmedinajad was on Larry King he explained that the govt doesn't concern itself with what people do in the privacy of their own homes.

    Raimundo also shared that Iran is one of the leading countries in the world for sex change operations and that the govt assumes the entire cost of the operation. hucoodanode?

  60. "Oddly, this month's Sci Am has yet to be discussed"

    I call first dibs on the fireworks if it's suitable for web-family viewing.

  61. I am not sure how any of these smack of elitism anyway. But that aside...

    Re: "New use patents for old drugs even when most of the research was done in govt labs."

    This is a WAY more complicated issue than you are suggesting.

    The overwhelming cost of a drug is not inventing it (my father-in-law's library is a classic case in point), the overwhelming cost of a drug is related to what is called "development costs".

    Ideas are cheap. Implementing ideas is what costs money.

    The average drug once invented still costs over $400 million to test just to bring to market. This is true even if the drug is well known.

    Further, there is the classic issue of "asymmetric risk" you fail to mention in your complaint about the way the current system works.

    As my father-in-law's example classically illustrated to me (again he is quite a bit poorer 14 years later in nominal and real dollars), one can loose everything in their investment.

    Giving the US Government your money with the guarantee of getting it back + 3% is very very different than giving your money to someone and never seeing a dime again (actually my practice is facing this very issue in negotiations with HCA right now and I am truly unsure how to proceed- I am quite risk averse by nature (which fwiw I think a rather good tendency in a physician).

    Anyway this issue doesn't go away if the US taxpayer takes over all the funding and gains of research, as the taxpayers still gets 14 years of cost into a process to hear a final phase III regulator "no".

    Everyone always sees the upside. No one ever sees the downside.

    Or as I like to say: "everyone always knows who owns the biggest house in the neighborhood, no one remembers those who left for economic reasons".

    And while I completely agree we could reduce the $400 million quite a bit by letting a lot more of drugs get onto market, understand the societal costs would dramatically increase as more potentially dangerous drugs made it out the door.

    Society can't have it both ways.

    I know of many many drugs the US government has discovered that are looking for development money from ANYBODY (including the government) but so far no takers, including the government itself.

    Re: "Copy cat drugs that do the same job (usually not as well) but consume research budgets."

    Even this is a little misleading. I too share some of your frustrations around this issue, but do not think for a moment these copy cat drugs don't put downward pricing pressures on prior similar drugs.

    When I was in medical school, perhaps the most expensive drug the average physician might prescribe was Prilosec (Omeprazole).

    It was so expensive, its use was limited to Zollinger-Ellison syndrome ONLY (a sever type of ulcer disease), I am sure you are aware it is over the counter and dirt cheap today (at least compared to its prior pricing).

    The fact the industry has gotten itself into this issue is about to lead to a HUGE windfall to American pharm users in the next few years years as patent expiration along with "me too" expiration competition leads to dramatically lower drug costs in the next few years.

    Re: "Educational conferences". This is a straw man issue if ever I heard one... I have never been, seen one in my 14 years since residency, though I have been to conferences I paid myself where pharm sponsors were present. I am sure you can find some example out there to prove me wrong (cancer drug prices are quite high so it may exist in the oncology fields).

    Re: "Marketing budgets that often dwarf research budgets."

    I too share your frustration on this one. In the interest of brevity I won't respond but even this is a complex issue.

    Re: "Payments to generic mnfrs to delay the release of generics."

    I again agree with you on this issue.

    BUT I do think this issue can be a bit of a style over substance issue as the problem many drug companies face once patents expire are very real and of societal concern and would exist even if we socialized the entire drug development process.

    For maintaining drug discovery/development teams is very very expensive.

    And maintaining them is a classic "tragedy of the commons" dilemma.

    For once drug development teams develop a drug, do you truly want them to "go away"?

    Remember, drug production is dirt cheap.

    In fact the entire pharm industry is a little like the software industry, it is expensive to produce with highly unpredictable development cycles but nearly free to mass produce once invented and approved.

    And again, with all the costs front loaded with the prospect of 100% loss 90-95% of the time, what is the best way for society to proceed?

    Do you let all these labs go under every time their drug patents expire?

    Remember re-forming labs/teams is quite expensive and teamwork issues are huge... Although I will say the market has been moving fast to rectify this issue in recent years with new CRO business models, etc...

    So let labs go under if you want when their patents expire (personally I do think it is necessary), but you are still left with the same problem even if you socialize the entire process.

    Or do you want to cut research from its current % of GDP?

    I will say I have never sensed this is your issue.

    I do not know how to slice the proverbial pie any better.

    Of course IF the people in the system all acted better as individuals we would not see nearly the problems we see... But that would be an "elitist" solution so I have no solution to offer you.

    Do you have one to offer me?

  62. A couple of remarks/questions :
    Who is the black swan guy ?
    Thanks to yoyomo for calling the international hysteria over the Iranian president's comments on homosexuality.
    Once the international "community" has decided to diabolize someone, no matter what he/she says, it will be "misreported" or distorted in one way or another...
    No, I was NOT around for Mount Saint Helens, thank God, as that was a massive particle explosion that no-one survived...
    Yes, Walla Walla has got snooty about wine, so much so that at the reunion they wanted us to PAY FOR all of our tasting.
    For your information, ONLY THE MOST ELITE winegrowers in France would even entertain the thought of doing this kind of stuff, it is really NOT KOSHER. (And even THEY don't make you PAY FOR a glass, I think, they just tell you that there is no wine to be had.)
    The kind of places that presell their wine while the grapes are still on the vine, you know.
    Needless to say, I did not DEIGN to taste Walla Walla wine. For pecuniary and ideological reasons...

  63. "For your information, ONLY THE MOST ELITE winegrowers in France would even entertain the thought of doing this kind of stuff"

    Touche Deb! ;-)

    To all concerned over swine flu.

  64. I know drug development costs are high but I think they would be lower if the work was done by govt labs where all results could be shared w/o fear of patent infringement. At the very least a lot of duplication of effort could be avoided but you made your point, life is complicated and trade-offs are unavoidable.

    WRT to F-I-L, if he hadn't tried to undertake too large a share of the project he wouldn't have exposed himself to as much risk. Risk aversion is a good quality in everybody IMO, not just physicians. Society would progress more slowly but probably be more stable but having four kids in this day and age strikes me as risky. Best of luck helping them all start building a life for themselves when it's their turn.

  65. Yo, thanks. :-)

    Reading your reply does help me understand your viewpoint in a way that was unclear before (even if others have always understood it better than I).

    I do hope you too also understand I don't see any difference between "private" and "public", at least from a macro level... Though I certainly understand it is very different from a personal perspective.

    Again, as I look on things, there are simply people/teams of people cooperating and not cooperating with each other.

    Those who cooperate the most are in general the "richest" people on this plpanet (with the risk that things really collapse when that cooperation falls apart). Those that don't tend to be poorer, but they reduce another kind of risk.

    It is all zero sum in the end.

    I am 100% agnostic on intra-government cooperation vs. intra-industry cooperation or government-industry cooperation or ANY permutation of these or any other kind of cooperation.

    To me it was still always about cooperation.

    So while I absolutely agree with your observation that "keeping it all in one family" might prevent a lot of "blocking patent" behavior.
    Please also understand I have very clearly seen cases where the profit motive alone brought two groups of people (in private industry) together to cooperate on different patents where they would otherwise have clearly never cooperated had the profit motive not been present. And a successful drug was developed.

    In the end it is just more evidence that everything we do in the world can be zero sum- if that helps understand my point... I won't use the world fractal ;-)

    Re: F-I-L & "too much risk". That is an absolutely valid perspective. And yet I know he would never have gotten to phase III had the risk not been there. It was part of his passion, on that I am sure.

    So I tend to look at his risk/story as a glorious quest which failed. I completely see other perspectives are just as valid.

    Re: selfishly bringing 4 kids on this planet.

    Guilty as charged (and I do love those boys) ;-)


  66. Delightful posts as always Hell. Bummer about the spam. I was going to post on the pigs fly, but it's not taking new comments.

    Medici money was an excellent book. they should find away to redo some fed bailout acronym acronym to honor Cosimo.

    -my verification word was mangl[e] =>

  67. I did NOT say selfish, it's just that I would be worried about what kind of world they'd have to live in when they grow up. I guess you obviously have a more optimistic view of the future than I can muster. I do wish you and them the best of luck.

  68. @SS- I just realized the link I sent you re: education bubble was incorrect!

    The one I sent you was of someone I periodically scream at I find so offensive but he did steer me to this article from the NYT on the education bubble. When I went to his site to find the link for you I accidentally linked his site instead of the NYT.

    Sorry for the confusion.


  69. "Needless to say, I did not DEIGN to taste Walla Walla wine. For pecuniary and ideological reasons..."

    Wine culture is very confusing to a teetotaler like myself. But if I did drink I'd start with wine that comes with its own straw or perhaps an Australian table wine .

  70. Well, Thai, and SS, it's time for a reality check.
    I had this discussion with my 84 year old French mother-in law yesterday on the phone.
    She told me that had her 57 year old doctor son wanted to become a plumber, she would have done everything in her power to bring it about.
    What is it the English say ?
    Bullocks ? (What a bunch of bunk... in other words.)
    When I was a teenager (1970's), when my HUSBAND was a teenager (late 60's), IT WAS JUST NOT EVEN THINKABLE for someone in our social class to NOT GO TO UNIVERSITY. Sending one's children to university was the ultimate social PROOF that one had at last reached the top of the totem pole. (Three generations before having scrimped, suffered, and sacrificed to FINALLY bring this glorious moment about.)
    My eighteen year old daughter will probably NOT go to university. Because what can FRENCH university offer someone who is of a literary bent these days ? French university liberal arts are in a state of total déliquescence, to use a beautiful French word. They have disintegrated, due to much contempt, and condescension. They are just not "productive". (That's what you get when you start maintaining that being "human" has to be "productive" and make a buck...)
    So... her decision is just FINE by me.
    Because I don't think our kids' futures are necessarily to be found at university.
    And while the American higher education system is STILL the WORLD'S BIGGEST EDUCATIONAL BUBBLE, draining the elites from all over the planet, I don't think that we are going to be able to maintain this state of affairs for too much longer.
    American decline OBLIGE, as we say in French.
    The positive phenomena is the BUBBLE which maintains just enough aristocratic tendencies for creative, exciting thinking and philosophy to come about.
    But... recruiting for that bubble has ALWAYS been a problem. French universities are open to everyone, in theory, with low tuition costs. But... they are also BANKRUPT at this time, and have been for a long time, as the French intellectual and social elite has resorted to pushing its offspring into the Grandes Ecoles circuit ( a little like the Ivy League trap...) And these schools are not ALL free...
    Economic law number one : what the social corps VALUES, it will pour money into. And French society does not value its universities.
    So... my daughter will (probably) NOT be going to university. And she will (probably...) not be going to university while waiting to figure out what she wants to do, as many many other French children do (and as I did at her age, when it was still (economically...) possible, and when university itself was still enough of a bubble to promote learning, and curiosity, and all of those positive things that we need so much these days...)
    There is no bubble left in France that I can see...
    And the American higher education bubble is attracting A LOT OF RESENTMENT from different areas of society, as I have repeatedly said on this blog. For very understandable reasons, moreover...
    God, I know that this is tedious, but you just can't imagine how much I HATE MONEY...

  71. Hell, I don’t think we're going to move from our current politico-economic 'state' to the one you describe in one fell swoop. In fact, it may be a bumpy multi-generational event with lots of recidivism.

    Today's (4/27) Dallas Fed survey has me wondering, is the reported ’Surveyed Sentiment’ moving in a saw-tooth pattern?
    I still see no fundamentals-driven model for a recovery given these well-known inter-locked 5 Catch 22s between: 1) consumer debt loads and recession-fueled income losses from job losses, wage-cutbacks and furloughs; 2) consumer debt loads and a GDP that’s 70% driven by debt-enabled consumer spending; 3) consumer debt loads and regional and community banks choking on bad CRE loans yet being pilloried by the govt –along with the Big 19 banks - for not extending more credit to households and businesses who sadly can only offer loan collateral that is declining monthly in value; 4) consumer debt loads and an inability to increase domestic wage incomes due to pulling effects of tidal forces from increased globalization of wages; and finally, 5) world-wide downturn in demand and Pollyannaish wishes that a rise in exports will lift us out of a recession.
    I wonder if we graphically interpreted the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle, would we get the downward-moving saw-tooth pattern of surveyed sentiments, as people cycle through the various stages of denial & anger & bargaining, stuck between stages 1-3, or 1-4, before getting to ‘Acceptance’? Sentiment surveys indicate acceptance is far away.

    As for the ‘L’-shaped Recovery, we have adopted the wrong nomenclature. There's no ‘Recovery’ in the 'L'-shape, recovery is only in the 'U', 'V' and 'W' shape.
    The ‘L’ represents the type of descent; we’re trapped in an ‘L’-shaped Descent …with no sustainable economic fundamentals in place for a recovery. Once this Global Debt Unwind deposits us on the floor, we wander/grope the bumpy crater floor, rising & falling with each bump.

    It is while traversing that bumpy crater floor that we will forge geographically dispersed knots of working majorities that can implement pieces of a financially and environmentally sustainable economy. Progress will be extremely uneven.

  72. Soo, Hel has been either busy or lazy, and the discussions go on. Well, not bad, not bad at all, but how about a non-sequitor:

    What do you think of the perfectly abso-fuck*n-lutely natural fear mongering swine-bird-human flu virus and how do you expect things to happen from now on?

  73. Hey Sarc :-)

    I am of "many minds" on this issue so it kind of depends which point of view you ask me from.

    Re: "hypochondriacs". With 4 hours waits in the ED today (and some really sick patients waiting a really long time god bless them), I had to suspend my disbelief at some of the testing requests: "I was at a party with someone last night who told me he was at JFK the day before and said his throat was a little scratchy", etc... "How do you know...?"

    ... Please understand I don't mind helping the worried well at all, it is just I am always worried about the truly sick person with a genuinely time sensitive condition first. When it is not really busy, ask away. When it is that busy, they can make it difficult.

    Re: media's viewpoint- At least they finally get to make a few bucks!... And I saw you can read all about it, along with tips towards "waking the new frugality talk" (for $3.95), at the supermarket checkout.

    Re: predicting the future. You really never can tell in medicine (too stochastically self-similar to say anything intelligent) but I am a bit skeptical on this one, at least from all I have heard from what I consider reliable sources (... there is that old trust/cooperation thing again I realize).

    Anyway, last I heard there were only 20 confirmed cases in Mexico and the only other places with confirmed cases were Canada and the US and there were no CONFIRMED deaths in Mexico.

    You have to be careful with confirmed cases vs. the much looser term ILI ("Influenza like illness"

    The epidemiology patterns (sporadic clusters) DO NOT make sense for a highly infectious organism.

    Similarly, the 1 in 16 mortality numbers we are reading in the press from Mexico vs. the 1 in 20 hospitalization rates in the US suggests either Mexico is unfortunate enough to have the very bad luck of a highly prevalent co-variable or something else is up.

    But (to quote Winnie-the-Pooh) "You never can tell with bees."

    So I will reserve judgment.

    Re: wonderful public health exercise. I couldn't agree more.

    Re: distracting a lot of important issues from getting the full attention the deserve. I couldn't agree more. Fed agencies are on overdrive right now.

    Re: a reminder that fish can rot from anywhere. Again, I couldn't agree more. And if and when we hear our "leaders" make important decisions on this "crisis", remember where that information came from.


  74. Well, Thai, it looks like you ignored my comment on university ?
    Homo Sarcasticus, I HAVE THIS THEORY about the pigs...
    And I hate what is happening to them because of our unpiglike stupidity. (Pigs are very intelligent animals...)
    WE ARE SO SO STUPID that we didn't even think that the globalization of capital, goods, and tourists (tourists yes, because liberalism INSISTS on exporting tourists, but BALKS at exporting... emigrants, for example...) would also mean the globalization of... (drum roll...) GERMS.
    You know the old saying, live and let live ?
    Well, it looks like the germs are getting ready to have a good time.
    And I have this theory that our guilty consciences are FINALLY getting to us on this one.
    Like what I saw in the U.S this summer : individual apples cellophane wrapped to keep "germs" away.
    Like, you do this because deep down inside you KNOW that you are raping and spoliating the planet, and that what goes around, comes around.
    My sympathy is with the pigs.
    Besides, from what I hear, bird flu is still way more dangerous.
    By the way, I had a message from Cottonbloggin.
    He is doing just fine, growing his garden.
    He will be back soon, I think.
    Maybe before Hell ? LOL

  75. Deb, I should have realized responding to Sar first would have been interpreted poorly.

    Please accept this as apology for any offense. I have been dealing with Sar's question all day long so it seemed "natural" to answer.

    I actually gave your comment quite a bit of thought...

    Re: "it's time for a reality check"

    Can you clarify this statement for me a little? We come at things differently.

    The only way I can relate to this statement is to look at it from my own viewpoint...

    I think my first reaction is "fear". Fear for what the world would look like for my sons. Fear that all the navigation skills I have learned would be useless as a compass for them.

    I hate reminders that I have almost no control over anything (even when they hit me ALL DAY LONG in my line of work).

    I especially hate these reminders when they affect the people I love (I would much rather internalize them). Indeed I really hate these kind of reminders.

    Where is your head? Are you OK?

    To keep a little continuation with the blog (thought it matters nothing to me if we do not (Hell has been indulgent) and those (like Anon) who complain about it can go F#@C% themselves for all I care), if it helps even a little, I do think the popping of this credit bubble will be very good for people like your daughter (e.g. those who don't go to college).

    At least I think it will be very good economically. Never ask me about social clues. Whatever class I belong to I have never been a fan of social class even if I think I understand what it's evolutionary function is.

    It does seem (to me) we waste an awful lot of society's resources on "meaningless" educational degrees. It is money that could go to much better uses.

    Of course learning is an altogether different matter, but that always came from the soul anyway.

    ... And fwiw, I too have a hard time eating pork (for the same reason I won't eat octopi- way too smart) though I must admit I will eat it when my wife puts it on my plate for breakfast (but I won't buy it) and I do love a good steak (cows are dumb- hey you gotta chose a side in life ;-) ).

    Be well

  76. Deb, I am "Luke". It appears one of my twins has become old enough to create his own email account on Gmail and log on to my computer (without me knowing).

    It looks like I will be in your shoes soon enough. ;-)

    Sorry for the confusion.


  77. LOL, Thai.
    I think I can understand where you're coming from, for your kids. I would probably react the same way you do, if I weren't so nutto already...
    I'm going to respond in a circumventory manner.
    Yesterday my 18 year old daughter fetched me because a big bumblebee had shipwrecked on the ledge outside of our kitchen window.
    Of course, I brought it in, and I had a go at one of those ressuscitation acts that Jesus was famous for (actually I think it's a hell of a lot easier with bees, so I'm not going to give myself TOO much credit on this one...).
    You know, you stick them in your hand, and then you warm them up gently, by exhaling on them.
    We both had the time to seriously observe this bumblebee, and his "behavior".
    We watched him bzzzzz, agitating his wings, without taking off. And he had another behavior that I couldn't make sense of until afterwards : he kept taking his many feet/hands, and rubbing them all over his body, his face, over and over again, while we watched.
    My daughter made several observations about what he was trying to do, good sense, really intelligent ones.
    And when he got roused up enough out of his torpor, he started flying around, and we managed to get him outdoors, free.
    Observation : I think he was pretty intelligent, that bumblebee. His self massage helped him to warm himself up. He was actively participating in his rescue. In a very intelligent way. Indeed, I know many humans who would just not be intelligent enough to participate this actively.
    Now, for my questions, Thai : why have we collectively decided that knowledge like this, from direct observation, is worth diddly shit ? Why are we not using our considerable skills, and intelligence to interact with a world that is all around us, and is fascinating ? Could there be some ideological... PRECONCEPTIONS to our ideas about what is knowledge, and what isn't ?
    And YOU, the doctor should know just how precious clinical observation, done correctly, can be.
    It nags me a bit that my daughter will probably NOT be going to university. But... she is already WAY TOO INTELLIGENT for university over here at any rate.
    Story number 2 : my future doctor son has hooked up with a Malgache girl from a social sphere way below ours. I say AMEN. Because she has SMARTS that we intellectuals, we book learned people in the family DO NOT HAVE. So... I plan on having HER teach ME her smarts, and I will transmit MY CULTURE.
    Sounds fair, doesn't it ?

  78. AVL (wisely) said "Hell, I don’t think we're going to move from our current politico-economic 'state' to the one you describe in one fell swoop. In fact, it may be a bumpy multi-generational event with lots of recidivism."

    ... I think I am back on Dink's side having gone through this whole discussion.

    I have no interest in zero sum conflicts with others, especially where I truly respect the other person's position. That Yoyomo and I see different innocents does not lessen my respect for his personal willingness to sacrifice for his innocents. I see too much of my own views in this.

    Sustainability in a zero sum (e.g. closed) system is still always zero sum.

    The solution has always been right in front of us. The problem has always been in the boundaries of the system themselves.

    Expand the boundaries of the system and we get a little breathing room from zero sum.

    The system does not need to be destroyed (as it can't imo), it needs expansion.

    And to do this we obviously need to find lots and lots of NEW Energy from outside the system.

    ... And we need to do it in ways that do not destroy the planet- finding MORE energy within the zero sum confines of the planet itself is still zero sum and will destroy the planet.

    So in some way I guess I still agree with Hell, the issue has always been about energy. But in some ways I think I see where we may depart company.

    For I worked with the Amish all day long at one of our hospitals a few years ago (honest, there was a hitching post for their buggies in front of the ED).

    They are a truly wonderful community of people (and make a mockery of all our national discussions on private/public health coverage from both sides of the political spectrum as none of them have any insurance, yet they all ALWAYS pay of their bills 100% of the time (something no non-Amish community has ever come close to doing in my experience).

    And they all do fine...

    Yet they too still clearly live in a zero sum world just like the rest of us. All the things I read others complain about in their society can still be clearly seen in the Amishs' community as well.

    So SS- my new solution. Expand the boundaries of the system. Serious energy R&D. I do realize that for a while this too will be zero sum, but I truly hope it will ultimately pay off.

  79. Dear Thai, in re Amish:

    If all ~7 billion inhabitants of the Earth were willing to live as the Amish then we would not have a "problem". Then again, we wouldn't be having this discussion over the internet, either. Plus, there wouldn't be an ED to go to, penicillin, or even aspirin.

    The Amish are essentially Luddites with a twist: they can mostly take advantage of modern technology while nominally rejecting it. They may be "cute" but, in fact, they are societal epiphytes.


  80. In case I didn't make myself perfectly clear, I think this flu was as natural as Rubik cube growing on a tree. In case it's just for fearmongering, fine, but if it turns out / mutates to be a killer sweeping across the globe, then those responsible should be flayed, hung, drawn and quartered.

  81. HS,
    As the resident conspiracy nut on this site I'm curious as to why you think anyone was behind this. It has been known since the early 90's that pigs are natural mixing vessels for human and avian flu viruses and that is why most flu strains start out in China because of their practice of raising pigs and ducks together. I don't see any necessity for any intentional involvment in this development but I never rule anything out.

  82. Yo said "I don't see any necessity for any intentional involvement in this development..."


    And as the resident elitist on this site, "if it turns out... to be a killer" and someone IS responsible for setting this thing off, "then those responsible should be flayed, hung, drawn and quartered."


    @Hell- it took me a little while and I had to get there my own way, but now I see your point all along.

    Be well

  83. H. Sarc and Yoyomo,

    The whole 21 minutes of this is funny, but starting at minute 7:00 is apt to the conspiracy conversation .

    Sudden Debt roles,

    I thought yoyomo was Jaded Cop Avenging His Partner's Death and thai was Streetwise Hooker With A Heart Of Gold?

  84. Before agreeing to dismiss the Amish as epiphytical Luddites just keep in mind the day may come when we all wish we were so lucky. The only thing that could disrupt the Amish way of life is their lack of self defense if the non-Luddites ever cast a covetous eye on their granaries.

    Streetwise? Anyone that thinks that incompetence is the cause of the Bush adm deeds is not streetwise but I'll go along w/the heart of gold.