Monday, November 30, 2015

November 30 2015. What do you think—or do you? Instinct or education?Words or pictures? Rationality or emotion? Where are we heading in a world of informational overload, emotional visual short-cuts, and an inability to focus?


My god—we’re back to drawings on cave walls!



I will admit that I am strongly biased in favor of the following.

  • Verbal communication—particularly when the discussion is fact-based, reasoned, two-way, and leads to some kind of conclusion with the parties concerned being wiser,
  • Written communication because it allows for focus, detail, context, complexity, nuance, reflection, full use of the imagination, consideration over time, depth, perspective, and can constitute, if required, a permanent record. While giving full credit to the power and efficacy of shorter pieces, I believe writing is at its very best in the form of a book.

But—being a book-writer—I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Very true—but, not only am I admitting my biases up front, but, let me be clear, I was a reader before I became a writer so my sentiments are genuine. I regard books as absolutely extraordinary, and like the creativity which drives the writer, a force of truly remarkable power—though, sadly, much under-utilized.

I have a strong suspicion that the answers to most of the issues that plague the human condition are already out there in written form.

I admire and enjoy the visual also, but find it more emotional (unless balanced by text)—so less suitable for explaining or developing the logic of the argument (whatever that my be). As a consequence I see the current trend to skim rather than read the written word, but rely much more on graphics, as disturbing.

What worries me about this trend towards the visual, against a backdrop of the internet and social media, is that we may be diminishing our ability to think rationally and in the necessary depth that the complexities of this world require.

I regard images as marvelous and fascinating—but, all too frequently, inadequate.

The issues involved are so serious that I would love to be proven wrong.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

November 29 2015. “"Some of our questions are missing—so is our knowledge of history and philosophy.

AS I KEEP ON SAYING, THE ANSWERS ARE OUT THERE –IF YOU CARE TO LOOK (and if you know where, how, and why to look)



There is a shortfall of this quality in the U.S.

A great deal of life makes no sense at all—unless you know the context—and a great deal of context is in history.

In turn, history is surprisingly hard to understand unless you have some knowledge of, and training in, philosophy. The latter discipline is what underpins how a rational person should think to best advantage. Of course, it is much more than that, but merely to know how to think in a disciplined, focused, open-minded, creative way is hugely beneficial.

Are most of us capable of such clarity of mind?

Is the commonsense of the largely uninformed population adequate for the operation of an effective democracy? Many would argue that it is—because such is the make-up of a typical society, and human nature is immutable.

I take a different view—certainly in the U.S. context. Here are my reasons (and, as always, I am certainly open to counter-argument).

  • Propaganda, largely because it is virtually unconstrained in the U.S. (unlike most other developed nations) has reached a level of sophistication whereby it is distorting the process of democracy severely. ‘Freedom of speech’—a praiseworthy principle, that is inherent to the constitution, is being interpreted in absolute terms—especially where the ultra-rich, corporate power, and money is concerned.
  • Wealthy and income inequality are now such  that one dollar one vote has now, in practice, become the norm
  • The U.S. media, owned by the ultra-rich, have done an unusually poor job of informing American about developments in other countries(let alone their histories).
  • The myth of American exceptionalism combined with a long tradition of isolationism, and a notoriously poor education system, have combined to produce an excessively ill-informed electorate.

What should be done about all this (assuming my premise is accepted, either in whole or in part)?

The answers would take too long to incorporate in this blog, but let me draw attention to two.

  • An awareness of the problem.
  • The need to update, quite substantially, the U.S. constitution.

Incidentally, I’m not a great fan of Kissinger—through, undoubtedly, he is a remarkable man—but I do think he is entirely right about history. I further believe that Neil Ferguson’s comments sum up the U.S. situation with commendable accuracy.

Read them and shudder—particularly as this dreadful situation continues.

“In researching the life and times of Henry Kissinger, I have come to realize that my approach was unsubtle. In particular, I had missed the crucial importance in American foreign policy of the history deficit: The fact that key decision-makers know almost nothing not just of other countries’ pasts but also of their own. Worse, they often do not see what is wrong with their ignorance.”


The Key to Henry Kissinger’s Success: Applied History

The Atlantic · by Graham Allison

In his new biography of Henry Kissinger, the historian Niall Ferguson recalls that halfway through what became an eight-year research project, he had an epiphany. Tracing the story of how a young man from Nazi Germany became America’s greatest living statesman, he discovered not only the essence of Kissinger’s statecraft, but the missing gene in modern American diplomacy: an understanding of history.

For Ferguson, it was a humbling revelation. As he confesses in the introduction to Kissinger: “In researching the life and times of Henry Kissinger, I have come to realize that my approach was unsubtle. In particular, I had missed the crucial importance in American foreign policy of the history deficit: The fact that key decision-makers know almost nothing not just of other countries’ pasts but also of their own. Worse, they often do not see what is wrong with their ignorance.”

Ferguson’s observation reminded me of an occasion three years ago when, after an absence of four decades, Kissinger returned to Harvard. Asked by a student what someone hoping for a career like his should study, Kissinger answered: “history and philosophy”—two subjects notable for their absence in most American schools of public policy.

How did Kissinger prepare for his first major job in the U.S. government as national security advisor to President Richard Nixon? In his words, “When I entered office, I brought with me a philosophy formed by two decades of the study of history.” Ferguson uncovered a fascinating fragment from one of Kissinger’s contemporaries when they were both first-year graduate students at Harvard. John Stoessinger recalled Kissinger arguing “forcefully for the abiding importance of history.” In these conversations, Stoessinger said, Kissinger would cite the assertion by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides that “The present, while never repeating the past exactly, must inevitably resemble it. Hence, so must the future.”

“More than ever,” Kissinger urged, “one should study history in order to see why nations and men succeeded and why they failed.”

Saturday, November 28, 2015

November 28 2015. Terrorism, blood, Paris, and Hemingway




Hemingway is very far from my favorite writer—but I truly love A MOVEABLE FEAST. Certain books are life-inspiring—and this was just such a one. It projected the kind of life I wanted to have—and have had.

More than a few have commented that the book is more fiction than memoir. I don’t know enough to judge. Instead I take the view that if it is not the way it was, it is the way it should have been

I craved adventures and interesting times ahead of happiness—and I have been blessed with all of them (the third included). This isn’t to say that I haven’t experienced setbacks and difficulties—I have had those in profusion, and still have. But, the joy I get from writing is just plain awesome.

And here is the thing. If you have joy in your life, it spills over into other areas. It makes setbacks less important, the good great, and one’s failures a warm-up for success (which they are).

It makes adventures—by definition journeys of risk into the unknown—addictive.

As a consequence of some strange mix of upbringing, environment and circumstances—all unpromising in the extreme, on the face of it—I have stumbled into a way of life I absolutely adore.

My mother, with whom I had a contentious relationship from an early age, used to call me “Hemingway,” and not as a compliment. It was a taunt. In her eyes, she was the creative ultimate—she was both a writer and painter—and she hated competition.

Her dying words to me were: “You were never very good, were you?”

I have no idea what demons haunted her, but I doubt those were the kindest words said by a mother to her eldest son. I felt nothing but relief when she died.

Strangely enough, her sustained cruelty towards me when I was a child—which involved physical and psychological abuse—has contributed enormously to my writing success. 

It made me accept nothing on face value, think unconventionally, and steer me towards the extraordinary world that lies in books. That world made me convinced I could do the impossible in real life—and, much battered by reality, I still do.

Of course—especially since words are my business—I know perfectly well I can’t literally do the impossible—but I have learned that even if my grasp exceeds my reach, if I persevere and learn from failed effort after failed effort, I can accomplish much more than any reasonable person would think.

I never though old age would make me optimistic, but, to my immense surprise, that’s exactly how I feel. Indeed, while writing, a better word would be ’happy.’


The following story is from that commendable publication,


How Hemingway's A Moveable Feast Has Become a Bestseller in France

Following the deadly attacks in Paris, the author’s memoir about life in the city has sold out of bookstores.


Adam Chandler

Nov 23, 2015

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.

                                                                                  —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

The horrific attacks in Paris earlier this month, which killed 130 people and stirred transcontinental riptides, has also set off a renaissance for Ernest Hemingway’s book, A Moveable Feast.

The Paris memoir, published posthumously in 1964, holds the top spot on Amazon’s French site, has sold out of stock at a number of bookstores and, as Le Figaro reports, has become a fixture among the flowers in memorials across the city.

According to Folio, the French publisher, orders for the book have risen to 500 per day from just 10 to 15 orders before the attacks. “We also received many orders from groups such as Fnac and Amazon, amounting to 8,500 copies,” one Folio executive told The Guardian. “Usually, we sell between 6,000 and 8,000 copies a year.”

“I found it fascinating that Parisians were snapping up the book,” said professor Sandra Spanier, the general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project at Penn State University. She added that the book is enduring evidence of the hold that Paris has on people’s imaginations. “It’s such a place of possibility.”

That’s seemingly always been true. But why a 51-year-old book, written about the Paris of nearly a century ago, appears to resonate among Parisians in the wake of its worst loss of life since World War II is another question.

In his glowing review of A Moveable Feast in The Atlantic in 1964, Alfred Kazin alludes to Hemingway’s depictions of the glories of the city writ large, but also anoints its place as muse for a striving 22-year-old ex-pat finding his way into writing.

But this is Paris in the early twenties, the best place in the world to live and work, for the French have a way of life into which all needs easily fit, as they have cafés where a young fellow can sit for hours over a café crème and write “Up In Michigan.”

Kazin concludes that Paris, as a setting for Hemingway, is one that he “never handled more suavely and lyrically than he did in this book.”

It’s the life of the café culture and Paris as locus for the exchange of ideas that are particularly worth celebrating as the city rebounds from attacks on its restaurants and nightlife. This is what Hemingway observes in A Moveable Feast; it’s not war or bullfighting in Spain or hunting in Africa or swordfishing or boxing, but glamor of the quotidian in the City of Light.

Spanier describes a section in the book where Hemingway walks down the steps near the Île de la Cité to watch fisherman cast their lines into the Seine. Beside all the art and history, beneath the Pont Neuf and a statue of Henri Quatre, is everyday life with expertly caught fish. “They were plump and sweet-fleshed with a finer flavor than fresh sardines even, and were not at all oily, and we ate them bones and all.”

With the tide of tributes from afar this month, Parisians have seen the love of their city reflected again through the eyes of outsiders. “Maybe they appreciate the fact that Paris is appreciated by non-Parisians,” Spanier concludes. “Hemingway certainly expressed that in a way that has transcended time.”

The late Christopher Hitchens probably would have agreed. Writing in The Atlantic back in 2009, Hitchens described the book as both “an ur-text of the American enthrallment with Paris” and “a skeleton key to the American literary fascination with Paris.” Hitchens also praised the book for bestowing advice on writing for young practitioners just starting out. (In a 2013 interview with The Atlantic, Daniel Woodrell vigorously agreed.)

But, given what’s happened in Paris this year, Hitchens’s central point about the endurance of A Moveable Feast is now accompanied by a gut-punch—what Hemingway was celebrating of the city and of himself at a young age are triumphs lost to time.

Most of all, though, I believe that A Moveable Feast serves the purpose of a double nostalgia: our own as we contemplate a Left Bank that has since become a banal tourist enclave in a Paris where the tough and plebeian districts are gone, to be replaced by seething Muslim banlieues all around the periphery; and Hemingway’s at the end of his distraught days, as he saw again the “City of Light” with his remaining life still ahead of him rather than so far behind.

Parisians would likely scoff at that assessment. After all, part of what attaches Hemingway to this moment is the symbolic and defiant heft of the French-language title of A Moveable FeastParis Est Une Fête. Translated back into English, A Moveable Feast becomes Paris Is a Celebration. In the days following the attacks, the French title of the book became a trending hashtag on Twitter.

Friday, November 27, 2015

November 27 2015. Robotics—both a nightmare scenario and an unprecedented opportunity.




Read, think, and act!

Check him out at

I have read many reports about the likely impact of automation—and have been interested in this area since I researched Artificial Intelligence (AI) for my first book back in 1986.

AI was all the rage in the media for a while, and then it stopped being written about much. One article I read said it had been massively over-hyped, and was falling short of expectations.

While that was partially true (where some aspects were concerned), the reality was the AI had progressed into being used so extensively that it wasn’t really newsworthy any more. Nonetheless, quietly, it was becoming more and more sophisticated to the point where it is now clear that automation, based upon AI, is likely to replace a truly significant number of jobs.

This is something that many corporations—who make use of automation—prefer not to talk about. Under the current American Business Model, people have become disposable commodities. There is no social concern.

What percentage? Most of the figures I have read estimate 40-50 percent.

That is mind-boggling! But, it is going to happen. It has already started to happen.

You might think that we should be preparing for this by coming up with appropriate policies. In practice, we seem to be doing nothing of the sort. Instead, the savings being obtained from automation are largely flowing to the ultra-rich—and the earnings of the rest of us are being squeezed to the point where social unrest—including violence—seems inevitable.

When people are desperate, they do desperate things—because they have little choice in the matter. And violence breeds violence. Terrorism is rarely mindless. It might be wrong, in itself, but it exists for a reason (and frequently a valid one)..

In fact, there are all kinds of policies we could come up with to cope with such dramatic changes in our lives—including a minimum income for everybody, shorter working weeks, longer vacation times—and so on. But we certainly won’t cope if the ultra-rich are allowed to gain all the marbles.

The positive side of all this is that automation in its various forms should lead to us being able to do all sorts of things we couldn’t do previously—and to our solving a whole series of intractable problems. For instance, it should allow the costs of government to be cut dramatically, manufacturing costs to be lowered substantially, healthcare to be improved beyond recognition—and so on. But, the benefits won’t accrue to the average person unless we have the right policies in place.

As matters stand, we haven’t even determined what they should be. We are still working as if the concept of being an employee working roughly 40 hours a week was set in stone.

It isn’t—and we are behaving like a bunch of ostriches—heads buried in the sand.

One could well take the view that humans are so inadequate it is just as well that robots seem destined to take over! And one good thing about robots is that they are not innately greedy. Humans—certainly those who hold the reins of power—certainly are.

Robotic rule could be an improvement!

Here is John Robb’s piece.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Revolution in Robotics

There are two parts to the revolution in robotics we are seeing.  

The first revolution in robotics is based on tech trends already underway. 

The inflection point for this revolution occurred in 2001, when the standard computer chip exceeded the intelligence of an insect.

With chips like this, robots quickly became inexpensive, accessible, and powerful.  For example, an autopilot system that cost ten thousands of dollars a decade ago is now available for $30 and can run on a small amount of power.

Here's an example of what is possible with this revolution:

While this revolution is fairly dramatic, don't expect too much. 

The capabilities of these robots won't advance any faster than the ability of human beings to write code, design and build hardware, and build successful businesses to support than activity. 

This reliance on human design and development also means that progress in navigating, interacting with, and making sense of complex, dynamic environments will be slow and hardwon.  

The second revolution in robotics is different.  It will be much more dramatic in its impact.  It is based on exponential improvements in machine learning.

These advances make it possible for machines to learn behaviors that make it possible for robots accomplish tasks that only humans can do today -- like driving cars safely in urban traffic to providing physical assistance and medical support to homebound elderly.   

Further, these cognitive machines will learn in days what it takes human developers months to accomplish (if they can do it all). 

In contrast to the previous revolution, this one will be amazing and traumatic at the same time.  

For example, this revolution in synthetic cognition has the potential to remake the modern economy as completely as industrial machinery and computation changed the agrarian economy of the 1700's. 

I've spent the last year thinking about how this machine learning revolution will change the way we fight wars and provide security. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

John Robb

Thursday, November 26, 2015

November 26 2015. Financialization is so pervasive that we think it is inevitable. It isn’t. We desperately need a better balance and there are ways of achieving it.




Financialization has so many seriously negative consequences that it would take a book to list them. Fortunately, there is one which addresses the topic in detail. It is John Kay’s OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY. As you will read, the man has impeccable credentials, and the book comes highly recommended.

It is my belief that if we don’t address financialization, our economic prospects are going to be grim indeed. Financialization is a cancer of the economic system.

Every country clearly needs a financial sector—but its purpose should be to serve the economy—not rob it blind.

A whole series of papers, backed up by extensive research, demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that an excessively large financial sector hinders growth, and actively damages economic wellbeing.

In truth, you don’t need formal research to tell you that. Just look around the world, and contemplate the damage financialization is inflicting. Let me list some examples—starting with the piece de resistance.

I would also point out that there is a direct relationship between financialization and the increase in corporate power (at the expense of democracy). Firstly, the major financial institutions are, themselves, corporations. Secondly, they find it both easier and more profitable to lend to,  or otherwise do business with, large corporations—so they actively promote mergers and acquisitions which lead, inevitably to less competition and de facto monopolies.

Regrets for using the word ‘egregious’ so much, but that word seem to fit better than most. The situation is way beyond outrageous. The consequences exceed the harm caused by mere criminality.

Financialization has been responsible, in whole, or in substantial part, for the following—and substantial evidence is available to back up that statement.

It is not an opinion.

  • The Great Recession. With hindsight, this may well prove to be even more catastrophic than the The 1929 Great Depression. Appreciate that it was global in its impact—and that most countries and people have not yet recovered from it even though it has been officially over since 2009. The U.S. is no exception. Employment has nominally recovered but real earning for many are actually in decline. Growth is abysmal. The chances of a further recession are high. Insanely, the financial institutions which caused the recession have been bailed out by the system though direct government aid and the Federal Reserve. The banks who were too big to fail have become substantially larger. It is hard to describe a more disastrous or unjust  scenario. It reflects a political system that has been hijacked by the ultra-rich.
  • Income and Wealth Inequality on an unprecedented scale.
  • Egregious corporate power. Simply put, major corporations now own government. Most politicians are financed by corporate money—and ‘owned’ as a consequence. Harsh words? The data say no more than a statement of fact.
  • Egregious corporate tax avoidance. In the U.S. corporate tax used to fund roughly a third of government expenditure.  Thanks to tax breaks and tax avoidance strategies, that figure has declined by two thirds. Who is picking up the slack? The typical working American. 
  • Egregious corporate corruption of political systems. The distortion of the U.S. political system is a perfect example of this. Gridlock apart, research shows that only those who give money to politicians are listened to by those same politicians. The typical voter is no longer heard. The U.S. is no longer a representative democracy. It has become a plutocracy—run for, and by, the ultra-rich for their own advantage.
  • Egregious financial engineering. Financial engineering means manipulating the base data to yield a result which looks better than it really is. Where public companies are concerned, it has become commonplace. 
  • Egregious financial charges across the board from banks to hedge funds. Anyone who handles money in any way is a victim of this. The sums involved are huge. In essence, the financial sector is pillaging the rest of the economy—with prodigious success. 
  • Egregious share buybacks. Insider trader is illegal because it is considered unfair for anyone with special information to have an advantage. If you want free and fair competition, that makes sense. It is right and just. It is fair. On the other hand, corporations (by which I really mean corporate CEOs, their senior executives, and their directors) are legally entitled to by buyback their own corporations’ shares—even though they are, by definition, the ultimate insider traders. That makes no sense at all. It is criminal—by any reasonable standard. Yet, right now, the SEC (which polices such matters) permits it. Like so many other regulatory bodies, they have been corrupted.  
  • Egregious concentration of major corporations in market sector after market sector—better known as monopolization.
  • A heavily manipulated stock market. The stock  market has morphed into a casino for the ultra-rich.
  • Short-termism. This is a catch-all term which covers a pattern of behavior by CEOs whereby the long-term good of the corporation is undermined by a series of decisions which, on the face of it, yield short-term profits but weaken the company strategically. Cutting back back on Research and Development is an example. It increases immediate profitability but means the company is less prepared for the future.
  • Underinvestment in training, research and development, and plant and equipment.
  • Underinvestment in infrastructure. The shortfall is in trillions of dollars. 
  • Underinvestment in small business. Small businesses make a surprisingly large contribution to the economy. apart from some being the large businesses of the future, they generate a surprisingly large amount of economic activity just by themselves—are are major job providers. However, lending to them takes more work—so today’s large financial institutions tend to eschew them
  • Poor productivity. Historically, productivity has increased at a healthy pace every year. It has declined—roughly in proportion to the increase in financialization—despite the (potential) productivity advantages stemming from computerization.
  • Static or declining pay in real terms. Unlike most other developed nations, let alone many who are still developing, most Americans have not experience a real pay increase—in real terms—of any significance, for over 40 years.  That is such an extraordinary situation that most Americans have not got to grips with it yet. It is reflects an absolute breakdown of the American Business Model—and the remarkable success of prevailing U.S. propaganda.
  • No concern whatsoever for social justice or the public good—and the absence of any kind of moral code. Some would argue that such standards are irrelevant in business. I disagree profoundly. Things have come to a pretty pass if common human decency is considered no longer applicable. Such behavior is what makes the world tolerable—and life worth living.

The above is a fairly savage indictment of financialization by any standards—yet we are doing almost nothing to remedy the situation.

Why not?

Firstly, most of us are largely ignorant of the full implications of financialization. Secondly, because it is pervasive to such an extent that we feel powerless.

Best to start by becoming less ignorant. Read on. This is a very important article and is a credit to the publishers

Financial Reform

The Future of Finance

Nov 22, 2015 10:00 AM EST

By Clive Crook

There's no shortage of books on the financial crisis and its aftermath. By now the bar is pretty high for new entrants making a claim on one's time. I want to recommend two new titles that meet that demanding standard, and then some.

I'll say more about Adair Turner's "Between Debt and the Devil" (recently excerpted by Bloomberg View) next Sunday. This time I want to focus on the other excellent newcomer, John Kay's "Other People's Money."

Kay and Turner agree about a lot of things, but Kay takes an unusual approach. This is not a detailed guide to the pre-crisis financial plumbing, much less a blow-by-blow narrative of what went wrong. (For the latter, Alan Blinder's "After the Music Stopped" is hard to beat.) Instead, Kay goes back to first principles, asking what purposes the financial system is meant to serve, and measuring just how far the modern financial economy has moved from that ideal.

The point of finance, he argues, is to connect savers and borrowers -- end-users, that is, not financial intermediaries. The test of a financial system is whether a household with surplus funds, say, and a company or government needing to borrow for investment can be connected at low cost and in a way that makes both parties better off. Correctly understood, all the institutions that lie between such end-users exist to serve this underlying purpose.

In Kay's view, modern economies have lost sight of this vital point. Finance has come to be seen as an end in itself, as though the global economy exists to serve Wall Street and the City of London rather than the other way round. If you applied that mindset to electricity generation, for instance, the absurdity would be obvious: You don't generate electricity for its own sake.

Yet the modern economy has come to see finance and all its frantic complexities -- intermediaries dealing with intermediaries dealing with intermediaries, with never a thought for the end-user -- in just this way. Does something of social value happen when investment bank A transacts profitably with asset manager B? Not necessarily. Only if the gain somehow makes its way through to end-users. If that doesn't happen, the costs of the intermediation amount, in effect, to a tax on everybody else.

This insight raises many intriguing questions, which Kay carefully works his way through. In a modern economy, how big does the financial sector need to be? Not nearly this big, he argues. How did it come to be so big, if it's failing to justify its expense of resources? Essentially, by collecting various explicit and implicit subsidies -- notably, the subsidy implied by the government's promise to stand behind a failing institution.

What makes Kay's analysis so probing is that he's no knee-jerk anti-market type. He's a distinguished scholar, a successful businessman, and was chairman of a U.K. government review of equity markets after the crash. His overall perspective is actually pro-market. He opposes calls for stricter and ever more complex regulation; he's against a "Tobin tax" on financial transactions because of its likely unintended consequences; and he thinks the obsession with "too big to fail" misses the point. (The problem isn't size, he argues, but complexity.)

Capital Requirements

The right way forward, he argues, is to interrupt the flow of subsidy. Do that, and market forces will start to nudge finance in the right direction. This sounds straightforward enough but it has radical implications.  It isn't just a matter, for instance, of requiring banks to hold more capital -- though that would be a good place to start. The problem is that, in Kay's view, the amount of capital needed to make banks safe, and hence to deny them the implicit subsidy of government protection, is probably beyond the market's capacity to provide.

Then what's to be done? Deposit-taking banks, he believes, should be confined to buying very safe assets -- confined, that is, to "narrow" or "limited purpose" banking. This is a proposal with a long lineage; the idea goes far beyond more standard prescriptions, such as reinstating the Glass-Steagall separation of commercial and investment banking. Narrow banking means that lending to firms and other risky borrowers should be undertaken by institutions that openly pass the risk on to the savers who invest with them. In general, Kay favors a financial system with many more such specialists, each of them more directly connected to one or other class of end-user.

In some ways, as Kay acknowledges, he's asking for the clock to be turned back. Prudent lending to small businesses, for instance, requires deep local knowledge rather than smart algorithms and rocket-science math. That old-fashioned kind of specialist expertise, he believes, needs to be recovered. Modern finance should be more outward-looking and less obsessed with itself. If that's turning back the clock, so be it.

[The] perpetual flow of information [is] part of a game that traders play which has no wider relevance, the excessive hours worked by many employees a tournament in which individuals compete to display their alpha qualities in return for large prizes. The traditional bank manager's culture of long lunches and afternoons on the golf course may have yielded more information about business than the Bloomberg terminal.

Well, let's not get carried away. The Bloomberg terminal is self-evidently a force for good. But there's no question that something has gone badly wrong with modern finance, or that the present approach to regulation is compounding many of the industry's defects.

Kay's insistence on stepping back, on judging finance by the humdrum standards of any other industry, with its self-serving mystique and aura of inevitability stripped away, makes "Other People's Money" one of the best two or three books I've read on the crash.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Clive Crook at



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 26 2015. A writer today (blogger or otherwise) has to be more a sales person than a writer?




But 60% on sales! That is getting silly

The e-mail below is from a consultant who teaches marketing. As part of endeavoring to track the book marketplace, I subscribe to quite a few of such e-mails, Some are extremely informative. Some are pure hype. I have never worked with Ms. Hayden so don’t have an opinion about her general effectiveness.

Is Beth Hayden accurate in this case?

I have a suspicion that she is more right than wrong—but clearly a great deal depends upon the quality of the product and the marketing involved.

If you want more traffic, you've got to promote your content after you publish it.

Yes, I know that's a pain. But it's true.

You used to be able to publish a top-quality blog post, then sit back and watch as your perfect readers found that post in the search engines and shared it on social media.

But it's not true anymore. There's just too much happening online every single day (and you've got too much competition) to rest on your laurels.

So here's my little traffic tip for you: You need to spend 40% of your time writing and publishing content, and the other 60% promoting that content.

That means sharing the link on social media and asking other people to share it - anything you can do to send a little traffic toward your new post.

If you'd like to learn more about how to promote your best content and drive lots of traffic to your blog, join us for Beth's Blog Traffic School.

I'm offering a very special extra-low price on this course right now, to make it really affordable - and that low price ends this Wednesday night at midnight.

Registration is open now - click here to get all the details.


Beth 29th st Boulder, Colorado 80301 United States (303) 888-4999

November 25 2015. Social control in a plutocracy known as THE LAND OF THE FREE





Sound familiar?


The following extract was written by Mathew Friedman and published in on November 23 2015.

Today, nearly one third of the American adult working-age population has a criminal record (roughly the same as those with college degrees)

In an effort to make complete criminal histories easily accessible to all law enforcement agencies, the FBI maintains a database indexing these records known as the Interstate Identification Index (III). Whenever a suspected criminal is arrested and fingerprinted by a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency; those records are forwarded to the FBI to be included in the III. The FBI assigns each subject a unique identification number that indexes all state records existing for that person, meaning each number corresponds to a distinct individual.

As of July 1, 2015, more than 70 million people have records indexed by the III.

The Numbers in Perspective

America now houses roughly the same number people with criminal records as it does four-year college graduates.

Nearly half of black males and almost 40 percent of white males are arrested by the age 23.

If all arrested Americans were a nation, they would be the world’s 18th largest. Larger than Canada. Larger than France. More than three times the size of Australia.

The number of Americans with criminal records today is larger than the entire US population in 1900.

Holding hands, Americans with arrest records could circle the earth three times.


Large Groups of People in America


When I started to research the U.S. seriously in 2004, I was already convinced that matters were seriously adrift, but, initially, was incredulous at what I was finding. Surely, I thought, if such were the situation, then—in a democracy—people wouldn’t stand for it.

It has taken me time, and a humungous amount of work, to develop an overview and appreciate how the dots are joined. In practice, the system is extremely logical if one accepts the premise that the U.S. is a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy, where corporate power is dominant, where the ultra-rich control the large corporations and the media, and social control has been brought to a high art.

The tools of social control that are used are classic carrot and stick—which the Romans would have recognized—with extraordinarily sophisticated propaganda added together with a surveillance system that just plain boggles the mind. Appreciate that apart from government surveillance, credit cards, the internet, and social media mean that virtually every facet of our lives is monitored every day the major corporations. Armed with that level of information—and the tools to distract, delude, mislead, and manipulate, it is fairly easy to keep people under control.

The U.S. is the most socially controlled nation in history—masquerading as a democracy and ’The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave.”

9/11 was a gift from heaven for the ultra-rich because it allowed them to implement the kind of surveillance that would have been considered unacceptable prior to the terrorist threat—and as a bonus to militarize law enforcement, and profit financially from the unending wars. In fact, there are times when one has to wonder whether Bin Laden was not really working for the ultra-rich—because what he set in motion has benefited them so much.

It could be that he also knew too much!

No, I don’t really believe that Bin Laden was working for the ultra-rich—though it is possible—but my other conclusions stem from the data.

Join the dots—and prepare to be terrified. Then, ask yourself what should you do about it. It certainly isn’t going to change for the better by itself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 24 2015. Why do we build houses the way we do—and could we do it better? Of course we could. We can do almost anything better. But will we? There are powerful people who like things just the way they are.




Creative people, for instance, are just, plain, bloody, amazing!

Tiny houses are an example --and some tiny houses are not so tiny.  C.600 square feet could also be described as ‘modest.’ Hell, you could even call  it ‘practical.’ I’m a fan.

I write about creativity regularly both because it is such an astonishingly powerful force—and because I don’t think we are even close to tapping its potential. Worse, we grind it out of people through education and socialization—and largely confine it to the creative arts (where it is further whittled away through exploitation,  underinvestment, and other negative influences).

Essentially, vested interests want us to conform and accept the status quo because they do so well out of it. They are not entirely successful, because creativity is unstoppable, but they can and do hack away at our creative impulses to the point where most of us toe the line—and where creative constructive  change is delayed severely for very considerable periods of time.

Sir Ken Robinson at The Creative Company Conference.jpgSir Ken Robinson is one of the most articulate and witty commentators on the negative effects on our current education systems. This is an extract from what Wikipedia has to say about him. He is well worth exploring I also happen to think he is largely right.

Ideas on education

Robinson has suggested that to engage and succeed, education has to develop on three fronts. First, that it should foster diversity by offering a broad curriculum and encourage individualization of the learning process; secondly, it should foster curiosity through creative teaching, which depends on high quality teacher training and development; and finally, it should focus on awakening creativity through alternative didactic processes that put less emphasis on standardized testing, thereby giving the responsibility for defining the course of education to individual schools and teachers.

He believes that much of the present education system in the United States fosters conformity, compliance and standardization rather than creative approaches to learning. Robinson emphasizes that we can only succeed if we recognize that education is an organic system, not a mechanical one. Successful school administration is a matter of fostering a helpful climate rather than "command and control".[10]



Critics of Robinson have stated that he has "exercised an extremely corrosive and destructive influence on education while contributing almost nothing to its improvement" and that "a close analysis of his view shows that he believes students have no minds of their own and are incapable of acting independently of their teachers or of being held accountable for their own success",[12] and "Sir Ken’s ideas are incredibly seductive, but they are wrong, spectacularly and gloriously wrong."[13]

In the Times Educational Supplement William Stewart wrote, "Teachers initially dazzled by his lectures have later given thoughtful responses that question whether the witticisms and seeming insights amount to anything of substance that they could use in the classroom".[14]

Education, socialization, and religion apart, one of primary tools used to inhibit creativity is the way so many of us are conditioned that just because things are the way they are, we have to accept them (and it is a sign of immaturity if we don’t).

I find this an extraordinarily dangerous and negative mindset which I have fought against all my life—and which I intend to keep on fighting until I drop.

Good grief! If I thought this was the best we could do with the human condition, I would despair. Fortunately, my own direct experience—let alone my research—teaches me otherwise. Despite all the negative forces out there—and there are times they can seem overwhelming—I am absolutely convinced we can and will do better (and that we have to).

Am I as optimistic about political change, or the evolution of a more viable economic system, as I am about technology? In truth, I am not—but I still see sheer need overwhelming the intransigence of the status quo. It will just take a great deal longer than it should—and the transition may be bloody. But, I am absolutely certain that the U.S. situation, for example, cannot continue on its current path. The combination of a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy is unviable—and the corrupt American Business Model is not delivering for the American people. Change is inevitable.

But, enough of gloom. I am much cheered by what is going on technologically—and particularly by developments in housing and materials.

Check out the ingenious and visually striking Warburg house

The Warburg House by Bioi

If ever there was an unnecessary problem—in that we have the physical and financial resources to house everyone with relative ease, it is the housing issue, Yet over 50,000 people are homeless in New York every night (and about half that number in Los Angeles). The national total is a disgrace.

Utah (scarcely a Left Wing state) has found the most cost effective solution—which is to give people homes!

The American Tragedy continues—quite unnecessarily.

Monday, November 23, 2015

November 23 2015. Let me confess a predilection for evidence. The fact that so much medicine is not evidence based (for instance) give me the creeps.




Riddle me that

As I have written previously, when I was about nine (I can’t recall precisely) I came to the conclusion that a great deal of what I was told was wrong. The details can await my memoirs—but it was an extremely useful insight.

What caused this epiphany? It was a combination of reading, observation, and a specific incident.

Why had I not come to this conclusion a great deal sooner?

Good question! Let’s destroy the credibility of the source.

Age and inexperience were two co-related reasons, but an important additional one was that I had been brought up not to lie.

Lying, I was trained to think, resulted in damnation. I wasn’t quite sure what that was, but it didn’t sound good. Bear in mind I was raised a Catholic—so doubtless Catholic guilt came into it too.

My mother, creative, charming, and charismatic though she was, was far from admirable in many ways. Nonetheless, she hammered that principle like nothing else. That apart, she was impressively cruel and violent. As she got older, she mellowed. There was no hint of that when I was young.

If I lied, I got beaten. If I didn’t lie, I got beaten. For a long period of time mother was convinced that that the way to handle boys was to beat them—for any and every reason. She was an only child—and craved men. She had a serious problem with boys. I was the eldest and the one she experimented on. It wasn’t fun.

Later, I was to find that she lied constantly—but didn’t see it as lying. It was more a matter of constructing a scenario—which she would adjust as needed, and which would become, as far as she was concerned, the absolute truth.

She was adept at scenarios and the fast mental re-write. The truly frightening aspect was that this process was the norm. As a consequence, I didn’t believe anything she said—unless it was something I had witnessed personally. That is a very sad thing to say about one’s mother—but such was my upbringing.

Be that as it may, I am very uncomfortable with lying personally, even for good social reasons, and attach particular importance to that elusive thing—the truth.

My conscience apart, I am also attached to the truth for practical reasons. It is the foundation of rational thinking—or so it seems to me. In turn, evidence-based thought leads to clarity of mind, which leads to clarity of writing (once you have practiced for a decade or two).

Voila! What more could you want (if you are a writer)?

Well, I could answer that in a number of ways starting off with readers, fame, and fortune—one can but dream— but I want to stick to the theme of veracity, because it seems to me that society attaches disturbingly little importance to the truth. Aspiring to it has become no more than a convenient convention. We don’t really expect it.

Whereas you may be punished for lying as a child, there is virtually no penalty for lying as an adult. In fact, the incentives are tilted strongly to promote the advantages of lying. Indeed, if you work for a corporation, or any kind of institution, you are pretty much expected to lie either to defend it, or to promote it to advantage in some way—normally profit.

Try telling the truth if you work in Big Pharma and you won’t be employed for long—and one can say much the same about any other industry or organization. Instead the standard seems to be the effectiveness of one’s lies. If you can lie convincingly, the world is your oyster.

Is lying now more common than it used to be? I don’t know the answer to that, but my suspicion is that it is for a number of reasons.

  • Because of the ever increasing power and influence of corporations—which lie constantly about their good and services.
  • Because legislation hasn’t kept pace with either the increase in corporate power, or the advances in technology.
  • Because professional communicators—advertising, public relations, and market researchers in particular—armed with unprecedented information about their target audiences, and with ever increasing computer power to process it, have become better and better at their business, and now truly excel at what they do. They now know, with some precision, that propaganda works, and what tools to use. They are that good.
  • Because the corporate-owned media have cut back their personnel so much that there is far less fact-checking—and investigative reporting in depth has practically gone the way of the dodo.  Why should media expose the truth when it exposes the lies of the very advertisers who support them?
  • Because increased communication simply gives more opportunities to lie.
  • Because we are now so drowned in information, it becomes harder and harder to check out the truth.
  • Because a great many of us are lazy, and prefer to rely on our prejudices rather than make any serious effort to ascertain the real situation.
  • Because, whether we admit it or not, it has now become accepted as the social norm.

I’m not totally negative about all this. Though our commercial culture seems to have wandered into the dark side, and careerism is rife, I still run across a great deal of ordinary human decency fairly regularly—and certainly don’t think integrity is dead. It is more that I feel we have got the balance wrong.

When you get right down to it, most issues are a matter of balance. 

Where health is concerned, it strikes me that matters are very far from balanced.

  • Most of us are under the illusion that the medical profession is almost entirely evidence based—and that is how the profession markets itself. The facts say otherwise.
  • In more than a few cases, the medical profession gets it entirely wrong.
  • Conflicts of interest are rife—and the patient almost always loses out.
  • The profit motive, where medicine is concerned, certainly doesn’t seem to work to the average patient’s advantage in the U.S.. American healthcare costs more than twice as much as in the UK—a truly staggering drain on the U.S. economy—and Americans live sicker and die, on average two years sooner than the citizens of other developed nations. On top of that, many people still don’t have healthcare—and the system, unless you are rich, has serious quality problems. It’s fiercely complicated, a source of ongoing stress for most families, and all too many avoid treatment because they can’t afford the deductible.
  • Deductibles are steadily increasing—whereas earnings, in real terms, are not.

All in all, it’s a disastrous mess, which is not being addressed—and the U.S. is the richest nation in the world.

A reasonable person might expect riots and outrage—but many Americans still believe the canard that they have the best system—and do nothing.

Propaganda works! It is frighteningly effective. In effect, if it is allowed on a virtually unrestricted basis—as is the case in the U.S.—it can neutralize, or otherwise distort, representative democracy. It is not just that politicians only listen to donors. It also means that the average American doesn’t have the necessary information to vote rationally.

This makes a nonsense of the Constitution—but explains a great deal.

The following piece is taken from

"Statin Nation II: What Really Causes Heart Disease?" is the sequel to the documentary "Statin Nation: The Great Cholesterol Cover-up." However, it stands well on its own, even if you didn't see the original film.

For many decades, the idea that saturated fats caused heart disease reigned supreme, and diets shifted sharply away from saturated animal fats such as butter and lard, toward partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and margarine.

However, as people abandoned saturated fats and replaced them with trans fats, rates of heart disease continued on a steady upward climb. And, the more aggressive the recommendations for low-fat diets, the worse this trend became.

Last year, butter consumption in the US reached a 40-year peak, and the resurgence of butter has been attributed to a shift in consumer preferences away from processed foods and back toward natural foods.

This is a positive trend, showing that the old myth claiming that saturated fat is bad for you is finally starting to crumble. People are also starting to recognize that refined sugar is far worse for your heart than dietary fat was, and processed low-fat foods are typically loaded with sugar.

The French Paradox

According to the film, the long held view that saturated fats and cholesterol caused heart disease came under closer scrutiny in the 1990s, when researchers like Kurt Ellison with the Boston University started taking notice of what became known as the French Paradox.

The French eat a lot more fat than many other nations, yet they don't have higher rates of heart disease.

For example, in the UK people on average eat 13.5 percent of their total calories as saturated fat, whereas the French eat 15.5 percent saturated fat, yet their rate of heart disease deaths is about one-third of that in the UK — just 22 heart disease deaths per 100,000 compared to 63 per 100,000 in the UK.

Icelanders also consume higher amounts of saturated fat — on average 14.6 percent, but their rate of heart disease deaths is also lower than the UK, just 34 per 100,000.

The film reviews a number of statistics from other countries, including Denmark, Lithuania, and Portugal, which defy the idea that saturated fat consumption is associated with heart disease. The data simply doesn't bear this out.

Here's another startling example. The American Heart Association recommends keeping your saturated fat consumption below seven percent of your total calories, ideally around 5 or 6 percent.

Lithuania is very close to being on target, with a saturated fat consumption rate of 7.7 percent of total calories, yet Lithuania has one of the highest heart disease mortality rates in the world — 122 per 100,000.

Cholesterol Is Not a Major Factor in Heart Disease

Like saturated fat, cholesterol has also been wrongly demonized despite the fact that 60 years' worth of research has utterly failed to demonstrate any correlation between high cholesterol and heart disease.

Despite this, many, even most health professionals still cling to the idea that cholesterol raises your risk for heart disease, and that strategies that lower cholesterol also lower your heart disease risk.

Fortunately, limitations for cholesterol will likely be removed from the 2015 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which would be a welcomed change.

Cholesterol is actually one of the most important molecules in your body; indispensable for the building of cells and for producing stress and sex hormones, as well as vitamin D.

It's also important for brain health, and helps with the formation of your memories. Low levels of HDL cholesterol have been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer's disease, and may also increase your risk of depression, stroke, violent behavior, and suicide.

What You Need to Understand About HDL and LDL Cholesterol

While cholesterol is typically divided into HDL/"good" and LDL/"bad" cholesterol," there's really only one kind of cholesterol. The division into HDL and LDL is based on how the cholesterol combines with protein particles.

LDL and HDL are lipoproteins, meaning fats combined with proteins. Cholesterol is fat-soluble, and blood is mostly water, so for it to be transported in your blood, cholesterol needs to be carried by a lipoprotein, which is classified by density.

Large LDL particles are not harmful. Only small dense LDL particles can potentially be a problem, as they can squeeze through the lining of your arteries. If they oxidize, they can cause damage and inflammation.

Thus, it would be more accurate to say that there are "good" and "bad" lipoproteins (opposed to good and bad cholesterol). Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a board certified cardiologist, and Chris Kresser, L.Ac., an integrative medicine clinician, have both addressed this issue in previous interviews.

Some groups, such as the National Lipid Association, are now starting to shift the focus toward LDL particle number instead of total and LDL cholesterol, in order to better assess your heart disease risk. But this approach has not yet spread into the mainstream.

Statins Are Prescribed Based on an Incorrect Hypothesis

Since the cholesterol hypothesis is false, this also means that the recommended therapies — low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, and cholesterol lowering medications — are doing more harm than good. Statin treatment, for example, is largely harmful, costly, and has transformed millions of people into patients whose health is being adversely impacted by the drug. As previously noted by Dr. Frank Lipman:1

"[T]he medical profession is obsessed with lowering your cholesterol because of misguided theories about cholesterol and heart disease. Why would we want to lower it when the research2 actually shows that three-quarters of people having a first heart attack, have normal cholesterol levels, and when data over 30 years from the well-known Framingham Heart Study3 showed that in most age groups, high cholesterol wasn't associated with more deaths?

In fact, for older people, deaths were more common with low cholesterol. The research is clear – statins are being prescribed based on an incorrect hypothesis, and they are not harmless."

Statins Can Wreck Your Health in a Number of Ways

The film points out that research shows statins promote calcification of your arteries, and even though arterial calcification increases heart disease, these studies seem to be largely ignored by mainstream health professionals. Sherif Sultan, a professor of Vascular and Endovascular surgery who is featured in the film, notes that many people have in fact improved their health by getting off statins.

That certainly doesn't surprise me, considering the fact that studies have discovered a wide variety of problems associated with statin use, and virtually all of these problems are being downplayed or ignored altogether by conventional medicine.

Odds are actually very high — greater than 100 to one — that if you're currently taking a statin, you probably don't need it. Based on my own review of the evidence, the ONLY subgroup that might benefit from statins are those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia. Dr. Sinatra believes males with obstructions in their left anterior descending coronary artery might also benefit. For all others, statins are more likely to do you harm than good.