Sunday, March 31, 2013

social glue and world-changing?

socialevolutionforum | There are two main kinds of social glue: ‘social identification’ and ‘identity fusion’. The latter is most simply described as a visceral sense of oneness with others in one’s group. This may be manifested in a variety of ways. For instance, when another group member is threatened it prompts the same defensive reactions as a personal attack. For the fused individual, the boundary between the personal and social self is porous – activation of one’s sense of personal self also serves to activate feelings about the social self. Fused individuals regard other members of their group as irreplaceable, and seek to reform and reintegrate them when they violate their group’s norms rather than kicking them out for good. When the group is under attack, or their status threatened, fusion increases commitment to maintain the group.

Identity fusion is a widespread feature of kin groups and other small social units whose members share the trials and tribulations of life together. This sharing of experiences as well as the memories of those experiences, particularly of enduring and overcoming hardships, seems to be an important part of the mechanism generating fusion, most commonly within families but sometimes also within much larger groups.

My mother remembers how tightly glued together our family was throughout the war. During the Blitz they spent a lot of time huddled together in bomb shelters. One night, however, my mother’s uncle and aunt and their young son emerged before the All Clear had been sounded, and went inside.  The last bomb of the air raid fell on their house and they were killed instantly.

An evacuee at the time, my mother only heard about the tragedy months later. She was on the top deck of a bus. She remembers it being a glorious day, the pretty summer dress she was wearing, that it was a treat to get the seat at the front. Her mother turned to her and said: “Your uncle and auntie’s house was bombed and they were inside it. Your cousin too.” That was all. It would have been improper to display emotion in public, so where better to deliver the news than on a crowded London bus? My mother was nine years old at the time.

It is very unlikely my mother would have remembered the weather or what she was wearing or even where she was sitting that day on the bus, were it not for the emotional impact of my grandmother’s words. Integral to our sense of self is a set of memories of past experiences, including episodes that are felt to be especially salient in forming who we are. Such episodes will often relate to painful or disturbing experiences because these are generally better remembered than pleasant or gratifying ones.

While these ‘bad’ experiences come to form part of our personal autobiographies that does not necessarily mean they are rehearsed as narratives. Often, there are social disincentives to talk about such experiences — because they conflict with idealized conceptions of family life, gender roles, Britishness, or whatever. But that doesn’t mean the memories are lost. They remain as part of our private sense of self. Indeed this sense of privacy, of experience that is internally generated rather than externally imposed, adds to the authenticity of these aspects of our self-conception.

The impression that highly salient personal experiences are shared by others fuels the fusion of self and other. It is as if those who have been through the same thing are more ‘like us’ and the boundary between self and other becomes more porous. This would help to explain why people who endure terrible ordeals, such as natural disasters or wars, or who have experienced persecution or oppression, often feel a special bond with their fellow sufferers. My mother, for example, felt a special connection with children who turned up at school with black armbands. And conversely, it can feel as if people who haven’t actually experienced your pain themselves cannot truly understand it, and may seem inauthentic if they talk about the subject with an air of authority.

In all these respects, identity fusion differs from what psychologists call ‘social identification’ (Swann et al. 2012). Social identity theorists have repeatedly shown that personal and group identities are non-overlapping. Social identity and group identity have a sort of hydraulic relationship to each other: the more one is activated, the less the other is. If your group identity prevails in your social life, the less prominently social identity willfeature. Attacks on the group activate social but not personal selves in people who identify with, but are not fused with, the group. Pro-group action is not motivated by the personal self. Members of the group are replaceable and norm violators can be more readily excluded from the group. When the status of the group is threatened, identification with the group is weakened.

does science make you moral?

plosone | Background Previous work has noted that science stands as an ideological force insofar as the answers it offers to a variety of fundamental questions and concerns; as such, those who pursue scientific inquiry have been shown to be concerned with the moral and social ramifications of their scientific endeavors. No studies to date have directly investigated the links between exposure to science and moral or prosocial behaviors.

Methodology/Principal Findings Across four studies, both naturalistic measures of science exposure and experimental primes of science led to increased adherence to moral norms and more morally normative behaviors across domains. Study 1 (n = 36) tested the natural correlation between exposure to science and likelihood of enforcing moral norms. Studies 2 (n = 49), 3 (n = 52), and 4 (n = 43) manipulated thoughts about science and examined the causal impact of such thoughts on imagined and actual moral behavior. Across studies, thinking about science had a moralizing effect on a broad array of domains, including interpersonal violations (Studies 1, 2), prosocial intentions (Study 3), and economic exploitation (Study 4).

Conclusions/Significance These studies demonstrated the morally normative effects of lay notions of science. Thinking about science leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms and exhibit more morally normative behavior. These studies are the first of their kind to systematically and empirically test the relationship between science and morality. The present findings speak to this question and elucidate the value-laden outcomes of the notion of science. Fist tap Dale.

game recognize game..,

frontiersin | A smile is a context-dependent emotional expression. A smiling face can signal the experience of enjoyable emotions, but people can also smile to convince another person that enjoyment is occurring when it is not. For this reason, the ability to discriminate between felt and faked enjoyment expressions is a crucial social skill. Despite its importance, adults show remarkable individual variation in this ability. Revealing the factors responsible for these huge individual differences is a key challenge in this domain. Here we investigated, on a large sample of participants, whether individual differences in smile authenticity recognition are accounted for by differences in the predisposition to experience other people's emotions, i.e., by susceptibility to emotional contagion. Results showed that susceptibility to emotional contagion for negative emotions increased smile authenticity detection, while susceptibility to emotional contagion for positive emotions worsened detection performance, because it leaded to categorize most of the faked smiles as sincere. These findings suggest that susceptibility to emotional contagion plays a key role in complex emotion recognition, and point out the importance of analyzing the tendency to experience other people's positive and negative emotions as separate abilities.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

your grandma's favorite drug songs...,

thefix | If you think great songs about the highs or horrors of drugs began in the rock 'n' roll era, think again. The likes of Cab Calloway, the Ink Spots and Fats Waller were way ahead of the game.

For better or worse, drugs and popular culture are irrevocably entangled. Nowhere is the link more pronounced than in popular music, an art form that has an almost symbiotic relationship with substances. Whether drugs influence music or vice versa is a subject for debate—but few would argue that the Beatles would have transformed popular culture as they did without the influence of psychedelics; that house music would have become the behemoth it did without ecstasy culture; or that punk would have been quite the same without the relentless energy of speed and the nihilistic black hole of heroin as the twin engines that drove it.

Many might lazily assume that drug culture started in the 1960s—the era when supposedly everybody started turning on, tuning in and dropping out. But the truth is, just as human beings have been getting high since practically the dawn of time, popular musicians have been recording songs about getting high since they first started pressing 78s. To prove it, here's my selection of amazing pre-rock 'n' roll tracks about shooting smack, snorting coke, getting blitzed on booze and dancing all night on speed. Ladies and gentlemen, we present your grandmothers’ favorite drug songs:

Friday, March 29, 2013

something other than "adaptation" driving evolution...,

A computational model of greenish warbler evolution (left) fits real-world patterns of the species (right). Color corresponds to degrees of genetic difference. Image: Martins et al./PNAS

wired | What explains the incredible variety of life on Earth? It seems obvious. Evolution, of course! But perhaps not the evolution most people grew up with.

Some ecologists say the theory needs an update. They’ve proposed a new dynamic driving the emergence of new species, one that doesn’t involve adaptations or survival of the fittest.

Give evolution enough time and space, they say, and new species can just happen. Speciation might not only be an evolutionary consequence of fitness differences and natural selection, but a property intrinsic to evolution, just as all matter has gravity.

“Our work shows that evolution wants to be diverse,” said Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute. “It’s enough for organisms to be spread out in space and time.”

In a March 13 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, Bar-Yam and his co-authors, Brazilian ecologists Ayana Martins at the University of Sao Paulo and Marcus Aguiar at the University of Campinas, modeled the evolution of greenish warblers living around the Tibetan plateau.

The warblers are what’s known as a ring species, a rare phenomenon that occurs when species inhabit a horseshoe-shaped range. Genes flow around the ring, passing between neighboring populations — yet at the ring’s tips, the animals no longer interbreed with one another.

By the usual standards, these end populations have become new species. According to the researchers’ model of the process, no special adaptations or differences in reproductive fitness are needed to explain — or at least to computationally replicate — the greenish warblers’ divergence. Fist tap Dale.

de novo originated genes

evolution and function of de novo originated genes
biomedcentral | Background New gene emergence is so far assumed to be mostly driven by duplication and divergence of existing genes. The possibility that entirely new genes could emerge out of the non-coding genomic background was long thought to be almost negligible. With the increasing availability of fully sequenced genomes across broad scales of phylogeny, it has become possible to systematically study the origin of new genes over time and thus revisit this question.

Results We have used phylostratigraphy to assess trends of gene evolution across successive phylogenetic phases, using mostly the well-annotated mouse genome as a reference. We find several significant general trends and confirm them for three other vertebrate genomes (humans, zebrafish and stickleback). Younger genes are shorter, both with respect to gene length, as well as to open reading frame length. They contain also fewer exons and have fewer recognizable domains. Average exon length, on the other hand, does not change much over time. Only the most recently evolved genes have longer exons and they are often associated with active promotor regions, i.e. are part of bidirectional promotors. We have also revisited the possibility that de novo evolution of genes could occur even within existing genes, by making use of an alternative reading frame (overprinting). We find several cases among the annotated Ensembl ORFs, where the new reading frame has emerged at a higher phylostratigraphic level than the original one. We discuss some of these overprinted genes, which include also the Hoxa9 gene where an alternative reading frame covering the homeobox has emerged within the lineage leading to rodents and primates (Euarchontoglires).

Conclusions We suggest that the overall trends of gene emergence are more compatible with a de novo evolution model for orphan genes than a general duplication-divergence model. Hence de novo evolution of genes appears to have occurred continuously throughout evolutionary time and should therefore be considered as a general mechanism for the emergence of new gene functions.

"junk" be busy...,

cshlp | At least since the publication of Susumu Ohno's Evolution by Gene Duplication (Ohno 1970), the conventional wisdom has been that, in the emergence of novel genes, “natural selection merely modified, while redundancy created.” In other words, new genes generally arise by the duplication of existing genes. While the notion that duplication plays a prominent role in the emergence of novel genes is perhaps most famously associated with Ohno, it actually traces back to the early days of the modern evolutionary synthesis (Bridges 1935; Muller 1936). Decades of modern sequence-based research have largely supported this general view (Graur and Li 2000). In recent years, the classic model of whole gene duplication and subsequent divergence has been enlarged to include phenomena such as exon shuffling, gene fusion and fission, retrotransposition, and lateral gene transfer (for review, see Long et al. 2003). Nevertheless, despite their additional complexity, these mechanisms remain essentially duplicative, in the sense that sequences encoding one or more protein-coding genes are copied, by one mechanism or another, and used as the starting point for a new gene sequence. (An exception is the exonization of noncoding transposable elements, such as Alus, but this process tends to generate individual exons rather than entire genes;Makalowski et al. 1994; Nekrutenko and Li 2001.) By contrast, the origination of protein-coding genes de novo from nonrepetitive, noncoding DNA has been thought to occur only as an exceptionally rare event during evolution. Indeed, the emergence of complete, functional genes—with promoters, open reading frames (ORFs), and functional proteins—from “junk” DNA would seem highly improbable, almost like the elusive transmutation of lead into gold that was sought by medieval alchemists. 

Over the past few years, this view has begun to change, with several reports of de novo gene origins in Drosophila and yeast (Levine et al. 2006; Begun et al. 2007; Chen et al. 2007; Cai et al. 2008). Zhou et al. (2008) have estimated that as many as ∼12% of newly emerged genes in the Drosophila melanogaster subgroup may have arisen de novo from noncoding DNA, independently of transposable elements. Recently, Toll-Riera et al. (2009) identified 15 such genes in primates. Now, in this issue, Knowles and McLysaght (2009) demonstrate for the first time that human genes have arisen de novo from noncoding DNA since the divergence of the human and chimpanzee genomes. They identify and analyze three human genes that have no known homologs, in the human genome or any other, and do not appear to derive from transposable elements. Rather, these are cases in which mutation, natural selection, and/or neutral drift have evidently forged ORFs and functional promoters out of raw genomic DNA, like a blacksmith shaping a new tool from raw iron.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

energetic costs of cellular computations

pnas | Cells often perform computations in order to respond to environmental cues. A simple example is the classic problem, first considered by Berg and Purcell, of determining the concentration of a chemical ligand in the surrounding media. On general theoretical grounds, it is expected that such computations require cells to consume energy. In particular, Landauer’s principle states that energy must be consumed in order to erase the memory of past observations. Here, we explicitly calculate the energetic cost of steady-state computation of ligand concentration for a simple two-component cellular network that implements a noisy version of the Berg–Purcell strategy. We show that learning about external concentrations necessitates the breaking of detailed balance and consumption of energy, with greater learning requiring more energy. Our calculations suggest that the energetic costs of cellular computation may be an important constraint on networks designed to function in resource poor environments, such as the spore germination networks of bacteria.

swarm "intelligence"?

sciencedaily | Swarming is the spontaneous organised motion of a large number of individuals. It is observed at all scales, from bacterial colonies, slime moulds and groups of insects to shoals of fish, flocks of birds and animal herds. Now physicists Maksym Romenskyy and Vladimir Lobaskin from University College Dublin, Ireland, have uncovered new collective properties of swarm dynamics in a study just published in EPJ B. Ultimately, this could be used to control swarms of animals, robots, or human crowds by applying signals capable of emulating the underlying interaction of individuals within the swarm, which could lead to predicted motion patterns elucidated through modelling.

The authors were inspired by condensed matter models, used for example in the study of magnetism, which were subsequently adapted to be biologically relevant to animal swarms. In their model, in addition to the ability to align with its neighbours, each model animal is endowed with two new features: one for collision avoidance and another preventing direction change at every step to ensure persistence of motion.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"nones" growth at record levels...,

the real ichthys

religiondispatches | A new report from a team of Duke and UC-Berkeley researchers highlights the continuing growth in the number of Americans who indicate no religious affiliation, with a full 20% now answering “none” when asked “What is your religious preference?”

Michael Hout and Claude S. Fisher of UCB and Mark A. Chaves of Duke drew on data from the most recent General Social Survey (GSS), which has tracked religious preference since 1972, when a mere 5% of Americans self-identified as religiously unaffiliated. The report reinforces October 2012 findings by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on the rapid growth in the population of Nones, especially among adults under age 30.

According to the report, the demographic tipping point in religious unaffiliation occurred in the 1990s, when the percentage of Nones grew dramatically from previous levels, jumping to 8% in 1990 and nearly doubling to 14% in 2000. Though unaffiliation tapered off slightly from 2000 to 2002—after 9/11—the robust growth trend continued, reaching 18% in 2010.

The report makes clear that the trend away from affiliation with organized religion is not an indication of declining religious belief. They write that “conventional religious belief, typified by belief in God, remains very widespread—59 percent of Americans believe in God without any doubt,” adding that, “Atheism is barely growing,” with 1% in 1962 and 3% in 2012 indicating no belief in God.

The report raises important questions about the relationship between religious affiliation, religious identity, and religiosity in general in the United States that may be addressed in future work by Hout and Fischer on generational and political factors in affiliation, perhaps more particularly, and by Chaves on “the congregational context of religious participation.”

As this work unfolds, RD readers who self-identify as one or another variety of None are invited to share their own perspectives on religion, spirituality, meaning-making, and self-realization in my Nones Beyond the Numbers narrative survey.*

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

species arise from relatively sudden changes in the supply of nutrients...,

figshare | Abstract: Natural selection for nutrients results in their metabolism to pheromones that control reproduction in species from microbes to man. In some species, sex differences in pheromones enable sexual selection. Using what is known about the molecular mechanisms common to species from microbes to man, an argument can be made from biological facts that extends to non-random nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution. This biological-based argument can be compared to arguments that might be made to support a cosmological / mathematical argument for random mutations theory.

Introduction: The epigenetic effects of nutrients on intracellular signaling and stochastic gene expression appear to enable adaptive evolution of tightly controlled organism-level thermoregulation in mammals. Nutrient-dependent single amino acid substitutions and de novo protein biosynthesis exemplify the involvement of the seemingly futile thermodynamic control of intracellular and intermolecular interactions in microbes that result in stochastic gene expression.

Thermodynamically “futile” cycles of RNA transcription and degradation (Yap & Makeyev, 2013) may also be responsible for changes in pheromone production that enable accelerated changes in nutrient-dependent adaptive evolution controlled by the microRNA/messenger RNA (miRNA/mRNA) balance (see for review Meunier et al., 2013). Environmental cues, like those that signal the availability of glucose, appear to cause changes in the miRNA/mRNA balance that enable gene expression during developmental transitions required for successful nutrient-dependent reproduction in species from microbes (Park et al., 2010) to man (Jobe, McQuate, & Zhao, 2012).

What is known about species from microbes to man extends the common molecular mechanisms of thermodynamics and thermoregulation across the continuum of adaptive evolution. This literature review links the epigenetic effects of the olfactory/pheromonal sensory environment on thermodynamics and on thermoregulation to selection for phenotypic expression in a human population.

Part 1: Thermodynamically-controlled thermoregulation of reproduction

Lies, damned lies, and statistics
Statistical arguments led many people to believe in a theory of runaway sexual selection for mutations (see for review Wright, 1930). That belief is most compatible with a gradualist version of Mendelian genetics in which accumulated mutations somehow result in natural selection for observed phenotypes. Theories associated with statistics and selection for observed phenotypes should already have since been discarded by most biologists. Facts have shown that “Reproductive isolation evidently can arise with little or no morphological differentiation (Dobzhansky, 1972, p. 665).”

It is now even clearer than it was more than 8 decades ago that ecological diversification and beak morphology in finches is due to positive natural selection for nutrient-dependent amino acid changes. These changes incorporate the molecular mechanisms of AT¨GC-biased gene conversion, amino acid substitutions, de novo protein biosynthesis, and expression of the insulin-like growth factor 2 receptor (Rands et al., 2013).

Common sense and biological facts support the conclusion that beak morphology adaptively evolves via molecular mechanisms that link the nutritional value of seeds to the availability of different seed types. Statistical analyses that suggest random mutations caused differences in beak morphology to be somehow selected represent a scientifically unsubstantiated theory that fails to address the requirements for pleiotropy and epistasis.

In another recent report that challenges the scientifically unsubstantiated theory of runaway selection for mutations and the adaptive evolution of the head crest in pigeons, researchers reported that derived traits in domesticated birds evolve in stages: 1) color variation, 2) plumage variation, 3) structural variation, and 4) behavioral differences. One gene is responsible for the head crest in all species, which means mutations that alter the head crest are not selected (Shapiro et al., 2013). The pervasive selection for mutations assumption was made with no evidence that either natural selection or sexual selection can result in behavioral differences that enable mutations to be selected. If mutations theory continues to be propagated, Darwinian Theory seems doomed to suffer from a lack of critical examination in the context of how natural selection occurs and what is selected. Blind acceptance of theory already has led to ignorance of biological facts.

review: the moral molecule, source of love and prosperity

ishe-journal | The Moral Molecule: the Source of Love and Prosperity presents, in informal language, the results of neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak’s work on the effects of the hormone oxytocin on a wide range of human behavior. It considers the hormone’s reinforcing effects on individuals, on close personal relationships, and on society as a whole. Chapters cover the evolution of trust, the pathways by which oxytocin works as a behavioral reinforcer, how other factors can interfere with oxytocin’s “good effects,” how the biology of oxytocin intersects religion, why greed isn’t good for individuals or societies, and how to create a bottom-up democracy. Zak makes a case for a link from oxytocin to empathy, to morality, to trust, to love, to economic prosperity…and to something he calls a virtuous cycle.  Testosterone effects are also described, in particular how they counteract or balance the effects oxytocin. This book review summarizes these elements and also stresses the relationship of the hormones oxytocin and testosterone to war.

Monday, March 25, 2013

censoring the future

mind-futures | TED’s decision to remove public talks by Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock from YouTube and the main section of their web site has created quite a furore. To date there has been well over 1000 supportive comments posted on TED’s discussion pages. The latest page opened regarding the topic on the TED site  is here. TED initially made quite a mess of the entire process. The first announcement they released was incredibly sloppy, and almost all the statements they made about the content of the two videos was inaccurate. It looked like the writer had either not watched the videos, or merely skimmed them.
Sheldrake’s video was a philosophy of science talk, where he put forward ten questions about significant problem areas in science which he suggests require further investigation. These included whether telepathy exists, whether the laws of nature are fixed, and whether memories are really found in the substrate of brains.

Hancock’s talk was about his experience of using the drug ayahuasca to expand his understanding of consciousness.

To their credit, TED has allowed open discussion of the issue. The criticism has been intense, both on their site and across the blogosphere. This has  clearly spooked the organisation. If my understanding is correct, TED is going to restore the videos to the main section of the site. I am not sure whether they will restore them to YouTube. I have engaged in the discussions myself, and joked that my TEDx talk about consciousness and the future might be taken down from YouTube if I wasn’t careful. It hasn’t been.

Many fans of Hancock in particular have been very angry about what happened. This is perfectly understandable. However this is not my attitude to the problem. I foresee a time when we leave behind the crude process of creating confrontational binaries and attacking others who disagree with us. Shaming and cursing others rarely shifts perspectives. It just isn’t a smart way to initiate a discourse with another. I prefer to engage others, even when they hold a contrary position. This is one of the great advantages of having done a lot of inner work, and becoming more “mindful”. I find it difficult to take other people’s behaviour personally, including criticism and personal attacks.

I see this TED saga as a tremendous opportunity for progress in the understanding of consciousness.
The obvious reason is that it has generated a great deal of publicity for Sheldrake and Hancock. That is the obvious benefit. Fist tap Arnach.

why the education system is ripe for disruption

Forbes | Our education system is not broken, it has just become obsolete

When I think of all the tremendous, seemingly impossible feats made possible by entrepreneurs, I am amazed that more has not been done to reinvent our education system. I want all entrepreneurs to take notice that this is a multi-hundred billion dollar opportunity that’s ripe for disruption.

Our collective belief is that our education system is broken so we spend tremendous energy in trying to fix it. We conveniently place the blame on problems that stem from budget cuts, teacher layoffs, inadequate technology in our schools and our education policies. We need to recognize the fact that our education system is NOT BROKEN but has simply become OBSOLETE. It no longer meets the needs of the present and future generation.

Our education system was developed for an industrial era where we could teach certain skills to our children and they were able to use these skills for the rest of their lives working productively in an industry. We are now living in a fast paced technological era where every skill that we teach our children becomes obsolete in the 10 to 15 years due to exponentially growing technological advances. Meanwhile, new categories of jobs are being created because of these technological advances. It’s hard to imagine that half of the jobs that exist today didn’t exist 25 years ago.

Our education system today uses the mass production style manufacturing process of standardization. This process requires raw material that is grouped together based on a specific criteria. Those raw materials are then moved from one station to another station where an expert makes a small modification given the small amount of time given to complete their task. At the end of the assembly line, these assembled goods are standardized tested to see if they meet certain criteria before they are moved to the next advanced assembly line.

We are using the same process to teach our kids today, grouping them by their date of manufacturing (age). We put them on an education assembly line every day, starting with one station that teaches them a certain subject before automatically moving them to the next class after a certain period of time. Once a year we use standardized testing to see if they are ready to move to the next grade of an education advanced assembly line.

Rethinking education starts with embracing our individuality.

TED censored Hancock's War on Consciousness talk...,

"TED’s decision to remove public talks by Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock from YouTube and the main section of their web site has created quite a furore. To date there has been well over 1000 supportive comments posted on TED’s discussion pages. The latest page opened regarding the topic on the TED site is here. TED initially made quite a mess of the entire process. The first announcement they released was incredibly sloppy, and almost all the statements they made about the content of the two videos was inaccurate. It looked like the writer had either not watched the videos, or merely skimmed them."

"The massive backlash against TED indicates something else of great importance. People are getting smarter" TED has permitted the debate after having removed the video.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

cyprus is a race to mediterranean gas

zerohedge | Cyprus is preparing for total financial collapse as the European Central Bank turns its back on the island after its parliament rejected a scheme to make Cypriot citizens pay a levy on savings deposits in return for a share in potential gas futures to fund a bailout.

On Wednesday, the Greek-Cypriot government voted against asking its citizens to bank on the future of gas exports by paying a 3-15% levy on bank deposits in return for a stake in potential gas sales. The scheme would have partly funded a $13 billion EU bailout.

It would have been a major gamble that had Cypriots asking how much gas the island actually has and whether it will prove commercially viable any time soon.

In the end, not even the parliament was willing to take the gamble, forcing Cypriots to look elsewhere for cash, hitting up Russia in desperate talks this week, but to no avail.

The bank deposit levy would not have gone down well in Russia, whose citizens use Cypriot banks to store their “offshore” cash. Some of the largest accounts belong to Russians and other foreigners, and the levy scheme would have targeted accounts with over 20,000 euros. So it made sense that Cyprus would then turn to Russia for help, but so far Moscow hasn’t put any concrete offers on the table.

Plan A (the levy scheme) has been rejected. Plan B (Russia) has been ineffective. Plan C has yet to reveal itself. And without a Plan C, the banks can’t reopen. The minute they open their doors there will be a withdrawal rush that will force their collapse.

In the meantime, cashing in on the island’s major gas potential is more urgent than ever—but these are still very early days.

In the end, it’s all about gas and the race to the finish line to develop massive Mediterranean discoveries. Cyprus has found itself right in the middle of this geopolitical game in which its gas potential is a tool in a showdown between Russia and the European Union.  

The EU favored the Cypriot bank deposit levy but it would have hit at the massive accounts of Russian oligarchs. Without the promise of Levant Basin gas, the EU wouldn’t have had the bravado for such a move because Russia holds too much power over Europe’s gas supply.

the cypress crisis isn't what it seems...,

johngaltfla | the truth behind what is happening in Cyprus is not the minute amount of Euros the hedge funds of the European and Federal Reserve banksters are poised to lose, but control of the Eastern Mediterranean natural resources without dependency on the Russian Bear or the insanity of the “Arab Spring.” At this moment, one has to visualize the reality of the situation as displayed in the map below:

The fields from the Eastern Med are projected to have over 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and well over 20 billion barrels of oil according to independent estimates. The question is who would object to a cheap supply of petroleum products to the Southern European debtor economies (the proverbial PIIGS) who need cheap energy the most? Try this list on for size:
  • Russia – Losing its monopoly and ability to manipulate political events in Europe and the Middle East
  • OPEC – The Arab nations fear losing their influence on Europe and the ability to manage prices and deprive Israel of not just energy independence but financial freedom from Europe and the United States; it is quite possible that the Arabs are pressuring Russia to threaten the European Union to prevent completion of this pipeline complex in favor of their supply via Turkish territory
  • The Fed/ECB banking cartel – Without the ability to control natural resources and the independence of economies in North America and Europe, regardless of size, their ability to profit from advances or misery within the economies disappears and the independence which results weakens their geopolitical influence
The results of this week’s abandonment of the deposit tax which was a blatant attempt to remove sovereignty from the Greek Cypriot population has now shifted with the news tonight from the Cyprus Times:

Last hope now appears to lie with Russia

Russia appears more than willing to bail out the Cypriot banking system in exchange for an obscene raping of their control of the natural resources within their grasp and being developed now. 

In other words, the wealthy and average persons are guaranteed financial security if they surrender their natural resources, or control thereof, to the Russian Bear instead of the ever reliable British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, Total Fina, etc. which are working with the ECB banking cartel. This trade off is reflected by the fury of the IMF and ECB in the actions of the Cypriot parliament yet the rest of the world is under the perception that the banking crisis in Cyprus is self-inflicted. Sadly, it is much more than it seems. The Greek and Cypriot banks which are in trouble acted as fronts for the European banking cartel’s hedge funds which speculate in Cypriot real estate which eventually led to this crisis. The bankers have demanded, much like within the United States, that the citizens of Cyprus absorb losses for overseas investors and bypass the democratic processes to protect their principle.

If the people of Cyprus are wise, they will absorb a period of short term financial and economic misery where they remove themselves from the European Union and central banking cartel and re-introduce the Cypriot Pound at a 10:1 or 100:1 ratio to the Euro. As the Israeli-Cypriot-Southern European pipeline realizes production and viability in the next three years, total economic independence would be realize and the ability to repay its Euro denominated debts concluded in a very short time period, unlike the true default of Iceland. The people of Cyprus are not in the midst of an economic crisis but a geopolitical one, which could decide if national sovereignty is more important than the globalist economic system.

Let us hope the people of that island nation are brave enough to endure the firestorm that is on their doorstep and make the right choices in the weeks to come.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

are we headed for a bigger showdown over secrets?

rollingstone | A common thread runs through all of these cases. On the one hand, the motivations for these information-stealers seem extremely diverse: You have people who appear to be primarily motivated by traditional whistleblower concerns (Manning, who never sought money and was obviously initially moved by the moral horror aroused by the material he was seeing, falls into that category for me), you have the merely mischievous (the Keys case seems to fall in this area), there are those who either claim to be or actually are free-information ideologues (Assange and Swartz seem more in this realm), and then there are other cases where the motive might have been money (Aleynikov, who was allegedly leaving Goldman to join a rival trading startup, might be among those).

But in all of these cases, the government pursued maximum punishments and generally took zero-tolerance approaches to plea negotiations. These prosecutions reflected an obvious institutional terror of letting the public see the sausage-factory locked behind the closed doors not only of the state, but of banks and universities and other such institutional pillars of society. As Gibney pointed out in his movie, this is a Wizard of Oz moment, where we are being warned not to look behind the curtain.

What will we find out? We already know that our armies mass-murder women and children in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that our soldiers joke about smoldering bodies from the safety of gunships, that some of our closest diplomatic allies starve and repress their own citizens, and we may even have gotten a glimpse or two of a banking system that uses computerized insider trading programs to steal from everyone who has an IRA or a mutual fund or any stock at all by manipulating markets like the NYSE.

These fervent, desperate prosecutions suggest that there's more awfulness under there, things that are worse, and there is a determination to not let us see what those things are. Most recently, we've seen that determination in the furor over Barack Obama's drone assassination program and the so-called "kill list" that is associated with it.

Weeks ago, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul – whom I've previously railed against as one of the biggest self-aggrandizing jackasses in politics – pulled a widely-derided but, I think, absolutely righteous Frank Capra act on the Senate floor, executing a one-man filibuster of Obama's CIA nominee, John Brennan.
Paul had been mortified when he received a letter from Eric Holder refusing to rule out drone strikes on American soil in "extraordinary" circumstances like a 9/11 or a Pearl Harbor. Paul refused to yield until he extracted a guarantee that no American could be assassinated by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime.

He got his guarantee, but the way the thing is written doesn't fill one with anything like confidence. Eric Holder's letter to Paul reads like the legal disclaimer on a pack of unfiltered cigarettes. Fist tap Arnach.

like burning off a digital tick....,

You have deactivated your Facebook account. You can reactivate your account at any time by logging into Facebook using your old login email and password. You will be able to use the site like you used to.

Friday, March 22, 2013

an ISP with a search engine is intrinsically evil - network free K.C.

Harpers | Isaac Wilder opens a black steel cabinet on the twenty-sixth floor of Oak Tower in downtown Kansas City and shows me what he hopes will be the future of the Internet. “This is the router,” he says, pointing to a box the size of a DVD player. “The ethernet cable runs out here, up through the floor, to a dish that’s beaming a signal out to the Rosedale Ridge housing project. There’s . . . 400-plus people, who have access to the Internet for the first time, in their homes at least.”

A local nonprofit, Connecting for Good, pays the monthly $125 bill for the entire housing project. This comes out to roughly $9 per year per housing unit — a far cry from the $70 a month that these same families would spend for the new high-speed fiber optic service Google is currently rolling out in Kansas City, which I wrote about for the April issue of Harper’s Magazine. It’s even cheaper than the slower service Google is offering, which costs $300 for seven years of guaranteed access.[*]

And that’s the point. Wilder and his organization, the Free Network Foundation, have come here to wage war with Google, which recently cut a widely-publicized deal to bring the city a next-generation fiber optic network, and which turned down Connecting for Good’s proposal to allow multiple low-income families to share a single Google Fiber connection. It’s clearly going to be a guerilla campaign. Wilder, twenty-two, is a college dropout who wears stained Carhartt jeans and sports a thick strawberry-blond beard that seems better suited to a trapper than to an Internet pioneer.

“The one clear rule,” Wilder says of FNF’s philosophy, “is that the Internet should be treated as a commons, the same way that we treat our sidewalks or our air or our water. Everybody’s got a right to use it on the same terms.”

To do this, the foundation advocates the use of decentralized “mesh” networks that rely on microwave dishes to distribute a powerful wireless Internet connection. Wilder calls these dish-and-router assemblies FreedomLinks. Community groups can pool their resources, buy equipment to receive the signal, and distribute it to their residents. Because mesh networks share their signal and bypass the capital expense of installing copper or fiber-optic cable, they’re much cheaper than buying access from corporate providers like Google or Time Warner.

Wilder and his partner, Tyrone Greenfield, first set up a mesh network at New York City’s Zuccotti Park, to give Occupy Wall Street protesters access to the Internet. To Wilder and Greenfield, the Google Fiber project illustrates the dangers of letting private companies control digital access. Google might claim to be interested in expanding Internet access to the poor, but its real goal is to monetize the data their network can collect from its users. As proof, Wilder cites the terms of Google’s contract with both Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. “You can’t hook your own server up to Google Fiber,” he says. “So if you do want to publish something, the easiest choice is going to be through Google’s own services. This creates a sort of locked-in environment where somebody is using a piece of Google hardware, on a Google network, using Google services. You know every detail of their habits. Every detail of what they’re reading.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bloomberg 3/MHP 0 - don't back down mayor - shame is a cultural asset

NYTimes | In the South Bronx, inside the International Community High School, Johnny, Brayan, Khady, Genesis and Francisco link arms and joke and giggle and write out lists of what they admire about each other. Sometimes they hug.
They are working-class kids, ninth-graders navigating the shoals of adolescence. Each is a volunteer in a program, Changing the Odds, aimed at decreasing the likelihood that they will become teenage parents.
They hear no didactic lectures and see no wagging fingers. There is patient trust-building, and an insistent message: It is hard enough to escape poverty’s fierce gravitational pull; to add to that the grueling business of raising a baby makes it harder still.
“You try to give them a safe place to talk,” says Tatiana Alejo, 26, a counselor with the program, which shows great promise. “They have so many social pressures. And we never, ever, downgrade or shame.”
This is the day-to-day reality of the campaign against teenage pregnancy. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, personally and through his health and education departments, takes a vibrant role in this movement. Teenage pregnancy remains a perilous problem but has dropped sharply in the city and across the nation in the past 20 years.
You wonder, is Mr. Bloomberg aware of this?
I ask, as last week his administration began a jarringly judgmental advertising campaign that aims to shame teenage parents and scare teenage girls who are not yet parents by warning that really bad consequences await should they get pregnant.
One poster shows a weepy baby boy, staring at the camera, and these words: “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” Another poster features a pensive toddler and states: “Honestly Mom ... chances are he won’t stay with you.”

bankstas do not respect democracy, the rule of law, or western civilization...,

zerohedge | In Nigel Farage's first TV appearance since the Cypriot wealth tax was announced, the Englishman pulls no punches. In all his years and all his experience of the desperation of the European Union's leadership "never did [he] think they would resort to stealing money from people's savings accounts." The simple fact is that they know they cannot let any country leave, no matter how small, for "once one country goes, the whole deck of cards will come tumbling down." There is now "clear irreconcilable differences" between the North and the South of Europe and now that they have done this in one country, "they are quite capable of doing it in Italy, Spain and anywhere." The message that sends to people is "get your money out while you can." As far as his British constituents, he strongly recommends George Osborne (UK Chancellor) urge ex-pats to remove all their money and do monthly transfers from home. "Do Not Invest In The Euro-Zone," he concludes, "you have to be mad to do so - as it is now run by people who do not respect democracy, the rule of law, or the basic principles upon which Western civilization is based."

"They are propping up a Eurozone that, in the end, will collapse in disastrous failure and they are prepared to do anything to do so."

5 minutes of reality from a European MP - must watch...

fraudulent guarantees and fictional reserve lending

globaleconomicanalysis | Should banks (large too-big-to-fail banks) run out of reserves, the Fed is Johnny on the spot, ready and willing to create reserves out of thin air. However, other banks can't count on it.

In essence, the system is one giant Ponzi scheme (not just in the US but everywhere), kept afloat by wizards willing to ramp money supply every time big banks get into trouble.

An enabling factor to all the bank leverage is Fractional Reserve Lending (which on numerous occasions I have likened to "Fictional Reserve Lending" but is really better thought of as "Negative Reserve Lending".

Please see my 2009 post Fictional Reserve Lending And The Myth Of Excess Reserves for further discussion. It's well worth a read.

Amusingly, people were arguing at the time such policies would soon cause massive price inflation, but I took the other side of the bet (and still do - for the time being).

The Fed, was and still is willing to step in and help any "too big to fail" bank, but numerous small banks went bust in the Great Financial Crisis, and depositors with money over the FDIC limit did on occasion suffer losses.

In that regard, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand at least has the courage to tell the truth, with precisely stated reasons: "deposit insurance is difficult to price and blunts incentives for both financial institutions and depositors to monitor and manage risks properly"

I am planning a follow-up post on the fraudulent nature of Fractional Reserve Lending, deposit insurance, and related topics, but the five key points for now are as follows:

Five Key Points
  1. In a Fractional Reserve Lending scheme, the notion there are meaningful reserves is ridiculous
  2. Far more money has been lent out than really exists (the rest is a fictional accounting entry)
  3. Fractional reserve lending constitutes fraud (just as lending something you do not own is fraud)
  4. There is no way for all this money to be paid back (so it won't be)
  5. Of all the central banks, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has the most sensible policy for the most sensible reasons of all the central banks.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Double-O been waging war on transparency

guardian | When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, his pledges of openness and transparency were not ancillary to his campaign but central to it. He repeatedly denounced the Bush administration as "one of the most secretive administrations in our nation's history", saying that "it is no coincidence" that such a secrecy-obsessed presidency "has favored special interests and pursued policies that could not stand up to the sunlight." He vowed: "as president, I'm going to change that." In a widely heralded 2007 speech on transparency, he actually claimed that this value shaped his life purpose:
"The American people want to trust in our government again – we just need a government that will trust in us. And making government accountable to the people isn't just a cause of this campaign – it's been a cause of my life for two decades."
His campaign specifically vowed to protect whistleblowers, hailing them as "the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government" and saying that "such acts of courage and patriotism. . . should be encouraged rather than stifled." Transparency groups were completely mesmerized by these ringing commitments. "We have a president-elect that really gets it," gushed Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, in late 2008; "the openness community will expect a complete repudiation of the Ashcroft doctrine." Here's just one of countless representative examples of Obama bashing Bush for excessive secrecy - including in the realm of national security and intelligence - and vowing a fundamentally different course:

Literally moments after he was inaugurated, the White House declared that "President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history". Obama continues even now to parade around as a historically unprecedented champion of openness. In a 2010 speech, he said "I will not stop fighting to open up government" and then praised himself this way: "we have put in place the toughest transparency rules in history: in history." Right this very minute, on the White House website, Obama is quoted this way: "My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government" because "transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing."

This week is Sunshine Week, created by transparency and civil liberties groups and media outlets as "a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information". The White House blog on Wednesday said that "we celebrate Sunshine Week - an appropriate time to discuss the importance of open government and freedom of information" and quoted the president this way: "Openness will strengthen our democracy, and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government."

Along with others, I've spent the last four years documenting the extreme, often unprecedented, commitment to secrecy that this president has exhibited, including his vindictive war on whistleblowers, his refusal to disclose even the legal principles underpinning his claimed war powers of assassination, and his unrelenting, Bush-copying invocation of secrecy privileges to prevent courts even from deciding the legality of his conduct (as a 2009 headline on the Obama-friendly TPM site put it: "Expert Consensus: Obama Mimics Bush On State Secrets"). Just this week, the Associated Press conducted a study proving that last year, the Obama administration has rejected more FOIA requests on national security grounds than in any year since Obama became president, and quoted Alexander Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney for its national security project, as follows:
"We've seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government's interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration."
Re-read that last sentence in italics. Most of those policies have been covered here at length, and I won't repeat them here. But what is remarkable is that this secrecy has become so oppressive and extreme that even the most faithful Democratic operatives are now angrily exploding with public denunciations.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

iCue Testing: big beauracracy's bad business model but correct approach to education reform

technology review | Two iconic institutions. Six capital letters. One bittersweet tale. A new book from MIT Press recounts how MIT and NBC partnered up to revolutionize education and ended up learning some lessons of their own.

The More We Know: NBC News, Educational Innovation, and Learning from Failure describes the life and (slow) death of a product called iCue. The book is written by two people who worked on iCue, Eric ­Klopfer and Jason Haas. Klopfer is a professor of science education at MIT and director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program. Haas is a graduate student in the Media Lab. iCue was a—well, it defies easy description, and that was maybe part of the problem.

Simply, iCue was an attempt, born in 2005, to teach history, politics, literature, and more online through archival material. The main unit of content was a short video—typically a broadcast news clip—that appeared on a flippable "CueCard." The back of this virtual card held data and room for the user’s notes. The site featured course syllabi, test questions, games, and social networking.

Alex Chisholm and colleagues from MIT’s Department of Comparative Media Studies outlined the project and eventually partnered with NBC, which had the content, the money, and the audience. "It was a chance to try to get out into the world some of the ideas we had around games and media and education," ­Klopfer says. They wanted to influence learning and collect data on student behavior. Meanwhile, NBC wanted an in with a younger generation, and it eventually came to share the researchers’ passion for education as an end in itself.

The team realized it couldn’t capture much of the home test-prep market, and schools were a hard sell, too. Teachers couldn’t easily fit this collaborative and self-directed educational tool into their top-down teaching methods. NBC also watered down or eliminated games, social networking, and user-generated content, in part because of privacy concerns. Released free on the Web in 2008, iCue was shut down in 2011 after attracting only a few thousand users, mostly adults. Tens of millions of dollars had been spent. "This was a product to be proud of," Klopfer and Haas write, "but ultimately not the product that anyone at NBC News or MIT would have preferred to see make it to market."

The book offers lessons for academics, educational entrepreneurs, and established media companies eager to participate in massive open online course (MOOC) initiatives such as edX. One takeaway is that the educational system is built on strict standards that need to change before it can accommodate new models of interaction. Another is that media companies have a lot to offer but benefit from the guidance of academia. A third is that new educational products require patient incubation.

"Our goal," Haas says, "was to provide an accessible narrative as a way into the things we really care about."

Monday, March 18, 2013

kansas city gives it up for google....,

Harpers | In its 2010 National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission declared, “Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service.” It’s a worthy goal, given that nearly 100 million Americans still lack high-speed access to the Web. But how should this goal be achieved? The FCC could have looked back to successful New Deal programs that expanded access to electricity. In the early decades of the twentieth century, private holding companies controlled 94 percent of the power generation in the United States and kept the vast majority of rural areas dark. In response, Franklin Roosevelt persuaded Congress to nance locally owned electric cooperatives and large,government-owned bodies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring powerto rural customers at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the FCC’s plan primarily advocates a return to the Roaring Twenties. The agency argues that the market needs less regulation, not more—and that the best candidates to fund and control the nation’s next-generation networks are private companies. This is the philosophy that has brought Google to Kansas City, where the search-engine leviathan has signed a deal to build a citywide ber-optic network.

Why does Google feel so at home in Kansas City—rather than in, say, California, where the company is based? Why not build their fi rst citywide fi ber-optic network in a nearby community? According to Google vice president Milo Medin, the company has preferred to steer clear of such pesky statutes as the California Environmental Quality Act. “Many new California city proposals . . . were ultimately passed over in part because of the regulatory complexity here,” Medin told a congressional committee in 2011. “In fact, part of the reason we selected Kansas City for the Google Fiber project was [that] the city’s leadership and utility moved with eff ciency and creativity in working with us to craft a real partnership.” Conservative pundits have been much more explicit about what this kind of “partnership” means. In a blog post on the project, former FCC official Fred Campbell celebrated Google’s “rejection of the public-interest community’s regulatory agenda. . . . That’s the policy template that worked for the residents of Kansas City. It could work for the rest of America too.”

So why would an Internet-search company want to spend a fortune to install fiber-optic cable in Kansas City, Missouri, and neighboring Kansas City, Kansas? Freedom from regulatory headaches is one part of the equation: if such networks are the wave of the future, the time to jump in is now, before legislative oversight can ruin the party. But another explanation might be the treasure trove of user-behavior information that such a network represents. Data of this kind is so prized that a company like Google can afford to give away other services for free, as long as this bene cence opens up new markets . In Kansas City, low-income subscribers to the company’s slower, “free” Internet option will be giving Google details about each URL they visit, even if their accounts remain anonymous. And customers who plunk down $120 a month for the “Full Google Experience” will have their television-viewing habits individually tracked by Google’s data-mining elves. Is this a reasonable bargain? For Kansas City, it’s too late to ask. But history—and the success of municipally owned fiber-optic projects throughout the country—strongly suggest that we should look this gift horse in the mouth.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

advanced bankster science: nation robbery

Leaky Bank Indeed.....,
NYTimes | Europe’s decision to force depositors in Cypriot banks to share in the cost of the latest euro zone bailout has sparked outrage in Cyprus and fears that a run on deposits over the weekend might spread to larger countries at risk like Spain and Italy.

Under an emergency deal reached early Saturday in Brussels, a one-time tax of 9.9 percent is to be levied on Cypriot bank deposits of more than 100,000 euros, or $130,000, effective Tuesday. That will hit wealthy depositors — mostly Russians who have put vast sums into Cyprus’s banks in recent years. But smaller deposits will also be taxed, at 6.75 percent, meaning that the banks will be confiscating money directly from retirees and ordinary workers to help pay the tab for the 10 billion euro bailout or $13 billion.

Most of the 10 billion euros will go to bail out Cypriot banks, which took a blow when their substantial holdings of Greek government bonds were written down as part of that country’s second bailout. The island’s banks are also laden with loans made to Greek companies and individuals, which have turned sour as Greece endures its fourth year of economic and financial crisis.

The deposit tax, which is expected to raise 5.8 billion euros, was part of a bailout agreement reached in the early hours of Saturday morning after 10 hours of talks among finance ministers from euro countries and representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

The Cypriot bailout follows those for Greece, Portugal, Ireland and the Spanish banking sector — and is the first where bank depositors will be touched.

Public officials in Spain and Italy did their best over the weekend to portray the situation in Cyprus as unique, and to insist that deposits in those countries remained safe.

The economy of Cyprus represents not even half a percent of the combined output of the 17 countries that use the euro. Yet the impact of this weekend’s unexpected decision in Brussels to impose across-the-board losses on bank depositors could not be more far reaching.

After five years of bailouts financed largely by austerity-weary European taxpayers, wealthy nations like Germany and the Netherlands have decreed that from now on when a bank or country fails, it will be bond investors and perhaps even bank depositors who will be forced to pick up a big share of the bill. Fist tap Dale.

19th century schooling in the crosshairs of a changed cognitive ecology

NYTimes | WHEN I was a child, I liked to play video games. On my brother’s Atari, I played Night Driver. On his Apple II, I played Microwave, Aztec and Taipan! When I got to go to the arcade, I played Asteroids and Space Invaders.

Here’s what I learned: At a certain level on Microwave, the music from the bar scene in Star Wars comes on. If I am at the front line when aliens descend to Earth, we’ll all be in trouble. Also, dealing opium in the South China Sea is more lucrative than trading in commodities.

In short, I didn’t learn much of anything. My parents didn’t expect me to. I just had fun.

Today, educational technology boosters believe computer games (the classroom euphemism for video games) should be part of classroom lessons at increasingly early ages. The optimistic theory is that students wearied by the old pencil-and-paper routine will become newly enchanted with phonemic awareness when letters dressed as farm animals dance on a screen.

Last week, GlassLab (Games, Learning and Assessment Lab) unveiled a free version of the role-playing game SimCity created specifically for classrooms. According to its Web site, GlassLab’s mission, in part, is to show that “digital games with a strong simulation component may be effective learning environments.” At the new PlayMaker school in Los Angeles, financed in part by the Gates Foundation, a gaming curriculum includes adventure quests and other educational game apps. A 2012 report by the New Media Consortium identified “game-based learning” as one of the major trends affecting education in the next five years.

Meanwhile, many parents believe that games children play on home computers should edify children, improve their hand-eye coordination and inculcate higher math skills. The most popular apps in the Apple store for toddlers and preschoolers are educational. Even parents who scoff at the idea of toddlers learning from Dora gleefully boast about their 2-year-olds’ having mastered basic math on Mommy’s phone.

The concepts of work and play have become farcically reversed: schoolwork is meant to be superfun; play, like homework, is meant to teach. There’s an underlying fear that if we don’t add interactive elements to lower school curriculums, children won’t be able to handle fractions or develop scientific hypotheses — concepts children learned quite well in school before television.

phoenix in the climate crosshairs

Arizona's capital of Phoenix and neighboring towns in Maricopa County have undergone a major population boom in the last 40 years. The effects of this boom are seen in everything from the expansion of town and cities to an increased demand for fresh water. Michelle Fuller from Gilbert wrote asking to see these changes to the landscape; most visible in this series of images is how city streets and development are now covering the land that previously was used for agriculture. 

truth-out | If cities were stocks, you’d want to short Phoenix.

Of course, it’s an easy city to pick on. The nation’s 13th largest metropolitan area (nudging out Detroit) crams 4.3 million people into a low bowl in a hot desert, where horrific heat waves and windstorms visit it regularly. It snuggles next to the nation’s largest nuclear plant and, having exhausted local sources, it depends on an improbable infrastructure to suck water from the distant (and dwindling) Colorado River.

In Phoenix, you don’t ask: What could go wrong? You ask: What couldn’t?

And that’s the point, really. Phoenix’s multiple vulnerabilities, which are plenty daunting taken one by one, have the capacity to magnify one another, like compounding illnesses. In this regard, it’s a quintessentially modern city, a pyramid of complexities requiring large energy inputs to keep the whole apparatus humming. The urban disasters of our time -- New Orleans hit by Katrina, New York City swamped by Sandy -- may arise from single storms, but the damage they do is the result of a chain reaction of failures -- grids going down, levees failing, back-up systems not backing up. As you might expect, academics have come up with a name for such breakdowns: infrastructure failure interdependencies. You wouldn’t want to use it in a poem, but it does catch an emerging theme of our time.

Phoenix’s pyramid of complexities looks shakier than most because it stands squarely in the crosshairs of climate change. The area, like much of the rest of the American Southwest, is already hot and dry; it’s getting ever hotter and drier, and is increasingly battered by powerful storms. Sandy and Katrina previewed how coastal cities can expect to fare as seas rise and storms strengthen. Phoenix pulls back the curtain on the future of inland empires. If you want a taste of the brutal new climate to come, the place to look is where that climate is already harsh, and growing more so -- the aptly named Valley of the Sun.

In Phoenix, it’s the convergence of heat, drought, and violent winds, interacting and amplifying each other that you worry about. Generally speaking, in contemporary society, nothing that matters happens for just one reason, and in Phoenix there are all too many “reasons” primed to collaborate and produce big problems, with climate change foremost among them, juicing up the heat, the drought, and the wind to ever greater extremes, like so many sluggers on steroids. Notably, each of these nemeses, in its own way, has the potential to undermine the sine qua non of modern urban life, the electrical grid, which in Phoenix merits special attention.

If, in summer, the grid there fails on a large scale and for a significant period of time, the fallout will make the consequences of Superstorm Sandy look mild. Sure, people will hunt madly for power outlets to charge their cellphones and struggle to keep their milk fresh, but communications and food refrigeration will not top their list of priorities. Phoenix is an air-conditioned city. If the power goes out, people fry.