Jared Diamond video on Societal Collapse

From TED Talks, Jared Diamond speaks on  Why do societies fail? Taking lessons from the Norse of Iron Age Greenland, deforested Easter Island and present-day Montana, Jared Diamond talks about the signs that collapse is near, and how — if we see it in time — we can prevent it.

Jared Diamond is the author of a number of popular science works that combine anthropology, biology, ecology, linguistics, genetics, and history.

His best-known work is the non-fiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel (1998), which asserts that the main international issues of our time are legacies of processes that began during the early-modern period, in which civilizations that had experienced an extensive amount of "human development" began to intrude upon technologically less advanced civilizations around the world. Diamond's quest is to explain why Eurasian civilizations, as a whole, have survived and conquered others, while refuting the belief that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, genetic, or moral superiority. Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies do not reflect cultural or racial differences, but rather originate in environmental differences powerfully amplified by various positive feedback loops, and fills the book with examples throughout history. He identifies the main processes and factors of civilizational development that were present in Eurasia, from the origin of human beings in Africa to the proliferation of agriculture and technology.

In his following book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), Diamond examines a range of past civilizations and societies, attempting to identify why they collapsed into ruins or survived only in a massively reduced form. He considers what contemporary societies can learn from these societal collapses. As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, he argues against ethnocentric explanations for the collapses which he discusses, and focuses instead on ecological factors. He pays particular attention to the Norse settlements in Greenland, which vanished as the climate got colder, while the surrounding Inuit culture thrived.

He also has chapters on the collapse of the Maya, Anasazi, and Easter Island civilizations, among others. He cites five factors that often contribute to a collapse, but shows how the one factor that all had in common was mismanagement of natural resources. He follows this with chapters on prospering civilizations that managed their resources very well, such as Tikopia Island and Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate. (Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jared_Diamond)

In Collapse, Diamond distances himself from the charges of "ecological or environmental determinism" that were leveled against him in Guns, Germs, and Steel [1]. This is particularly evident in his chapter comparing Haiti and the Dominican Republic, two nations that share the same island (and similar environments) but which pursued notably different futures, primarily on the strength of their differing histories, cultures, and leaders.

Tip for Protecting Your Identity

I was conducting an annual review of my credit reports on AnnualCreditReport.com on Monday. I save the summary from each of the three credit agencies as a PDF file on my hard disk. I noticed that one of the credit reports left my SSN intact in the report. Since I don't want my SSN visible sitting around to be exploited, I had an idea: to run a search on my PC for my SSN.

I was using Windows XP Pro. I entered my SSN in the 'Search Desktop' box on my toolbar and clicked on 'Search Desktop'. I was surprised at what it found.

I used the same procedure for my birthdate, with two formats (i.e., 1/1/1911 and January 1, 1911) and found more interesting results.

Bottom Line: Search for your SSN and birthdate in all files on your computer.

If your PC gets hacked or stolen, SSNs and birthdates inadvertently left on documents on your hard drive can be used to steal your identity. If you travel with a portable, you are especially vulnerable to theft.

As more people use smart phones and PDAs for personal information storage, the same concerns would apply.

If anyone knows how to easily remove a small block of data from PDF files, please leave a comment.

Larry Winget Rants about America

It's time for straight talk. Here's Larry Winget's opinion.

Larry Winget — Money – Personal Development – Business |.

I am sick of listening to the politicians blow smoke up my skirt saying that Americans are the hardest working people on the planet.  They are simply pandering to our emotions and our sense of patriotism about what great people we are.  That’s a load of crap.  American workers are NOT the hardest working people on the planet.  Read a little.  Watch some educational television.   Travel some.  You will quickly find out that the American worker is about the laziest worker on the planet.  For the most part, workers do just enough to squeeze by.  Tell them that you have a problem with how little effort they put out and the crappy job they are doing and they will contact their union rep and file a grievance.  Yep, I am taking on labor unions too.  Originally, they were a great idea.  They were formed to protect the American worker from abuse.  But folks, this ain’t a hundred years ago.   Working conditions are not what they used to be.  Your rights aren’t being violated by expecting you to actually do what you were hired to do and are being paid to do.  Now labor unions exist not to make sure that workers are treated fairly and to stop abuse but to put the squeeze on companies for every dollar they can to the point that the company can no longer be profitable or compete globally.  Want to know why we ship so many jobs overseas?  One of the reasons is labor unions.  Highly skilled people, who are willing to work harder than people in our country are willing to work (and for less money, I know) and don’t belong to a union that has management by the short hairs. (Of course the situation is more complex than that but this is a rant, not a thesis.)  In few cases does America produce the highest quality product  and almost never is it done at the lowest price.

Am I anti-American?  Some of you will read this and think so.  Nothing could be more wrong.  I am very PRO-American.  But I’m not so wild about what we have let happen to our great country.  GREED.  A lack of INTEGRITY.  LIES.  IMMORALITY.  Not the kind of immorality that the fundamentalists talk about.  I’m talking about the morality that is based in doing the RIGHT thing.  The thing that has nothing to do with religion or politics.  Instead, it’s the thing you know in your heart is right because it just IS.  You don’t have to ask, you don’t have to think about who will win and who will lose, you don’t have to wonder about the repercussions or consequences, you just KNOW it’s the right thing.  And because you know it is the right thing, you do it.  That is real morality.

What Caused the Financial Crisis?

Politicians are very adept at using problems and crises to bash their opponents. Objective, non-partisan analysis is rare, especially in an election year with a major crisis spreading fear and anger among voters. Below is a good summary of the key factors in the current financial debacle.

Joe Miller and Brooks Jackson at FactCheck.org conclude:

The U.S. economy is enormously complicated. Screwing it up takes a great deal of cooperation. Claiming that a single piece of legislation was responsible for (or could have averted) the crisis is just political grandstanding.

Link: FactCheck.org: Who Caused the Economic Crisis?.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, and it doesn’t fasten only on one party or even mainly on what Washington did or didn’t do. As The Economist magazine noted recently, the problem is one of "layered irresponsibility … with hard-working homeowners and billionaire villains each playing a role." Here’s a partial list of those alleged to be at fault:

  • The Federal Reserve, which slashed interest rates after the dot-com bubble burst, making credit cheap.
  • Home buyers, who took advantage of easy credit to bid up the prices of homes excessively.
  • Congress, which continues to support a mortgage tax deduction that gives consumers a tax incentive to buy more expensive houses.
  • Real estate agents, most of whom work for the sellers rather than the buyers and who earned higher commissions from selling more expensive homes.
  • The Clinton administration, which pushed for less stringent credit and downpayment requirements for working- and middle-class families.
  • Mortgage brokers, who offered less-credit-worthy home buyers subprime, adjustable rate loans with low initial payments, but exploding interest rates.
  • Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who in 2004, near the peak of the housing bubble, encouraged Americans to take out adjustable rate mortgages.
  • Wall Street firms, who paid too little attention to the quality of the risky loans that they bundled into Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), and issued bonds using those securities as collateral.
  • The Bush administration, which failed to provide needed government oversight of the increasingly dicey mortgage-backed securities market.
  • An obscure accounting rule called mark-to-market, which can have the paradoxical result of making assets be worth less on paper than they are in reality during times of panic.
  • Collective delusion, or a belief on the part of all parties that home prices would keep rising forever, no matter how high or how fast they had already gone up. 

Political Greed in Congress

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) released the following statement on October 2, 2008.

As much as members of Congress want to find scapegoats, the root of this problem is political greed in Congress. Members of Congress from both parties wanted short-term political credit for promoting home ownership even though they were putting our entire economy at risk by encouraging people to buy homes they couldn’t afford. Then, instead of conducting thorough oversight and correcting obvious problems with unstable entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, members of Congress chose to ignore the problem and distract themselves with unprecedented amounts of pork-barrel spending.

Taxpayers who want to ensure that this doesn’t happen again should send a very clear message to Washington that it’s time for Congress to live within its means and restore the principles of limited government and free markets that made this country great. I will do everything in my power to ensure that this bill does not lead us down a slippery slope of European style socialism and slow economic growth. I will also promise taxpayers that I will do everything in my power to block what I expect will be hundreds of attempts by politicians in Washington to continue business-as-usual borrowing and spending in the next Congress. In a time of crisis, American families have to make hard choices between budget priorities. So should Congress. If politicians want to create new programs they should eliminate duplicative programs or reduce funding for less important programs. The only way we can put this crisis behind us is for Congress to rejoin the real world of budget choices and consequences which, as we have seen in recent days, can be ignored for only so long.

Beautiful Image: Fall Season In Alaska

EarthShots.org – Fall Season In Alaska by Kevin McNeal

Fall Season In Alaska by Kevin McNeal

Fall Season In Alaska,Wednesday, 24th September 2008, by Kevin McNeal

Kevin McNeal says: I just got back from a couple of weeks in Alaska to shoot the tundra. I got lucky and timed it right as the reds were illuminating everywhere. I was also lucky visiting Denali to see the mountain the whole time I was there. Up to now the mountain had only been visible four times this year. Anyways, I realize this is an iconic image but it means something personally has I have dreamed of seeing this mountain and to see the tundra in red as well. Three Bracketed Raw images/Singh-Ray Color Combo.

How US Leaders Have Failed

Ben Stein blasts the policies that have pushed the U.S. into this precarious economic position.

Link: How to Ruin the U.S. Economy by Ben Stein

1) Have a fiscal policy that creates immense deficits in good times and bad, burdening America’s posterity with staggering burdens of repaying the debt.

2) Eliminate regulation of Wall Street and/or fail to enforce the regulations that already exist, instead trusting Wall Street and other money managers and speculators to manage other people’s money with few or no regulations and little oversight.

3) Have an energy policy that disallows producing our own energy and instead requires that we buy energy from abroad, thus making our oil prices highly volatile and creating large balance of payments deficits, lowering the value of the dollar and thus making the problem get progressively worse.

4) Have Congress mandate that banks and other financial entities lend money to persons they know in advance to have poor credit ratings or none at all.

5) Allow investment banks, insurers, and banks to bet their entire net worth and then some on the premise that borrowers known to be improvident will in fact repay those loans.

6) Allow the creation of large betting pools called "hedge funds" that can move markets and control the outcome of trading, thus taking a forum for savings and retirement for families and making it into a rigged casino game that exists primarily to fleece suckers like ordinary working men and women.

7) Have laws that protect corporate officers from being sued for misconduct but at the same time punish lawyers in the private sector who ferret out such misconduct and try to make accountable the people responsible for shareholder and investor losses. If one of those lawyers gets particularly aggressive in protecting stockholders, put him in prison.

8) Appoint as head of the United States Treasury Department a man whose whole life was spent on Wall Street, who became fantastically rich through his peddling of junk bonds at his firm while the firm later sold short those same sorts of bonds.

9) Scare Americans into putting up $750 billion of their hard earned money to bail out the billionaires and their friends who created the market for loans to poor credit risks (The "subprime" market) and the unbelievably large side bets on those loans, promising that such a bailout would save the retirement savings of Americans, then allow the immense hedge funds to make the market crater immediately afterwards.

10) Propose to save the situation by surtaxing the oil industry, which is owned by our fellow Americans, mostly in their retirement plans, thus penalizing Americans for investing in companies that efficiently and legally produce an indispensable product.

11) Insist that the free market requires that banks and insurers with friends of the Secretary of the Treasury be saved but allow other entities not so fortunate to fail, thus creating total uncertainty and terror among financial institutions, and demolishing all of the confidence built up in financial circles since the days of FDR.

12) Then have the Republican candidate say he would keep on the job the Treasury Secretary who facilitated the crisis, failed to protect the nation from the crisis, got the taxpayers to pony up to save his Wall Street buddies, and have the Democratic candidate, as noted, say he would save the day by taxing the stockholders of energy companies.

There, that should do it.

Leaders that Sacrifice the Future

I don’t rant often on this blog, but I had to let this out.

We have many leaders whose great skill is misleading us, by exploiting our fears, dreams, and beliefs. Many untruths and much corruption will be exposed by the financial crisis of 2008.

Economic reality is not altered, in the long term, by the self-serving words of politicians and CEOs. They must have a messiah complex to think that what they say will magically come true when they are just hoping to suspend the natural laws of economics (again).

They use charisma and mass psychology to get trusting people to believe their words. These trusting people are finally seeing that many of our leaders are looking out for themselves, greedily plundering organizations large and small to enrich themselves and their cronies, to the detriment of the electorate and investors.

Voters and stock holders have believed and trusted their leaders (who seem to know how to exploit every crisis for their own personal gain) are depressed by what is happening. When enough people get depressed, the economy will follow.

Do we get the leaders we deserve? I encourage every one to ponder that question.

Do corrupt leaders get what they deserve? Some do, but many don’t. Why? Because often they make the rules or can avoid the consequences.

Let’s all pay more attention to the slogans, excuses, explanations, and scapegoating offered by leaders at every level. We can’t afford to be misled any more.