Stock Market Achieves Escape Velocity, Leaves Earth

[Irony Alert: The following news is not fake. It is true, just not factual.]

The New York Stock Exchange announced today that according to its key indicator, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the stock market has attained escape velocity, has left Earth’s atmosphere and is, as a spokesman said, “on its way to the stars.” Having set a new record high of over 23,000 on October 17, a spokesman said the Dow is expected to broach 1,000,000 by the end of the year. “We’re in warp drive now,” the spokesman said.

Asked how stock prices could be so high when corporations are struggling with enormous debt, anemic profits, poor sales and sagging prospects, the spokesman laughed heartily. “See, that right there is thinking that is so 1929. The era of stock prices being tied down to the actual value of anything, or to business performance, is long over. Now it’s all about expectations and psychology. Facebook isn’t valued at half a trillion dollars because of what it owns or because it’s advertising works. [See: “Digital Advertising: The Rise and Fall of Crappy Crap”] It has that valuation because it is blindingly popular.” Continue reading

Dopamine Dreams

Madness manifests in people and countries in some ways that are obvious to other people and countries, even while the crazy ones remain oblivious to their own affliction. People with dementia, for example, often don’t see anything out of the ordinary in having to be reintroduced to people they have known for years, who just left the room a few minutes ago, but friends and family understand instantly what has been lost. Countries that repeatedly invade patches of jungle or sand in Asia or the Middle East, expecting each time they do the same thing to win hearts and minds, accept their state of constant war and failure as normal, but the countries around them do not.

The crazier you are, it seems, and the more completely unhinged your behavior, the less aware you are that anything is amiss. It’s one of those situations where, if you think you have a problem, you don’t; it’s when you cannot conceive of anything being wrong with you that you are screwed. Continue reading

Hyping Data Analytics: What Color is Your Button?

I am an oracle, and will tell you your future. I’ll use a crystal ball, or some goat entrails, or data analytics. Same difference.

Last Sunday, 60 Minutes plucked from his richly deserved obscurity a former website designer with no prior political campaign experience, and celebrated him as the self-identified architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory. He did it, he said, with Facebook. He cited no evidence whatsoever for for this claim of omnipotence for a social medium that Betty White once described as “a very great waste of time.” But a fawning Lesley Stahl bestowed the CBS seal of legitimacy when she murmured, early on in the interview,  “And Facebook IS how he [Trump] won.”

Really? CBS used to call itself “The Tiffany Network,” but it’s more like Wal Mart than Tiffany’s now. And its crown jewel, 60 Minutes, seems more like a child’s charm bracelet, green with corrosion. The entire segment on Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s  digital director, was as uncritical of its subject and his grandiose claims as a Fox News segment on the compassion of Donald Trump. Continue reading

The Unbearable Lightness of Billions

Of course we’ll rebuild it, bigger and stronger than ever, but with what? (U.S. Navy photo of Hurricane Sandy aftermath by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ryan J. Courtade/Released)

I have been trying to apply arithmetic to the problem of hurricane relief. I know, this is like translating computer code to cuneiform tablets, but bear with me — ancient learning was, after all, learning. The costs of recovering from Hurricanes Harvey (Texas), Irma (Florida) and Maria (Puerto Rico) are now estimated at about $220 billion. Congress has thus far appropriated $15 billion for the purpose, acting on September 9, the very day FEMA was expected to run out of money.

By its timely action, Congress solved seven per cent of the problem. With a burn rate of two million dollars a day, FEMA will be broke again in 75 days (from September 9). Nobody’s talking about this. At least, not in any way that makes sense. In a cheery piece claiming that FEMA can never run out of money, the explainer website HowStuffWorks says it can’t happen in the future because in the past, Congress has always bailed it out in time, just like it did with its seven-per-cent solution of September 9. Continue reading

Resilience is Illegal in Florida

Let’s say you live in Florida. Yes, I know, that requires us to assume you are pretty oblivious to the rising seas and corrosive stupidity assailing the state from every direction, but let’s just say you live in Florida. No offense.

You’re smart enough to know that life in Hurricane Alley could get difficult, and you live after all in the Sunshine State, so you installed solar panels on your roof, enough to run your house, just in case. Now, we just assumed you were dense enough to choose to live in Florida, so let’s assume, on the other side of the ledger, that you are smart enough to have avoided some of the major pitfalls of the rooftop solar business.     Continue reading

Fresh Vegetables and Staple Crops are Turning into Junk Food

Even when it’s plants, bigger is not necessarily better. (Wikimedia photo)

A small but growing number of beleaguered researchers is challenging the mightiest financial powers on earth to proclaim an increasingly obvious fact: worldwide pollution is robbing all growing crops of their nutritional value. It has been well known for a while — and argued vehemently by climate change deniers — that elevated levels of carbon dioxide pollution in the air stimulate the growth of plants. (“See?” the deniers said gleefully, “pollution is good for you!”) But what is now becoming apparent is that at the same time the carbon dioxide stimulates plant growth, it reduces plant nutrition.  More, it turns out, is not necessarily better. Who knew?

The man who is now the leading proponent of this idea, Irakli Loladze, is now at Bryan College of Health Sciences in Lincoln, Nebraska. He first stumbled on the concept in 1998 when he was a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University. He encountered some biology researchers who were finding that when they stimulated the growth of algae in a closed system, the zooplankton, the little critters that fed on the algae, did not flourish, but actually declined. Loladze desperately wanted to find out why, to see if the problem had wider implications, but there were two big problems. Continue reading

Irma Coverage: Slinging in the Rain

Breaking news: it’s raining here, too. (Wikimedia photo)

The history of humanity is a succession of stories of triumphs over disaster. That’s why they call us homo sapiens sapiens, which translates as “really, really smart dudes.” (Oh, wait. That’s not what they call us, it’s what we call ourselves. Still.) This past weekend, yet another triumph over yet another disaster. And I’m not talking about the resilience of the people of Florida, or the bravery of first responders or the fiendish cleverness of global-warming hoaxers; I’m talking about modern TV journalism as applied to disasters.

For days now, the best available satellite technology, fiber-optic communications, digital electronics and state of the art rain hoods have been deployed to provide us, the viewers, with unparalleled views of people who are too dumb to come in out of the rain. There are, apparently, hundreds of these people working in television. They are marvelously diverse, they come in all colors, genders, races and religions — although there are probably no conservatives, because they don’t believe in hurricanes. Continue reading

Bloomberg Business: FEMA Will Be Broke by Friday

Requests that Hurricane Irma hold off for a few days while Washington figures out how to pay for Hurricane Harvey have not yet had any effect.

Bloomberg Business News, relying on anonymous staffers in the US Senate and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reports that FEMA is burning cash at a rate of $9.3 million an hour, and will be broke in about 48 hours (as of Wednesday, September 6). This spending is in response to Hurricane Harvey’s assault on southern Texas, the costs of which are just starting to come in. Just about 72 hours from now Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes in history, will slam into Miami.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, FEMA had only $2.14 billion on hand last Thursday morning, and by Tuesday morning had spent over half of it. Of the billion dollars left, only half of it was available to spend. Presumably, if this liquidity problem cannot be solved within hours, FEMA will be out of money even sooner than Friday. Continue reading

Forget Korea: Irma is the Existential Threat to America

Meet Hurricane Irma. Her cloud is not mushroom-shaped, but it’s a greater threat to our well-being than Korea. (Wikimedia photo)

For years a gathering storm of mortal threats to our well being, threats obscured by the Kabuki Theater of national politics, threats ignored by the Keystone Kops who pretend to be our leaders, threats fueled by the Masters of the Universe who are happily burning the world to stay rich a little longer, threats to our food and water and air and shelter and climate — all these threats have gathered, and worsened, and all this time we’ve wondered: where’s the breaking point?

Hurricane Irma may well decide. If she fulfills the worse expectations of her — and recent storms such as Harvey have wildly exceeded the worst expected of them — she will barrel into Miami, or close along the vulnerable Florida Coast, as a monster Category Five hurricane. If she does, she could well break us.

Before Harvey hit, FEMA was bankrupt, by any normal measure, it was holding $20 billion in debt that it has no possible way to repay. The fact that this debt is to the US government does not alter the fact that it is debt which, if not repaid, could ruin the deeply indebted creditor. Now, the governor of Texas says his state will need $120 billion to rebuild. Continue reading

A Gift from the Great Predator

The Great Predator makes a selection. Does he also bring a gift? (Photo by featherlightphoto.com)

I have not lately spent as much time afield in search of nature’s lessons as I once did. Nature has responded by striding up to my recliner and dumping lessons in my lap. She’s like that: maddeningly impervious to urgent investigation, then suddenly extroverted when your attention wanders.

The other day I was observing the one ritual that remains inviolable in our household — happy hour — from my perch on the second-floor deck that overlooks the east pasture. It has been a remarkable summer here, with no heat waves (half the days in August we did not even turn on the air conditioner), and rains frequent enough that the grass is lush and the roads are not dusty. This long spell of perfect weather, I have decided, has been given to me by the universe so that I can think and write more objectively about global warming. Continue reading