On my FaceBook timeline I have several groups, including some for the area where I live, and also the area where I grew up. Reading those Wednesfield and Wolverhampton groups, they are mainly populated by people that grew up there, and still live there. They have spent their entire lives probably within 30 miles of where they were born, just as their ancestors did for hundreds of years previously.
I couldn’t help wondering if my life might have been better spent if I had remained in the area rather than moving around, and I also notice that their lives seem to revolve less around work than mine seems to.
One time, when I was laid off (AOL), they paid for some counseling courses to help find new jobs. I already had a job lined up, but decided to go anyway just to see if I could learn anything useful. One of the first group exercises was to sit in a circle and introduce ourselves. “Who are you” was the question. The circle answered, one by one. At the end, the counselor said, “Fine. Now lets do it again. Tell us who you are, but DO NOT tell us what jour job or trade is. I am not interested that you are a manager, a computer programmer etc. I want to know who YOU are.”
It was really very hard to answer. We are our jobs. But we shouldn’t be.
So, remembering this, I tried again to ask myself if my life had been better than if I had remained in the area where I was born, and had taken a more classic job, which may well have paid as much, or even more, and would have kept me with people I knew.
To answer this, I decided to forget about the jobs I have had, but to concentrate more on what have I done in my life. The list I drew up probably answers my question.
I have lived in three different countries, taking my family with me, and dropping off kids in each as we moved (England, France, USA).
I have learned French. (I learned American too, but most people don’t understand the distinction).
I have surveyed Paris from the top of the Eiffel tower.
I have stood on a bridge over the Seine, which was vibrating to the loud music played celebrating Bastille Day, having my teeth rattled by the explosions of the best fireworks display I have ever seen.
I have stood on the top of a mountain in Switzerland after midnight, seeing the entire mountain range lit by starlight, and the glow of the village thousands of feet below.
I have sledged down the above mountain, to the village with only stars to light my way.
I have crossed the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound.
I have been in a 747 as an engine blew up.
I have flown in a hot air balloon.
I have fired a machine gun.
I have walked on the deck and ridden on the lift of an aircraft carrier.
I have eaten BBQed sardines in Portugal.
I have visited the catacombs in Paris.
I have seen the Coliseum, and walked the same streets as Cesar.
I have explored lava tubes.
I have learned to dive.
I have seen “walking stick” eels 300′ down.
I have seen a 15′ white tipped shark cruise by me.
I have heard the whales sing.
I have had a giant sea turtle swim beside me.
I have seen a Moray eel too close for comfort.
I have walked on the black sands beach in Hawaii.
I have looked down into an erupting volcano from a helicopter.
I have walked on still hot lava, and stood as close as heat permits to flowing lava.
I have experienced a -40˚C Calgary winter.
I have experienced a 2 hour long day, with the Sun just kissing the horizon.
I have seen England change until it is no longer the country I grew up in.
I have stood at the base of the New York Twin Towers, looking up and wondering how much of a mess it would make if one fell down.
I have walked part-way down into the Grand Canyon (past the notice that says “Do not proceed beyond this point unless you have food and at least two gallons of water per person” — who would not, upon encountering such a sign?)
I have experienced the heat of the Arizona desert.
I have experienced being in a car in the Arizona desert, miles from a main road, with its wheels sunk into soft sand (I was not driving).
I have experienced the desolation of the Eastern Oregon high desert lava plains.
I have seen the desolation caused by the explosion of Mt. St. Helens.
I have been in a large earthquake in San Francisco.
I have seen the giant Redwood Trees.
I have been to a Beach Boys concert in California.
I have watched an auction where several billion dollars changed hands.
I have eaten live shellfish in Malta.
I have flown more than one million (physical) miles.
I have been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
I have held a (baby) alligator in the Everglades.
I have experienced Independence Day celebrations in Boston.
Many of these experiences have been related to, or as a result of my job. Many have not.
Do these sorts of experiences make for a “better” life? I don’t know, but looking back, I can hardly complain that my life has been boring.
Perhaps even older than the perennial argument about the relative superiority of 9 mm vs .45 ACP is the argument about the viability of the revolver vs the semi-auto as a self-defense weapon.
There are still those that claim that the revolver is a better choice for some classes of people, most notably women. The argument is that a revolver is simpler, and easy to operate. Presumably, the implication here is that women are also simple and mechanically inept. Not only is this untrue (at least in my experience) but it is inviting (at minimum) a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
So lets take a look at the relative advantages:
Capacity. The smallest semi auto is competitive in terms of capacity. Small revolvers firing decent power ammunition will typically have 5 or maybe 6 rounds. A small semi-auto will typically hold 10 rounds. Even the minute Ruger LC9 9mm holds 7+1.
Reloading. Reloading a semi auto typically involves pressing a button to drop the empty magazine, sliding a full magazine into place, then releasing the slide. A revolver typically involves pressing a button to release the cylinder, swinging the cylinder out, hitting the ejector to extract the used cases, then loading rounds, typically one by one into the cylinder and finally closing the cylinder. This can be sped up by the use of speed-loaders, or moon-clips. The only disadvantage to these being their bulk.
Physical size. One of the problems with a revolver is that there just isn’t much you can do about the diameter of the cylinder. For a given capacity, a semi-auto is always going to be smaller.
The slide. The slide on a semi-auto is probably the most intimidating part. Having that chunk of metal whiz back at blinding speed 1/8″ above your hand is disconcerting until you get used to it. Then there is the problem of racking the slide. The spring on some guns making this a challenging task for the uninitiated. However, I contend that with a bit of coaching, I can get people who claim that they just can’t do it, happily racking their slides in a couple of hours. It is mostly technique, although there will undoubtedly be some people with real physical problems for whom this will always be a problem.
The cylinder gap. The gap between the front of the cylinder and the barrel leads to a blast of hot gas (flame) and potentially small pieces of metal blasting out with each shot. Unless you fire a revolver in the darkness, this is often unnoticed until someone gets a finger or hand in the way. As with the semi-auto slide, dealing with this is simply a matter of training yourself to keep your hands well away.
Mechanical complexity. The revolver is typically touted as being mechanically simpler. In fact, it is arguably considerably more complex. Leaving aside the trigger/hammer/sear which is reasonably consistent across revolvers and semi-autos, a semi-auto (non 1911) consists of basically a chunk of metal (the slide), the barrel and a spring. You can’t get simpler than that. If you want, you can add in a box and spring for the magazine. A revolver is more complex. As you start pulling the trigger, the cylinder has to un-lock so that it can rotate. The cylinder has to rotate the next cartridge in line with the barrel, accurately, to a precision of a thousandth of an inch or so. The hammer is rising at the same time. Before the hammer falls, the cylinder has to be locked in place, then the hammer falls. There is a lot of precision placement and timing going on during that trigger pull. From the outside a revolver may look simple, but internally it is relatively complex.
Jamming. Semi-autos seem to find an endless variety of ways in which to jam. In reality, they are all variations on a couple of themes: extracting and ejecting the empty case and feeding the next round from the top of the magazine. Short of the dreaded double-feed, most jams can be fixed by the slap-rack-bang technique. Revolver jams are usually due to a single cause: There is a lot of leverage cylinder to trigger. Just try holding the cylinder between two fingers and pulling the trigger — you can’t. So the revolver depends ipon a very freely moving cylinder (when unlocked). Small amounts of dirt from just about any source in the wrong place will make the cylinder rotation stiff, and the trigger pull impossible.
Ammo problems. There are two (rare but important) ammo problems to consider. The first is a squib load – too light a charge of powder. The result is the same for revolver or semi-auto: a bullet lodged in the barrel, and the distinct possibility of losing at least a finger or two if you pull the trigger again. The second is a hang-fire. On the range these are easily and safely dealt with, just keep the gun pointe down range for 30 seconds, and if it doesn’t go bang, it is safe to remove the dud bullet and continue. In a self defense situation you cant do this. With a semi-auto, you just rack the slide – taking care to keep fingers and eyes away from the open action in case it does go off. With a revolver, you really can’t pull the trigger again, because the fizzling round will rotate to a position where the bullet has nowhere to go. If it does fire it will probably take the side out of the cylinder, and maybe half your hand with it. All you can do is a full eject/reload. Rare as hang fires are with modern commercial ammo, they do happen, and this, above all, is probably why I would not use a revolver for personal defense.
A friend posted a link to an article pushing gun control in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado killings, and I promised a response to that. The comment section of Facebook is not really suitable for something of this length, so I am choosing to compose my response here, and will post a link to this article in the Facebook thread.
I will begin by saying that I think it highly inappropriate to use such an event to push a personal agenda, especially at such an early stage where full facts are not known, victim’s families are suffering, and emotions are running high — unless of course, an emotional response is the aim. If that is the aim, it says much about the character and political morals of the writer.
Facts surrounding this are mostly based upon media reports, and leaks from ill-informed “police sources”. For example, initial reports claimed than an AK-47 had been used. Hardly surprising, since the illiterate US media tend to call any semi-automatic rifle an AK-47, totally ignoring the fact that an AK-47 is a true assault weapon, capable of full automatic fire, and not readily available to the general public in the USA.
There were also claims that the perpetrator was wearing full body-armor. It now appears that he was actually wearing what marketing people call a “tactical ballistic vest ” and “ballistic leg protectors”. What that translates to in common English is a nylon (so-called ballistic nylon, a trademark of Cordura, the sort used to construct back-packs, purses, flight bags etc.) with pockets to hold magazines, flashlight, radio, water bottle etc. The leggings are typically used for thermal and abrasion protection. A throat protector falls into two categories, one is when talking about real armor, and extends the protection around the neck – most often used in scenarios such as bomb disposal, not often used outside those specific applications because it is uncomfortable and restricts movement too much. A much lighter weight version is available to protect against knife attack and or low velocity shrapnel. Gloves are to protect against things like barbed wire and cold weather and to allow (to put it bluntly) beating people up without damaging your hands and leaving incriminating evidence.
So the AK-47 turns out not to be an AK-47 and the body armor turns out not to be anything that would stop anything beyond (perhaps) an air rifle pellet.
It now appears that the rifle actually played a minor role, that most damage was done by a shotgun and a pistol, so concentrating on the rifle appears strange.
On to examining what was actually written in that article.
Lets begin with:
I do not understand people who support public ownership of assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in the Colorado massacre.
Being pedantic, it sounds as though he doesn’t support government organizations owning AR-15s (public ownership) but is quite ok with private ownership.
He then says “assault style weapons” so his issue appears to be with the look of the gun more than anything else, he has (apparently) no issue with assault rifles, but only with rifles syled to look like them. Fuzzy thinking indeed.
The term “assault weapon” probably deserves some discussion. The term “Assault Rifle” was coined in Germany during WWII by non other than Adolf Hitler when he was shown the Maschinenpistole 43 which became the Sturmgewehr 44 (translates as storm rifle 44). Assault rifles have a defined set of characteristics:
It must be an individual weapon with provision to fire from the shoulder (i.e. a buttstock);
It must be capable of selective fire;
It must have an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle;
Its ammunition must be supplied from a detachable magazine rather than a feed-belt.
And it should at least have a firing range of 300 meters (1000 feet)
This is an internationally and industry recognized term, which is why when the US “assault weapon” ban was introduced, they used that term rather than “assault rifle” since “assault rifles” are actually already banned. This ban concentrated on cosmetic issues (what the gun looked like) rather than on any functionality characteristics. It was an end-run around the constitution, since it didn’t actually ban any class of firearms, only a set of cosmetic features.
The key here is the second bullet – it must be select-fire, which means that it must have a switch to select either semi-automatic fire (one pull of the trigger, one shot) or automatic fire (one pull of the trigger, multiple shots). Also note that it does not fire high-power rounds, so the phrase beloved of reporters and their editors (high-power assault rifle) is nonsensical.
The term “assault weapon” (as opposed to assault rifle) is tracable back to one Josh Sugarmann, director of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, who wrote a memo which said:
“…the semiautomatic weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion ..[that] anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun – can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons“
The term was deliberately coined to confuse.
Back to the article under discussion – he throws in the word “massacre” to begin the emotional wind-up.
Not a good start.
Despite these massacres recurring and despite the 100,000 Americans that die every year due to domestic gun violence – these people see no value to even considering some kind of control as to what kinds of weapons are put in civilian hands.
In his “recurring massacres”, he again uses an emotional term, and conveniently forgets other “massacres” that have occurred which did not make use of assault weapons, and in some cases, not even firearms.
The reference to 100,000 dying as a result of domestic gun violence is a complete fabrication. According to the FBI statistics for 2010 (latest complete statistics available) there were 12,996 TOTAL murders in the USA. Of these 8,775 were by firearm, 6,009 of them by handguns and 358 using a rifle. Putting number of murders into perspective, there were 33,963 road traffic deaths in 2010.
After a rambling discussion on the US constitution, where he carefully avoids mentioning that US federal law specifically states that the militia is every able-bodied man, and that even if that were not the case, the Supreme Court of the US has ruled that firearms possession is an individual right, we move on to this gem:
What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve?
Where did “sportsman” come from? There is no reference to that in the second amendment to the US constitution, and what is his definition of sport? Why does he think that the only sporting use of firearms is to kill animals (seems to have killing on the brain…). Has he considered those sports where these types of rifle are actually required?
Based upon his own words, a standard hunting rifle serves the same purpose as an AR-15, if that is so, does he want to ban those too?
In the same paragraph:
Let’s see – does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away. To achieve maximum lethality.
Does it fire more rounds without a reload? Well, yes, he got that part right. One might ask the question compared to what? but since he specified a “hunting rifle” we will take that as the benchmark. It may be worth pointing out that the AR-15 is a legal hunting rifle for small game in many states, but he obviously has a pre-conceived notion of what a hunting rifle is.
Does it fire further and more accurately?
Well, lets look back at the definition of an assault rifle: “It must have an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle” Hmm… so it doesn’t shoot further than the benchmark “hunting rifle”.
For comparison, here is a 5.56mm bullet (used by the AR-15, compared to a 7.62mm round as used in full-power “battle rifles” (as well as many hunting rifles). It is also worth noting that military sniper rifles (that is, rifles specifically chosen for range and accuracy) are almost invariably versions of standard hunting rifles, most often a Remington 700, and are bolt action, not semi-auto.
“More lethal payload”
The 5.56mm (or .223 if you insist on using inch measurements) is significantly smaller, with significantly less powder behind it. One of the original arguments made for using 5.56 in a military rifle was its DECREASED lethality – more likely to wound than kill, and that wounded soldiers absorb much more military resources than dead ones do.
A quick application of Google will find numerous stories of the US military on the ground in the Middle East complaining that the 5.56 round is underpowered and not lethal enough. Those that have the ability to choose their own weapons often use the M16 predecessor, the M14, which uses 7.62 ammunition.
So this paragraph is complete, unadulterated garbage. Someone talking through his hat, simply reciting the mantra of gun control groups.
The article only indirectly touched upon the other factor that is a gun-ban favorite: Magazine capacity.
An unattributed “expert” claimed that the 100 round magazine (found practically full in Aurora) would enable someone to fire 50 to 60 rounds in a minute, I don’t know where this “expert” comes from, but I can tell you that with marginal practice, I would be able to fire in excess of 60 rounds in a minute using the small 20 round (30 round is standard) magazines. Whether I would be able to hit anything is a different question, but the same applies to the 100 round drum. There is a reason why these are not used by the military (and its not all related to their tendency to jam). There is also a reason why the current version of the military M16 does not have full auto fire as an option – only a three round burst – that being that full auto fire is notoriously inaccurate and ineffective — even when used by trained professionals. It may look good in films, but then so does Harry Potter’s wand.
For those that think that pulling the trigger around once per second is as fast as you can go and that reloading is slow, take a look at the following video, using the slowest firearm around — a revolver:
This person has also fired 8 rounds from his revolver in one second – that’s 480 rounds per minute.
When gun-ban proponents accuse others of not being willing to engage in discussion, the reason is that they are immune to fact, immune to logic and continue to push an argument based upon falsehood and emotion.
There is no rational discussion with these people.
As for what you need to defend your house, lets finish with a slightly humorous take on the subject:
A while ago, I posted an article about a court decision in Indiana which basically said that people were not allowed to defend themselves against police invading their homes, even if such actions were illegal.
It seems that the residents of that state were less than happy with this, and in March of this year the Indiana legislature passed a law to explicitly allow citizens to use deadly force against public servants, including police, who illegally enter their homes. The governor signed this legislation and it is now law.
Predictably, the police are very unhappy with this state of affairs, basically saying that they have a right to expect to be able to go home safely at night, even if that involves the citizens they are supposedly there to protect suffering harm, or even death at the hands of rogue police officers.
A typical reaction:
“If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he’s going to say, ‘Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property,’ ” said Joseph Hubbard, 40, president of Jeffersonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 100. “Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.”
Somewhat reminiscent of the familiar story of “I thought he was armed, I feared for my life” excuse that is trotted out almost daily in many cities when police gun down unarmed citizens. Strange how when it is reversed it becomes something BAD.
Things are not going well for the purveyors of doom and gloom, otherwise known as Cataclysmic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW).
Their climate models continue to show increasing temperature, but reality continues to disagree, as global temperatures remain stubbornly flat, or even to fall slightly depending upon how you look at the numbers (see graph on left), while the evil CO2 concentration continues to rise. According to the models, more CO2 means higher temperatures, but its not happening. What to do?
Well, initially refusal to acknowledge reality seemed to work, but only for so long. As the gap between the virtual reality of the models and actual reality continued to grow, cracks began to appear in the CAGW wall of “settled science” and “consensus” .
The first indication was a leak of the next report from the IPCC. This appears to be a deliberate leak, to test the reaction to them beginning to back off from their predictions of the imminent fiery demise of the world if humanity doesn’t go back to living in caves and eating grass while paying huge taxes to finance a world-wide carbon market.
The leaked IPCC report suggests that previous predictions may have been overly pessimistic, and that the next 30 years or so may actually see flat temperatures, if not declining temperatures. Apparently, the natural climate variations that CO2 was supposed to be completely overriding is, in fact, the dominant determinant of climate temperature, masking any CO2 effect. But don’t worry! eventually (when the current generation of “climate scientists” are retired or dead and buried) CO2 will prevail!
However, another study, which was even reported by the BBC (who typically publish nothing which contradicts the CAGW orthodoxy), claims that the CO2 sensitivity, that is, the temperature rise for a doubling in CO2 concentration, is much lower than that being used in climate models. It did so by taking the models themselves, and the CO2 concentrations from ice cores covering time back to the last ice age, and determined that with the sensitivity set to the values currently being used, the ice sheets would have extended way past the 40 degree lattitude that it actually reached, right down to zero degrees (the equator) and that recovery would have been impossible, the world would still be one big ball of ice. Since that didn’t happen, the models are obviously wrong. They could be adjusted to reflect reality by reducing the CO2 sensitivity drastically, to something in the range of 1.7 to 2.0 degrees, which actually agrees with what many of the more skeptical climate scientists have been saying all along, rather than the previous claims of up to 11 degrees C.
The graph to the left shows the temperature record for central England, which is the longest continuous temperature record in the word, plotted with the CO2 concentration. The CO2 effect is rather difficult to pick out from the gradual temperature rise which os recovery from the cold “little ice age” temperatures. Actual temperature readings are not showing anything like the CO2 sensitivity used in the climate models.
To add to the discomfort of the CAGW merchants, both the public, and governments, who were stampeded into action my stories of doom, and the idea of being able to levy a tax on the air we breath were starting to get a little twitchy. The IPCC, once seen as a rock solid institution of scientific research has shown itself to be anything but, using scare stories from non-scientific sources and heavily filtering the actual science it does use, selecting only that science which backs its cause. For a really good explanation of how badly the IPCC is broken, see the book by Donna LaFramboise – “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert“.
With a meeting coming up in Durban to discuss what to do when the Kyoto protocol expires, this could not have come at a worse time. Combined with economic problems and the dismal failure of those carbon markets which have been established, various countries have made it clear that they will not be signing up for more of the same, let alone a stronger version. The real kicker was Japan, who hosted the original Kyoto discussions, announcing that it will not be signing up to a renewal.
Then bad news from the USA, which now refuses to back the UNFCCC, the parent organization of the IPCC, disagreeing with its funding and structure.
The only light in the CAGW universe seems to be the suicidal decision of the Australian government, alone amongst all countries in the world, to introduce a carbon tax. They rammed this through in time for a G20 meeting. At that meeting, they fully expected their lead to trigger many other countries to pledge to follow. Instead, they received pats on the back, and comments about how brave they were. The Australian labour party committed political suicide for “the cause”, and “the cause” reciprocated by doing … nothing.
The bottom also appears to be falling out of the renewable energy pipe-dream. Prince Philip going so far as to call the UK’s windmills “absolutely useless“. The Solyndra affair continues to fester in the US, and there are hints from China that they may be closing some of the solar pannel factories which are uneconomic to continue to run.
To top things off in the run-up to Durban, the same person (or persons) that released the original “Climategate” emails, released another batch of 5,000, now referred to a Climategate 2.0. These not only reinforce the case for the unacceptably bad and unscientific behavior of the IPCC scientists, but also adds some more light into the relationships with and behavior of various other institutions. This includes the BBC, who are seen to be anything but impartial in their reporting, pre-existing relationships with the “independent” investigators of the original climategate emails, and somewhat surprisingly, evidence that Professor Phil Jones, far from being a simple bumbling, absent minded professor, is, in fact a rather unpleasant and scheming character. Michael Mann just looks even worse (if that’s possible). If there is any justice in the world, this batch of email will result in a few lost jobs, and possibly a few prison sentences. Traction in the MSM is,as to be expected, somewhat limited, but it is there, and they are obviously finding it much harder to ignore these emails than they did the first batch.
As an added bonus, along with the 5,000 emails, is another zip file, which is heavily encrypted, but contains an additional 220,000 emails. Presumably, at some point in the future, the password to unlock there may/will be released. The most current theory is that the first batch of emails centered on the IPCC and its behavior. The second set has centered on relations with, and behavior of certain institutions, and that the final batch may well expand the net to include political figures. If that is the case, they are potentially dynamite. A ticking time-bomb under highly placed politicians and civil servants.
What we are seeing, is quite probably the beginning of the end of the CAGW scam. Rats are deserting the sinking ship, but still trying to do so without endangering their huge cashflow (government grants).
If you don’t know much about the IPCC and why you need to worry about it even if it is broken, then you must read this book.
If you think that global conspiracy to rob whole countries of trillions of dollars and subjugate (almost) the entire population of the world are only the province of James Bond or Jason Bourne you are wrong. There is one in progress right now that WILL affect you, your children and your children’s children (unless you are one of the privileged few).
If you believe that thousands of the world’s top scientists all agree that global warming is attributable to man, and that all life on earth is in danger because of it, then you need to read this.
Donna has taken the time to fully document every claim she makes, unlike those who simply urge you to “Move along, nothing to see here” and tell you that “The debate is over”. Reading the book itself is easy and you can get through it in a couple of days (or even one day if you get hooked), however, you will almost certainly find yourself going back to re-read some sections, and if you start to follow the references, there is a huge amount of background material to get through.
If you need an example of the sort of lies and character assassination that those behind the IPCC employ, you have to go no further than to look at the the single one-star rating in the Amazon reviews. It was written by someone who had not bothered to read even the first page of the book, who is using what he sees as his position of authority due to his qualifications to attempt to stop people reading this book. Compare those claims against what you read yourself and can validate from multiple sources, many of which are given as references in the book itself and you begin to get a tast of the vicious conspiracy that this book lays bare. Buy and read this book. Your future and those of your decendents may depend upon your being educated on this subject.
At the moment, the book is only available on Kindle, or as a PDF download (see Donna’s website for links to the PDF). A paper version should be available in the very near future.
Following on from my previous post on growth, the next obvious question is why do economists, governments and particularly financial institutions want the economy to grow?
To understand that, we need to understand how financial institutions and many individuals make money. Particularly those that make vast amounts of money.
It used to be that they would invest in companies that produced large profits. Shareholders got a share of those profits. Basically, all the profit after running costs (salaries, taxes, capital investments, R&D etc.) were accounted for, split amongst the shareholders in proportion to the number of shares that they held.
The price of shares was based mainly on the dividends (share of the profits) they paid. The more the dividends, the higher the price people were willing to pay for a share. Share price also had a relatively small (in most cases) component based upon future estimates. If a new product was coming out which was thought to be a winner, for example, people would want to buy the shares before the dividends (and hence the share price) increased. Similarly, if business was expected to decline, the share price would drop, even though dividends were still the same, because it was expected that in future they would decline.
Some financial institutions found that if they guessed right, they could make significantly more money by buying (or selling) shares ahead of the rest of the market.
In other words, they moved from viewing shares as an investment in the company, to simply being betting chips. They had no interest in the company or its customers beyond their influence on the price of the stock.
The financial companies became so enthusiastic about the huge profits that could be made this way that they used their resources to buy a change in the law such that companies were no longer required to share their profits with shareholders. They could keep all the money and use it in pretty much any way they wanted, not the the advantage of their customers, and not to the advantage of those “owners” of the company who just wanted a steady income from their share of the company profits. The “logic” was that shareholder profit was to be derived from the increased value of the stock, not from income from the stock.
The law in most western countries requires that companies be run to the benefit of its shareholders, which means that they now had to concentrate on share price, rather than good products, satisfied customers and long term stability. As the tech bubble showed, share price is almost totally divorced from actual profit. There are still a large number of companies around that make no real profit, but have astronomically high share prices.
Those companies that do make a profit are required to show growth in that profit each and every quarter. In many cases they have no real use of the profit, and it just accumulates until they blow it in huge chunks to acquire another company to push up their share price.
As noted in the previous article, continuous growth is only sustainable as long as the “growth medium” holds out.
In this case, the growth medium is the economy.
As soon as the economy goes flat, the prospects for growth for companies disappears, and even though the company may still be generating a very healthy profit, chances are that its not paying dividends, so share price will flatline, or worse, decline. The financial companies are not interested in making a steady profit, they want to ride the exponential curve of continuous growth in share price.
With a flatline economy some momentum can be maintained by marketing and some by using the vast reserves of cash for mergers and acquisitions, customers can be screwed for more and more money, but none of this can last.
Governments need to realize that sustained growth is actually bad. But they have two problems, one is that they are mostly owned by the financial institutions and another is that they are themselves hooked on the idea that they will have more money tomorrow than today.
There have been lots of headlines and quotes from various people about the press release from CERN about observations that indicated that they have observed neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light. There have been a number of “authorities” claiming that these results must be wrong, because its absolutely certain that nothing can travel faster than light.
Of course, most of the media coverage more or less completely ignores the content of the press release from CERN. What they actually said was that over three years and many (thousands) experiments they have consistently observed that the time taken for the neutrinos to travel the 730km between CERN and Gran Sasso the time taken has been 0.00000006 seconds shorter than light takes to cover the same distance. This is equivalent to the distance being 20m shorter than it actually is, so the difference is actually very small, but measurable and consistent.
The scientists at CERN are doing what all good scientists do when their observations clash with accepted understanding. First, they look for errors and alternative explanations to account for their measurements. After exhausting all the explanations that they can think of, and not finding any of them account for the discrepancy, before announcing the demise of one of the cornerstones of current physics, they have made their methodology and data available to others, and asked them to verify the methodology and to examine the data for alternative explanations. Only when heir results are confirmed, and quite possibly replicated (or not) by others, will they feel somewhat confident in claiming that there are indeed some particles which can exceed the speed of light.
Its good to see that at least in some quarters, the scientific method is alive and healthy, with scientists freely and voluntarily sharing their methodology and data with others, and asking them to validate or disprove their findings.
Contrast this with so-called “climate scientists” who, along with the organizations that employ them, spend millions of dollars to avoid having to share any of their methodology or data, and famously wrote to somone asking for a copy of the data: “Why should I share my data with you when I know that all you will do with it is look for problems”.
Of course, looking for problems is exactly how real science works, not by having a few mates read a publication, declare it good, then claiming that the science is settled.
The world was on an upwards path. The hand to mouth existence of the past was just a memory for many. Cities were being built, universities were spreading knowledge and libraries were storing that knowledge for future generations. Trade was spreading, and publicly financed sanitation projects were driving disease and pestilence back into the darkness. War was something that happened far away, at the edges of the empire.
Then something happened. The Roman empire collapsed and was overrun by barbarians. The world descended into an age of ignorance, superstition and fear. The Dark Ages had begun, and would last for 1,000 years before the renaissance (around 1500 AD) slowly re-established civilization, and put the world back on course.
Exactly what caused the collapse is not entirely clear because much of the written history of the period was destroyed.
This was not a unique event. Previous great civilization in Egypt and Greece had gone the same way. Undoubtedly the people alive even as the descent into chaos began never thought that it could happen to their civilization. Too much invested, a world class army, trade and influence covering unthinkable distances.
There was no single event that triggered the fall, it was a long term degeneration. The lack of political will in Rome allowed the military to degenenerate to the point that when the Huns forced the Visigoth migration, there was nothing to stop them flooding the empire’s borders and ending up with the sack of Rome in 410 AD. In 476 the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, abdicated. Not a big deal in itself, since he held no real power either politically or militarily, but effectively he was the last one to leave who put out the lights on the Roman Empire.
Modern historians like to play down how bad things were, even to the point of rejecting the name “Dark Ages”, but in fact it truly was darkness that descended.
But that is just ancient history. There is no way the world can go any direction but onward and upward, is there?
Well, I might argue that we are already on the downwards slope.
Lets look at a bit more history. When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, it was in an England that had not really changed for the last 1,000 years. Someone transported from an earlier period would not find much changed. People lived off the land using the same farming techniques that previous generations had used. Trade was carried by wind powered ships.
By the time of her death, Victoria had seen the rise of England to dominate the globe, driven by an industrial revolution which had replaced wooden ships with iron, sails by steam, muskets by rifles, machine guns and artillery. Medical practices began to actually become effective. Electrical power distribution was on the horizon. The internal combustion engine was being fitted into cars, trucks and busses. Radio was in its infancy, one year after her death the first trans Atlantic radio transmission was made by Marconi. Three years after her death the first powered flight was made by the Wright brothers.
A huge change in one lifetime.
In the next lifetime, even more changes took place. Antibiotics meant that previously fatal disease could now be cured, immunization bought plague outbreaks under control, electricity was in most people’s homes, radio and television became ubiquitous, the power of the atom was harnessed producing weapons capable of leveling entire cities and generating limitless power, jet engines made mass air travel possible, Yuri Gararin orbited the Earth, starting a new exploration phase that ended with men walking on the moon, computers began to become truly general purpose and available as consumer items, faster than sound commercial flight began, the network which would evolve into the Internet was created.
The rate of change was exponential. Science fiction became reality, or shown to be hopelessly short-sighted.
So where are we now?
An image by a FaceBook friend (on left) probably illustrates this quite well. The thing to notice is that really isn’t anything new there. The cell phone has become smaller and offers more features, but its not really that much different, its still a cell phone. The car hasn’t changed much, more bells and whistles and clear-coat paint, but essentially the same, the game console is still … well .. a game console. The PC has evolved into a laptop, and has much more power, but is still just apersonal computer.
The space shuttle has … well … gone.
Where are all the new things wich didn’t exist in some form or other 30 years ago?
The stream of new inventions has dried up and been replaced by “innovation”, which is basically just re-applying or adding bells and whistles to already existing things.
Not only has the creation of new inventions and concepts dried up, but in some cases we are actually moving backwards.
We used to have supersonic commercial air transport. It is no more.
We used to have the means to put men on the moon. But no more, it was replaced with something that could only reach low earth orbit, destined to be itself replaced with what is actually little more than a glorified bottle-rocket. The people that knew how to put men on the moon have retired or died. The methods used to produce some of the materials they used is now unknown. The programs they used are stored (if not destroyed) on media that readers no longer exist for, and if the media could be read, the processors on which it ran no longer exist.
There are even a number of people that now believe that there never were people walking on the moon.
Malaria was under control, and heading for extinction. Its now back in full swing, killing millions every year, and making the lives of millions more a living hell.
Cheap farm machinery allowed third world countries to begin to produce enough food to keep their populations fed and healthy, even to build up stocks to see them through lean times. The rising cost of fuel will soon stop that.
We had cheap and abundant power, slowly but surely the power systems are degrading with power outages becoming more rather than less common. We also have the prospect of power becoming so expensive that we will go back to the time when people dreaded the onset of winter with the prospect of illness and death from the bone-chilling cold and damp.
We are moving from the age of atomic power to the age of windmills, a technology that never really worked, and won’t now.
We had the possibility of personal transport which we could use to drive from one side of a continent to another. It is now rapidly coming to the stage where using that transport simply to get to and from work may be no more than a dream.
We have gone from walking into a room, flicking a switch to instantly light the room, to sutumbling around in the semi darkness waiting for the feeble glow of our CFLs to grow into the harsh monochromatic light that we are now forced to live with. The supposed savings they produce burned up (and more) by leaving them on to avoid the long warm-up time, and having to replace them seemingly more frequently the old incandescent bulbs due to them expiring if turned on and off too frequently.
The evidence is all around that technologically and sociologically thing have come to a halt, and may even be going backwards.
The great armies built to maintain peace are disintegrating. The USSR is no more, England is finding it difficult to provision even minor engagements on the middle East. The US military power is more and more dependent upon technological superiority, at a time when domestic technology is on the decline. The US doesn’t even have the capacity to manufacture its own LCD displays.
The Visigoths may no longer be a threat to civilization, but their modern barbarian counterparts are continually present at the fringes, and announce their continued presence with random acts of terrorism.
Invasion is taking place, destabilizing societies. Continual influx from external societies is necessary for any healthy civilization, its the sociological equivalent of new DNA in the gene pool, but just as infusing new DNA by mass rape is not a good idea, there is a maximum rate at which foreign culture and people can be absorbed. Western society is well beyond those limits, building up tinder-box conditions which once ignited will be very difficult to suppress.
When the Roman Empire faded, its place was taken by the Church, which was not the warm and welcoming Church of today, but an organization typified by the Spanish inquisition and brutal suppression of any ideas of which they didn’t approve. They were responsible for holding back scientific progress as Galileo and his compatriots discovered.
The Church’s likely equivalent in the event of a new Dark Age may well be the transnational corporation. Failing that, there are many other pseudo religions (Green, Gaia etc.) who see their role as being to reduce the world population to what they consider manageable proportions, and to ensure that those population employ only green-approved technology.
Pray to whatever gods you believe in that its the transnationals that take over. If its the other group, Pol Pot’s Cambodia is going to look like a holiday camp.
In a recent conversation, the topic of what to do in all too common case of losing a job, having the bank foreclose, and so finding oneself in the position of no house and no job came up.
One person simply said “I will just go live off the land”. This is a relatively young, healthy person, the climate in Oregon is relatively mild if you stick to reasonable elevations and don’t go too far East. There is game and fish, there are still the same edible plants that kept generations of Indians and early pioneers alive, so at first glance, this seems like a reasonable plan.
But let’s look a bit closer.
Shelter is your first problem. Seems simple enough, there are lots of trees in Oregon, so building a cabin, even a rough cabin just to keep the wind and rain off to begin with shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Until you look for somewhere to build it. Unlike the old days, the government (the largest landowner by far in the Western US) jealously guards what it has, and is no longer willing to give a plot to some industrious pioneer willing to make it productive. In fact, every square foot of land has an owner. And its not you. You end up trespassing. You get thrown in jail.
Not a good start. But lets assume that you inherited a few acres, so the trespass problem is solved. Now you need wood to build your cabin. You can’t just wander into the woods and cut down trees. The trees are owned by either timber companies, private owners, the state or the federal government. At certain times of the year, you can get permits to go lop down a tree for firewood on state land, but nowhere near enough to build your cabin. You chop down a few trees, the cops arrive. You get thrown in jail.
Hmmm… ok, lets assume that there is enough decent timber to build a house on the land you inherited. Your trees, you can chop them down if you want. Well, there is a good chance that you can’t. There are various permits often required, even to remove a tree from your own property if some busybody decides that you are in a “scenic area”, or a “watershed”, your land is home to the lesser spotted nutgobbler, or whatever. You typically have to pay for the permit. You have no job, and no money. Cut them down anyway. Greenpeace lawyers descend. You get thrown in jail.
So lets assume you are not in some sort of special area … you really lucked out. While you are cutting down trees and building your cabin you need to eat and keep warm. You light a fire. Its in an area subject to a fire ban (practically the whole state in summer). You get thrown in jail.
Ok… we will assume that your piece of land is on the coast, where its usually (but not always) wet enough that open fires are not banned. You shoot your deer … oh, you didn’t have your (rather expensive and restrictive) permit to shoot the deer? You get thrown in jail.
So, no deer, you live on raw roots and blackberries. Your cabin is taking shape nicely. The local building inspector turns up on your doorstep and wants to see your building permit. You don’t have one? Then please remove that structure within a week. You don’t. You get thrown in jail.
Some kindly relative gets you a building permit. You are getting on well with the cabin. The local building code inspector turns up, and declares that you have about 5,000 code violations. You can either fix them (which will need $$$$) or remove the structure. You don’t. You get thrown in jail.
We have been in the unbelievable realm as far as luck goes for a while now. So lets just say your fairy godmother waves a magic wand and the building code problems go away. Your cabin is finished, its November, cold outside, but you are ok because you have a nice fire keeping you warm as you munch on your deer steak cooked over that same fire. There is a knock on the door, and the postman hands you a property tax bill. With all the improvements you have made, this is now a quite desirable piece of property, and you owe several thousand dollars in property tax. Having no money, you don’t pay. The county takes your property, and you still owe the back tax. You don’t pay. You get thrown in jail.
Society, in its infinite wisdom, has made it all but impossible for people to live without money. It can be done, sleeping in a doorway in a city perhaps. But if you want to look after yourself, and live comfortably even if you have to work at it, society apparently has little patience for the idea.
Those early settlers and Indian tribes had it easy.