Sunday, July 28, 2013

Donegal Reflections

I've never known the sea so calm around Donegal.

I took this photo of the harbour in Dunfanaghy this morning with my S4:

Just before the rain came...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Modernity's Mythology

Another gem from John Michael Greer:

Progress, as the word literally means, is continued forward motion in one direction. To believers in the civil religion of progress, that’s the shape of history:  whatever it is that matters—moral improvement, technological prowess, economic expansion, or what have you—marches invincibly onward over time, and any setbacks in the present will inevitably be overcome in the future, just as equivalent setbacks in the past were overcome by later generations.  To join the marching legions of progress, according to the myth, is to enlist on the side of history’s winners and to help the inevitable victory come about just that little bit sooner, just as to oppose progress is to fight valiantly in a misguided cause and lose. 
That’s the myth that guides contemporary industrial society, just as the myth of Jupiter clobbering the Titans and imposing the rule of law on a fractious cosmos was the myth that guided Roman society. In the broadest sense, whether any given change is “progressive” or “regressive” has to be settled by good old-fashioned politics, since changes don’t arrive with these labels branded on their backsides. Once a group of people have committed themselves to the claim that a change they’re trying to bring about is progressive, though, they’re trapped; no matter what happens, the only action the myth allows them to consider is that of slogging gamely onwards under the conviction that the obstacles will inevitably give way if they just keep at it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Economics of Sunshine

It's not often you see this in Ireland:

I was so surprised by the weather forecast on RTE the other evening that I hit the pause button and took a photograph. One for the grandchildren perhaps...

Funny enough, it seems that there is a causal relationship between the sun and the economy. And not just for ice cream sales. According to John Hampson there is a historic association between solar cycles and financial/economic cycles. The influence of the 11-year solar cycle (measured in sunspots) on the Earth's geomagnetism drives patterns of change in commodities, stocks and other economic indicators on a fairly predictable basis going back to the 19th century (since data hasn't been available for much longer).

It might sound more like astrology than astronomy, but the data shows that stock markets rise strongly on average in the period between the solar minimum and the solar maximum (referring to the number of sunspots as an indication of the solar cycle). The same data shows that recessions then follow the solar maximum...

Unfortunately, despite the good weather we're enjoying right now, we've just reached the solar maximum as part of the latest solar cycle. Odder still, solar maximum 24 (the one now ending) has been the weakest in 100 years, and nobody knows why. It might explain the rather flaccid nature of America's economic recovery since 2008 come to think of it.

The last time there was such a weak solar maximum we had the Maunder Minimum which coincided with the Little Ice Age.

Hmmm, I think I'll have a cold beer after that...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chicken Little Scenarios

Reading the ESRI's three scenarios for 2013-2020, I did find myself wondering where's the 'positive scenario'? Even their 'Recovery Scenario' suggests that maybe only half the sky will fall.

Ho hum. It could be worse. Watching Gráinne Seoige's contribution to RTE's Great Irish Journeys - which explored one man's contemporary observations of the Famine in Ireland - I was struck by the 'normality' of life for so many people in the late 1840s. Newspapers were being printed and read, pigs were being bred and exported, and hotels were serving excellent meals to tired travellers. Meanwhile, up the road, thousands were starving...

Eric A makes a similar point over at Zero Hedge about the year without a summer:
In 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia exploded with earth-shaking force. It was the largest eruption in 1,300 years, with an explosion audible in Sumatra 2,000km away. Volcanic ash filled the skies, blotting out the sun, and snow fell in Albany in June. River ice flowed in Pennsylvania in July. Frost fell every month of the year in areas of Canada, the US, and Europe. The entire crop was lost before the bitter and endless winter of 1817 where deep-harbor New York recorded temperatures of -26 F (-32 C). Prices rose suddenly through the western world and food riots broke out. This is as close as the modern world has ever come to a nuclear holocaust and nuclear winter. 
Never heard of it? That’s odd. You would think the largest explosion and climate event in 1,300 years would have more effect on daily life. And that’s my point. The world doesn’t end. Nor does it change very quickly or without going through a long series of steps.
Maybe that's why - in the middle of Ireland's Great Recession - we're still among the happiest people in Europe. The sky might fall but the sun still shines (as it is right now, so I'm off out of here...)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Little Pink Book

Even some on the Left are worried about the tone of the same sex marriage debate - it's all starting to smack of the Cultural Revolution:
Reasonable people can disagree on the substantive question of whether marriage law should include gay and lesbian couples. But our Cultural Revolutionaries don’t see any reasonable opponents. Instead of recognising that this is a complicated and relatively new issue, with various constituencies having legitimate concerns and the public essentially divided, the gay marriage campaigners tell us it is all very simple – either you jump on the train of history, or you’re a bigot.
I might just order a copy of The Little Red Book on Amazon, just in case...

Friday, July 5, 2013

America the Protestant

Spot the pattern (via Lew Rockwell):

Some Independence Day thoughts from Charles Hugh-Smith:
I submit that the next American Revolution circa 2021-23 will not repeat or even echo these past transitions. What seems likely to me is the entire project of centralization that characterized the era 1941-2013 will slip into irrelevance as centralization increasingly yields diminishing returns. 
...If we sought to summarize the profound transformation ahead in one sentence, it would be this: wages are no longer an adequate model for distributing the surplus generated by the economy.
But behind every economic crisis is a crisis of belief. Or in America's case, the end of American Protestantism. According to Stanley Hauerwas, in a superbly insightful essay:
America is a synthesis of evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. Americans were able to synthesize these antithetical traditions by making their faith in God indistinguishable from their loyalty to a country that insured them that they had the right to choose which god they would or would not believe in.
But the consensus American story is changing:
America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story. That is what Americans mean by "freedom." The institutions that constitute the disciplinary forms of that project are liberal democracy and capitalism.
Declining consensus creates pressure for conformity:
So an allegedly democratic society that styles itself as one made up of people of strong conviction in fact becomes the most conformist of social orders, because of the necessity to avoid conflicts that cannot be resolved.
The lowest common denominator comes into view:
If I am right about the story that shapes the American self-understanding, I think we are in a position to better understand why after 11 September 2001 the self-proclaimed "most powerful nation in the world" runs on fear. It does so because the fear of death is necessary to insure a level of cooperation between people who otherwise share nothing in common. That is, they share nothing in common other than the presumption that death is to be avoided at all costs.
The problem with 'all costs' is that it eventually becomes too costly:
America is a culture of death because Americans cannot conceive of how life is possible in the face of death. Freedom names the attempt to live as though we will not die. Lives lived as though death is only a theoretical possibility, moreover, can only be sustained by a wealth otherwise unimaginable. But America is an extraordinarily wealthy society determined to remain so even if it requires our domination of the rest of the world. We are told that others hate us because they despise our freedoms, but it may be that others sense that what Americans call freedom is bought at the expense of the lives of others.
And so a crisis of belief becomes an economic crisis...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dissent is Information

Might explain Ireland's banking disaster better than most:
Eliminate or marginalize dissent and you've deprived the system of critical information. Lacking a wealth of information, the system becomes a monoculture in which the leadership is free to pursue confirmation bias, focusing on whatever feedback confirms its policy mandates. 
A system that suppresses dissent is fault-intolerant, ignorant and fragile. Any event that does not respond to centralized, rationalized policy creates unintended consequences that throws the centralized mechanism into disarray. Lacking dissent and redundancy, the system piles on one haphazard, politically expedient "fix" after another, further destabilizing the system.
Though in Ireland's case, our elite still seems happier suppressing dissent than listening to it.

ht Charles Hugh-Smith

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