Wednesday, December 20, 2017

You’re the Fed chairman — now what?

What follows is shameless self-promotion.

In 2008 I self-published The Flight of the Barbarous Relic, a novel about a renegade Fed chairman named Preston Mathews.  On a stormy Halloween night Mathews does a Friedman helicopter drop from the cockpit of his biplane over the fictitious town of Morrisville, Virginia, then flies to his nearby farm and plows his two-winger into the ground at the foot of his barn.  For months Mathews had spent weekends painting a mural on his barn that depicted the federal reserve note as a tool of piracy.  He had kept the mural cloaked when he wasn’t working on it.  

The government, headed by President Gage and his chief henchman Hawkins, announces Mathews’ death as a tragic accident.  They praise him publicly for his work as Fed chairman while ushering in a full-blooded Keynesian as a temp replacement.  

But there are problems with the government’s narrative.  Pictures are showing up on the web, one of which shows the crash site with the mural clearly illuminated by the flames of the burning plane.  And the mural — what was the Jolly Roger doing on the dollar instead of Washington’s face?  Is that a message or the work of vandals?  Another picture shows Mathews beaming a smile while standing next to his plane, with the words “barbarous relic” spray-painted on the rear of the gold-colored fuselage.  And it finally emerged that some crackpot in a biplane flew through lightning and showered Morrisville with hundred dollar bills shortly before the crash.  And though Mathews is officially dead, there are leaks about the absence of any remains.  

As the underground narrative picks up speed the government struggles to discredit it every way possible.   

My goal was to reach readers who would never, ever pick up a monograph depicting the federal reserve for what it is, a government-licensed counterfeiting monopoly.  But they might get caught up in an intriguing story and maybe learn a thing or two.  

Readers can sample the opening of the book through Amazon’s Look Inside feature.   Below is an excerpt from Chapter 8.

* * * 

Treasury Secretary Benjamin Levy didn’t like his job.  He didn’t mind so much heading up the collection of tributes to the government because it was a dirty job and someone had to do it.  Government, he believed, was a necessary evil that could only be funded by some form of systematic theft, such as overt taxation.  But God, how he loathed the politics! . . . . 

Gage had picked Levy on Hawkins’ recommendation, and Hawkins liked Levy for his military background, his name, and the fact that he was physically fit and slim.  Levy, at 54, was in fact a fitness center spectacle.  At five-foot eight and 155 pounds, he could pump out 100 repetitions of a 100-pound bench press at the Treasury’s gym, shower, then swim a mile in the Olympic pool alternating between the Australian crawl and the racing backstroke.

On the day after the latest Dow Drop, Levy met with three senior officials from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and decided afterward he was in desperate need to shoot something.  The meeting had not gone well.  His subordinates had presented spineless non sequiturs about how Mathews acquired $100,000 in hundred dollar bills for his Trick or Treat flight over Morrisville.  

Their spokesperson was a short middle aged man named Riley who spoke so quietly Levy had to strain to hear him.  He was perfect for the job because he always spoke that way, and Levy could never accuse him of being suppliant, though that’s how he came across.  He remembered being in a room reading a report once while Riley and a clerk were in an adjacent office with the door open.  It was comical.  He could hear the clerk fine and Riley not at all.  The clerk would ask a question then moments later ask a follow-up question with no intervening answer, at least not one Levy could detect.  It was as if the clerk were talking to himself.

Along with the others, Riley had at hand a bottle of water, a perennial element of every meeting Levy held.  Riley clung to his for support.  “At this point in our investigation,” he said in his barely audible style, “it appears he took the money without our knowledge and without proper authorization.”  He cleared his throat.

Levy couldn’t help smile.  “So, Preston Mathews robbed the B.E.P?”

Riley glanced for support at his two colleagues, cleared his throat again, and turned back to Levy.  “We don’t have enough information to rest comfortably with that conclusion.  We can neither affirm nor—“

“—Are we in the habit of leaving money lying around?”

“Ah, no, sir, we’re not. . .  Our security procedures are unsurpassed.  This is the first blemish on our record.”

“The first what?”


“But you’re reasonably sure the money left when he did.”

“As far as we can tell, yes.”  Levy felt an urge to throw something at him, to see if he would at least raise his voice in protest.

“So tell me: How does one man EVER walk out of the B.E.P. with a hundred thousand dollars?”

Riley cleared his throat and took a sip of water.  His voice rose a bit in volume.  “One man doesn’t, sir, unless he’s the Fed chairman.”

“The Fed chairman . . . ?”

“He’s next to God.” 

Hawkins called and invited himself along before Levy could escape.  As far as their secretaries and the rest of the world were concerned, Hawkins and Levy were taking a little afternoon R & R at Levy’s West Virginia ranch near White Sulphur Springs, hunting wild turkey.  But Levy had no interest in shooting birds.  He had his maintenance workers nail together some boards and prop them up to resemble the side of a barn.  At Levy’s direction, one of them slapped some paint on the wood to approximate a U.S. dollar with a Jolly Roger in the center.  They then hauled it to the bottom of a small rise near the edge of some woods, and Levy proceeded to blast it to bits with his Winchester 12-gauge shotgun. 

Hawkins declined to join him and stood back watching while drawing slowly on a Cuban Robusto, amused at the way the gun kicked the rawboned shooter with each trigger squeeze.  When the shooting ended they retired to Levy’s den around a pool table, where Levy accepted Hawkins’ offer of a Robusto and poured them some JD No. 7 on the rocks.

Levy dragged pensively on his cigar and blew the smoke out.  “So, you want me to attack Morrisville, Virginia,” he said.

“Just show up with some guns.  A little gathering for the evening news.”

“What’s wrong with garnishing their taxes?”

“Nothing, of course.  But we also need a little show.”

“Flex some muscle.”

“You got it.”

Levy flicked his cigar at an ashtray.  “You’re feeding the enemy.”

“No, we’re restoring public confidence.”

“The public wasn’t confident, they were intimidated.  They’re still that way.  Showing up with troops when none are needed will convey weakness.  You have nothing to gain by squashing Morrisville.”

“General, there’s a fire burning.  We need to squelch it.”

“It’s a campfire.  It’ll burn itself out.”

Hawkins moved closer to Levy.  “Mathews had a plan.  We don’t know exactly what it was, but we’re pretty sure it’s not finished.  He apparently has confederates, and his dramatic exit has won him more than a few sympathizers.  A quiet announcement about garnishing Morrisville’s taxes will soothe the public’s resentment, but they need reminding about who’s in charge.  They need to see power.  The markets have to see power.  They have to know we damn well mean business.”

“Is Gage behind it?”

“One hundred percent.  Along with every bank and investment house on Wall Street.”

Levy sighed.  “I’ve put on shows before.  I could always make a speech, bring along a goon squad.”

“They need to feel the heel, Ben.  All people do, whether they’re a free people like ours or the other kind.”

“Feel the heel.”  Levy smirked.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing.  Just thinking about my purpose in life.  The older you get, the more you like to think you had one.  I became a military man to defend freedom.  Now I’m the damn Treasury secretary . . .”

“So what’s the problem?  You’re defending your country in a different way.”

“I was wondering what I’m defending it against.”

“Has the JD affected your brain?  You just spent a half-hour blowing his damn dollar to bits.”

“I needed to hit something.  I’m not sure I picked the right target.”

“Ben, listen: You’re defending the country against crucifixion on a cross of gold.  The yellow metal almost put us out of business in the 1930s.  We don’t want to repeat a mistake of that magnitude.  There is not a single reputable economist who supports a gold standard.  It’s dangerous, it’s a threat to prosperity.  It will reduce a modern economy to ashes -- that’s the real symbolism in Mathews’ crack up.  You’ve got to stand up for the way things work now.  And that takes a show of muscle.”

Levy flicked an ash that wasn’t there and shook his head slowly, confused.

“Look, Ben, the people need to see us as more than paper shufflers and lawmakers.  We can’t defend civilization with words alone.  We need guns.  We need rugged men willing and able to use those guns.  And the people need to see these guys.  If we don’t have the guts to get tough we might as well turn the country over to the fascists.”

“You don’t feel at all hypocritical?”

“Hell, no.  Why should I?”

“Jesus, Tom.  Mathews did for Morrisville what he’s been doing for the whole of government and the big banks.  That doesn’t  bother you?” 

“No, for Christ’s sake!  The government’s held to different standards.  Everyone knows it and accepts it.  Government is force.  Our methods, therefore, are expedient.  We give up lucrative careers in the private sector to keep this country together, by any means possible.  I’m not bothered by anything we have to do or say.  Don’t get Jeffersonian on me.”

“I wasn’t.”

“You were about to.  Talk about hypocrites, the author of the Declaration of Independence was a goddamn slaveholder.  But we took our cue from Honest Abe.  With the smart use of force we’re setting the world free.  A few people get roughed up along the way, maybe, but what the hell.  That’s a lesson all the great presidents learned, and all the others didn’t.”

“Government is force.  How stupid of me to forget.”

“Well, we don’t post it on billboards.  People like to think they’re acting on their own volition.”  Hawkins sighed.  “So, General, can we count on your help?”

“Sure, hell.  I’m a soldier.  I do what my superiors tell me, whether I like it or not.”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The dangerous dream of secession

A fundamental requirement for lasting peace and prosperity is to reject government by coercive monopolies such as we have had for all of human history.  How anyone can expect a government invested with a monopoly on violence to restrain itself from bullying people whenever it can get away with it is difficult to understand.  Most people apparently refuse to explore alternatives to statism and hope their particular government doesn’t go the way of Zimbabwe or Venezuela — or Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.  

As I’ve detailed in my book The Fall of Tyranny, The Rise of Liberty we have two strong trends working in our favor: the inevitable blowup of state finances, coupled with the exponential growth of digital technologies.  The result of these forces — state bankruptcy and exponential tech growth — will put individuals and voluntary associations front and center in everyday life.  

Recently, and paradoxically, mankind’s number one futurist Ray Kurzweil has predicted that nation states will become the horse and buggy of our future, while assuring the world a universal basic income (UBI) will emerge from the sick beds of declining states.  Come again?  Kurzweil and his billionaire pal Mark Zuckerberg, who’s also touting a UBI and saying “People like me should pay for it,” ought to look more closely at their positions.  

The exponential pace of technology is evolving into a merger of humans with their technology as miniaturization on an atomic scale enables an enhancement or replacement of our biological substrate.  As Kurzweil notes in The Singularity is Near, “all of these technologies quickly become so inexpensive as to become almost free.”  Humans enhanced with nanotech won’t need a UBI even if states were able to provide it.  

Count us out

There is an age-old means to free people from coercive states rather than wait for them to implode from gangster-driven economics — secession.  It amounts to a public declaration that a certain group of people no longer considers themselves subject to their state’s jurisdiction.  It’s quite possible a tidal wave of secessions will occur as states grow more debt-drenched, bureaucracy-laden and weaker.  

The only problem with secession is the state.  States survive by bleeding its subjects, literally (wars) or figuratively (taxes).  Fewer subjects means less blood.  A state that loses too much blood imperils its survival.  Plus it’s a sign of weakness if it can’t check the bleeding, and no state can afford to look weak among the community of like bullies.  

Arguments about the legality of secession are so much noise.  The most important issue is whether or not the state will allow it to happen peacefully, which is not much of an issue historically.  As we’ve seen recently, Spain crushed the Catalonia declaration of independence with a combination of force, lies and political double-talk.  And other states have rallied in support of Spain.

Americans celebrate their 1776 secession once a year, but almost no one calls it that.  “Independence Day” — great.  “Fourth of July” — certainly.  “Secession Day”?  Politically incorrect.  Yet, if the Declaration of Independence is not a declaration of secession, nothing is.  It is the source of American pride.

In the U.S. the legitimacy of secession as such was not an issue for the first 71 years of its existence.  Instead, the issue was debated in terms of its appropriateness under certain conditions.

In the introduction to Secession, State, and Liberty, David Gordon notes that opponents of secession will sometimes concede that 
secession is to be allowed should the government violate individual rights, but not otherwise. A group may not renounce duly-constituted authority just because it would rather be governed by others. 
Gordon asks the obvious: What is the justification for making secession dependent on violations of rights?  The judge and jury of the decision to secede is the seceding group, whether their grievances are well-founded or not.  The decision may be unwise but it is theirs and theirs alone.   Besides, what government would ever acknowledge they’re violating the rights of their citizens?  Who will determine whether secession is “allowed”?

Allen Buchanan, who Gordon describes as the most influential philosopher on secession, argues that any group that violates individual rights has no right to secede.  For this reason Buchanan rejects the legitimacy of Southern secession in 1861.  Again, Gordon asks, why did slavery in the South make secession illegitimate?

To many contemporary abolitionists the Southern threat to secede was a gift from God because it would no longer require enforcement of fugitive slave laws, without which slavery would eventually end.

Secession as the foundation of the American republic

In The Real Lincoln author Thomas DiLorenzo tells us about constitutional theorist William Rawle,
who, in 1825, published a book, A View of the Constitution, that would become the text for the one course on the Constitution taught at West Point to virtually all the top military leaders who would later participate in the War between the States. . . . 
In addition to being one of the most distinguished and prominent abolitionists of his time, Rawle was an articulate proponent of a constitutional right of secession. He believed that there was an implied right of secession in the Constitution and that this right should be enjoyed by the individual states.
The implied right came from the 10th Amendment.  Since the Constitution did not prohibit secession, it was legal under the law.   In Rawle’s words: “The states may wholly withdraw from the Union . . . .  The secession of a state from the Union depends on the will of the people of such state.”  

A proposal to outlaw secession was presented at the constitutional convention but was rejected after James Madison convinced members that “The use of force against a State, would look more like a declaration of war, than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.” [quoted in The Real Lincoln]

As it happened the slave states of Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia remained loyal to the Union until April 15, 1861 when Lincoln called for a 75,000-man militia to “suppress” the Deep South states that had already seceded.  South Carolina had taken Lincoln’s bait and bombarded Fort Sumter three days earlier, giving Lincoln the appearance of defending the Union from an aggressor.   

As John Denson argues in The Costs of War: America’s Pyrrhic Victories, the most important question to ask was not “Why did the South secede?” but rather “Why did the North refuse to let the South go?”  The war on Southern secession was a war on liberty, even though the secessionists were slave states.

Northern newspaper editorials before Fort Sumter often supported the legitimacy of the southern states to secede (source: Howard Cecil Perkins, Northern Editorials on Secession, quoted in The Real Lincoln, pp. 107-109):
Bangor Daily Union (11/13/60) - A state coerced to remain in the Union is “a subject province” and can never be “a co-equal member of the American Union.” 
Brooklyn Daily Eagle (11/13/60) - “ . . . let them [the Southern states] go.” 
Kinosha (Wisconsin) Democrat (1/11/61) - Secession is “the very germ of liberty . . . the right of secession inheres to the people of every sovereign state.
Detroit Free Press (2/19/61) - “An attempt to subjugate the seceded states, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil . . .” 
New York Tribune (2/5/61) - Lincoln’s latest speech contained “the arguments of the tyrant—force, compulsion, and power.”  If the southern states want to secede, “they have a clear right to do so."
With sentiment in the North open to secession, why did Lincoln pursue war?   The un-American American System of high tariffs, corporate welfare, and a central bank Lincoln had championed all his political life was in jeopardy if the South were allowed to leave the Union.  The favors dealt to one group had to be funded by another, and the South had been on the short end of that arrangement.

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery,” he explained to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in 1862.  But he wasn’t saving the Union — not a union of free and independent states.  He was destroying it.  

In his address to the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, calling on the colonies to declare their independence, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proclaimed “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."  The seceding southern states were clearly united in their determination to be “absolved from all allegiance” to the federal government.  Their connection was dissolved but not the political entity known as the United States.  Had it been otherwise the South would have seceded unopposed.

The seceding South posed no threat to the Union.  What it threatened was the Union’s unconstitutional usurpations.  I wonder how many of those favoring Lincoln’s “object” understood that the object was to destroy the fragile American republic.

Holiday shoppers: If you like my articles please consider a gift of one of my books, all of which are available on Amazon in paper and digital form:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

AlphaZero for President

From KurzweilAI:
Demis Hassabis, the founder and CEO of DeepMind, announced at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference (NIPS 2017) last week that DeepMind's new AlphaZero program achieved a superhuman level of play in chess within 24 hours. 
The program started from random play, given no domain knowledge except the game rules, according to an arXiv paper by DeepMind researchers published Dec. 5. 
“It doesn't play like a human, and it doesn't play like a program,” said Hassabis, an expert chess player himself. “It plays in a third, almost alien, way. It's like chess from another dimension.”
I started programming IBM machines in the late 60s, and at the time there was talk about the possibility of a computer someday beating a competent human at chess.  Though the first programs stumbled along like children learning to walk, slowly, over the years, they improved, thanks in part to Moore’s Law and the genius of certain computer scientists.  In February 1977 Chess 4.6, the only computer entry, won the 84th Minnesota Open against competitors just under Master level; it later defeated the US chess champion. [source]   In 1988, Deep Thought became the first computer to defeat a grandmaster in a tournament.  IBM bought Deep Thought, pumped it up and renamed it Deep Blue, and beat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.
Today, the chess prowess of Deep Blue is available on our laptops, or even in our pockets, on handhelds. The seven foot tall mainframe towers that housed Deep Blue’s “mind” are gone, and strong computer chess is a commonplace . . .  [source]
These programs were essentially “taught” chess by human experts.  They were one-trick ponies: great at chess but nothing else.  The next step was to develop an algorithm that could learn from first principles (rules), enabling it to play chess and other challenging games at a high level.

The London-based DeepMind researchers pursued this goal and developed AlphaZero:
Instead of looking at games like Chess and Go as search problems, [the creators of AlphaZero] treated them as reinforcement learning problems. Reinforcement learning may sound vaguely familiar if you took an Intro to Psychology class in college; it’s precisely the way humans learn. . . . 
The mathematical basis of how we apply reinforcement learning as humans has been painstakingly worked out over the last 30 years. That brings us to AlphaZero. By simply playing against itself for a mere 4 hours, the equivalent of over 22 million training games, AlphaZero learned the relevant associations with the various chess moves and their outcomes. . . . 
Deep reinforcement learning is nothing less than a watershed for AI, and by extension humanity. With the advent of such ├╝ber-algorithms capable of learning new skills within a matter of hours, and with no human intervention or assistance, we may be looking at the first instance of superintelligence on the planet. [emphasis added]
In a paper presenting the AlphaZero algorithm, the developers claimed that “Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess) as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case.”

What will AlphaZero be doing in three years? Five? Will we be carrying AlphaZero around in our pockets? Our brains? Will some other AI be the new king of the hill? Will AlphaZero be regarded as quaintly primitive by then? Will Ray Kurzweil's 2029 prediction (and bet, with Mitch Kapor) of a computer passing as human in a Turing test arrive earlier than expected? 

And what will humans be like in 2029? Here's a guy working from the other end:
Bryan Johnson isn’t short of ambition. The founder and CEO of neuroscience company Kernel wants “to expand the bounds of human intelligence”. He is planning to do this with neuroprosthetics; brain augmentations that can improve mental function and treat disorders. Put simply, Kernel hopes to place a chip in your brain. . . . 
It may sound far-fetched, but Johnson has a track record of getting things done. Within his first semester at university, he’d set up a profitable business selling mobile phones to fellow students. By age 30, he’d founded online payment company Braintree, which he sold six years later to PayPal for $800m. He used $100m of the proceeds to create Kernel in 2016 – it now employs more than 30 people. 
But Johnson, 40, says he is about more than money. He was raised as a Mormon in Utah and it was while carrying out two years of missionary work in Ecuador that he was struck by what he describes as an “overwhelming desire to improve the lives of others.”
Are politicians out to “improve the lives of others”?  Their report card for the last 120 years tells us they’ve been heaping misery on those they didn’t murder.  Today they’re still at it, working anxiously to obliterate the planet in a nuclear firestorm.  The political class absolutely, totally flunks the humanity test.

When will that sink in?

The next time you feel nauseated after ingesting the latest political sewage, remember Kernel and DeepMind.  Not everyone is corrupt.  Not everyone acts like an idiot.  If you had to bet on who would take us to a better place, I would recommend putting your money on the researchers and entrepreneurs.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Living with the Exponential - I

Before the middle of this century, the growth rates of our technology— which will be indistinguishable from ourselves— will be so steep as to appear essentially vertical. From a strictly mathematical perspective, the growth rates will still be finite but so extreme that the changes they bring about will appear to rupture the fabric of human history. That, at least, will be the perspective of unenhanced biological humanity.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, September 26, 2006  

Massive debt is sealing the fate of governments and central banks.   As the cards collapse, radical developments in diverse areas of technology, combined with free market entrepreneurship, will destroy and rebuild the existing social order.
Smith, George Ford. The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of LibertyJanuary 21, 2017 

My purpose in "Living with the Exponential" series is to get our thinking oriented to the supercharged future that awaits us.  One sample of this future has already arrived when it was reported a month ago that AlphaGo Zero defeated AlphaGo in the game of Go, 100 games to none.  A few months earlier AlphaGo had topped the best human player.  Unlike AlphaGo, AlphaGo Zero taught itself to play Go.

In 2011, IBM's Watson computer defeated the two best Jeopardy! players.  Watson has since gone to medical school to assist doctors in their diagnoses.

Chess programs that run on desktop computers or even smartphones routinely beat human grandmasters.

The tech industry has spawned billionaires by selling to the masses.  Tech titans aim to eliminate disease itself, including aging

But the radical future isn't limited to digits, as we're seeing with Brexit and Catalonia.  

The world is changing fast, and it will change much faster in the years ahead.  Let's try to stay on top of it.


Gene Editing

“We cut your DNA, open it up, insert a gene, stitch it back up. Invisible mending,” said Dr. Sandy Macrae, president of Sangamo Therapeutics, the California company testing this for two metabolic diseases and hemophilia. “It becomes part of your DNA and is there for the rest of your life.”

It’s like sending a mini surgeon along to place the new gene in exactly the right location.

The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot.

Signs of whether it’s working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.

See AP Exclusive: US scientists try 1st gene editing in the body  (11-15-2017)

Surgical Training using Virtual Reality (VR)

We wiil need to double the number of surgeons by 2030 to meet the needs of the developing world.

Dr. Shafi Ahmed wants to train them simultaneously using VR.

"Ahmed made a splash back in 2014 when he reached 14,000 surgeons across 100 different countries by using Google Glass to stream a surgical training session. In 2016, Ahmed took this a step further by live-streaming a cancer surgery in virtual reality that was shot in 360-degree video while he removed a colon tumor from a patient."

He also streamed Twitter's first live operation.

Ahmed: “Forget one-to-one. My idea is one to many. I want to share knowledge with the masses.”

See Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Medical Training and Treatment (11-12-2017)

Treating babies born with jaundice

About 60 percent of babies are born with jaundice—a yellow tint to the skin and whites of the eyes.

The color is a sign that the baby’s blood has too much bilirubin—a byproduct of the body replacing old red blood cells.

The liver normally flushes bilirubin out of the body, but a newborns’ organ often can’t get the job done efficiently.

Newborns being treated for jaundice must often lie naked under therapeutic blue light for hours at a time.

New light-emitting pajamas could give parents a more comfortable, portable option for their babies. 

See Light-Up Pajamas to Treat Babies With Jaundice  (11-8-2017)

Reversing Aging

A team led by Dr. Dongsheng Cai from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine pinpointed a critical source of aging to a small group of stem cells within the hypothalamus.

Like fountains of youth, these stem cells release tiny fatty bubbles filled with mixtures of small biological molecules called microRNAs. With age, these cells die out, and the animal’s muscle, skin and brain function declines.

However, when the team transplanted these stem cells from young animals into a middle-aged one, they slowed aging. 

In a groundbreaking paper published in 2013, Cai found that a molecule called NF-kappaB increased in the hypothalamus as an animal grew older. Zap out NF-kappaB activity in mice, and they showed much fewer age-related symptoms as they grew older.

The animals also better preserved their muscle strength, skin thickness, bone and tendon integrity.

See Breakthrough Stem Cell Study Offers New Clues to Reversing Aging  (8-6-2017)

Artificial Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil: 

[When] a girl in Africa buys a smartphone for $75, it counts as $75 of economic activity, despite the fact that it's literally a trillion dollars of computation circa 1960, a billion dollars circa 1980. It's got millions of dollars in free information apps, just one of which is an encyclopedia far better than the one I saved up for years as a teenager to buy. All that counts for zero in economic activity because it's free. So we really don't count the value of these products.

Technology is always going to be a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm, cooked our food, and burned down our houses. . .   It's only continued progress particularly in AI that's going to enable us to continue overcoming poverty and disease and environmental degradation while we attend to the peril.

I'm a believer that the Turing Test is a valid test of the full range of human intelligence. . .  I've been consistent in saying 2029 [will be the year an AI passes the Turing Test].

See Ray Kurzweil on Turning Tests, Brain Extenders, and AI Ethics  (11-13-2017)

Integrated Circuits

Most wearable electronic devices that are currently available rely on rigid electronic components mounted on plastic, rubber or textiles. These have limited compatibility with the skin, are damaged when washed, and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable.

University of Cambridge researchers have developed a process that is scalable and according to the researchers, there are no fundamental obstacles to the technological development of wearable electronic devices — both in terms of their complexity and performance.

The printed components are flexible, washable, and require low power — essential requirements for applications in wearable electronics.

The technology is being commercialized by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialization arm.

See Integrated circuits printed directly onto fabric for the first time  (11-10-2017)


The United States was founded upon the concept of secession. Not once, but twice. First, in 1783, when colonies seceded from the British Empire. Second, in 1788, when states seceded from the United States. 

Within eight years of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the first secession movement arose.

It flared up, again, in 1800 when Jefferson was elected the third President of the United States.

And, again, in 1803 when President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.

New England States would seek secession from the United States again in 1811 over the admission of the State of Louisiana into the Union, and again in 1814-1815 over “Mr. Madison’s War.”

In the 1850s, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, called “the middle states”, represented 40 percent of the U.S. economy. A powerful secessionist movement arose in these states calling for them to form a separate country.

When the seven “Deep South” states seceded in 1860-61, many Northern newspapers upheld their legal right to secede and advocated a peaceful separation.

Secessionist movements continue in the United States to this day.

See Secession is as American as apple pie  (11-6-2017)

The State Unmasked

“So things aren't quite adding up the way they used to, huh? Some of your myths are a little shaky these days.” “My myths ? They're...