Tuesday, March 31, 2009

bank walkaways....,

NYTimes | Mercy James thought she had lost her rental property here to foreclosure. A date for a sheriff’s sale had been set, and notices about the foreclosure process were piling up in her mailbox.

Ms. James had the tenants move out, and soon her white house at the corner of Thomas and Maple Streets fell into the hands of looters and vandals, and then, into disrepair. Dejected and broke, Ms. James said she salvaged but a lesson from her loss.

So imagine her surprise when the City of South Bend contacted her recently, demanding that she resume maintenance on the property. The sheriff’s sale had been canceled at the last minute, leaving the property title — and a world of trouble — in her name.

“I thought, ‘What kind of game is this?’ ” Ms. James, 41, said while picking at trash at the house, now so worthless the city plans to demolish it — another bill for which she will be liable.

City officials and housing advocates here and in cities as varied as Buffalo, Kansas City, Mo., and Jacksonville, Fla., say they are seeing an unsettling development: Banks are quietly declining to take possession of properties at the end of the foreclosure process, most often because the cost of the ordeal — from legal fees to maintenance — exceeds the diminishing value of the real estate.

The so-called bank walkaways rarely mean relief for the property owners, caught unaware months after the fact, and often mean additional financial burdens and bureaucratic headaches. Technically, they still owe on the mortgage, but as a practicality, rarely would a mortgage holder receive any more payments on the loan. The way mortgages are bundled and resold, it can be enormously time-consuming just trying to determine what company holds the loan on a property thought to be in foreclosure.

In Ms. James’s case, the company that was most recently servicing her loan is now defunct. Its parent company filed for bankruptcy and dissolved. And the original bank that sold her the loan said it could not find a record of it.

“It is what some of us think is the next wave of the crisis,” said Kermit Lind, a clinical professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and an expert on foreclosure law.

can fractals make sense of the quantum world?

New Scientist | QUANTUM theory just seems too weird to believe. Particles can be in more than one place at a time. They don't exist until you measure them. Spookier still, they can even stay in touch when they are separated by great distances.

Einstein thought this was all a bit much, believing it to be evidence of major problems with the theory, as many critics still suspect today. Quantum enthusiasts point to the theory's extraordinary success in explaining the behaviour of atoms, electrons and other quantum systems. They insist we have to accept the theory as it is, however strange it may seem.

But what if there were a way to reconcile these two opposing views, by showing how quantum theory might emerge from a deeper level of non-weird physics?

If you listen to physicist Tim Palmer, it begins to sound plausible. What has been missing, he argues, are some key ideas from an area of science that most quantum physicists have ignored: the science of fractals, those intricate patterns found in everything from fractured surfaces to oceanic flows (see What is a fractal?).

Take the mathematics of fractals into account, says Palmer, and the long-standing puzzles of quantum theory may be much easier to understand. They might even dissolve away.

It is an argument that is drawing attention from physicists around the world. "His approach is very interesting and refreshingly different," says physicist Robert Spekkens of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. "He's not just trying to reinterpret the usual quantum formalism, but actually to derive it from something deeper."

syria calling

The New Yorker | Assad’s goal in seeking to engage with America and Israel is clearly more far-reaching than merely to regain the Golan Heights. His ultimate aim appears to be to persuade Obama to abandon the Bush Administration’s strategy of aligning America with the so-called “moderate” Arab Sunni states—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan—in a coördinated front against Shiite Iran, Shiite Hezbollah, and Hamas.

“Of course, the Iranians are nervous about the talks, because they don’t fully trust the Syrians,” Itamar Rabinovich said. “But the Assad family does not believe in taking chances—they’re very hard bargainers. They will try to get what they want without breaking fully from Iran, and they will tell us and Washington, ‘It’s to your advantage not to isolate Iran.’ ” Rabinovich added, “Both Israel and the United States will insist on a change in Syria’s relationship with Iran. This can only be worked out—or not—in head-to-head talks.”

The White House has tough diplomatic choices to make in the next few months. Assad has told the Obama Administration that his nation can ease the American withdrawal in Iraq. Syria also can help the U.S. engage with Iran, and the Iranians, in turn, could become an ally in neighboring Afghanistan, as the Obama Administration struggles to deal with the Taliban threat and its deepening involvement in that country—and to maintain its long-standing commitment to the well-being of Israel. Each of these scenarios has potential downsides. Resolving all of them will be formidable, and will involve sophisticated and intelligent diplomacy—the kind of diplomacy that disappeared during the past eight years, and that the Obama team has to prove it possesses.

Monday, March 30, 2009

mexico fighting cartel and itself

NYTimes | The war analogy is not a stretch for parts of Mexico. Soldiers, more than 40,000 of them, are confronting heavily armed paramilitary groups on city streets. The military-grade weapons being used, antitank rockets and armor-piercing munitions, for example, are the same ones found on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The country’s challenge, though, may be tougher than that of a conventional war. The enemy is more nebulous and the battlefield is everywhere — in border towns like Tijuana, regional capitals like Culiacán and in the metropolis of Mexico City, where Mr. Calderón gathers with his national security staff every morning in his wooded compound ringed by soldiers to strategize and count the previous day’s dead. The presidential protective detail got a thorough review after one of its members was found to have received money from a cartel.

The brutality and brazenness — the fact that drug assassins are chopping off heads, dissolving bodies in acid and posting notes on mutilated corpses taunting the authorities — has prompted more and more second guessing of Mr. Calderón’s approach.

“Calderón took a stick and whacked the beehive,” Javier Valdez, a Sinaloa journalist who covers the drug trade, said in an oft-heard critique of Mexico’s drug war.

The Mexican president is faulted for starting a head-on assault on the heavily armed cartels without first gathering intelligence on them, without first preparing a trustworthy police force to take them on, without preparing the country for how rough it would turn out to be.

He is taken to task for not aggressively pursuing the politicians collaborating with the cartels. He is criticized for failing to put a significant dent in the drug profits that fuel the cartels’ operations.

An effort is under way to change laws to make it easier to seize businesses that are linked to traffickers, but it has been bogged down by fierce political infighting. “We keep hearing we’re going to win,” Víctor Hugo Círigo Vásquez, the speaker of the Mexico City Assembly, said to a reporter recently. “That’s what the U.S. president said in Vietnam.”

There are calls for a completely new approach. One of Mr. Calderón’s predecessors, Mr. Zedillo, recently joined two other former heads of state from Latin America in pushing for a complete rethinking of the drug war, including the legalization of marijuana, which is considered the top revenue generator for Mexican drug cartels.

Mexico is nowhere near such a transformative step as legalizing drugs, which would cut drug profits but also might cause use to soar. Still, there are initiatives on the horizon.

Three years ago, the Mexican Congress passed a plan to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of cocaine and other drugs, but Vicente Fox, then the president, killed the bill after American officials raised an alarm. Mr. Calderón made a similar proposal last fall, albeit lowering the amounts still further, and this time American officials did not utter a peep.

bric challenges u.s. role in imf

NYTimes | Barely six months ago, the International Monetary Fund emerged from years of declining relevance, hurriedly cobbling together emergency loans for countries from Iceland to Pakistan, as the first wave of the financial crisis hit.

Now, with world leaders gathering this week in London to plot a response to the gravest global economic downturn since World War II, the fund is becoming a chip in a contest to reshape the postcrisis landscape.

The Obama administration has made fortifying the I.M.F. one of its primary goals for the meeting of the Group of 20, which includes leading industrial and developing countries and the European Union. But China, India and other rising powers seem to believe that the made-in-America crisis has curtailed the ability of the United States to set the agenda. They view the Western-dominated fund as a place to begin staking their claim to a greater voice in global economic affairs.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who once worked at the fund, has called for its financial resources to be expanded by $500 billion, effectively tripling its lending capacity to distressed countries and cementing its status as the lender of last resort for much of the world.

Japan and the European Union have each pledged $100 billion; the United States has signaled it will contribute a similar sum, though its money will take longer to arrive because of the need for Congressional approval. China, with its mammoth foreign exchange reserves, is the next obvious donor.

Yet officials of China and other developing countries have served notice that they are reluctant to make comparable pledges without getting a greater say in the operations of the fund, which is run by a Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and is heavily influenced by the United States and Western Europe.

america the tarnished

NYTimes | Ten years ago the cover of Time magazine featured Robert Rubin, then Treasury secretary, Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary. Time dubbed the three “the committee to save the world,” crediting them with leading the global financial system through a crisis that seemed terrifying at the time, although it was a small blip compared with what we’re going through now.

All the men on that cover were Americans, but nobody considered that odd. After all, in 1999 the United States was the unquestioned leader of the global crisis response. That leadership role was only partly based on American wealth; it also, to an important degree, reflected America’s stature as a role model. The United States, everyone thought, was the country that knew how to do finance right.

How times have changed.

Never mind the fact that two members of the committee have since succumbed to the magazine cover curse, the plunge in reputation that so often follows lionization in the media. (Mr. Summers, now the head of the National Economic Council, is still going strong.) Far more important is the extent to which our claims of financial soundness — claims often invoked as we lectured other countries on the need to change their ways — have proved hollow.

Indeed, these days America is looking like the Bernie Madoff of economies: for many years it was held in respect, even awe, but it turns out to have been a fraud all along.


The Technium | As far as Google knows the term collapsitarian was coined by Jim Kunstler in a January 26, 2009 New Yorker article on Dystopians.

There seem to be about six species of collapsitarians:
Luddites, anarchists, and anti-civilization activists (see The Unabomber Was Right) who are trying the hasten collapse as soon as possible.

Goldbugs, survivalists, Y2K holdouts, and slightly right wingers who see collapse as the penalty for modern liberalism.

Conservationists and greenies who see collapse as the penalty for environmental sins.

Somewhat leftist anti-globalists who see collapse as the penalty for globalism.

Critics of American super-power who see the collapse of America as an inevitable imperial overreach. Many are native academics, many reside outside of America, many are prominent historians.

Former financial employees who see nothing good in, but no escape from, this doom.
The idea of progress has been slowly dying. I think progress lost its allure at the ignition of the first atom bomb at the end of WWII. It has been losing luster since. Even more recently the future has become boring and unfashionable. No one wants to live in the future. The jet packs don't work, and the Daily Me is full of spam. No finds the Future attractive any longer.

The only thing left to believe in is collapse. That's not boring! The end of civilization would be terribly exciting, and unlike any future we could imagine, probably more likely. Dystopias are a favorite science fiction destination now.

We all are collapsitarians these days.

blah, blah, blah....,

Sunday, March 29, 2009

the snooping dragon: social-malware surveillance

Cambridge University | Abstract: In this note we document a case of malware-based electronic surveillance of a political organisation by the agents of a nation state. While malware attacks are not new, two aspects of this case make it worth serious study. First, it was a targeted surveillance attack designed to collect actionable intelligence for use by the police and security services of a repressive state, with potentially fatal consequences for those exposed. Second, the modus operandi combined social phishing with high-grade malware. This combination of well-written malware with well-designed email lures, which we call social malware, is devastatingly effective. Few organisations outside the defence and intelligence sector could withstand such an attack, and although this particular case involved the agents of a major power, the attack could in fact have been mounted by a capable motivated individual. This report is therefore of importance not just to companies who may attract the attention of government agencies, but to all organisations. As social-malware attacks spread, they are bound to target people such as accounts-payable and payroll staff who use computers to make payments. Prevention will be hard. The traditional defence against social malware in government agencies involves expensive and intrusive measures that range from mandatory access controls to tiresome operational security procedures. These will not be sustainable in the economy as a whole. Evolving practical low-cost defences against social-malware attacks will be a real challenge. Full text

the surge in afghanistan

Washington Post | What distinguishes the president's plan -- and opens him to criticism from some liberals as well as conservatives -- is its recognition that U.S. goals cannot be achieved without a major effort to strengthen the economies and political institutions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Bush administration tried to combat the al-Qaeda threat with limited numbers of U.S. and NATO troops, targeted strikes against militants, and broad, mostly ineffective, aid programs. It provided large sums of money to the Pakistani army, with few strings attached, in the hope that action would be taken against terrorist camps near the Afghan border. The strategy failed: The Taliban has only grown stronger, and both the Afghan and Pakistani governments are dangerously weak.

The lesson is that only a strategy that aims at protecting and winning over the populations where the enemy operates, and at strengthening the armies, judiciaries, and police and political institutions of Afghanistan, can reverse the momentum of the war and, eventually, allow a safe and honorable exit for U.S. and NATO troops. This means more soldiers, more civilian experts and much higher costs in the short term: Mr. Obama has approved a total of 21,000 more U.S. troops and several hundred additional civilians for Afghanistan, and yesterday he endorsed two pieces of legislation that would provide Pakistan with billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid as well as trade incentives for investment in the border areas. More is likely to be needed: U.S. commanders in Afghanistan hope to obtain another brigade of troops and a division headquarters in 2010, and to double the Afghan army again after the expansion now underway is completed in 2011. Mr. Obama should support those plans.

Such initiatives are not the product of starry-eyed idealism or an attempt to convert either country into "the 51st state" but of a realistic appreciation of what has worked -- and failed -- during the past seven years. As Mr. Obama put it, "It's far cheaper to train a policeman to secure his or her own village or to help a farmer seed a crop than it is to send our troops to fight tour after tour of duty with no transition to Afghan responsibility." That effort will be expensive and will require years of steadiness. But it offers the best chance for minimizing the threat of Islamic jihadism -- to this country and to the world.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

the legacy of reaganomics...,

peak oil and the financial crisis

OilDrum | Nearly all of the economic analyses we see today have as their basic premise a view that the current financial crisis is a temporary aberration. We will have a V or U shaped recovery, especially if enough stimulus is applied, and the economy will soon be back to Business as Usual.

I believe this assumption is basically incorrect. The current financial crisis is a direct result of peak oil. There may be oscillations in the economic situation, but generally, we can't expect things to get much better. In fact, there is a very distinct possibility that things may get very much worse in the next few years.

consumerism - curses and causes

MonthlyReview | The idea settled into US culture that consumption was the proper goal of work and the measure of personal worth, of one's "success" in life. Business boosters and ideologues pushed that idea, but they were hardly alone. Advertisers made it their constant message. Trade unions focused also on raising wages and consumption -- just what US capitalism could and did deliver -- rather than challenging the organization of production. So too did most left movements. Economists did their part by building modern economics on the unquestioned axiom that labor was a burden for which consumption enabled by wages was the compensation. This definition of economics required banishing the alternative of Marxian economics from schools. The mass media proceeded as if it were likewise obvious common sense that all any employee really cared about was the size of his/her wage/salary. Of course, some dissident voices -- especially on the left -- rejected these ideas and this capital/labor deal, but consumerism usually all but drowned them out.

Consumerism's deep roots in the psyche of US workers explains their reactions when real wages stopped rising in the 1970s and since. They simply kept on buying more commodities. To pay for them, workers took on more hours of labor and borrowed vast sums. Worker exhaustion rose accordingly, likewise the number of family members sent out to work (straining "family values" to the breaking point). Anxiety intensified over frightening family debt levels. In this situation, the current scandal of sub-prime mortgages was a predictable disaster waiting to happen.

The 150 year deal has been broken. The business side no longer needs it; it hasn't since the 1970s. That is why real wages stopped rising. Most workers just postponed facing that reality and its implications: by having more family members do more work and by heavy borrowing. Meanwhile, able and willing laborers abroad who accept wages far lower than in the US beckons. US corporations are moving to produce there. They will ship "home" the goods and services they produce abroad so long as US citizens can afford them. When that no longer pays, they will redirect shipments to the rest of the world market.

Consumerism was a necessary component of US capitalism from the 1820s to the 1970s. As an ideology uniquely suited to that capitalism, it was articulated, cultivated, and supported by different social groups. Whatever fun comedians and critics poke at consumerism, it was not some lovable human foible, nor some quirk of our culture. It was the glue holding US capitalism together for a long time. Even more important, business dissolved that glue in the 1970s, and now US workers have exhausted ways to postpone the results of that dissolution. Storms are rising.

the fallout from falling real wages

MonthlyReview | Real wages in the US rose during every decade from 1830 to 1970. Then this central feature of US capitalism stopped as the figures below show:

Source: Labor Research Associates of New York based on data from the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; wages expressed in constant 1982 dollars.

  • 1964 $302.52
  • 1974 $314.94
  • 1984 $279.22
  • 1994 $259.97
  • 2004 $277.57
No comparable steady rise in real wages has occurred since. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate real weekly wages declined again over the last year (2005-2006). American workers' reactions to this downtrend in real wages have profoundly shaped the nation's economy and society for the last thirty years.

Stagnant or falling real wages undermine workers' basic expectations of rising levels of consumption. Those expectations had become key parts of what it meant to be "an American." Rising consumption has long functioned as the evidence of success in achieving the American dream. When, after the mid-1970s, real wages no longer allowed for rising consumption, wage-earners turned, with growing urgency, toward other ways and means to maintain rising consumption . This delayed the inevitable, a falling standard of living, but at great economic and social cost.

In one "solution" to counteract the problem of shrinking real wages, many families sent more members out to work more hours. Part-timers switched to full-time positions or else multiplied part-time jobs to secure more income. Full-timers took second and third jobs. While this helped, in part, to offset the real wage problem, it also disorganized family and household life. Time with spouse and children was cut. So too was the energy and attention adults could devote after work to cope with family problems aggravated by lengthenig work times for family members. Rising divorce rates, intra-familial difficulties and abuse, and indices of psychological depression became signs of the costs of this partial "solution." When mothers' entry into the paid workforce required costly day-care for dependents and commercially prepared foods, families again confronted insufficient funds to enable increased consumption.

A second "solution" -- when longer work hours did not generate enough money to increase consumption -- was to borrow. Multiple credit cards per family and increasing mortgages added to vehicle financing to generate historically unprecedented levels of total consumer debt across the last 25 years -- and especially since 2000. March and April 2006 saw negative real savings rates for the public of 1.5%. Nor do these stark statistics count the vast sums that adult children increasingly "borrow" from their parents' savings.

Friday, March 27, 2009

brookings failed state specialist tapped for mexico

NYTimes | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, continuing her show of solidarity with Mexicans in their struggle against drug trafficking, toured a high-tech police base in Mexico City on Thursday and greeted diplomats from the American Consulate in this northern city, which was sprayed with gunfire last fall by a suspected drug gang member.

But Mrs. Clinton was nearly upstaged by reports that the United States planned to nominate a Cuban-born American diplomat who has written extensively about “failed states” as the next ambassador to Mexico.

The State Department declined to comment on reports that the diplomat, Carlos Pascual, a former ambassador to Ukraine who is currently the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, would be nominated.

But a person familiar with the administration’s deliberations said Mr. Pascual was President Obama’s choice for the post. Mr. Pascual did not respond to an e-mail message asking for comment.

The Mexican daily newspaper El Universal, citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday that the United States had submitted Mr. Pascual’s name to the Mexican government.

The paper noted that Mr. Pascual’s specialty was in dealing with conflict-ridden states. He served as the coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization in the State Department, a post that involved working with several agencies to develop strategies for broken countries like Afghanistan.

That could raise hackles among some Mexicans, who take umbrage at recent assertions by American analysts that drug-related violence has so destabilized Mexico that it is danger of becoming a failed state.

brazil's president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

"cold fusion" researchers interview

American Chemical Society Conference 45 minute interview with the scientists seeking stimulus funding for their interesting low energy nuclear reaction chemistry projects.

zbig puts the cramer tapeworm on front street

Thursday, March 26, 2009

u.s. drug policies failed, fueled mexico's drug war

Washington Post | "Clearly what we've been doing has not worked," Clinton told reporters on her plane at the start of her two-day trip, saying that U.S. policies on curbing drug use, narcotics shipments and the flow of guns have been ineffective.

"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," she added. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians."

Clinton appeared to go further than any senior government official in recent years in accepting a U.S. role in the long-contentious issue of the Latin American narcotics trade. In the past, U.S. politicians have accused Mexico, the main gateway for cocaine, heroin and other drugs entering the United States, of not doing enough. But two years ago, President Felipe Calderon unleashed the Mexican military on traffickers, a move that has contributed to an explosion of violence by drug gangs. More than 7,000 Mexicans have been killed in the bloodletting since January 2008, with the gangs battling authorities and one another for supremacy.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Mexico on Wednesday with a blunt mea culpa, saying that decades of U.S. anti-narcotics policies have been a failure and have contributed to the explosion of drug violence south of the border.

taliban's pakistan patron

NYTimes | The Taliban has been able to finance a military campaign inside Afghanistan largely through proceeds from the illegal drug trade and wealthy individuals from the Persian Gulf. But American officials said that when fighters needed fuel or ammunition to sustain their attacks against American troops, they would often turn to the ISI.

When the groups needed to replenish their ranks, it would be operatives from the S Wing who often slipped into radical madrasas across Pakistan to drum up recruits, the officials said.

The ISI support for militants extends beyond those operating in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. American officials said the spy agency had also shared intelligence with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group suspected in the deadly attacks in Mumbai, India, and provided protection for it.

Mr. Zardari took steps last summer to purge the ISI’s top ranks after the United States confronted Pakistan with evidence about the Indian Embassy bombing. Mr. Zardari pledged that the ISI would be “handled,” and that anyone working with militants would be dismissed.

Yet with the future of Mr. Zardari’s government uncertain in the current political turmoil and with Obama officials seeing few immediate alternatives, American officials and outside experts said that Pakistan’s military establishment appears to see little advantage in responding to the demands of civilian officials in Islamabad or Washington.

As a result, when the Haqqani fighters need to stay a step ahead of American forces stalking them on the ground and in the air, they rely on moles within the spy agency to tip them off to allied missions planned against them, American military officials said.

Reuters | The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has put out a paper on the need to reform Pakistan’s intelligence agencies just as army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is winning much praise for playing what is seen as a decisive role in defusing the country’s latest political crisis and saving democracy.

French scholar Frederic Grare says in the paper the reform and “depoliticisation” of the agencies, in particular the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is imperative.

Grare says there is no magic formula to transform overnight an authoritarian regime into a full-fledged democracy but says there’s no excuse for the government to sit on its hands (”patience should not be an alibi for inaction”).

our crowded future

Johns Hopkins | The UN estimates from 1960 for the 2000 world population were just 3.6% higher than actual. Today 75 million people are added to the world every year and 25 million come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia. China adds 9 million and the US 3 million. Short of catastrophic die-off - at current growth levels, in the year 2050 there are projected to be MORE than 9.3 billion people.

e.u. president calls bailout "a road to hell"

Washington Post | The president of the European Union on Wednesday ripped the Obama administration's economic policies, calling its deficit spending and bank bailouts "a road to hell."

The comments by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic, which holds the E.U.'s rotating presidency, startled some U.S. and European officials, who are preparing for President Obama's visit next month to several European cities, including Prague, the Czech capital.

In an address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Topolanek abandoned diplomatic niceties and blasted Washington for approving a $787 billion economic stimulus package, which he said encouraged "protectionist" trade policies. He said the overall U.S. strategy for ending the recession would flood global markets with too many dollars and lead to bigger problems.

"All of these steps, these combinations and permanency, is the road to hell," Topolanek said. "The United States did not take the right path."

exponential microculture

gorknet | Few ideas are so preposterous that no one at all takes them seriously, and this idea - that God, or at least the universe, might be the ultimate large-scale computer - is actually less preposterous than most. The first scientist to consider it, minus the whimsy or irony, was Konrad Zuse, a little-known German who conceived of programmable digital computers 10 years before von Neumann and friends. In 1967, Zuse outlined his idea that the universe ran on a grid of cellular automata, or CA. Simultaneously, Ed Fredkin was considering the same idea. Self-educated, opinionated, and independently wealthy, Fredkin hung around early computer scientists exploring CAs. In the 1960s, he began to wonder if he could use computation as the basis for an understanding of physics.

Fredkin didn't make much headway until 1970, when mathematician John Conway unveiled the Game of Life, a particularly robust version of cellular automata. The Game of Life, as its name suggests, was a simple computational model that mimicked the growth and evolution of living things. Fredkin began to play with other CAs to see if they could mimic physics. You needed very large ones, but they seemed to scale up nicely, so he was soon fantasizing huge - really huge - CAs that would extend to include everything. Maybe the universe itself was nothing but a great CA.

The more Fredkin investigated the metaphor, the more real it looked to him. By the mid-`80s, he was saying things like, "I've come to the conclusion that the most concrete thing in the world is information."

Many of his colleagues felt that if Fredkin had left his observations at the level of metaphor - "the universe behaves as if it was a computer" - he would have been more famous. As it is, Fredkin is not as well known as his colleague Marvin Minsky, who shares some of his views. Fredkin insisted, flouting moderation, that the universe is a large field of cellular automata, not merely like one, and that everything we see and feel is information.

Many others besides Fredkin recognized the beauty of CAs as a model for investigating the real world. One of the early explorers was the prodigy Stephen Wolfram. Wolfram took the lead in systematically investigating possible CA structures in the early 1980s. By programmatically tweaking the rules in tens of thousands of alterations, then running them out and visually inspecting them, he acquired a sense of what was possible. He was able to generate patterns identical to those seen in seashells, animal skins, leaves, and sea creatures. His simple rules could generate a wildly complicated beauty, just as life could. Wolfram was working from the same inspiration that Fredkin did: The universe seems to behave like a vast cellular automaton.

Even the infinitesimally small and nutty realm of the quantum can't escape this sort of binary logic. We describe a quantum-level particle's existence as a continuous field of probabilities, which seems to blur the sharp distinction of is/isn't. Yet this uncertainty resolves as soon as information makes a difference (as in, as soon as it's measured). At that moment, all other possibilities collapse to leave only the single yes/no state. Indeed, the very term "quantum" suggests an indefinite realm constantly resolving into discrete increments, precise yes/no states.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

science seeking stimulus?

EETimes | Cold fusion was first reported in 1989 by researchers Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, then with the University of Utah, prompting a global effort to develop the technology. Normal fusion reactions, where hydrogen is fused into helium, occur at millions of degrees inside the Sun. If room temperature fusion reactions could be realized commercially, as Fleishchmann and Pons claimed to have achieved inside an electrolytic cell, it promised to produce abundant nuclear energy from deuterium--heavy hydrogen--extracted from seawater.

Other scientists were unable to duplicate the 1989 results, thereby discrediting the work.

The theoretical underpinnings of cold fusion have yet to be adequately explained. The hypothesis is that when electrolysis is performed on deuteron, molecules are fused into helium, releasing a high-energy neutron. While excess heat has been detected by researchers, no group had yet been able to detect the missing neutrons.

Now, the Naval researchers claim that the problem was instrumentation, which was not up to the task of detecting such small numbers of neutrons. To sense such small quantities, Mosier-Boss used a special plastic detector called CR-39. Using co-deposition with nickel and gold wire electrodes, which were inserted into a mixture of palladium chloride and deutrium, the detector was able to capture and track the high-energy neutrons.

The plastic detector captured a pattern of tiny clusters of adjacent pits, called triple tracks, which the researchers claim is evidence of the telltale neutrons.

Other presenters at the conference also presented evidence supporting cold fusion, including Antonella De Ninno, a scientist with New Technologies Energy and Environment (Rome), who reported both excess heat and helium gas.

"We now have very convincing experimental evidence," De Ninno claimed.

Tadahiko Mizuno of Japan's Hokkaido University also reported excess heat generation and gamma-ray emissions.

Houston Chronicle | If such experiments did produce fusion reactions, they would generate highly energetic neutrons as a byproduct. These are what Mosier-Boss says her San Diego-based group has found.

“If you have fusion going on, then you have to have neutrons,” she said. “But we do not know if fusion is actually occurring. It could be some other nuclear reaction.”

Today’s announcement is based partly on research published by Mosier-Boss’ group last year in the journal Naturwissenschaften. In this sense, she has not repeated the mistake of Pons and Fleischmann, who announced their findings before they had been tested by the peer-review process and published in a scientific journal.

But that does not mean the results indicate cold fusion, said Paul Padley, a physicist at Rice University who reviewed Mosier-Boss’ published work.

“Fusion could produce the effect they see, but there’s no plausible explanation of how fusion could occur in these conditions,” Padley said. “The whole point of fusion is, you’re bringing things of like charge together. As we all know, like things repel, and you have to overcome that repulsion somehow.”

The problem with Mosier-Boss’ work, he said, is that it fails to provide a theoretical rationale to explain how fusion could occur at room temperatures. And in its analysis, the research paper fails to exclude other sources for the production of neutrons.

“Nobody in the physics community would believe a discovery without such a quantitative analysis,” he said.

Still, the announcement may turn heads, given its stage at the American Chemical Society’s big meeting and the fact that the organization promoted it to science journalists in advance.

“It’s big,” said Steven Krivit, founder of the New Energy Times publication, which has tracked cold fusion developments for two decades.

Krivit said the neutrons produced by Mosier-Boss’ experiments may not be caused by fusion but perhaps some new, unknown nuclear process.

“What we’re talking about may be more than anybody actually expected,” he said. “We’re talking about a new field of science that’s a hybrid between chemistry and physics.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

you'd have to become it to know....,

fist tap to my man Wizz

what do you get if you divide science by God?

BBC News | A prize-winning quantum physicist says a spiritual reality is veiled from us, and science offers a glimpse behind that veil. So how do scientists investigating the fundamental nature of the universe assess any role of God, asks Mark Vernon.

The Templeton Prize, awarded for contributions to "affirming life's spiritual dimension", has been won by French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat, who has worked on quantum physics with some of the most famous names in modern science.

Quantum physics is a hugely successful theory: the predictions it makes about the behaviour of subatomic particles are extraordinarily accurate. And yet, it raises profound puzzles about reality that remain as yet to be understood.

The bizarre nature of quantum physics has attracted some speculations that are wacky but the theory suggests to some serious scientists that reality, at its most basic, is perfectly compatible with what might be called a spiritual view of things.

Some suggest that observers play a key part in determining the nature of things. Legendary physicist John Wheeler said the cosmos "has not really happened, it is not a phenomenon, until it has been observed to happen."

D'Espagnat worked with Wheeler, though he himself reckons quantum theory suggests something different. For him, quantum physics shows us that reality is ultimately "veiled" from us.

The equations and predictions of the science, super-accurate though they are, offer us only a glimpse behind that veil. Moreover, that hidden reality is, in some sense, divine. Along with some philosophers, he has called it "Being".

the mexican evolution?

NYTimes | America’s distorted views can have costly consequences, especially for us in Latin America. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Mexico this week is a good time to examine the misconception that Mexico is, or is on the point of becoming, a “failed state.”

This notion appears to be increasingly widespread. The Joint Forces Command recently issued a study saying that Mexico — along with Pakistan — could be in danger of a rapid and sudden collapse. President Obama is considering sending National Guard troops to the Mexican border to stop the flow of drugs and violence into the United States. The opinion that Mexico is breaking down seems to be shared by much of the American news media, not to mention the Americans I meet by chance and who, at the first opportunity, ask me whether Mexico will “fall apart.”
The worldwide financial crisis is intensifying our ancient dramas of poverty and inequality. But the most acute problems are the increased power and viciousness of organized crime — drug trafficking, kidnappings and extortion — and an upsurge in ordinary street crime.

This may be the most serious crisis we have faced since the 1910 Mexican Revolution and its immediate aftermath. More than 7,000 people, most of them connected to the drug trade or law enforcement, have died since January 2008. The war against criminality (and especially the drug cartels) is no conventional war. It weighs upon the whole country. It is a war without ideology, rules or a shred of nobility.
It most assuredly will not. First, let’s take a quick inventory of the problems that we don’t have. Mexico is a tolerant and secular state, without the religious tensions of Pakistan or Iraq. It is an inclusive society, without the racial hatreds of the Balkans. It has no serious prospects of regional secession or disputed territories, unlike the Middle East. Guerrilla movements have never been a real threat to the state, in stark contrast to Colombia.

Most important, Mexico is a young democracy that eliminated an essentially one-party political system, controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, that lasted more than 70 years. And with all its defects, the domination of the party, known as the P.R.I., never even approached the same level of virtually absolute dictatorship as that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or even of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.


In their push to convince people that they are protecting us from foodborne illnesses the federal government is moving to allow irradiation of more food items. Meat and leafy vegetables are in that growing list.

Consumers should know that the FDA has said that the word “pasteurization” is an acceptable substitute for “irradiation. Second, the package label required when food is irradiated includes the international symbol for irradiation of foods, called the “radura”.

It looks remarkably pleasant. If you watch this sort of thing you might realize how similar the irradiated food symbol is to the logo for the US Environmental Protection Agency. This is an important label that you will want to recognize for what it is, this food has been IRRADIATED.

a non-formal look at the non-formal economy

Real World Economics Review | Non-formal economic exchange is not a relic of the distant past nor is it a practice limited to the most underdeveloped and economically “backward” of modern times. It is ubiquitous, yet frequently overlooked; under various guises, non-formal economies exist today alongside and intermixed with formal markets, even in the most advanced capitalist countries. From the trading of snacks in an elementary school playground to the trafficking of people all around the world, the workings of non-formal economies are embedded in our daily lives, actively shaping everything from bank policies to foreign policies. The world we know floats atop a tumultuous ocean of non-formal economics. It’s about time economists—and the ordinary person on the street—take a look.

Every day, in the privacy of their homes people produce goods and services which are theoretically “non-economic”. Every year almost three trillion dollars is laundered worldwide––also “non-economic” (Lilley 2007, 32). The “non-economic” are consigned to the margins of analysis by the definitional poverty of mainstream economics; it is the “other” of economics, existing outside of the formal purview. Mainstream economic analysis shines its dissertational light on an exceedingly narrow and superficial field. But the distinctions erected by the mainstream discourse are purely conceptual and often don’t hold in reality; households depend on their informal activities such as non-wage labor to sustain their formal ones, and similarly, money launderers depend on formal banking institutions to transform their non-economic (i.e. illegal) activities into economic profits (Nordstrom 2007, 21). Non-formal economies do not operate independently of their formal counterparts, yet the idea of “co-existence” does not grasp the complex engagement and interplay between the two. The formal and non-formal face each other as dependants, each working with and through the other. In his analysis of modern black markets, R.T. Naylor finds that “what has emerged today is a set of interrelated, mutually supporting black markets (still usually thin and imperfect) within which there exists a mix of individual entrepreneurs along with ‘firms’ large and small, all engaged in essentially arms-length commercial exchanges. No longer isolated, these black markets are institutionally embedded in the legal economy” (Naylor 2005, 3). The mutually constituting realms of the formal and non-formal economies can no longer be clearly distinguished. Their boundaries overlap and obscure; economic reality is a messy one

Monday, March 23, 2009

ending the monopoly of neoclassical economics

Real World Economics Review | Climate change is perhaps the most threatening aspect of the ecological crisis but not the only one. Reduced biological diversity, reduced water availability and deteriorating water quality in some regions exemplify other relevant dimensions. On the financial side, the ‘market mechanism’ has been unable to come up to expectations.

How can these problems be understood? Many factors have certainly contributed but in my judgment neoclassical economics as disciplinary paradigm and neo-liberalism as ideology are among the most important. If actors in society have failed, this can largely be attributed to the mental maps they have used for guidance and these mental maps are largely connected with dominant ideas about economics (as conceptual framework and ideology) and neo-liberalism as a dominant ideology in many circles. Thousands of students, now in professional positions, have learnt neoclassical micro- and macroeconomics over the years and have supported each other and been supported by their professors to further strengthen the neoclassical perspective.

Studying neoclassical economics would have been less of a problem if also alternative theoretical perspectives had been taught at university departments of economics. But the strategy has instead been to strengthen the neoclassical monopoly. It is up to the reader to judge whether neoclassical economics by itself and in combination with neo-liberalism explains some parts of the ecological and financial crisis that we now experience. Since neoclassical economics emphasizes the monetary dimension, one might expect that at least monetary issues are well considered in the paradigm but these days we even doubt if this is the case. Something may be missing in terms of interdisciplinary openings, including social psychology and also ethical considerations.

In any case, neoclassical economists in leading positions should be held responsible and accountable for limiting research and education to one paradigm. As I have argued previously, each paradigm is specific not only in scientific terms (with respect to conceptual framework and theory) but also in ideological terms. Limiting education in economics to one paradigm means that university departments of economics are degraded to political propaganda centres.

death of an illusion...,

Reality Sandwich | We think that those Wall Street tycoons absconded with billions, but what are these billions? They too are numbers in computers, and could theoretically be erased by fiat. The same with the money we owe China. It could be gone with a simple declaration. We can thus understand the massive giveaways of money in the TARP, TALF, and PPIF programs as yet another exercise in perception management, though this time it is an unconscious exercise. These giveaways are ritual acts that attempt to perpetuate a story, a matrix of agreements, and the human activities that surround it. They are an attempt to uphold the magical power of the voodoo chits that keep the college grad on a career path and the middle-aged man enslaved to his mortgage; that give the power to a few to move literal mountains, while keeping the many in chains.

Speaking of China, I find it instructive to look at the physical reality underlying the trade deficit. Basically what is happening is that China is shipping us vast quantities of stuff -- clothes, toys, electronics, nearly everything in Wal-Mart -- and in return we rearrange some bits in some computers. Meanwhile, Chinese laborers work just as hard as we do, yet their day's wages buy much less. In the old days of explicit empires, China would have been called a "vassal state" and the stuff it sends us would have been called "tribute." Yet China too will do everything it can to sustain the present Story of Money, for essentially the same reason we do: its elites benefit from it. It is just as in Ancient Rome. The elites of the imperial capital and the provinces prosper at the expense of the misery of the people, which increases over time. To keep it in check, in the capital at least, the masses are kept docile and stupid with bread and circuses: cheap food, cheap thrills, celebrity news, and the Superbowl.

Whether we declare it to end, or whether it ends of its own accord, the story of money will bring down a lot with it. That is why the United States won't simply default on its debt. If it did, then the story under which the Middle East ships us its oil, Japan its electronics, India its textiles, and China its plastic would come to an end. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, that story cannot be saved forever. The reasons are complex, so I'll just point you in the right direction if you want to research it yourself. Essentially, at some point China (and other creditor nations) will have to appreciate its currency, replace exports with domestic demand, and raise interest rates in order to combat disastrous inflation caused by its pumping yuan into its economy in exchange for all the dollars flowing in from its exporters. The result will be a run on the dollar, a global calamity that will put an end to money as we have known it. When that happens, our government will have only two choices: extreme austerity measures such as those we have long perpetrated on other countries through the IMF, or a bout of currency-destroying hyperinflation. The latter is probably inevitable; austerity would only stave it off temporarily. That would be the end of our current story of money, for it would render all financial wealth (and debt) worthless.

When money evaporates as it is doing in the current cycle of debt deflation, little changes right away in the physical world. Stacks of currency do not go up in flames (but even if they did, that is not too momentous a physical event). Factories do not blow up, engines do not grind to a halt, oil wells do not dry up, people's economic skills do not disappear. All of the materials and skills that are exchanged in human economy, upon which we rely for food, shelter, transportation, entertainment, and so on, still exist as before. What has disappeared is our capacity to coordinate our activities and focus our common efforts. We can still envision a new airport, but we can no longer build it. The magic talisman by which the pronouncement, "An airport shall be built here" crystallizes into material reality has lost its power. Human hands, minds, and machinery retain all their capacities, yet we can no longer do what we once could do. The only thing that has changed is our perceptions.

h.r. 875 stupidity...,

Ran Prieur | March 9. Everybody chill out about H.R. 875. That link goes to a full paranoid analysis on Cryptogon. In theory, this law could have federal agents stomping through your vegetable garden and fining you a million dollars for failing to get a permit. In practice, this is a move by occult trickster entities to grow and harvest emotions of fear and victimization from the fertile soil of the foilhead crowd.

I swear, anti-government people worship the government. Nobody else has such unwavering belief in the government's omniscience and omnipotence. Anything the government writes on paper is assumed to be magically done. This analysis on Campaign for Liberty says the law "will literally put all independent farmers and food producers out of business due to the huge amounts of money it will take to conform to factory farming methods." You know, you don't have to do everything you're told. Why not say instead that this will put the government out of business due to the huge amounts of money it will take to enforce the law against millions of small food producers?

We're in the position of strength here. Look at all the ways the file sharers have dodged the copyright cartel, and they're sharing fragile high-tech artifacts that require sophisticated computer equipment and electricity. We're sharing life, seeds that can remain viable for hundreds of years, plants that need only dirt and water and sunlight, animals that can live on table scraps in the garage, species that have duplicated themselves, in many cases without human help, for thousands or millions of years. Look at what happened when they tried to eradicate cannabis, and imagine them trying to fight the same war on a thousand fronts, never mind the tens of thousands of species they don't even know are edible. Seriously, I hope the agriculture giants really do try to stop all independent food production, because we will stuff them in the compost bin of history.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

the big takeover

Rolling Stone | The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution. It's over — we're officially, royally fucked. no empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline — a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire.

The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses).

So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream.

rapid declines in manufacturing spread global anxiety

NYTimes | Since it was founded by his great-grandfather in 1880, Carl Martin Welcker’s company in Cologne, Germany, has mirrored the fortunes of manufacturing, not just in Europe but around the world.

That is still true today. In a pattern familiar to industrial businesses in Europe, Asia and the United States, Mr. Welcker says his company, Schütte, which makes the machines that churn out 80 percent of the world’s spark plugs, is facing “a tragedy.”

Orders are down 50 percent from a year ago, and Mr. Welcker is cutting costs and contemplating layoffs to prevent Schütte from falling into the red.

That manufacturing is in decline is hardly surprising, but the depth and speed of the plunge are striking and, most worrisome for economists, a self-reinforcing trend not unlike the cascading bust that led to the Great Depression.

In Europe, for example, where manufacturing accounts for nearly a fifth of gross domestic product, industrial production is down 12 percent from a year ago. In Brazil, it has fallen 15 percent; in Taiwan, a staggering 43 percent.

Even in China, which has become the workshop of the world, production growth has slowed, with exports falling more than 25 percent and millions of factory workers being laid off.

In the United States, until recently a relative bright spot for manufacturing despite the steady erosion of blue-collar jobs, industrial output fell 11 percent in February from a year ago, according to statistics released Monday by the Federal Reserve.

“Manufacturing has fallen off the cliff, and it’s certainly the biggest decline since the Second World War,” said Dirk Schumacher, senior European economist with Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt.

The pattern of manufacturing and trade ominously recalls how the financial crisis of 1929 grew into the Great Depression: tightening credit and consumer fear reduced demand for manufactured goods in one country after another, creating a downward spiral that reduced global trade.


So Harvard calls the study of something vaguely reminiscent of "dopamine hegemony", situationism, interesting.

The Situationist | Situationism is premised on the social scientific insight that the naïve psychology—that is, the highly simplified, affirming, and widely held model for understanding human thinking and behavior—on which our laws and institutions are based is largely wrong. Situationists (including critical realists, behavioral realists, and related neo-realists) seek first to establish a view of the human animal that is as realistic as possible before turning to legal theory or policy. To do so, situationists rely on the insights of scientific disciplines devoted to understanding how humans make sense of their world—including social psychology, social cognition, cognitive neuroscience, and related disciplines—and the practices of institutions devoted to understanding, predicting, and influencing people’s conduct—particularly market practices. Jon Hanson & David Yosifon, The Situation: An Introduction to the Situational Character, Critical Realism, Power Economics, and Deep Capture, 152 U. Pa. L. Rev. 129, 149–77 (2003).

Situationism has been applied to such topics as power economics, natural disasters, obesity, commerical speech and junk-food advertising, Supreme Court dynamics, racial injustice, affirmative action, race and rape, employment discrimination, employee adherence to workplace rules, legitimization of war, inside counsel, corporate law, and player autonomy in the National Basketball Association, among other topics.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

scenes from the depression...,

Fist tap to Big Don...,

missouri report draws criticism

KCStar | A new document meant to help Missouri law enforcement agencies identify militia members or domestic terrorists has drawn criticism for some of the warning signs mentioned.

The Feb. 20 report called "The Modern Militia Movement" mentions such red flags as political bumper stickers for third-party candidates, such as U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president last year; talk of conspiracy theories, such as the plan for a superhighway linking Canada to Mexico; and possession of subversive literature.

"It seems like they want to stifle political thought," said Roger Webb, president of the University of Missouri campus Libertarians. "There are a lot of third parties out there, and none of them express any violence. In fact, if you join the Libertarian Party, one of the things you sign in your membership application is that you don't support violence as a means to any ends."

But state law enforcement officials said the report is being misinterpreted.

Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said the report comes from publicly available, trend data on militias. It was compiled by the Missouri Information Analysis Center, a "fusion center" in Jefferson City that combines resources from the federal Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. The center, which opened in 2005, was set up to collect local intelligence to better combat terrorism and other criminal activity, he said.

"All this is an educational thing," Hotz said of the report. "Troopers have been shot by members of groups, so it's our job to let law enforcement officers know what the trends are in the modern militia movement."

But Tim Neal, a military veteran and delegate to last year's state GOP convention, was shocked by the report's contents.

"I was going down the list and thinking, 'Check, that's me,'" he said. "I'm a Ron Paul supporter, check. I talk about the North American union, check. I've got the 'America: Freedom to Fascism' video loaned out to somebody right now. So that means I'm a domestic terrorist? Because I've got a video about the Federal Reserve?"

Neal, who has a Ron Paul bumper sticker on his car, said the next time he is pulled over by a police officer, he won't know whether it's because he was speeding or because of his political views.

"If a police officer is pulling me over with my family in the car and he sees a bumper sticker on my vehicle that has been specifically identified as one that an extremist would have in their vehicle, the guy is probably going to be pretty apprehensive and not thinking in a rational manner," Neal said. "And this guy's walking up to my vehicle with a gun."

But Hotz said using factors in the report to determine whether someone could be a terrorist is not profiling. He said people who display signs or bumper stickers from third-party groups are not in danger of harassment from police.

"It's giving the makeup of militia members and their political beliefs," Hotz said of the report. "It's not saying that everybody who supports these candidates is involved in a militia. It's not even saying that all militias are bad."

Friday, March 20, 2009

unsustainable way of life....,

Joe the Planner | The proverbial elephant in the room is the amount of sprawling, redundant public and private infrastructure we’ve built since the end of World War II. This exodus to the suburbs quickly resulted in the hollowing-out of major parts of older cities and towns. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of this development is automobile-based. Places to live, work, shop, and play are intentionally separated by vast distances. Low-density, separated-use zoning has ensured that there is far more infrastructure to maintain per-person than in older village, town, or city neighborhoods.

For this suburban system to function, residents are required to own, operate, and maintain a car. Or two. Or three. Nobody knows this better than the typical suburban family. While car ownership is expensive enough, it is not simply a matter of gasoline and monthly payments. The automobile incurs another immense cost: cars can’t operate without lots of flat, smooth, publicly-funded road infrastructure (read: roads, highways, and the accompanying electric, gas, water, and sewer utilities).

All of this is stupefyingly expensive. These indirect costs constitute the majority of the expense, yet remain invisible to most people—spread-out in the form of local, state, and federal taxes, or camouflaged as municipal bond debt or various other forms of government debt. So in addition to being redundant, this means that suburbia is a doubly expensive living arrangement.

The other point that I’m trying to make is that the migration of wealth to the suburbs has not been a free-market phenomenon. Customer choice is only a small part of the equation, or this wouldn’t have happened in virtually every American city at the exact same time in the exact same way. Which, of course, is exactly how it did happen.

I assert that much of the economic crisis we’re seeing today is simply the end result of decades of bad decisions driven by bad economic, transportation, housing, and land-use policy.