Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Man vs. Machine

     Intelligence (in teľ i jәns), n. Capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meaning, etc. Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary.
     According to the New York Post of March 29, 2011, “Man again proved no match for machine yesterday during a much-hyped "Jeopardy!" challenge - with Watson, IBM's latest and greatest in artificial intelligence, crushing its two human opponents.”
     For humans Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, Jeopardy! is a souped-up version of Trivial Pursuit, the popular game of the 1980s. The two humans did not lack the storehouse of trivia necessary to beat the machine; their nervous systems simply could not compete with the electronic speed of the computer.
     In the words of David G. Myers, Psychology 4th Edition.New York:Worth Publishers Inc,1995: 43: “Depending on the type of fiber, the neural impulse travels at speed ranging from a sluggish 2 miles per hour to, in some myelinated fibers, a breackneck 200 or more miles per hour. But even this top speed is 3 million times slower than the speed of electricity through a wire."
     Imagine a giant lying on the earth with his toe in the water at the South Pole, and his head at the North Pole. If a shark were to bite his toe at midnight on Saturday, the pain would not reach his brain until Tuesday afternoon. The return message would reach his toe on Friday morning. By that time the electric current would have gone around the earth 405 million times. Watson did indeed crush his human opponents in reaction time – not in intelligence.
     Alan Turing, the British code-breaker of WWII, said that an intelligent machine would give answers to questions that were indistinguishable from those of a human. With a few exceptions, Watson came pretty close.
     But Turing's definition missed one attribute humans have that computers are not close to acquiring: creativity. Watson could not design and build his successor.
     When an inventor or scientist has an idea for an advance in his particular field, he creates a physical construct in the form of a model, experiment, etc., which becomes available to the surrounding society. An idea for making stronger steel may make it possible to build higher buildings, or the discovery of a new tropical plant may provide a cure for a previously fatal disease. As new constructs proliferate throughout society, the society’s internal beliefs, customs, etc. gradually change, which leads to further external individual and group changes. Every new situation, whether a philosophy, an idea, a tool, a design, even a casual remark to a friend or the sight of a falling apple, is instantly available for the Spirit’s use in all categories.
     A Comprehensive Example – The Spirit Runs Through It.

The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Best Congress Money Can Buy

     I have devoted several blog entries to indicating how our economic system moves money from the not-so-deep pockets to the very-deep-pockets of our society. Today I am going to list the top ten corporations that donated to Republican candidates, and the top ten who gave to Democratic candidates. Amounts listed are in millions of dollars, and include donations to state candidates:

Total Contribution
Republican Recipients
Perry Homes
TRT Holdings
Goldman Sachs
Bank of America
Koch Industries
Home Depot
Wells Fargo
Exxon Mobil

Total Contribution
Democratic Recipients
Time Warner
Prudential Financial
Carnival Cruise Lines
Corning, Inc

      The top ten corporate donors to each party contributed over seven times as much to Republican candidates as they did to Democratic candidates!
     What do they get for their money? Generally they claim that their donations are not bribes for passing specific legislation; instead the money buys access to lawmakers for top corporate executives and lobbyists. I assume that the larger the donation, the more access the company gets.
     One more point: these tables illustrate amounts that corporations are required to report to the Federal Elections Commission. Last year the Supreme Court decided that corporations are “persons,” with the right to contribute unlimited and unreported contributions to political campaigns. The amounts shown here do not include any of those funds.
     Stay tuned.
     In the first seven chapters I discussed the Spirit's activity in the macro world ― constructs which can be sensed, or inferred through the use of special instruments. In chapter eight I wrote about the micro world ― the space/time world of point/events. Now I wish to examine the connection between the two. First let me take you through a short history of the universe.
     Matter Matters – The Spirit Runs Through It.

The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Religious Conservatives and the Constitution

     I received an email purporting to quote Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. According to the email Ms. Lotz was speaking at a “Superintendent of Schools Seminar.” When she was asked what she thought was leading to the decay of morality and self-respect in the young students today, she supposedly replied, “...when the Courts [decided] to take God (Lord's Prayer) and respect for our Country (Pledge of Allegiance To Our Flag), and took down the symbol of our Country (picture of George Washington) out of the Classroom".
     An exhaustive search failed to find any evidence of Ms. Lotz having spoken at such a seminar, nor could I verify that she had ever made such a statement. The closest I could find took place on CBS's “The Early Show” on September 13, 2001. Interviewer Jane Clayson asked, "I've heard people say, those who are religious, those who are not, if God is good, how could God let this (the September 11 attack) happen? To that, you say?"
     Ms. Lotz replied, "I say God is also angry when he sees something like this. I would say also for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools...”
     There are two lessons to be learned here. The first is that unless you know that a forwarded email is absolutely true, check it out at or It is possible that whoever originated the email had an agenda, and was not above some exaggeration.
     The second lesson is that some Christian evangelicals, e.g. Ms. Lotz, and many other conservatives who should know better, are also spreading a false message: God has been taken out of our schools. It's just not true!
     The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In the immediately relevant case, Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), the court held that “When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect, coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain.” In other words, the government, including the school authorities, were forbidden from leading or requiring any religious activity. Nothing prohibits any student, at any time, from praying; God is there for individuals.
     This is in keeping with Christ's instruction in Matthew 6: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others...But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”
     Ms. Lotz also may have been about talking about the efforts of atheist Michael Newdow to have the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. In this case the Court decided that the phrase did not convert the pledge into a prayer, therefore it could stay.
     Personally, I think that not reciting the Pledge is extremely disrespectful, but in this country we are free to ignore any speech with which we disagree. If Mr. Newdow does not wish to say “under God,” he is perfectly free to skip the phrase, or even the entire Pledge.
     The email which I quoted goes on to say, “If Muslims can pray on Madison Avenue, why are Christians banned from praying in public and erecting religious displays on their holy days?”
     The short answer: neither public praying nor religious displays, Christian or otherwise, are banned. A case in point is the protesting at military funerals by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. If a Muslim group were to try this, I believe we would have our first lynching in many years.
     As for religious displays on public property, the rulings have been unpredictable. In these decisions, the Court has relied heavily on a close examination of the particular history and context of each display. In one case the court stated that a nativity scene in Pawtucket, RI simply recognized the historical origins of the holiday; one that has secular as well as religious significance. In those circumstances, the justices concluded, the nativity scene did not reflect an effort by the government to promote Christianity.
     Five years later the Court ruled that a nativity scene on the staircase of a Pittsburgh, Pa., courthouse was unconstitutional. In that instance, the court concluded that, unlike the previous situation where the crèche was shown together with more secular symbols, the Pittsburgh crèche was prominently displayed on its own and thus amounted to a government endorsement of religion. Whether the appointments to the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito will clarify the picture remains to be seen.
     I could not find any instance in which the courts ordered removal of George Washington's picture from a classroom, or anywhere else.
     Although the originator of this email probably does not realize it, he or she is spreading beliefs inimical to the Constitution.
     It took the next 300,000 years for the nuclei to start capturing electrons to form neutral atoms. Matter, in the form of complete atoms of the light elements, was born!
     Some 300 million years later the first stars ignited, enabling the formation of approximately 90 heavier natural elements within their interiors. These elements were ejected into the surrounding space as "stardust."
     Matter Matters – The Spirit Runs Through It.

      The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wanted - 535 Good Men

     Please take a good look at this list:
03/24/1998 Jonesboro, AR 5 11
04/20/1999 Littleton, CO 15 24
03/12/2005 Brookfield, WI 8 4
03/21/2005 Red Lake, MN 10 5
01/31/2006 Goleta, CA 7 1
10/02/2006 Nickel Mines, PA 5 5
02/12/2007 Salt Lake City, UT 5 4
04/16/2007 Blacksburg, VA 33 25
12/05/2007 Omaha, NE 9 4
02/07/2008 Kirkwood, MO 5 2
02/14/2008 Dekalb, IL 6 18
04/03/2009 Binghamton, NY 14 4
11/05/2009 Fort Hood, TX 13 30
01/07/2010 St. Louis, MO 4 5
01/08/2011 Tucson, AZ 6 14
     This is a small sample of gun related massacres in recent years in the United States. The numbers in the two right hand columns refer to the number of dead and wounded.
     In the Tucson shooting a United States Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was seriously wounded, along with 13 other innocent bystanders. A U.S. District judge, a community outreach director and a nine year old girl were among the six bystanders who were killed.
     The weapon used was a 9mm Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine.
     I would love to have someone answer the question, “Outside of the military and law enforcement organizations, why does anyone need a semi-automatic or automatic assault weapon?” These weapons are designed for only one purpose: to kill people. No sane person hunts, or even shoots targets with them.
     We license those other deadly weapons, automobiles, and legislate the specifications under which they are allowed to be used. We ban unsafe ones from the highway. When are our legislators going to grow the stones to exercise similar controls over weapons of deadly force? How many people need to die before our Washington pea-brains decide to do what's right and tell the NRA where to stick their bribes?
     The first two of these constructs includes all physical entities; things that occupy a volume of space, however small or large, and exist for a period of time, however short or long. They include entities as small as a subatomic particle which can be detected only by a vapor trail in a cloud chamber, or as large as the entire physical universe.
     Because these entities have extension in space and time, I define these constructs as external, and divide them into an external individual construct (EI) and an external group construct (EG).
     When we observe an individual person’s appearance or activities, a fish, a tree or an auto we are referring to a member of the EI construct. The EI construct also includes physical entities that are usually hidden from view, e.g., a neuron, a kidney, an atom within a rock, an undetected comet in deep space, etc.
     Constructs For Understanding The Spirit – The Spirit Runs Through It.

The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Disasters Redux.

     In the first two and a half months of 2011 the world has experienced an unprecedented string of floods, earthquakes and a cataclysmic tsunami. Now man has added a major disaster of his own: nuclear meltdown. Because Japan has been through all of these calamities before, it is probably the best prepared nation in the world to withstand these events, but the results indicate that no matter how extensive the preparations, they can be overwhelmed by nature.
     Of course, this does not mean that we should not prepare for unexpected disasters to the best of our ability. It does take, however, something we do not seem to possess: the will. Here is an example of where we stand in that department:
     According to The Christian Science Monitor, the Obama administration had decided to run a simulated terrorist 'dirty bomb' attack on Las Vegas last May. The test was canceled after Senator Harry Reid (D, Nevada) objected, saying “[To] simulate a nuclear detonation in the heart of the city would unacceptably harm the Southern Nevadan economy." I presume Senator Reid expects to be in Washington in the event of a real attack.
     But what can we do to prepare for such emergencies? As I wrote in January, 2010, here are a few measures we could work on:
     1.) Map vulnerabilities via a National Community Disaster Impact Assessment. The federal government should invest in a solid foundation of information for decision-makers, and establish a national program to assist states and localities in undertaking formal assessment and disclosure of potential risks and regional impacts.
     2.) Develop state-level disaster preparedness plans. Using the information assembled through the NCDIA, state and regional planning agencies, in conjunction with FEMA, should develop improved management plans for emergency preparedness in the event of unexpected disasters.
     3.) Set financial disclosure requirements for documented threats. Estimates of potential risks and resulting liabilities should be incorporated into public disclosure requirements for property owners and managers of publicly traded companies.
     4.) Establish a national fund for critical infrastructure investment. Building on the example of the National Highway Trust Fund, a dedicated resource should be established to meet new and growing threats to homeland security at both the national and community level.
     5.) Build smart micro-grids for emergency energy security. To reduce costs and improve system reliability and reaction times in the event of blackouts and service disruptions from natural disasters, it is essential to invest in smart and secure micro-grids. These would include on-site generation of renewable electricity sources that can withstand interruptions in flows of natural gas and electricity, while continuing to ensure critical services like traffic signals, pumping stations, emergency response services, and other critical energy needs.

     Of course, all this will require some resources, but Mother Nature has a way of sneaking up on you. Ask the Japanese.
     The internal conditions of the brain do not cause or lead to joy, depression, et. al.; these conditions are joy, depression, happiness, etc. Because the animal body is a group of point/events which are fully imbedded in nature, these conditions are irrevocably subject to the actions of the Spirit. I shall have more to say on this subject in a later chapter.
     An In-Depth Look At The Spirit's Activity – The Spirit Runs Through It.

The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Recession Is Over For Some People (Part 5)...

     ...but it is going to last a long time for the rest of us. In order to speed up the flow of assets from the bottom of the economic pyramid to the top, the rich have acquired the services of a powerful ally: the U.S. Supreme Court. Observe the following:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

      According to its web site, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “ the world's largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations...As the voice of business, the Chamber's core purpose is to fight for free enterprise before Congress, the White House, regulatory agencies, the courts, the court of public opinion, and governments around the world.”
     In view of that declaration, note the following from the Daily Kos of March 14, 2011: Carter G. Phillips, who often represents the chamber and has argued more Supreme Court cases than any other active lawyer in private practice, reflected on its influence. “I know from personal experience that the chamber’s support carries significant weight with the justices,” he wrote. “Except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center.”
     The Chamber of Commerce is funded by the dues of its members; larger members are assessed higher dues. Presumably they also have more input to the Chamber's activities, hence to the Court.


      Corporations are established by legislatures; a corporation exists subject to state laws specifying requirements for its creation, management organization, records to be kept, taxes to be paid, etc.
     Although we generally think the purpose of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, there are also non-profit and charitable corporations: entities organized in the corporate format in order to give them legal standing. Their purpose is to establish a framework for the efficient collection and distribution of money for whatever causes their contributors deem worthy. Note that regardless of a corporation's purpose, it exists strictly on paper.
     Because of the ability of corporations to raise large sums of money, Congress has limited their role in political activity ever since the 19th century. In particular, there have been various laws and precedents regarding political advertisements targeting individual candidates for public office. The theory was that although shareholders could speak out individually in order to influence elections, allowing corporations to exercise such activity collectively would unduly tip the campaign playing field. The corporation was not a person, so regulation of its First Amendment rights was acceptable.
     Not any more! According to the Supreme Court, a corporation is now a person! A little background is in order.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

      Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit organization produced a political documentary movie, Hillary: The Movie, which was critical of Senator Hillary Clinton. The group then ran a series of television commercials promoting the movie, which was scheduled to air on DirectTV, but the government blocked it.
     In January 2008, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the commercials violated provisions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain–Feingold) restricting "electioneering communications" 30 days before primaries. Though the political action committee claimed that their film was fact-based and nonpartisan, the lower Court found that the film had no purpose other than to discredit Clinton's candidacy for President. The Supreme Court docketed the case on August 18, 2008, and heard oral argument on March 24, 2009.
     The purpose of the appeal was to determine whether the commercials were in fact banned political activity. Let me digress for a moment.

The U.S. Supreme Court

      Stare Decisis is a legal principle derived from the Latin maxim Stare decisis et non quieta movere: "to stand by decisions and not disturb the undisturbed." In a legal context, this is understood to mean that courts should generally abide by precedents and not disturb settled matters. Here are some comments on the principle by current justices of the Supreme Court:

      John Roberts' confirmaion hearing: “To avoid an arbitrary discretion in the judges, they need to be bound down by rules and precedents.”
     Samuel Alito's confirmation hearing: “...[Stare decisis] is not an inexorable command," but there must be a strong "presumption that courts are going to follow prior precedents."
     Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearing: "...stare decisis provides continuity to our system, it provides predictability, and in our process of case-by-case decision making, I think it is a very important and critical concept."
     Antonin Scalia – A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law: “However, there is still room within an originalist paradigm for stare decisis; whenever the plain meaning of the text has alternative constructions, past precedent is generally considered a valid guide, with the qualifier being that it cannot change what the text actually says.”
     Anthony Mcleod Kennedy - Further Readings: "The obligation to follow precedent begins with necessity, and a contrary necessity marks its outer limit."

      From these remarks one would expect the Court to simply decide whether the Citizens United ads constituted political activity, but instead the Court decided to answer a question no one had asked: Should the restrictions on political activity by corporations be declared unconstitutional?
     After giving lip service to the doctrine of stare decisis, these five justices decided to overrule 100+ years of precedents! Corporations were suddenly upgraded from paper to personhood! With the stroke of a pen the Court brought the Golden Rule up-to-date: He who has the gold makes the rules. Heaven help the non-rich!
     Subjective nouns are a description of the internal states of certain portions of the brain. An external analogy would be the comparison of a container to its contents. If I say there is a glass of milk on the counter, and state further that the contents are buttermilk as opposed to whole milk, chocolate milk or 2% milk, that is analogous to saying that the internal conditions of my brain are such that I am joyful, as opposed to depressed, happy, or in pain.
     An In-Depth Look At The Spirit's Activity – The Spirit Runs Through It.

The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Elderly Don't Hear the Same

     A few weeks ago I heard a concert by the Artie Shaw Orchestra. Younger readers wil not be familiar with Artie, but he was a clarinetest, composer and bandleader during the 1930s and 1940s. At the height of his popularity he was reportedly making $60,000 per week, which was pretty good for those times. While I did see most of the popular bands of the 1940s, I never did get to see his, although I did hear him speak at a jazz festival about 25 years ago.
     But I did listen to his records – in fact, I still do. And I am sure that 80% of that audience a few weeks ago also listened to his records, and according to a show of hands, a huge majority had actually heard him in person, and came to the concert because they liked his band. I know that is true of the 30 people in the group with which I attended.
    And here is the surprise – most of the group did not enjoy the concert! The band played Artie's arrangements, and although individual band members played ad lib solos, the leader played the same notes that Artie played on the original records. It was exactly the same music, almost note for note, that they listened to 65 or 70 years ago. What happened? Here are some possibilities:
  • Memory is tricky. We can say we remember an event, but we pass that memory through an unconscious filter: a dynamic pattern of attitudes, habits, internalized values, and modes of thinking. What we remember is only a pale image of the original event. As Mark Twain said, “It isn't so astonishing, the number of things I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren't so.”
  • The fidelity of the 78 rpm recording process was not very good. Although we didn't realize it at the time, the music sounded as if it was being played in the next room through a closed door.
  • The acoustics in the auditorium, which was designed primarily for stage plays, was not the same as that of the old ballrooms, which were specifically designed for that type of music. As a result, it sounded much louder and more harsh than it did in more favorable surroundings.
  • When we were younger we were accustomed to loud sounds.
  • Here is a theory of my own: we hear sounds differently. I have noticed, both on TV shows and in normal conversations, that people are either speaking more rapidly or I am hearing more slowly. Even when the sound seems perfectly fine, I do not catch everything that is being said. Since I doubt that people are speaking faster, I must not be hearing, or at least processing sounds, as fast as I did when I was younger. Has anyone else noticed this?
     Anyway, I enjoyed the concert, but then, I was a Stan Kenton fan. His band was loud from the get-go.
     In the previous chapter we discussed how the Spirit works through the use of certain special constructs: internal and external, individual and group. This method of investigation is useful as a crutch, and while it has the advantage of being easily understandable, it has the disadvantage of giving an incomplete picture.
     An In-depth Look At the Spirit's Activity – The Spirit Runs Through It.

The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Recession Is Over For Some People (Part 4)...

      ...but it is going to last a long time for the rest of us. There is one more activity which is going to further increase the flow of assets from the not-so-rich to the very rich. It is called high-frequency trading (HFT) or “black box trading.” In comparison to the outflow of jobs, government incentives and pension liabilities, it has received relatively little publicity, but it is a one-way conduit for the average small investor's assets.
     HFT uses high-speed computers to analyze incoming data and to process a huge volume of transactions at very high speeds. In 2009 only 2% of the 20,000 equity trading firms used HFT, but they accounted for 73% of the volume of transactions.
     HFT users are usually hedge funds, and compete primarily with each other. Generally they hold short-term positions in equities, options, futures and other items that pass through the markets in huge lots; thus they do not compete directly with the small long-term investor. They are looking for small, rapid and consistent returns, and earn their profits through the extremely high volume of transactions.
     Their advantage lies in their ability to analyze and act on opportunities that may last anywhere from fractions of a second to several hours; thus their object is to respond to a deal more quickly than their competitors can. For example, if a fund can respond to an offer in 1/20 of a second while the competition requires 1/10 of a second, it has a huge advantage. Assuming that the profit on a given transaction is, say, two cents per share, and the transaction is for 100,000 shares, the fund has just made $2,000 in 1/20 of a second. HFT users operate around the clock, so they can potentially make billions of dollars per day! Do the arithmetic.
     Of course, such opportunities do not come along 20 times every second, so HFT users have some other tricks up their sleeves. Many have arranged with some exchanges to get a look at incoming orders a fraction of a second before the orders are released to the national market system (a so-called “flash trade”), a legal but ethically questionable tactic.
    The advance peek reveals the quantity the buyer wants, but does not tell how much he is willing to pay. If the HFT user can determine the buyer's maximum price, he has a real advantage over the normal seller, who may make an offer well below the buyer's limit.
     Suppose a flash trade comes in offering to buy X number of shares of corporation C. If it can be determined that the buyer is willing to pay, say, $10.50 per share, and corporation C shares are available on the open market for $10.30, the HFT user wants to price out anyone who is willing to sell for the lower price. So he offers to sell a small lot, say 100 shares, at $10.30 with the condition that the buyer accept immediately or the transaction is subject to cancellation, (an IOC order).
     If the transaction is accepted, he makes another small offer at $10.35 on an IOC basis. He continues this until he gets over $10.50, at which point the buyer cancels. Now the HFT user knows how high the buyer is willing to go, so he offers the remaining number of shares at $10.49. The buyer has had to pay his maximum price before the rest of the market even knows his offer exists! Other schemes are also in use.
     So cannot the small investor just invest in a hedge fund, the same as a normal mutual fund? Well yes, provided he can meet the minimum investment requirement, typically $100,000 or more. Small investors are not welcome.
     If you doubt the value of the HFT system, consider this: Last year the USAs top 13 hedge fund managers earned an average of $1B each; in fact, one of them earned $5B.
     A recent nerws item mentioned that the New York Stock Exchange has been purchased by a German company. Put that together with the 73% I mentioned earlier to see how the small investor is being edged out of the market.
     As one Letter to the Editor recently put it, “What's next? The Statue of Liberty?”
     But creative interference can also lead to healthy competition, as when athletes compete in sports and games. In some cases it can lead to peaceful coexistence between nations or religions; in others it can lead to war. "Good" and "bad" results such as these are obvious.
     An In-depth Look at the Spirit's Activity – The Spirit Runs Through It.

The Spirit Runs Through It is available in paperback or on Kindle.