Thursday, July 25, 2013

The ancients didn't think the brain did anything important, for some people that's true

Religion is often treated as a 'mystery' of the ancients who allegedly interacted directly with God. It's really based on the ancient 'knowledge' of people that found goat herding gave them enough free time to write weird stuff down. Let's apply some science to this 'knowledge'.

There are approximately 200 areas of the human brain that are capable of independent thought. The prefrontal cortex is supposed to process the output of all of these 'areas' to form a complex organic computer. The output is the co-ordinated, sorted and censored thoughts of all these specialized brain areas to create what we choose to cling to in our ignorance as 'human consciousness'. The random crazy stuff is supposed to be rejected. The Easter Bunny, those random noises in the night and the faces in the clouds or on wet plaster are supposed to be ignored, and not taken as signs from one of the voices in your head that you take to be God.

People whose prefrontal cortex doesn't work very well can have a number of psychological  diagnosis that at the extreme end we simply call insane. Those people with more minor abnormalities in brain function are often referred to as 'spiritual', or up the scale a bit they are called 'very religious'.

To put a sharp point on this, 93% of the national academy of sciences members are admitted atheists or agnostics. It's 96% among biologists, probably from their exposure to creationists. Personally I'll defer to the really smart people that I can follow along with if they talk slow, as opposed to the people who are impressed with the writing skills of goat herders. Twitter @BruceEnberg You can send me your prayers, but that only impresses the goats.

Monday, July 22, 2013

You can make a lot of money in the Free Market, if you know it's rigged

In the Friday news dump there was a one sentence announcement that the Federal Reserve is reviewing the 2003 decision that allowed Wall Street banks to trade in physical commodities. They plan to announce the new policy in September.

We've know for a long time that investment banks have been manipulating oil and gas prices. This became vivid with the banking collapse in 2008. The price of gasoline fell by 60% once banks were out of the market. In September 2008 the Fed granted the surviving investment banks the same status as commercial banks allowing them to borrow trillions from the Fed. Having all the cheap money they wanted put market manipulation by these banks on steroids.

For example Goldman Sachs has an aluminum warehousing scheme that involves actually buying up huge amounts of physical aluminum and taking it dark. Dark means it wouldn't show up on any public reporting of supply as it would if they simply traded on the futures market. This makes it look like the metal is in short supply and Goldman and their clients clean up. Of course you can't keep driving the price up forever, so periodically they would make their huge inventory public again creating a market glut and crashing the price. Goldman of course having placed bets on the price falling since they were the only people who knew that there had really been a market glut all along.

An obscure Federal agency that regulates power lines and pipelines has slapped Deutsche Bank and Barclay's with fines of $450m each while JPMorgan Chase could pay a cool billion for manipulating electricity prices. Basically they would buy electricity on the futures market on the cheap, then buy the output of entire power plants from operators and take the plants offline by raising the rate the plant was charging so high no utility would buy. This would create a shortage making the electricity they owned more valuable. They also get compensation from a market program for 'not selling' electricity because they are ostensibly on standby if the power grid needs electricity.

This is the 'free market' that Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress brought us, and with George Bush there was no limit on deregulation, or more accurately decriminalization. Besides screwing the users of energy and commodities they also extract money from pension funds by suckering them into investing in commodities that are being manipulated.

One little bright spot in our situation with China dominating all rare earth production worldwide. US government researchers have discovered that all those gold rush mines left behind tailing piles that loaded with rare earth minerals. It also turns out that early copper mines that didn't pan out are a great source one on the more desirable rare earths. Now if we just had factories to make use of these metals.  Twitter @BruceEnberg