Posts Tagged ‘Benny Thomas’
This is one out of 50 illustrations I have proposed for a new version of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat
Copying Nature as da Vinci did was to watch birds fly. It inspired him to sketch out a flying machine. It was beautiful as far a drawing is judged, but impossible to get it up in the air. Biomimetics or imitating nature often ends up as impractical.
It took years to discover why da Vinci failed. From mimicking birds flying he did not get the function of wings. The bird’s wing performs two separate tasks, both of which are essential. By its shape, it provides lift when air passes over it. And by its movements it provides power. The pedal power as da Vinci seemed to suggest was impossible. The crucial step to making aircraft was to separate two functions, leaving the wing to do the lifting but transferring the power function to an engine and propeller, something no bird ever possessed. So the lesson is clear: You begin by imitating nature, as in the case of birds but get beyond the seemingly simple use of wings. In the latter case the principle is integrated in terms of engine and propeller.
What does being civilized means? Is it not man leave off being natural and learn to conduct himself in such a manner he is agreeable to others in public?
The work of the German engineering Claus Mattheck Design in Nature: Learning from Trees is a classic on biomimetics. Mattheck’s lifelong love affair with trees has led to many important innovations in engineering design.
One of these considers the junction where the branch of a tree meets the trunk. Mattheck said the curvature around this junction was very cleverly designed to minimize the concentration of stress that occurs when engineers try to design the same shape. He developed a computer program to simulate tree growth, and the result was a fantastic reduction in stress concentration, allowing for more slender components. One may not be able to assume if trees had this in mind but it works in nature. Whereas when we need to minimize stress for example in the design of a car we need to think not like a tree but in terms of economy and practicality in human terms which are altogether different. We need to consider fuel efficiency, material cost,less CO2 emissions calculated obsolescence and so on. A tree is natural and can last for hundred years or so but if a car can run on for 100 years one may be sure consumer market would soon be dead and gone.
(ack: (The Conversation-‘Simply Copying Nature…/David Taylor of 10 June, 2014)
Posted in environment, essays, life, tagged abstract ideas, archaeology, Benny Thomas, bioterrorism, concrete results, environment, existential risks, extinction, man, nature, super volcanoes, technology, world as Idea on May 29, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Progress as a result of human endeavour is in direct context of nature. Man versus nature. Man controlling and shaping his environment to his manifold conveniences consequently creates many chains of events that require other species sharing the same environment to respond adequately. Natural selection warrants these to adapt for the changing environment or go bust. Has not man also created a similar situation for his species? Such risks many of which are caused by humans. Bio-terrosim for instance. From pandemics to Nuclear wars, human civilization thus had to face many challenges which are existential risks, that are less understood than the most obvious advantages we have derived from the march of progress.
There are some worrying features in human intelligence that may fuel the risks of his very existence. From anthropological findings it would seem humans embarked on the march of progress too early. His branching off from his ape cousins was an event and it would indicate it was undertaken before his brain was full developed. Its consequence can easily be set down from analogy of human child. Our ape ancestor was like modern human, as a baby, with its brain developing all the while till it reaches some 20 years. (A pliable head of the baby facilitates its exit at birth from womb which is biologically safe for the mother.) This necessitates from the child all the support system without let up counted in days, years and decades till the end of his adolescence. He needs rearing from his parents in order to achieve emotional intelligence he needs. Only difference was that our ape ancestor had no such back up from his peers. His brain was in the process of developing but without nurture of some role model*.
Biologists speak of ‘norms of reaction,’ which are patterned responses to environmental circumstances. For example, some male insects are more likely to guard their mates when there are fewer females in the population, hence fewer other mating opportunities. Natural selection didn’t just shape a fixed behavior, it shaped the norm of reaction — the nature of the response,”
In humans a bad idea when he can think rationally on it brings many advantages. Increasing his supply of food at the cost of one who is weaker is one way of doing it. Annexing a territory from a weak tyrant is worth the while of a chieftain if he has a superior force. He reckons that his success would silence others and make his position more secure. It must have come handy when others would take the same path to aggrandize themselves. It is a norm of reaction that suited well for the bandit kings of yore.
When circumstances could be shaped to justify it war must have seemed a fitness-enhancing behavior. Warring parties included all those who agreed with the idea and circumstances. Like success it sets off many others.
‘Just as compassion for your offspring increases your genes’ chance of survival, violent tendencies may have been similarly useful for some species’ observed biologist David Carrier, also of the University of Utah,” Humans certainly rank among the most violent of species.” In true nature-nurture fashion, though some kind of genetic preprogramming for violence, may exist in humans as a result of our evolution. Norms of behaviour as a result evolved in that along period of trial and error method.
As a result how he created a society in terms of families, clans, tribes were all flawed. It became in most cases patriarchal leaving women in the background. Creating wars as a manly sport, would leave women incapable what with her long period of gestation and nursing. Eventually it would stamp the role of women as secondary. This we witness even this day where some societies can kill women simply for ‘honour.’ Lack of sufficient role model man simply created a swath of experience in which his brain simply was inadequate to anticipate long range consequences.
(*There is no accurate picture what made our human ancestor diverge from other apes other than fossil evidences that our human ancestors could walk as well as climb trees. The oldest evidence for walking on two legs comes from one of the earliest humans known, Sahelanthropus 6 million years ago. By 4 million years ago early human species lived mostly near open areas and dense woods. Their bodies had become adapted to walk upright most of the time, but still climb trees.
“Apparently, there were multiple ways early human species had of moving around.” observed human origins expert Richard Potts of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, about a mystery species discovered in Ethiopia’s Afar region in 2009, the fossil forefoot bones, eight in all, from same era and same region of Africa as the famous ‘Lucy’ (1974).
Walking was a human characteristic before the development of oversized brains. The newly discovered foot-fossil gives us a clue why early human species might have moved around. By learning to walk upright they conceded forests hitherto their home to cousins better adapted for living in trees.)
If his brain was inadequate what could have been the overwhelming reason for him to strike out on his own? His tool making skills gave us stone age, iron age, bronze age and so on. His curiosity and cleverness of hand would develop into science and technology. His foresight in overcoming an inconvenience was not matched by foreseeing the consequences of his innovations. No more apt example we need seek than reasons for ushering in the Nuclear Age. America could stop the WWII speedily. The Allies however did not anticipate proliferation of the nuclear arsenal but soon they were in for a rude shock. Now in some sixty years we have come at a stage the nuclear secrets can be peddled at the click of a mouse. It is what AQ Khan achieved with the backing of his government.
Optimism of man is in terms of abstract than concrete. His abstract thinking has created the world as idea but in terms of its realization no two persons shall view an idea exactly as one and as a result these can only end in conflict. Workers’ paradise as envisaged by Lenin in the view of Stalin was transformed into Cult of Personality!
Bad experience of the past is such that technology and its progress can only be sustained by the systems an idea created along the line. The Crusades in the middle Ages were fought under the call of a Pope. Pope Urban II in 1095 invoked the Christian army of Europe to reclaim lands lost to Muslim invaders previously. It was on the matter of Ideology of clashing belief-systems of the West and East he could invoke them to fight under the sign of cross. Ideas keep evolving while experience remains in the bloodstream of the species. The war to end all wars as President Wilson qualified the WWI did exactly the opposite. If idea of war had achieved its goal the first war that primordial man waged would have been sufficient.Instead collateral consequences of war, misery,loss of prestige,material advantages are all such in collective experience that necessitates conflict ad infintum. Idea of war, belief-systems can only be settled with experience of humans proving its justness for all. It is inherent in the idea and man’s inability to see any other way than as idea. There are millions of ants to every man and by sheer numbers insects outnumber human population. Despite of being one among so many species we see the world in terms of ideas than for what really it is.
Over the past century we have discovered or created new existential risks: supervolcanoes were discovered in the early 1970s, and we should expect others to appear just as a nuclear holocaust is possible. The average mammalian species survives for about a million years. Hence, the background natural extinction rate is roughly one in a million per year. This is much lower than the nuclear-war risk, which after 70 years is still the biggest threat to our continued existence. (ack:the five biggest threats to Human existence/the Conversation-Anders Sandberg,29 May, 2014)
Once I had such a beautiful coat. Trouble was whenever I put it on, no one saw me. If I reminded them ‘I am here’ the answer was,’Clothes make a man. no more is needed.’
During the days of great Depression I tried to live as grandly as I could to fight its effect on me. My wallet was a gold mine but depression being such my hands could not reach it. My foot was stuck above it, you see.’
I wanted to paint the ceiling as Michaelangelo would have done. But already some one had been at it what with clouds so life-like. I did not have the heart to paint and instead began drawing cheques.
Have I told the time when I went to the heart of Africa? Once after an arduous travel I thought I would wash my dirt away. While I got into a big cauldron for the purpose, instantly came the bushmen from Kalahari and thereabouts, whooping in making a song and dance about me. I asked my guide what was that for and he says, ” Bush meat and and you are in it.”
There are two ways for a barefoot doctor to handle a banana in an African Jungle: give the banana to the silver back and slip on its peel yourself. ‘Have banana will travel as the bushmen say.’ The other way is to eat the banana and give the peel to the silver back. No one has lived to tell how does it taste.
I had an uncle of lamentable memory who was good at standing up any one who had an appointment with him. When finally death came up my late uncle said,’Cant you knock before you come in?’ That is why I am here for and death gave a knock out that he would never remember.
Posted in economy, governance, Law, politics, tagged Abacus Federal Bank, Benny Thomas, Collateral consequences, criminality of poverty, Fannie May, finance, Holder memo, inversion principle, Matt Halibby, morality, Obama, the Clinton Administration, The Divide on May 22, 2014 | 3 Comments »
In the City of God St. Augustine narrates an anecdote,( which in all probability was drawn from Cicero-de republica)), where Alexander the Great confronts a pirate. When that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.’ Augustine’s argument is that, in fact, the existence of justice is the only qualitative difference between legitimate and illegitimate coercive power: “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?”
Isn’t this anecdote relevant even these days?
Have you noticed how law is weighted in favor of majority than small in numbers? Let me give an example: the President of a nation with his superior numbers may invade a country and in the ensuing war the casualties mount. Is he hauled before the law of the land and tried as a warmonger? On the other hand a man gets into a brawl after drinking one too many and kills one. Do you think he shall escape the law because of he was drunk? The President whose rhetorics led to a war situation and after so many provocations ratcheting between the two states, shall become all the more laudable despite the deaths of some 20, 000 deaths. He may even win a second term for the many advantages of war being added to the Treasury of the State. He may retire with the aura of a statesman. Not so with the individual who killed another one in a drunken stupor. Certainly he shall be squeezed dry in the rigmarole of legalities that face him and its trauma haunt him for the rest of his life.
Now we see similar situation in the world of finance. One of the few things not in dispute in the criminal case against Abacus Federal Savings Bank is that it began with a mortgage closing on Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, for a two-family home in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.
On May 31 of 2012, the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced criminal charges against the bank and 19 former employees, some facing up to 25 years in prison. “Mortgage fraud became institutionalized at Abacus Bank,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said at a news conference. Abacus, like many banks, had sold its loans to Fannie Mae (FNMA), taking the proceeds and lending them back out to earn more interest. The huge government-backed company in turn bundled those mortgages into securities it sold to investors. Abacus lied about applicants, Vance charged, because otherwise its loans wouldn’t have met Fannie Mae’s income requirements, and the bank depended on Fannie’s money for a significant chunk of its profit.(bloomberg businessweek of Jan 31,2013/drake bennet)
But why was that bank prosecuted and why was Goldman Sachs or Chase not prosecuted? Legal authorities consider it not feasible to go after companies of a certain size, while Abacus is a small fry and easier to succeed if they threw the book at them. While it may be more satisfying to go after the bigger companies, to quote a SEC commissioner who talked about “shot selection,” like in basketball, bureaucracies go for the baskets with the greatest chance of scoring.
It’s not just about poor people. The agencies hesitate before they decide to proceed against a well-heeled, well-defended company [against which] they’re going to have to fight for years and years and years just to get the case in court.
This situation isn’t anything new. It goes back to the Clinton years: Clinton signs on to welfare reform, Clinton and the Democrats begin to court the financial services sector and begin to adopt deregulatory policies.
So now you have political consensus in both parties on both issues; both have the same approach to poverty, to people at the bottom, and they have the same approach to enforcement. And so what begins as deregulation of Wall Street concludes, ultimately, in potentially non-enforcement of crime; and what begins as being “tougher” on welfare cheats in the ’90s, and being tougher on the whole process of giving out benefits, devolves into something pretty close to the criminalization of poverty itself … And that’s just something that happens naturally when you have a political consensus, which is what we have now.
Holder, as deputy attorney general in the Clinton years, outlined what was actually sort of a “get tough on crime” document. He gave prosecutors all these tools to go after big corporations. But, at the bottom [of the memo], he outlined this policy called “collateral consequences,” which was — all it really said was, if you’re a prosecutor and you’re going after a big corporation that employs a lot of people, and you’re worried about innocent victims, you can seek other remedies. Instead of criminally prosecuting, you can do a deferred prosecution agreement, a non-prosecution agreement or, especially, you can levy fines.
When he wrote that, it was nearly a decade before the too-big-to-fail era, but when he came back to office [as Obama's attorney general], this idea, which initially had been completely ignored becomes the law of the land now, insofar as these systemically important institutions are concerned.
Consequently the agencies think about collateral consequences before they go against companies like HSBC and UBS because they’re worried about what the impact might be on the world economy.
What’s interesting about it is that this idea suddenly matches this thing that happened with our economy where we have the collapse of the economy in 2008, [and] instead of breaking up these bad companies, we merged them together and made them bigger and more dangerous. Now they’re even more unprosecutable than before, now this collateral consequences idea is even more applicable. And that’s the reality we live in now; it’s just this world where if you can commit an offense within the auspices of a company like that, the resolution won’t be a criminal resolution, it will be something else.(‘It’s total moral surrender’/Matt Talibbi from his book The Divide/interview with Salon/Elias Isquith)
Global economy is not run by sheer ingenuity of some intrepid souls whose motto is not excellence but profits. Their dynamic leadership as some segments of capitalistic society make out, does not take finance of nations still higher. Gordon Gekko of Wall Street is a pathetic lost soul who represents a part of global consciousness to enrich themselves. Isn’t it a good thing? The answer depends on the state of our existence. We have chosen to be materialistic at the risk of losing our keen eye and ears for finer things in life. We have become crass and arrogant in the many number of weaker people we have pushed to the gutter in order to prop up consumer market. It is like the curate’s egg which is good in parts and rotten in the other.
The economic value of crime and its profits are not confined to global finance. It also makes a difference on the ground. Take jobs and living standards. From the 1980s onwards, real wages in OECD countries have declined for those in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations, that is, a good majority of the labour market. If wage stagnation was the order of the day in the West, you can imagine that developing states were hardly lands of milk and honey for ordinary workers.
Take Mexico following the signing of the NAFTA agreement in 1994; this ushered in privatisation by the back, front and side doors. By 1996, if you were not one of Mexico’s 8m unemployed, you worked legitimately in the maquiladoras sweatshop assembly plants or in the informal economy. Poverty became endemic. Fast-forward to 2012 and a banner appears above a highway in Monterey, placed there by one of the countries “big four” cartels:
Operating Group ‘Los Zetas’ wants you … We offer a good salary, food, and we care for your family. Do not suffer bad treatment … We will not feed you Maruchan (noodle) soups. Do not hesitate to call 8671687423.
To Mexico’s legion of economically disenfranchised, Los Zetos are really making an offer they cannot refuse. And the available figures prove as such: the drug industry employs around half a million people – the fifth largest employer in Mexico. Those employed in the drug trade are required to possess a unique skillset – the ability to variously murder, torture, kidnap, mutilate and rape. But this is not the whole story.
The illicit narco economy creates a virtuous commercial circle of sorts. The narcoeconomy not only employs directly but sustains a network of existing or new support industries and business ventures: banking and finance, IT, logistics, farming and transportation, pharmaceuticals, industries which have transformed backwater towns.
Britain maybe some way from being a fully-fledged narcoeconomy but we should not underestimate the economic contribution of illicit markets and their criminal agents. Take the City of London, international citadel of high finance and favoured port of call for international criminals and organisations looking to wash their dirty or corrupt cash.
According to David Clarke, City of London’s police fraud investigator, London is attractive haven for crime money as checks and balances on those setting up businesses or investing are flexible. Possibly this is why London remains an island of prosperity whilst the rest of the UK economy is in a state of austerity stagnation.
Further down the laundering food chain, there are betting shops and high volume fixed odds betting terminals widely used by drug dealers and gangs to wash their profits. In fact, these digital betting terminals now account for half the profits of bookmakers’ profits. However, the chancellor plans to plunder a good deal of this revenue by raising the duty on betting terminals. William Hill, the UK’s largest high street bookmaker, responded by announcing the closure of 109 betting shops at a projected cost of 420 jobs.
To consider the possible macro-economic benefits of illicit markets is not in any way to justify or celebrate crime. Far from it. The intention has been to consider the growing interdependence between crime and the legitimate economy. In fact, a growing body of research evidence suggests that criminal organisations and illicit markets increasingly form part of the mainstream economy. The boundary between the wider legitimate economy and the illicit economy is increasingly blurred.
A recent scandal when horsemeat was discovered in many “beef” burgers sold in UK supermarkets is case in point. A government commissioned review “clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain”; a process aided and abetted by the aggressive pursuit by supermarkets of margins in a cutthroat commercial environment. The problem, it seems, is not so much organised crime but a crime-organised economy.”
(quote from The Conversation- article: When crooks get rich the whole economy benefits- Mike Marinetto, Lecturer in Business Ethics at Cardiff university/20 May,2014)