Thursday, January 31, 2013

Israeli Bombs Missile Convoy in Syria

 Let us make it simple. When the Assad regime in Syria falls or at least enters its terminal stage, the Israeli air force will act to destroy all threats available then and there as if war had been declared. They may even claim it is in support of the new regime.

This will cleanly eliminate a Syrian threat for years to come and may partially stabilize the Northern flank. Most certainly, Hezbollah is well on the way to been fully isolated and Iranian regime change would finish that. And the Iranian string is surely running out.

Thus Israel is able to operate over Syrian air space to defend it interests with scant consequence.

Israeli Bombs Missile Convoy in Syria


January 30, 2013 - MIDDLE EAST - A western diplomat and a security source told Reuters that Israeli jets attacked a target on the Syrian-Lebanese border overnight. "The Israeli air force blew up a convoy which had just crossed the border from Syria into Lebanon," an unnamed security source told Agence France-Press.

A "well-placed defense analyst" told John Ray of ITV News that the strike was in Hezbollah Lebanese territory and the missile struck a "truck of scud and antiaircraft missiles" headed to members of the Iran-backed militant group. The reported strike comes amid Israeli concerns that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical and/or conventional weapons could fall into the hands of extremist rebels or Hezbollah guerrillas.

On Sunday Israel's vice premier Silvan Shalom said that any sign Syria's grip on its chemical weapons is slipping could trigger Israeli military strikes. On Tuesday Dan Williams of Reuters reported that Israeli officials said Syria's advanced Russian-supplied weapons — including anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles — represent as much of a threat as unconventional weapons. 

Earlier the Lebanese army reported that three sets of Israeli jets flew entered its airspace throughout the night. On Tuesday Israeli air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel told an international aerospace conference said the air force was involved in "a campaign between wars," working with Israeli intelligence agencies in often covert missions "to reduce the immediate threats [and] to create better conditions in which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen." 

"We do not comment on reports of this kind," an Israeli Defense Force spokeswoman told Reuters. In October Sudan accused Israel of bombing a arms factory that was widely believed to be owned by Iran and used to supply weapons to Hamas in Gaza. - Business Insider.

Killer Cats and Birds

We have been seriously underestimating the damage inflicted by wild cats. On the other hand, mice are an easy meal for a cat and that is surely the bulk of the diet. Yet one does need to know just were these numbers actually come from.

My own experience with wild and tame cats inform me that females do not enjoy the wild and tend to come in from the cold with their litter. Thus it is the surviving males that run wild. Their numbers are actually small and now smaller yet because of the contraction of fertile tame females through neutering.

Cats themselves have serious enemies in the wild that make the claim of a huge population rather suspect. For the female, she has the additional risk of encountering a strange male who will kill her kits. That is why they are adapted to human protection in the first place.

A cat stalking a bird is dramatic and often visible, but a cat stalking a mouse goes unnoticed mostly.

So unless cat behavior shifts strongly in the wild in ways I have not observed. These numbers may simply be quite wrong. Perhaps it is time we rigged up a wild cat with the appropriate camera gear to see just what it does. A real country cat count would be nice also. How is another matter. I never did see one in the wilds around our farm and we knew it was there because it came by over several years whenever the female we kept went into heat.

Killer cats take down billions of birds, report says

Cats may kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals in the United States alone each year, a new study has found.

That means predatory felines are likely the leading human-linked cause of death for birds and mammals, surpassing habitat destruction, collisions with structures such as buildings, and pesticide poisoning, reports an article published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

"The magnitude of wildlife mortality caused by cats that we report here far exceeds all prior estimates," said the paper co-authored by three U.S. Scientists.

The researchers warned that very large numbers of birds and mammals are likely being killed "in all parts of the world where free-ranging cats occur," not just the United States.

According to the paper, cats were previously thought to be a "negligible" cause of mortality for birds and mammals compared to other human-linked threats, and that is one of the reasons why policies to deal with stray cats often involve neutering them and then returning them to their hunting grounds.

The study, led by Scott Loss at the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., combined and analyzed data from as many other studies as the researchers could find about cats preying on birds and mammals in North America.

Although the estimates of the feral cat population and the average kills per cat varied widely among the studies, Loss and his colleagues were able to say that U.S. cats fell 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds a year — a huge number considering that the entire population of North American land birds is estimated to be just 10 to 20 billion.

As for mammals, cats were estimated to kill 6.9 to 20.7 billion per year. For comparison, the human population worldwide is seven billion.

The study found that a large majority of the birds and animals killed by cats were native species.

Cats without owners are blamed for most of the deaths. There are about 30 million to 80 million such feral cats in the U.S., each of which can kill upwards of 200 mammals a year alone, the study reported.
However, pet cats were far from innocent, causing 258 million to 1.5 billion of the bird deaths and 571 million to 2.5 billion of the mammal deaths.

The paper advocated taking measures such as limiting or preventing cats' access to the outdoors.

Mastering the Science of Mass Persuasion

 This needs to be understood. Data mining has reached the point that it can predict your behavior with serious accuracy. The unanswered question here is just how much investment in time and money is needed to provide this data?

I ask that because the political cauldron has seen a no holds barred dash to the finish line at what is becoming catastrophic expense. Most of that money is outright wasted although no contractor will ever let on. In fact it has become an advertising war contributing little to understanding the candidates.

Obama is a great example. During the first campaign, he was kept in a bubble to hide many controversial aspects of his history. These have never been examined and will never be. We were sold a feel good story that certainly had its high points. Yet that is true for any candidate who gets up there.

What we now have is gladiatorial rather than magisterial. It is a money fueled race to the bottom that is barbaric and only works in the minds of the advertisers who sell this nonsense.

Recall that the popular vote itself shifts no more than zero to three points in either direction around the mean of fifty fifty. What this means is that all this noise and effort is targeted at one to two folks out of every hundred who will vote. The rest are voting the same old way.

This approach then allows the campaign to identify the must sees. A mutual program to advertise and conduct civil discourse would be better for all under a tight set of rules and would get the same result while allow the focus to go on the folks who do need persuasion.

Team Obama Mastered the Science of Mass Persuasion - And Won

22 January 2013

by Eric Siegel

Eric Siegel opens a window on the new marketing technologies of persuasion modeling and predictive analytics successfully used in the Obama re-election campaign.

Last October, a colleague and I speculated on how a special, powerful form of predictive analytics would revolutionize presidential campaigning - and, if successful, how it might be poorly received by the public thereafter. In our work, he and I focus more on financial, marketing and online applications of this technology. But we had bet the story would not break within politics until the years 2016 or 2020.

Surprise: There's no wait! Since Obama's win in November, we've learned they already did this. The president won reelection with the help of the science of mass persuasion, a very particular, advanced use of  predictive analytics, which is technology that produces a prediction for each individual customer, patient or voter.

This may be the first story ever of a presidential campaign performing and proving the effectiveness of mass scientific persuasion.

The technology's purpose is to predict for each individual and act on each prediction. But you may be surprised to know what the Obama campaign analytics team predicted. In this persuasion project, they did not predict:

    Who would vote Obama
    Who would vote Romney
    Who would turn out to vote at all
. . . and they didn't even predict:
    Who was "undecided"
Instead, they predicted persuasion:
    Who would be convinced to vote Obama if (and only if) contacted
This is the new microcosmic battleground of political campaigns - significantly more refined than the ill-defined concept of "swing voter."

Put another way, they predicted: For which voters campaign contact would make a difference. Who is influenceable, susceptible to appeal? If a constituent were already destined to vote for Obama, contact would be a waste. If an individual was predicted as more likely swayed toward Obama by contact than not swayed at all, they were added to the "to-contact" list. Finally, to top it off, if the voter was predicted to be negatively influenced by a knock on the door - a backfired attempt to convince - he or she was removed from the campaign volunteers' contact list and labeled: "Do-not-disturb!"

I interviewed in detail Rayid Ghani, chief data scientist of Obama for America - who will be keynoting on this work at Predictive Analytics World in San Francisco (April 14-19) and Chicago (June 11-12) - for my forthcoming book.

To make this campaigning possible, team Obama first collected data on how contact (door knocks, calls, direct mail) faired across voters within swing states. Of course, such contact normally helps more than it hurts. But, since the number of volunteers to pound the pavements and dial phones is limited, targeting their efforts where it counts - where contact actually makes a difference - meant more Obama votes. The same army of Obama activists was suddenly much stronger, simply by issuing more intelligent command.

Therefore, they used the collected data not just to measure the overall effectiveness of campaigning, but to predict the persuadability of individual swing state constituents. Each person got a score, and the scores drove the army of volunteers' every move.

Persuasion modeling (aka uplift modeling or net lift modeling) has been honed in recent years for use in marketing. It's the same principle as for political campaigning, guiding calls and direct mail just the same (although marketing more rarely employs door knocks) - but selling a product rather than a president.

I've extensively covered this technology, which is more advanced than "regular" predictive analytics. Normally, you predict human behavior like click, buy, lie, or die. In this case, you predict the ability to influence said behavior.

If consumer advocates consider mass marketing a form of manipulation, they may find in this work even more to complain about. Was the election Moneyballed? As mere mortals, are we consumers, patients and voters too susceptible to the invisible powers of advanced mathematics? Will privacy proponents whip out their favorite adjective-of-concern, "creepy"? Shouldn't elections be about policies, not number-crunching?

No question, the power of persuasion prediction is poignant. Industries are salivating and pouncing.

Sometimes this kind of work truly helps the world. Less paper is consumed when direct mail is more focused and consumers receive fewer "junk mail" items. Patients receive predictively improved health care. Police patrol more effectively by way of crime prediction. Fraud is similarly detected, several times more effectively. Movie and music recommendations improve.

How can this power be harnessed without doing harm? And how is "harm" to be defined in this arena?
For more information about predictive analytics, see the Predictive Analytics Guide; for more on persuasion modeling see this whitepaper.

Gamma Ray Signal?

Nice idea, but a full on solar flare is way more likely and may produce similar effects. Just how do we tell the difference? What is needed is someway to determine the effect of a solar flare in the first instance so that we can determine frequency. In short we are running blind.

In the meantime we have notable signal in the data stream that lacks confirmation so far from alternative data. The explanation is creditable but unprovable for now.

I continue to be impressed by just how successfully the Earth's envelope protects life on Earth. If this explanation holds up and as much holds up for solar flares, then we have nothing to worry about from that quarter.

i do not think that the picture is convincing either.

Gamma-ray burst 'hit Earth in 8th Century'

By Rebecca Morelle
21 January 2013

A gamma ray burst, the most powerful explosion known in the Universe, may have hit the Earth in the 8th Century.

In 2012 researchers found evidence that our planet had been struck by a blast of radiation during the Middle Ages, but there was debate over what kind of cosmic event could have caused this.

Now a study suggests it was the result of two black holes or neutron stars merging in our galaxy.
This collision would have hurled out vast amounts of energy.

The research is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Last year, a team of researchers found that some ancient cedar trees in Japan had an unusual level of a radioactive type of carbon known as carbon-14.

In Antarctica, too, there was a spike in levels of a form of beryllium - beryllium-10 - in the ice.

These isotopes are created when intense radiation hits the atoms in the upper atmosphere, suggesting that a blast of energy had once hit our planet from space.

Using tree rings and ice-core data, researchers were able to pinpoint that this would have occurred between the years AD 774 and AD 775, but the cause of the event was a puzzle.

The possibility of a supernova - an exploding star - was put forward, but then ruled out because the debris from such an event would still be visible in telescopes today.

Another team of US physicists recently published a paper suggesting that an unusually large solar flare from the Sun could have caused the pulse of energy. However some others in the scientific community disagree because they do not think that the energy produced would tally with the levels of carbon-14 and beryllium-10 found.

So now German researchers have offered up another explanation: a massive explosion that took place within the Milky Way.

One of the authors of the paper, Professor Ralph Neuhauser, from the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of Jena, said: "We looked in the spectra of short gamma-ray bursts to estimate whether this would be consistent with the production rate of carbon-14 and beryllium-10 that we observed - and [we found] that is fully consistent."

These enormous emissions of energy occur when black holes, neutron stars or white dwarfs collide - the galactic mergers take just seconds, but they send out a vast wave of radiation.

Prof Neuhauser said: "Gamma-ray bursts are very, very explosive and energetic events, and so we considered from the energy what would be the distance given the energy observed.

"Our conclusion was it was 3,000 to 12,000 light-years away - and this is within our galaxy."

Although the event sounds dramatic, our medieval ancestors might not have noticed much.

If the gamma-ray burst happened at this distance, the radiation would have been absorbed by our atmosphere, only leaving a trace in the isotopes that eventually found their way into our trees and the ice. The researchers do not think it even emitted any visible light.

Rare events

Observations of deep space suggest that gamma ray-bursts are rare. They are thought to happen at the most every 10,000 years per galaxy, and at the least every million years per galaxy.

Prof Neuhauser said it was unlikely Planet Earth would see another one soon, but if we did, this time it could make more of an impact.

If a cosmic explosion happened at the same distance as the 8th Century event, it could knock out our satellites. But if it occurred even closer - just a few hundred light-years away - it would destroy our ozone layer, with devastating effects for life on Earth.

However, this, said Prof Neuhauser, was "extremely unlikely".

Commenting on the research, Professor Adrian Melott from the University of Kansas, US, said that although he thought a short gamma-ray burst was a possible conclusion, his group's research suggested that a solar flare was more likely based on observations of Sun-like stars in our galaxy.

He said: "A solar proton event and a short gamma-ray burst are both possible explanations, but based on the rates that we know about in the Universe, the gamma-ray burst explanation is about 10,000 times less likely to be true in that time period."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Masonic Lithograph 1880's

An odd item picked up by a friend in the antique trade

.China Recasting Gold to Eliminate Tungsten Threat

Three years ago I posted an item on the ease with which tungsten can be used to displace the bulk of the gold reserves held in Fort Knox along with an item tracking such an event.

It solved a serious problem for myself. I had tracked the gold market for decades and had become intuitively aware that a huge amount of non existent gold had been fed into the market and actually delivered.

Thus the rumble of failed delivery into China blew open the scheme. This meant also that the Chinese now knew. Thus it is certain that they would wish to settle this issue. The sure way is to in fact recast all that gold into much smaller ingots that are also good delivery and way more inconvenient to play with. Needless to say, they are doing just that.

At the same time, several countries have now asked for their gold to be returned to them. Most likely all this gold will also be recast into the smaller ingots.

While this is all going on, everyone involved is imitating a clam and saying nothing at all.

This article tries to turn all this into a pending attack on the US dollar and it is not. Wall Street did that trick all by itself. In case you think gold has anything to do with currency, recall that Canada has no gold reserves at all and is doing wonderfully. You can not have it both ways.

China Makes Move To Collapse U.S. Dollar: Announces Gold Back Currency For Global Trade

Monday, January 28, 2013 11:35

The People’s Bank of China has already reduced its holdings of US treasuries below those of Japan and last announced a change in its gold reserves in 2009 when it declared a 76 per cent hike to 1,054 tonnes. Germany, Italy, France and the US keep more than 70 per cent of their reserves in gold, the last bulwark against the devaluation of money printing.

According to the article, China is recasting all of their gold reserves into small one kilo bars in order to issue a new “gold-backed” currency. Many say this will disrupt global trade and will eventually cause a collapse of the US dollar.

There can be no doubt that the US dollar will soon be history. China is recasting all of their gold reserves into small one kilo bars in order to issue a new ‘gold backed’ global currency. This is surely a strategic part of their recent push to sign new trade agreements with Russia, Japan, Chile, Brazil, India, and Iran. The cat is now out of the bag, the US will be given the ‘bums rush’ by the largest trading nations in the world and the dollar will go down in flames. GATA now estimates that 80% of the gold that investors believe they have in allocated accounts is long gone, the majority of it probably wound up in China.

Here is an excerpt from Jim Willie’s ‘Hat Trick Letter’

Many are the events, signals, and telltale clues of a real live actual systemic failure in progress. Until the last several months, such banter was dismissed by the soldiers in the financial arena. But lately, they cannot dismiss the onslaught of evidence, a veritable plethora of ugly symptoms of conditions gone terribly wrong and solutions at best gone awry and at worst never intended in the first place.


China is well along an ambitious plan to recast large gold bars into smaller 1-kg bars on a massive scale. A major event is brewing that will disrupt global trade and assuredly the global banking system. The big gold recast project points to the Chinese preparing for a new system of trade settlement. In the process they must be constructing a foundation for a possible new monetary system based in gold that supports the trade payments. Initally used for trade, it will later be used in banking. The USTBond will be shucked aside. Regard the Chinese project as preliminary to a collapse in the debt-based USDollar system. The Chinese are removing thousands of metric tons of gold bars from London, New York, and Switzerland. They are recasting the bars, no longer to bear weights in ounces, but rather kilograms. The larger Good Delivery bars are being reduced into 1-kg bars and stored in China. It is not clear whether the recast project is being done entirely in China, as some indication has come that Swiss foundries might be involved, since they have so much experience and capacity.

The story of recasting in London is confirmed by my best source. It seems patently clear that the Chinese are preparing for a new system for trade settlement system, to coincide with a new banking reserve system. They might make a sizeable portion of the new 1-kg bars available for retail investors and wealthy individuals in China. They will discard the toxic USTreasury Bond basis for banking. Two messages are unmistakable. A grand flipped bird (aka FU) is being given to the Western and British system of pounds and ounces and other queer ton measures. But perhaps something bigger is involved. Maybe a formal investigation of tungsten laced bars is being conducted in hidden manner. In early 2010, the issue of tungsten salted bars became a big story, obviously kept hush hush. The trails emanated from Fort Knox, as in pilferage of its inventory. The pathways extended through Panama in other routes known to the contraband crowd, that perverse trade of white powder known on the street as Horse & Blow, or Boy & Girl.

Pineal Gland Conjectures

It is very easy to dismiss a claim by labeling it a myth. It has turned out to be far more difficult to apply some semblance of scientific method to the data itself simply because the data is not been systematically accumulated. Bigfoot research has quietly become compelling because thousands of individual reports have been gathered, but each and every reporter has also been debriefed. Do that more than fifty times and the probability of an underlying reality handily reaches the tipping point.

The meditation protocol is gathering more and more practitioners, yet most are far from Yogis. I expect the actual protocol to be universally taught and performed by everyone in time. The medical benefits are just too obvious and valuable. It provides a clear base for mental stability by centering the mind. Yet the scattered claims out there powerfully inform us that there is more to be gained.

Part of it is to experience the light and the sound. More intriguingly it is to access the GOD internet as it appears Cayce achieved. Today we are sitting with a nice shiny computer without knowing what to do. The secret is to ask a question and to accept an answer and then use intellect to test the answer. We need to learn such a protocol and see where it takes us.

Photosynthesis, Solar Power & the Pineal Gland: A Foreshadowing of Human Light Processing?

January 24, 2013

Christina Sarich

Solar energy has already come a long way. In the past five years it has evolved from cumbersome solar panels which had to be installed by the dozen on roof tops in order to provide enough kilowatts per hour to power even the smallest home’s energy needs. Then came the film-like rolls, which were much lighter, and recently, even a spray paint that is based onnanotechnology such that you can paint some great graffiti and enjoy solar powering your computer, refrigerator and AC all at once. In the latest news from MIT, biomedical engineer, Shuguang Zhang, offers the possibility of sending solar power to remote villages by utilizing agricultural waste to make solar cells with a form of photosynthesis called photosystem-I (PS-I). It would be layered on a substrate like more conventional solar panels and produce electric current when exposed to light.

It is either easy or impossible.” Salvador Dali

Being the wacky-minded, non-MIT graduate that I am, I started thinking. If we can create power from the largest free energy source in our Universe (it has been estimated we could power an entire city for a year with just 8 minutes of the sun’s blaring rays) and a little organic matter, what is to keep us from powering ourselves with the light that is reflected in our personal, tiny sun – the pineal gland. After all, this fascinating gland has rods and cones, and actually processes light, much like our own eyes. There are references to the ‘illumination’ that occurs once the pineal gland has been opened, and while this is a metaphor with a more esoteric meaning, why not a physical one too? The conifer tree that produces the pinecone, is one of the oldest genera on the planet. It has existed three times longer than all flowering plant species. Correct me if I’m wrong, but even fifth grade science class said that photosynthesis was required for flowers to bloom, and leaves to stay green. If plants can get their power directly from the sun, why couldn’t we?

We have more power than will; and it is often by way of excuse to ourselves that we fancy things are impossible.”  Francois Duc De la Rochefoucauld

The pineal gland has been called the seat of the soul, the thousand-petaled lotus, the epicenter of enlightenment, the eye of Horus, and just, the pinecone, but perhaps our true illumination, spiritually, also means we can start burning our own wattage, through the activation of that tiny gland in the center of the brain. There are, after all, myths and stories about yogis with super natural powers living in the Himalayas that could go for weeks on end without food or water. The legends say that they existed on light. In ancient yogic texts these abilities are nothing to laugh at. The siddhis are supernatural powers said to be realized by those who were awakened or illumined. They even have specific names, like Anima, Mahima, Garima, Prapti, etc. in the Sanskrit language. We already have pedestrian ways to generate our own power, through kinetic energy. Peddle-a-kilowatt bicycles are all over the place now. Is processing light energy so far-fetched?

The alternative physics is a physics of light. Light is composed of photons, which have no antiparticle. This means that there is no dualism in the world of light.” Terence McKenna

Ancient texts even talk about light-body activation. It requires shifting to a higher frequency, ideally so that your gross, or material body becomes light enough to work with other elements in our galaxy – wind, air, water, the rays of the sun included. Scientists have already pointed to the probability that there are multiple dimensions in space. String theory specifies this. This contender for the TOE, or theory of everything would actually make it more probable that those ancient metaphors weren’t some tweaked out version of Star Wars, Episode 30027. If multiple dimensions exist, then the holographic principle and other suggestions of a ‘unified field’ would make it possible to live on light, literally.

In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.”  Miguel de Cervantes

The problem is that siddhis, or ‘special’ powers are only given fleeting reference in ancient texts because it was thought that these powers could corrupt an impure mind. To use a Star Wars reference again, if the mind isn’t purified, one could turn into a Darth Mall or Darth Vadar and instead of utilizing their powers for good, they could inflate the ego and use them for evil. I suspect that many people could become very ego-inflated with the intuitive insights they receive on a spiritual path, as they become lighter and clearer, since many spiritual ‘gurus’ have been unable to shed their natural human wants and desires. There are jokes about Zendos being full of sake-drunk monks and the sycophants who follow them regardless. It isn’t improbable that we could develop super-human traits, though.

Consider these miraculous feats. In the uterus, babies ‘breath’ water from their mother’s wombs through the umbilical chord. When enough adrenaline is flooding the body, mothers have been known to lift entire cars to free their children who were pinned underneath. Wim Hof, a daredevil Dutchman who ran an Arctic marathon survived minus 20 degree Fahrenheit weather without a shirt on. A 6-foot-6 man named John Evans can balance an entire car on his head. These are just examples of lay-people doing extraordinary things.

“… A spirit molecule needs to elicit, with reasonable reliability, certain psychological states we consider “spiritual”. These are feelings of extraordinary joy, timelessness, and a certainty that what we are experiencing is more real than real. Such a substance may lead us to an acceptance of the coexistence of opposites, such as life and death, good and evil; a knowledge that consciousness continues after death; a deep understanding of the basic unity of all phenomena; and a sense of wisdom or love pervading all existence.” Rick Strassman, M.D. DMT, The Spirit Molecule

Furthermore, Shaolin Kung Fu masters can push cars with a blade against their necks, and whip around in circles defying gravity. Tibetan monks have already proven they can significantly alter their own body temperatures through meditation. When covered with cold, wet sheets, they were able to change their temperatures enough to make the sheets steam. In meditation the pineal gland is increasingly opened, and dowses the brain and body in seratonin-derived melatonin, or dimethyltryptamine (DMT). These feats are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” Walt Disney

If opening the pineal gland to illumine the mind does nothing more than open alternative worlds to our awareness, who is to say that eventually our exploration won’t show us a way to take light in through our eyes and skin and use it like fuel for our bodies. Even if we don’t do it through a special adaptive biological process, the MIT scientists who are figuring out how to use solar power and plant rubbish have the right idea. If esoteric tales from the past can meet with the cutting edge science of the present, we might just fuel Disneyland roller coasters with an afternoon bask in the sun.

About the Author

Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World.


'Strongest Evidence of Life on Mars'

Right now, it would be astonishing to discover no subterranean life on Mars. This goes out and makes the argument.

The serious question is not so much that life does exist, but whether it naturally conforms to terrain life and if any conflicts exist. I think that the probability is on the side of fairly safe compatibility because inter planet transport has been shown to be an real effect.

It is also creditable that life began here as an interstellar transport to begin with. That still does not answer the question of first mover, but eliminates the question of life throughout the universe generally. There is likely no such thing as a barren solar system and it is merely a function of the availability of congenial local conditions.

This could mean that our biology is at least compatible with life everywhere for good or for ill I should warn here. After all, our biology was quite compatible when Columbus did his thing. Yet Mars is presently an inoculated planet without the advanced biology we have. So it may be just fine.

'Strongest evidence yet to there being life on Mars'

Martian rocks from a crater hit by a meteorite may contain the strongest evidence yet that there is life on Mars.

20 Jan 2013

Prof John Parnell, 55, has co-written a theory with Dr Joseph Michalski, a planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum, that suggests they have discovered the best signs of life in the huge McLaughlin Crater on the surface of Mars.

The document, published today in Nature Geoscience journal, describes how they assessed the crater, created by a meteorite which smashed into the surface of Mars, flinging up rocks from miles below.

The rocks appear to be made up of clays and minerals which have been altered by water - the essential element to support life.

Speaking from his laboratory at the University of Aberdeen, geochemist Prof Parnell said: "We could be so close to discovering if there is, or was, life on Mars.

"We know from studies that a substantial proportion of all life on Earth is also in the subsurface and by studying the McLaughlin Crater we can see similar conditions beneath the surface of Mars thanks to observations on the rocks brought up by the meteorite strike.

"There can be no life on the surface of Mars because it is bathed in radiation and it's completely frozen. However, life in the sub surface would be protected from that.

"And there is no reason why there isn't bacteria or other microbes that were or still are living in the small cracks well below the surface of Mars.

"One of the other things we have discussed in our paper is that this bacteria could be living off hydrogen, which is exactly the same as what microbes beneath the surface of the Earth are doing too.

"Unfortunately, we won't find any evidence of animals as the most complex life you might get in the sub surface would be fungi.

"But fungi aren't even that far removed from plants and animals, so I think you could say that life on Mars could be complex, but small."

Prof Parnell reckons that although the next mission to Mars will have a drill to examine possibilities of life beneath the surface of Mars, he says his new study suggests looking around the edges of craters would be easier and more beneficial.

He said: "What we're really doing is emphasising that if we are going to explore for life on Mars, we need to go beneath the surface. So we need to find an approach beneath the surface.

"One approach to do that might be to drill and indeed the next European mission to Mars will have a drill on it, but that will only go down about two metres.

"And although drilling two metres on Earth would be a fantastic technological achievement, it's only really scratching the surface.

"So the alternative is to use what nature has done for us and that's why we are are particularly interested in the McLaughlin Crater that we have investigated in our paper.

"Because when a meteor lands, it excavates a big hole in the ground and throws rocks from the bottom of the hole outside the crater to where we could conceivably go and sample them."

And while the craters on Mars may uncover secrets about the planet's possibility of supporting life, Prof Parnell also revealed the results could show us how life on Earth began.

He said: "It's very easy to draw parallels between what Mars looks like and what the early Earth might have looked like, because the rocks on Earth that we see now have been recycled a lot in ways that they have not been recycled on Mars.

"Mars has not had things like erosion and shifting of mountain ranges to destroy vital evidence from the past.

"So studying meteorite craters of Mars may well actually give us an indication to how life on Earth began.

"Although we all live on the surface of Earth, life did not originate here, but actually in the sub surface.

"It was only when life had taken hold below the surface that it gradually expanded and came up to the surface.

"In fact, there's so much life below the surface of our planet that we are actually the unusual ones living above it."

Superomniphobic Discovery

 Yes, this may be huge. Just been able to protect a ship's hull will earn every award possible. Everything else matters also simply because all aging effects in materials is derived primarily from surface interaction of some sort.

Thus while no one truly cares about clothing or even prepared to pay a premium, we all do care about hard surfaces. Expect living spaces in which everything slides of onto the floor easily unless it is specifically attached. It will be the ultimate hygienic environment. Expect surfaces that care truly germaphobic to result from this.

It cannot be our permanent environment but it certainly can be our own private clean space in which pathogens find it impossible to concentrate. This alone will make it difficult for disease to take hold.

This is early days of course, but how about a hull coating that happens to have zero drag. It will not go any faster per se, but it will do it without significant drag. This heralds a huge energy saving in marine transport. It remains to be seen just how this may also play out on an air foil but there may be gains there also. This last may be all a stretch but the possibilities are certainly real.

Superomniphobic Material Repels Any Liquid You Can Think Of

A new kind of liquid-repelling coating sends any liquid bouncing, rolling, or wicking away.

By Clay DillowPosted 01.16.2013

We’ve seen lots of hydrophobic materials before, but these water- and liquid-repelling materials often work within constraints. Some liquids bounce or wick away, while others--based on properties like viscosity or surface tension, or whether the substance in questions is organic or inorganic--are not affected by the hydrophobic qualities of the material. But a team of University of Michigan materials science is reporting a breakthrough that could have big implications for everything from stain-free clothing to protective surface coatings and chemical resistant protective suits: a superomniphobic coating that is resistant to pretty much any liquid we know of.

The coating is derived from an electrospun coating that is carefully structured in a cross-linked pattern that essentially makes it impervious to attack from any contact angle, and that’s really the critical piece to this. We’ve seen superhydrophobic surfaces before that are extremely adept at repelling high surface tension liquids like water. And we’ve seen what are known as superoleophobic materials that are repellant toward low surface tension liquids.

But superomniphobic surfaces have been more elusive. In laboratory settings they’ve been developed for resistance to Newtonian fluids, but the U. of Michigan teams claim that their material is the first that is truly supermniphobic in the sense that any liquid you throw at it--organic or inorganic, high surface tension or low surface tension, Newtonian or non-Newtonian (repellant to ketchup!)--will bounce or roll off.

Which is pretty crazy. In a paper submitted to the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the team describes dropping aluminum sheets coated in their superomniphobic material in vats of concentrated hydrochloric acid and concentrated sodium hydroxide (that’s a highly caustic metallic base) and anxiously watching absolutely nothing happen. Even when examined microscopically after several minutes of immersion, the aluminum showed no damage.

That, of course, is big news for chemical shielding. Textiles coated in the stuff could make for pretty serious all-purpose hazmat suits, and coatings could be used for everything from corrosion-resistance to drag reduction for maritime vessels.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Icelandic Constitutional Crowd-sourcing.

 Iceland has become a laboratory for banking and political reform. The collapse has radicalized the population to the extent that they have stepped up to help sort things out in such a way as to thwart gross self interest exploiting the system. I think that they may even get it mostly right..

The bottom line is that they now have a growing economy in the face of a mountain of ruinous debt instruments stuck out there.

Fears related to those precollapse debts are misplaced. Bankers like to forget that in sovereign debt, that the king does make the rules. The country is now recovering and can buy the paper for ten cents on the dollar until they have recovered ninety percent of them, however long it takes. Then a generation or two from now, you settle generously on the balance while putting out a congratulatory press release.

Of course during the recovery, you have built up sound banking internally and have no appetite for foreign loans at all anyway.

This item tracks what has been happening and it is a lesson to all of what is still possible.

With New Constitution, Post-Collapse Iceland Inches Toward Direct Democracy

Sunday, 27 January 2013 07:10By Sam Knight,

When the global financial system crumbled over four years ago, Iceland played host to one of the most dramatic economic collapses in modern history. Its three largest banks were unable to refinance debt roughly ten times the size of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), causing one of the world's wealthiest nations to limp with hat in hand to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The island became a symbol for capitalism's systemic failure.

Now, Iceland is making headlines for more positive reasons: activists there are in the process of advancing some of the strongest freedom of information laws and journalist protections in the world, and the Icelandic economy, while still beset by problems, is significantly outperforming other crisis-stricken countries.

Most recently, on October 20, a remarkable constitution - written by an elected council with help from the public - took a step closer toward ratification after it was approved in a referendum by a 2-1 margin.

Before the changes are signed into law, the draft must be approved by the Althingi, Iceland's Parliament, approved again by referendum and finalized once more by the legislature after a fresh parliamentary election in April.

Uncertainty is swirling around the status of the constitution, however. Those opposed to it - primarily right-wingers - claim that the 48.9 percent turnout for October's vote doesn't lend the document legitimacy. There is also fear among the constitution's supporters in Parliament that some of their colleagues are trying to abrogate the public's influence by altering the document's content instead of offering the technical revisions they were given the mandate to make.

"I truly believe that our democracies have been hijacked by bureaucrats," said Parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a self-described "realist-anarchist" elected after the Kitchenware Revolution protests which ensued following the 2008 financial crisis and forced the long-ruling conservative government to resign in 2009.

"I don't want the new constitution to be plagued with their language, but the language of the people," she insisted in a Skype conversation with Truthout. "Their time is over. They just can't get over it."

It's unsurprising that inertia is casting a pall over the constitution's future. In January 2011, the constitutional council's election was controversially nullified by Iceland's Supreme Court. Parliament effectively overruled this decision by appointing the 25 candidates who received the most votes to take seats on the council to rewrite the constitution.

Regardless of the document's final status, the drafting process - inspired by crowdsourcing techniques - has produced a remarkably progressive legal code and generated significant interest from around the world.

"A PBS TV crew of seven or eight followed a group of us around the north of the country before the [October] vote," Thorvaldur Gylfason, an economics professor and member of the constitutional council, told Truthout. (The footage will be part of a four-hour series on the US Constitution set to air in May.)

At home, supporters are hoping that the constitution can create more momentum for innovative reform. Information technology specialists who opened the drafting process to the public through social media are expecting to set up open data projects in partnership with the government. There has also been another web-based open government reform in the city of Reykjavik: the city council passed a law forcing it to consider 16 citizen-initiated proposals made each month through a web site called "Betri Reykjavík" (Better Reykjavik). There has been talk among its boosters that the constitution could mark the beginning of a gradual movement toward direct democracy.

But to better understand the significance and global appeal of the new constitution, it is worth discussing the state of Iceland's economy, which has defined both the constitutional movement and international scrutiny of the diminutive subarctic nation since 2008.

A Shining Beacon of Post-Collapse Economics?

According to bloggers, Facebook memes and some prominent commentators, Iceland is the shining beacon of post-collapse economics.

Their narrative paints a picture of the government, emboldened by protest movements, refusing to be held to the fire for the mistakes of rapacious financiers and corrupt politicians, even sanctioning them for crash-related misdeeds. At least seven bankers have been charged with criminal offenses so far - two were recently sentenced to nine months in prison. Those indicted include the once powerful investor Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, who was charged in December with illegally securing loans worth around $50 million. And former Prime Minister Geir Haarde was found guilty of not holding cabinet meetings on important issues - one of four charges brought against him - although the verdict didn't warrant any jail time. This justice has supposedly left the country less burdened by debt and a domineering financial sector that crowded out sustainable industries.

But like most political memes bandied about on the Internet, this overly optimistic commentary must be critically examined.

Iceland is faring better than most countries hit hard by the global meltdown. Write-downs and debtor revolts have undeniably mitigated the consequences of collapse.

Citizens, through referenda brought on by presidential vetoes, rejected Parliament's plan to pay billions of dollars claimed by the British and Dutch governments after one of Iceland's three major banks, Landsbanki, saw its cross-border savings scheme, known as Icesave, fail.

The establishment - perhaps influenced by widespread protests that followed the crisis - has also been somewhat attentive to the plight of debtors. The Supreme Court ruled that loans indexed to foreign currencies - commonly issued during the boom, but rendered absurdly expensive after the krona collapsed - were, in fact, illegal, significantly reducing mortgage principals overnight. The government also announced a plan in December 2010 to cap distressed homeowners' mortgage principals at 110 percent of estimated home values.According to a financial industry-backed report published last February, Icelandic banks, since the end of 2008, have forgiven debt equivalent to 13 percent of GDP.

The government also didn't directly bail out the three major banks - Kaupthing and Glitnir being the other two - but nationalized them (albeit momentarily - more on that later). And crucially, it eschewed sweeping austerity that the IMF typically favors - a strategy that seemingly paid off, as Iceland exited the IMF program in the summer of 2011.

It appears these developments have given Iceland's economy room to grow. The unemployment rate in October was at 4.5 percent, and the country's GDP grew by 3.1 percentin 2011, according to Statistics Iceland. Fairly impressive when considering eurozone misery.

There are also explanations for Iceland's performance that are less dramatic than frenzied demonstrations and white-collar prosecutions. Emergency capital controls have prevented a total collapse of the krona. Some post-crisis years saw net emigration, relieving the labor market of excess supply. The defunct banks invested in assets, like British retail chains, that largely retained value after the global bust - a significant amount of their debts could be covered by liquidating these assets. Finally, the post-collapse devaluation of the krona has made Icelandic commodities more competitive on global markets, giving the country the trade surplus it desperately needs to amass foreign currency.

But the lionization of Iceland glosses over persistent systemic problems.

"Look at what's happening in Europe. The crisis is much deeper and harder in Greece and other countries. It's just horrifying," Jónsdóttir said.

"But," she warned, "we could end up exactly like that."

Iceland Held Up as Just Model, but Bailouts Still Played Role

Iceland's economy, at its core, remains in a pre-collapse framework. Not long after Kaupthing and Glitnir were nationalized, the banks - now called Arion and Islandsbanki - were sold to claimants of the old banks' assets in January 2010 at a great cost to taxpayers and homeowners. According to economists Olafur Arnarson, Gunnar Tomasson and Michael Hudson, the government priced the old banks' mortgage asset portfolios at 30-50 percent of their value, but allowed the new banks to pursue market value for them (the government's subsequent plan to cap mortgage principles at 110 percent hasn't proved effective either - more on that shortly).

The sale amounted to a backdoor bailout. Enablers of Iceland's old bankers - its new ones - weren't "allowed to fail," as the blogosphere has implied. An inherently flawed and morally hazardous credit system was kept on life support all over the world, and Iceland was no exception. Despite the fact that lenders failed to do due diligence on the old banks, they and the vultures to whom they sold some of their claims were rewarded with a subsidized stake in Iceland's financial sector.

Adding to the injustice is the fact that no one can identify the individuals who actually own these banks. There are rumors that members of the old guard might own a stake in them. AsThe Guardian detailed in August, former Landsbanki CEO Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson is"still living the high life" in London - not far from where Her Majesty's Loyal Bureaucrats are trying to claw back the Icesave debt he helped rack up. In November, it was reported that the junior coalition member Left-Green party was considering finding out whether or not he and other "Viking Raiders" are still profiting off of Iceland's banks through a bill which would force all beneficiary owners who hold more than 1 percent in financial institutions to be disclosed.

And if the old bankers do own stakes in the new banks, they might again be able to finance personal ventures with retail deposits. In Iceland, retail banking and investment banking remain integrated - just as they have been in American banks since the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Even disregarding the financial system's structure and which individuals effectively run it, some creditors that decided against buying stakes in the new banks will remain problematic.

"Vulture funds have bought up the claims for 6 percent of the face value and can take us to court in New York or Paris and have us pay face value for something they paid 6 percent for," said independent parliamentarian Lilja Mosesdottir, explaining via Skype how "distressed asset specialists" loom over Iceland. Over a decade after its last financial collapse, Argentina is still battling vulture funds in a multibillion-dollar case which is currently being heard by a federal appellate court in New York.

Even if vulture funds were to relinquish claims, Iceland could see a significant uptick in sovereign debt with Icesave unresolved, despite voters' persistent defiance. A European court in Luxembourg is currently considering whether or not Icelandic taxpayers must pay Britain$3.1 billion plus interest. According to Moody's, public debt will remain above 100 percent of GDP until 2014. But if the court rules in Britain's favor, public debt could rise overnight to 122 percent of GDP (although much Icesave debt could be recovered from Landsbanki'sestate.)

Thus, Iceland remains in peril. Any sort of shock that seems insignificant on a global scale could be a massive blow to the tiny country. Its GDP, after all, was $14 billion in 2011 - an amount not much greater than what JP.Morgan trader Bruno Iksil, a k a the "London Whale," lost on a single trade (reportedly as high as $9 billion). Any hiccups - Icesave, a vulture fund legal victory, a global downturn - could drive Iceland back into the arms of the IMF and, in turn, drive its citizens deeper into trouble. The fund, after all, advised the government to"recapitalize the banks" even if it meant encouraging "debt restructuring outside of the courts."And if Iceland did accept IMF assistance to pay creditors, it's likely that privatization, environmental exploitation and austerity would follow, as it has in other distressed countries where the fund has operated.

Not that Icelanders haven't experienced pain already. Icelandic politicians might like to avoid austerity in rhetoric and attempt to avoid it in policymaking, but evidence of a struggle is there. A proposal floated by an association of municipalities last September advised local governments to shorten the school year and reduce electives. The national police force's budget has shrunk by 25 percent since 2007. Nurses, who make a starting salary of $36,000, have protested declining real wages. Disabled Icelanders have also organized demonstrationsagainst pension cuts. In November, the wait to be treated for depression and anxiety at Reykjavik's main hospital was four months. A cancer patient who could no longer afford to pay for his chemotherapy asked friends on Facebook last March to help him find work. The medical director at a Reykjavik area clinic has warned of an "imminent collapse" of the health care system due to cuts and physicians leaving the country. And representatives from a charity said that an increasing number of people were in need of its Christmas food packages this year.

Amid all this suffering, banks are continuing to assert themselves, as profit-maximizing entities do. In 2011, it was reported that the monthly pay of a bank manager reached over $33,000 - an increase of almost 150 percent since the crash.

Financing this opulence is debtor misery. Despite the haircuts that have already occurred and promises of government help, as of last January, only 15-20 percent of all mortgages had gone through some stage of the write-down process. And a Supreme Court ruling confirmed the legality of loans tied to the consumer price index, rendering state encouraged 110 percent write-downs relatively impotent: foreign bondholders have parked money in property due to capital controls. As a result, property values have surged and inflation indexing has washed out many principal reductions.

It wouldn't seem beyond the pale to assume that the situation is indicative of a housing bubble. In late November, a major mortgage lender called the Housing Finance Fund - owner of 68 percent of the country's liquid guaranteed debt market, according to Bloomberg - was promised an emergency $103 million cash injection by the government. And there will be considerable pain if the bubble bursts. Iceland's mortgage bond market was worth an estimated $7.6 billion in May - just above 50 percent of GDP. Creditors will find it difficult to recoup losses in Icelandic real estate - more so than when creditors were privy to the failed banks' globally recognized assets.

Despite these problems, it's undeniable that Iceland's economy is the envy of many Western economic basket cases - the least foul smelling of the world's dirty laundry. And there is truth to the mythology that has been spun: popular movements have thus far resisted Icesave, root-and-branch austerity and other socialized losses. The Kitchenware Revolution was ahead of its time, gripping the Austurvöllur long before mass demonstrations from Zuccotti Park to Syntagma Square were regular fixtures.

Because Iceland's activists and progressive politicians are aware that problems are destined to linger, they are seeking to consolidate people power through longer-term solutions - an appropriate response for a country brought to the brink of ruination, like many others, by instant gratification.

The constitution is the most prominent example of this newfound outlook - one that began to emerge even as the country gorged on cheap credit.

Culture Shock Therapy

Long before the first container of skyr was pelted at the Althingi, the language of reform emerged during Iceland's near-fatal addiction to libertarianism. As with any cultural shift, it would be wrong to pinpoint a single cause, but a book published in 2006 helped nudge the country's collective consciouness away from the prevailing wisdom.

A few years earlier, politicians controversially sold off sweeping tracts of land in the east to aluminum conglomerate Alcoa to construct a smelter and a hydroelectric dam to power it. Author, playwright and poet Andri Snær Magnason was infuriated by the decision and decided to write about it.

He wasn't just disgusted by the mutilation of pristine nature. Magnason thought it was fatally unimaginative for Iceland to put so much faith in a single company - particularly one with a reputation for leaving scorched earth in its wake. Fueled by indignation, he penned a sort of manifesto called Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation. It set the political landscape alight.

"The book completely transformed the way Icelanders saw our nature," Jónsdóttir said. "Andri Snær is truly unique in the sense that he manages to write about these things in such a way that anybody can understand. And it is so admirable that an artist applies himself in that way, because there were very few doing it."

Dreamland, more or less, explained the problem as such: unemployment in the region wasn't particularly problematic - migrant workers had to be flown in to help build the massive dam; locals presided over tourist-trapping natural beauty and globally competitive farmland that stood to be tainted by Alcoa's contributions to the landscape.

Yet leaders welcomed the imperious project and citizens offered little resistance for reasons, Magnason theorized, that went beyond the mere corruptive allure of promised wealth. A fearful mindset informed locals' decision to sell their golden geese. Anxiety arising from alienation - from consumers; from the product of their own labor - led Icelanders to accept whatever plan Alcoa dropped in their laps rather than collaborate to explore alternatives. Corporate father knew best.

"There was a very strange psychological dilemma," Magnason explained to Truthout via Skype. "It's a dilemma that is common in rural areas with great natural resources - that people are very far away from the markets, and they, maybe, don't even know why they are doing the things that they are doing."

Dreamland didn't just challenge the conventional wisdom; it brought to the fore the very notion of conventional wisdom as a tool of oppression

Many Icelanders agreed. The book was a number-one bestseller and nurtured the movement against Alcoa. One day in September 2006, a few months after the book's publication, 15,000 demonstrators - 1 in every 20 Icelanders - turned out all over the country to voice their opposition to the project, heeding a call from a retiring television journalist named Ómar Ragnarsson. The movement was noteworthy for a country whose only major protest in the postwar era was a demonstration against NATO membership in 1949.

Although the dam and the smelter were ultimately built, Dreamland left an impression that transcended any one issue. This isn't to credit Magnason himself - Dreamland argues that invention is a social product, citing the concept simultaneous innovation as proof. But the book acted as a lightning rod. Many Icelanders were happy to confront the notion that reality isn't what the ruling classes cram down peoples' throats.

"People found out that they needed collaboration and cross-pollination," Magnason said."Dreamland was kind of part of that movement. The design people, the tech nerds, the computer geeks, and the tree-huggers kind of teamed up in a kind of movement of creating things out of nothing - music, design, and all sorts of innovation. The political agenda that this was possible to kind of create without destroying everything."

This mindset is found all over post-collapse politics. After the crash, a cohort of highly educated and disillusioned individuals were wrested from lucrative salaries that incentivized soul-crushing work - "design people, tech nerds and computer geeks" laboring for the country's financial barons. Many of these liberated workers not only embraced start-up culture, but an enthusiasm for social innovation and grassroots resilience shared by environmentalists and other activists.

This zeal manifested itself in almost every aspect of the new constitution, which was produced using innovative crowdsourcing techniques.

A Constitution By the People - but to What Extent?

Crowdsourcing might seem like just a high-tech buzzword, but its potential to alter statecraft can't be overstated. As Wikipedia (itself founded on a crowdsourcing model) defines the concept, it "involves outsourcing tasks ... to an undefined public rather than a specific body." And if the task at hand is governance, crowdsourcing can advance an anti-authoritarian agenda; the Internet has made widespread collaboration cheaper and easier than ever. What the printing press did for representative democracy, online social media can do for direct democracy.

To help illustrate how crowdsourcing techniques produced a hierarchy-averse draft constitution, it's worth offering a selective post-crash biography of the IT specialist who eventually became the constitutional council's chief technology officer.

A start-up enthusiast, Finnur Magnusson moved back to Iceland from London in 2008. After the bubble burst in September, he joined in the head scratching, discussing with other horrified Icelanders how citizens can and should respond. Magnusson offered whatever IT expertise he could provide to an entrepreneurially minded grassroots reform group known as The Ministry of Ideas. Its work proved critical to constitutional reform.

In late 2009, the Ministry organized a 1,000-member strong national gathering - a drill in collaborative "Where do we go from here?" brainstorming involving randomly selected citizens and a few handpicked prominent thinkers (Magnusson and Jónsdóttir were there). Groups of participants bounced ideas off each other, ultimately formulating a list of shared values. The summit organizers, through Magnusson and his tech-nerd compatriots, took those suggestions and came up with an aggregation of cherished mores in short order. Not long after the discussions finished - thanks to social media crowdsourcing - Iceland had a decent estimate of its moral compass.

"The event that we formatted was pretty tech driven," Magnusson explained to Truthout via Skype. "We were running around with feedback from the tables and putting it up on the screen and live on the web. And it was good fun, you know? It was a good project."

Iceland's center-left coalition government agreed. In June 2010, the Althingi commissioned a similarly organized gathering tasked with crowdsourcing a review of the constitution. Reform-minded Icelanders had been keen on using the constitution as a post-crash vehicle for reform - the current document is a barely amended copy of an old Danish constitution. That review, as per the law that created it, was eventually presented to the elected constitutional council, which was founded and given a mandate to draft a constitution by the same law.

After the constitutional assembly wrapped up, the 950 randomly selected participants advised the council to codify environmental, cultural, social, and political protections into law while promoting transparency, international cooperation, human rights and social welfare.

And while the draft constitution strains to account for these concerns, Magnusson warned against treating the draft like it was written by a cast of thousands on Google Docs.

"The one thing I ask of you is please don't put 'crowdsourced constitution' in the title," he stressed. Open and inclusive the drafting process may have been, but crowdsourced it was not; the drafting itself was done by a handful of elected officials.

Magnusson also said that the participation rate put a damper on the feel-good factor of the process. About 2 percent of the population weighed in on the draft.

"The interest has been more from abroad than in Iceland," he said. "There's a very hard-to-translate saying in Icelandic: 'Nobody's a prophet in their own country.'"

Dreamland Awakens

Organizers and activists behind the constitution were prophetic in that their leap of faith has, thus far, been widely accepted (or, at least, unopposed). The constitutional assembly might have - somewhat controversially - involved less than a thousand randomly selected people. But its sample size and horizontalist framework seem to have led it to extrapolate widespread sentiment from a chosen few.

"That cross-section was a very interesting concept itself," Andri Snær Magnason opined, "because even in a group of ten friends, there's always one friend that, you know, would organize the next party. Or who will be kind of the leader of the group. What this does, this randomness - it boycotts all the people that would want to be a leader in a very small group."

One example of how the dynamic might have effectively boycotted special interests pertains to environmental anxieties that were raised in Dreamland - fears that have been exacerbated since the collapse. These concerns were raised frequently in both the 2009 and 2010assemblies. On the October ballot, alongside other questions pertaining to constitutional articles, voters were asked if they approved of a provision that put unowned natural resources into public ownership - unavailable for sale, but leasable for "a modest period of time." It passed by the widest margin of all the questions, with 82.5 percent of voters favoring public ownership.

"I think it's a response to this extreme capitalist greed that people were witnessing, and the possibility of somebody just coming in and buying everything up in a fleeting moment in our history," Magnason said.

Foreign investors have already tried to snap up natural resources since 2008. A Canadian company called Magma Energy purchased a local-government-owned geothermal utility called HS Orka in September 2009. The national government only bought back a majority share inNovember 2011, after a popular outcry and a series of protests led by singer Björk. And Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo attempted to purchase 118 square miles of land (roughly 0.3 percent of the country's landmass) to build a luxury resort, but was thwarted by a law stopping non-Europeans - as per European treaty agreements - from owning land (Magma sidestepped law this by starting a shell company in Sweden).

Even before Iceland privatized its banking system, natural resource allocation was a hot topic. There has been longstanding discontent over fishing policy - no small matter on an island nation.

"The rights to fish were given to individuals and they could then sell this as an asset. Many of them became extremely rich," Magnason said.

The fishing barons also bankrupted villages "by moving the quota out," according to Jónsdóttir.

"There is this underlying anger towards them. I think that people just have had enough of the way they use money, influence and media to interact to get their will," she said.

Economist and constitutional council member Thorvaldur Gylfason wrote in an email to Truthout that for decades opinion polls have shown Icelanders in favor of making fishing giants pay more for their quotas - roughly 70 percent of the electorate has consistently supported vessel resource depletion fees. Vessel owners were given quotas, which were made permanent in 1990, and they have only been forced to pay the government "a nominal fee" for them since 2004.

"Political parties, liberally oiled by interested parties, no doubt - as they were by the bankers - have managed to thwart the popular will in Parliament," Gylfason said.

"The constitutional bill aims to correct the situation," he added.

But the importance of the natural resource provision mustn't be exaggerated.

Parliamentarian Lilja Mosesdottir pointed out that Icelanders don't need either the private sector or foreigners to plunder their country.

"The constitutional clause will make sure that property rights to the natural resources are in the hands of the Icelandic people, but they may utilize it completely and destroy it," she said.

Jónsdóttir echoed this point, stressing that the resources should be in the guardianship, not the ownership, of the nation.

"Nobody owns nature. That's a crazy concept," she argued.

Nor should the provision be thought of as some sort of bold radical act, she added, lamenting that the constitutional draft neither nationalizes resources nor explicitly mentions water rights.

Magnason also pointed out that the provision isn't exactly "some kind of socialist revolution of taking people's assets."

"Most of the hydro and geothermal energy has been kind of under the government authorities already, anyway," he said

Gylfason added that it would be wrong to describe the move as nationalization.

"It is matter of the rightful owner of the country‘s natural resources being paid proper rent for someone else’s use of the resources," he said.

But future legislation affecting Iceland's natural resources and the stability of its ecosystems will, at least, be open to challenges by voters if the draft constitution passes. The electoratewould be afforded considerable checks on Parliament. One article would mandate that international agreements - for example, whether or not Iceland should join the EU - must be put to a popular vote. Another provision would allow 10 percent of voters to demand a referendum on newly signed laws up to three months after they're passed. The draft also affords citizens the chance to introduce legislation to Parliament - counterproposals must be put to referendum. Voters would also be granted the power of approving constitutional amendments and the removal of a president by Parliament. And speaking of that office, presidential candidates would have to be endorsed by 1 percent of voters.

"What's coming out of the crisis is this demand for greater democracy, that the people should interfere when their representatives are not doing their jobs," said Mosesdottir, by no means an ardent supporter of the constitutional movement. "A lot of people felt when the banks crashed that their representatives did not make sure that the interest of the people was safeguarded."

Radical safeguards punctuate the draft in other ways, too. The new law of the land would grant protected status based on disability, sexual orientation, and genetic character, and would oblige the government to guard against rights violations committed by non-state actors.

Even if the movement fails, organizers could learn from the methodology the council used to draft such a comprehensive egalitarian set of laws.

Social Media, IT Concepts Nudge Iceland Toward Direct Democracy

Although the crowdsourced part of the drafting process - the assembly - was completed before the constitutional council put pen to paper, the council's members attempted to adhere to the open and inclusive spirit of the project.

 Gylfason said that suggestions made by the public were all read "carefully" and "virtually all of them" were considered.

"For example, a couple of suggestions came from farmers who wanted us to make sure that the environmental protection provision protected both private and public lands from cross-fence grazing, a centuries-old problem in Iceland. Others came from Internet specialists who were keen on seeing a state-of-the-art freedom-of-information clause. They got one. Their input was very helpful," he said.

Not all suggestions were adopted. Gylfason said a Europol official encouraged the council to adopt a clause that would have facilitated asset forfeiture "in the spirit of modern European legislation."

"We did not go for that one, not as a constitutional issue," he said, "even if the case that was made by the police officer was very well put."

The ways in which outsiders were given opportunities to influence the drafting boiled down to the way start-up culture informed the process. The council used an iterative "quick sprint" methodology - inspired by software developers seeking as much constructive criticism as possible.

"You do quick iterations and you try to get as much feedback as you can. And you keep iterating until you have a final product," Magnusson said. Rather than revising obsessively behind closed doors, the council invited the public via social media to help.
"That enabled us to get a lot of feedback and involve many more participants within the nation," he claimed.

Whether or not organizers could have solicited more input is up for debate. But a group of scholars from The Comparative Constitutions Project described the approach as "novel" and hailed the constitution as "one of the most inclusive in history."

The iterative approach is, in many ways, symbolic of the grander significance of the constitution itself.

"I'm pleased with this as the next very big, big step towards a more open and direct democracy," Jónsdóttir said,

She acknowledged that there could have been more crowdsourcing, but that distractions - time constraints and affronts to the constitutional council - hampered efforts.

"There were some very serious attempts to destroy the process by the conservatives," she lamented.

Magnusson stressed that the imperfections of the drafting process shouldn't be downplayed - particularly in the context of whatever comes next. Using the current reform for more inclusive crowdsourcing-inspired endeavors could build "a foundation for a more direct democracy," he said.

"We have a way to go until we put the voting buttons on the Internet," he added.

That Icelanders are even discussing this endgame is reason for the rest of the world to take notice.