Mythology

Epiconomics 101: Our Fiscal Genome

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 8, 2016

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"Vital public services like health care, education, transportation and communication should be free."

 

In the May 2d New Yorker, Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote an ode to his mother and aunt, identical twins, taking the opportunity to dig into the roles of nature and nurture in shaping our lives, Going a step farther, he brought in one of our favorite topics here, epigenetics, or the ability of the same DNA strand to issue different instructions depending on external stimuli.

Last year, in our discussion of quantum entanglement, we observed how little of what we call our own bodies is actually our own DNA. More than 95 percent belongs to our unique, personal, coevolving microbiome that not only helps us breathe, digest, and heal illness, but influences our patterns of thought and intentions.

Mukherjee chronicled the gross result of this conspiracy, describing how two brothers, separated by geographic and economic continents, might be brought to tears by the same Chopin nocturne, as if responding to some subtle, common chord struck by their genomes, or perhaps by their epigenomes, and how two sisters — separated long before the development of language — had invented the same word to describe the way they scrunched up their noses: “squidging.”

Mukherjee overlooked the closely entangled microbial web of alien presences, but we’d observe that although these twins may have placed distance and culture between themselves, they had been together long enough to have nearly identical microbiomes from gestation, birth and infancy.

Nucleosome crystal structure at 2.8 angstrom resolution showing a disk-like shape. DNA helices at edge, histones and free proteins in center. The worm-like structures are RNA messengers. reasonandscience.heavenforum.org

Mukherjee writes:

It is a testament to the unsettling beauty of the genome that it can make the real world stick. Hindu philosophers have long described the experience of “being” as a web—jaal. Genes form the threads of the web; the detritus that adheres to it transforms every web into a singular being. An organism’s individuality, then, is suspended between genome and epigenome. We call the miracle of this suspension “fate.” We call our responses to it “choice.” We call one such unique variant of one such organism a “self.”

In his visits with various scientists Mukherjee probed the complex connections of the histones that occupy the empty spaces within the double helix and seem to possess a mysterious power to trigger or silence gene expressions. What he seems to overlook is the role of non-human microbiological agents in making these sorts of choices for their hosts. Indeed, his description of a histone begs comparison to other life forms:

In 1996, Allis and his research group deepened this theory with a seminal discovery. “We became interested in the process of histone modification,” he said. “What is the signal that changes the structure of the histone so that DNA can be packed into such radically different states? We finally found a protein that makes a specific chemical change in the histone, possibly forcing the DNA coil to open. And when we studied the properties of this protein it became quite clear that it was also changing the activity of genes.” The coils of DNA seemed to open and close in response to histone modifications—inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, like life.

***

These protein systems, overlaying information on the genome, interacted with one another, reinforcing or attenuating their signals. Together, they generated the bewildering intricacy necessary for a cell to build a constellation of other cells out of the same genes, and for the cells to add “memories” to their genomes and transmit these memories to their progeny.

While we were pondering these things, bicycling through a Spring rainstorm one morning, we tuned our mobile cyberamphibian prosthesis to Michael Hudson’s interview on Extraenvironmentalist #91. Hudson described how debt deflation is imposing austerity on the U.S. and European economies, siphoning wealth and income to the financial center while impoverishing the periphery. Its the theme of his latest book, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.

Crossing two hot wires in our rain soaked brain, the comparison between economic theory and genetics wafted a blue smoke that trailed out from under our bike helmet.

The system itself — the DNA code — is monetary policy, trade rules, labor, capital assets and other components of what we call “the economy.” The histones are the central banks and the FED that set the policies epigenetically by turning switches on or off. The wild cards are those alien protein agents that seem to bring about changes in the histones. A century ago those might have included J. D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan. Then came Henry Wallace and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today they would include Jaime Dimon (Morgan Chase), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Christine Lagarde (IMF), and Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

It is pretty clear from most indicators that since at least 2008, and likely much earlier, our economic DNA has been instructed to express a cancer. As Gail Tyerberg observes:

Both energy and debt have characteristics that are close to “magic” with respect to the growth of the economy. Economic growth can only take place when growing debt (or a very close substitute, such as company stock) is available to enable the use of energy products.

Back in the era of cheap energy less debt was required. In our era of expensive energy, gigantic and growing debt is required. But you can only build debt on itself up to the point where confidence in repayment by those who are owed the money falters. After that, watch out. No debt, no energy. No energy, no economy.

Greg Mannarino of Traders Choice says:

Let’s just look at the stock market… there’s no possible way at this time that these multiples can be justified with regard to what’s occurring here with the price action of the overall market… meanwhile, the market continues to rise. … Nothing is real. I can’t stress this enough… and we’re going to continue to see more fakery… and manipulation and twisting of this entire system… We now exist in an environment where the financial system as a whole has been flipped upside down just to make it function… and that’s very scary. … We’ve never seen anything like this in the history of the world… The Federal Reserve has never been in a situation like this… we are completely in uncharted territory where the world’s central banks have gone negative interest rates… it’s all an illusion to keep the stock market booming.

… Every single asset now… I don’t care what asset… you want to look at currency, debt, housing, metals, the stock market… pick an asset… there’s no price discovery mechanism behind it whatsoever… it’s all fake… it’s all being distorted. … The system is built upon on one premise and that is confidence that it will work… if that confidence is rattled the whole thing will implode… our policy makers are well aware of this… there is collusion between central banks and their respective governments… and it will not stop until it implodes… and what I mean by implode is, correct to fair value.”

It’s created a population boom… a population boom has risen in tandem with the debt. It’s incredible. So, when the debt bubble bursts we’re going to get a correction in population. It’s a mathematical certainty. Millions upon millions of people are going to die on a world-wide scale when the debt bubble bursts. And I’m saying when not if… … When resources become more and more scarce we’re going to see countries at war with each other. People will be scrambling… in a worst case scenario… doing everything that they can to survive… to provide for their family and for themselves. There’s no way out of it.”

Jason Heppenstall, who lives in Cornwall, England, writes in the 22billionenergyslaves blog:

Aside from the police and the shops closing, public toilets are closed virtually all of the time, and the Post Office too is soon to close down, having been privatised and now asset stripped. The council is being forced to raise its taxation rates by 4% this year to cover the shortfall caused by spiraling costs and diminished funding from central government. Clinics and charities are being squeezed out of existence and the local council tried (and failed) to privatise the town’s midsummer festival.

My wife works in the care sector. The stories I get to hear will make you never want to be dependent on the state in your old age. If you can’t rely on your kids to look after you in your dotage it might be wise to keep a bottle of whisky and a revolver in your bottom drawer. Or maybe you'd rather die of thirst lying in your own mess because the 19-year-old unqualified carer who works for minimum wage is too busy checking Facebook on her phone to hear you pressing the emergency button by the bed.

Former US Budget Czar David Stockman wrote this week:

Owing to the recency bias that dominates mainstream news and commentary, the massive expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet depicted above goes unnoted and unremarked, as if it were always part of the financial landscape. In fact, however, it is something radically new under the sun; it’s the footprint of a monetary fraud breathtaking in its magnitude.

***

In essence, during the last 15 years the Fed has gifted the US economy with a $4 trillion free lunch. Uncle Sam bought $4 trillion worth of weapons, highways, government salaries and contractual services but did not pay for them by extracting an equal amount of financing from taxes or tapping the private savings pool, and thereby “crowding out” other investments.
 

This is not Al Gore. It is Elon Musk, a beneficiary of govt largess

Instead, Uncle Sam “bridge financed” these expenditures on real goods and services by issuing US treasury bonds on a interim basis to clear his checking account. But these expenses were then permanently funded by fiat credits conjured from thin air by the Fed when it did the “takeout” financing. Central bank purchase of government bonds in this manner is otherwise and cosmetically known as “quantitative easing” (QE), but it’s fraud all the same.

In essence, Uncle Sam has gotten $4 trillion of “something for nothing” during the last 16 years, while the Washington politicians and policy apparatchiks were happy to pretend that the “independent” Fed was doing god’s work of catalyzing, coaxing and stimulating more jobs and growth out of the US economy.

What the Fed was actually doing was falsifying and inflating the price of financial assets. As Michael Hudson points out, the prime error is placing the financial sector in the same column as honest labor or capital contributions. Finance is actually a drain on those things. It is a withdrawal from productivity, not a contributor to GDP.

Stockman agrees:

But financial engineering does not add to GDP or increase primary spending; it results in the re-pricing of existing financial assets. That is, it gooses stock prices higher, makes executive stock options more valuable and confers endless windfalls on the fast money speculators who work the financial casinos.

Last month, Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, became the first central banker to take seriously the idea of helicopter money – the direct distribution of newly created money from the central bank to eurozone residents.
 

Germany’s leaders have reacted furiously and are now subjecting Draghi to nationalistic personal attacks. Less visibly, Italy has also led a quiet rebellion against the pre-Keynesian economics of the German government and the European commission. In EU councils and again at this month’s IMF meeting in Washington, DC, Pier Carlo Padoan, Italy’s finance minister, presented the case for fiscal stimulus more strongly and coherently than any other EU leader. More important, Padoan has started to implement fiscal stimulus by cutting taxes and maintaining public spending plans, in defiance of German and EU commission demands to tighten his budget. As a result, consumer and business confidence in Italy have rebounded to the highest level in 15 years, credit conditions have improved, and Italy is the only G7 country expected by the IMF to grow faster in 2016 than 2015 (albeit still at an inadequate 1% rate).

The Automatic Earth

With England jumping ship and Germany saying nicht to every reform proposal, the EU is headed for a disaster but Italy seems to be able to still think outside the box. To us this suggests the potential for alien-led histone modification in the DNA of modern finance.

Heppenstall says:

The irony of being called anti-European is that I am ardently pro-European. I’ve lived in four different EU countries, travelled all over and am married to an Italian Dane. Europe, to me, is the most diverse place in the world and has an amazing spread of history and culture. My ideal life would involve spending several months each year travelling around Europe in a camper van and getting to know it in an even more intimate manner. The EU is not Europe; it’s an abstract concept masking a faceless undemocratic organisation that funnels wealth from one place to another and keeps its modesty intact behind a fig leaf of supposed liberalism.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We could still have a Europe united around some core values other than money and power and capitalism. How about a Europe focused on an emerging eco-consciousness? Or what about remaking it as a loose cooperative of bioregions? Or perhaps, at the very least, we could all agree on a shared constitution founded on liberty, equality and fraternity. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has suggested something along those lines, setting up a pan-European umbrella group called DiEM25 that aims to shake things up ‘gently, compassionately but firmly.’ Perhaps there could be more debate about what kind of Europe would be better suited to weathering the coming financial, ecological and energy shocks without causing so much collateral damage to both itself and other nations.

Until that happens we’ll just have to stand back and watch the fireworks. Big institutions like the EU are like skyscrapers; they don’t come crashing down to the ground without taking out plenty of other nearby buildings and the EU is like the leaning tower of Pisa on steroids.  Big things are an artifact of the age of oil – the future is necessarily smaller and more local. The best course of action is to stop arguing over whether it is best to be stood on top of the creaking tower it or beside it, and simply get the hell out of the way before it goes over. 

Draghi’s Italy, it should be recalled, was the country whose Supreme Court last month ruled that Roman Ostriakov, a young homeless man who had bought a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel – a small sausage – and cheese into his pocket, had acted out of an immediate need by stealing a minimal amount of food, and therefore had not committed a crime. Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, an environmental and consumer rights group, told Il Mesaggero, “In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet.” La Stampa said that, for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered “blasphemy in America.”

Michael Hudson

Hudson is another epigenetic secret agent. He advocates a debt jubilee similar to what Truman pushed on Europe after World War II, creating the “German Economic Miracle.” In Hudson’s view, the quickest route to reform would be shifting from taxing honest labor to taxing unearned income and capital gains; from burdening the shrinking middle class to shrinking the rentier class. Vital public services like health care, education, transportation and communication should be free.

Ellen Brown, who has been beating the drum for public banks from her Web of Debt page and books, notes that the Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, was more profitable last year than J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, and that was after the fracked gas bubble burst. She urges local governments everywhere to bypass the Fed and the vulture banking system and create their own public banks.

Ellen Brown

North Dakota has led the way in demonstrating how a state can jump-start a flagging economy by keeping its revenues in its own state-owned bank, using them to generate credit for the state and its citizens, bypassing the tourniquet on the free flow of credit imposed by private out-of-state banks. California and other states could do the same. They could create jobs, restore home ownership, rebuild infrastructure and generally stimulate their economies, while generating hefty dividends for the state, without increasing debt levels or risking public funds – and without costing taxpayers a dime.

The ability of these foreign antagonists to infect the global economy with a new narrative is a relatively recent phenomenon. The false narrative embedded by Bretton Woods and the Chicago School are not that thoroughly ensconced that they can’t be evicted. There is no reason why the inane policies of economic astrologers could not be quickly reversed by protein protagonists with simple but compelling histological reforms, such as basing the future on a bioeconomy that sequesters carbon and runs on sunlight.

Next week: Epiconomics 102: The Sunlight Economy 

Hillarism

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 24, 2016

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"The Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump link to a single bad gene in our political DNA."

 


It is the political silly season, although these days it never seems to be otherwise. Delma Rouseff, Brazil’s heroic anti-establishment, anti-corruption President, has been impeached by the lower house on (dubious) charges of corruption, but the former, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called it more accurately a "coup d’état.”

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned after it was revealed he owned an offshore company with his wife to channel millions of kroner. British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he owned shares in a Bahamas-based trust up until 2010. In Malta, protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for the same tax-avoidance activities.

Scores of countries will hold national elections in 2016. In January, Portugal elected Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, former leader of the Social Democratic Party and supported by the Social Democratic Party and the CDS – People's Party. Portugal, which rationalized recreational drug policy in 2001, tilted left.

Ireland, which has a gender neutral election law, requiring any election to be supported by at least 30% male and 30% female voters, in February elected a right-leaning Dáil Éireann (parliament). Sadly the coalition is still too fractious to choose a Taoiseach (prime minister)

In 2013 Ireland consolidated separate county and local water authorities into a single national utility, which proceeded to install meters everywhere and raise rates. In 2014 and 2015 local protests blocked meter installers. Four percent of Ireland's population showed up at one demonstration in Dublin. Irish Water is a wedge between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so no prime minister for Ireland.

Legislative elections for 450 Duma seats will be held in Russia on 18 September. Polls April 10th give Dmitry Medvedev’s conservative United Russia 46%, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s right-wing anti-communist Liberal Democratic Party 11%, Gennady Zyuganov’s left-wing Communist Party 9%, A Just Russia People's Freedom Party 5% and the remainder to 10 other parties, including the Greens led by Oleg Mitvol.

In Peru, the first round on April 10th narrowed the field to Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, of the Popular Force party, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski candidate of the Peruvians for Change party. Fujimori has a healthy lead and the second round of voting comes June 5th. Peru is interesting if for no other reason than the names of its political parties (as translated): 

Popular Force
Peruvians for Change
Broad Front
Alliance for Progress
Popular Alliance
Popular Action
Direct Democracy
Possible Peru
Hope Front
Order Party
Developing Peru
Everybody for Peru

These names seem like something you might read on post-its on the wall of the “creatives” room in an ad agency.

In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last November: "I would say around September–October is when you should expect the next election to be.” However, when parties predictably deadlocked over bills to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a bone of contention for the opposition Labor Party, Turnbull this week announced he would dissolve Parliament on May 3 and call for new elections July 2. Turnbull himself is well known to Australians and his party the clear frontrunner. But lately he has been losing ground to Labor leader Bill Shorten in the polls. Labor needs to win 21 seats to take power, a swing of 4.3%. BBC reports:

“Mr Turnbull will attempt to paint Mr Shorten as a union lackey who cannot manage the economy; Mr Shorten will say Mr Turnbull is an out-of-touch protector of greedy banks leading a divided party that stands for nothing.”

The Philippines just concluded its presidential debate cycle and is headed to national elections May 9th. At the top of the ballot is the election for successor to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. The leading candidate is the current VP Jejomar Binay. His opponents include Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (People's Reform Party) who is suffering from stage 4 lung cancer. Called "the Iron Lady of Asia,” she was the widely expected winner of the 1992 Philippine Presidential Elections, but lost after an inexplicably unscheduled power outage during the counting of votes. The Supreme Court of the Philippines recently declared optical scanner counting devices “corrupt” and forced precincts to return to hand counts.

Santiago announced her candidacy for president in the launch of her book, Stupid is Forever, on October 13, 2015.

Other candidates include Rodrigo “Courage and Compassion” Duterte (PDP–Laban), Grace "Government with a Heart” Poe (Independent) and Mar "Continue the Straight Path” Roxas (Liberal).

While the People’s Republic of China will not be holding national elections this year, what is brewing at the grass roots in Hong Kong is QI — quite interesting.  Wikipedia reports:

The emergence of new political groups led by young activists is set to shake up the political landscape of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence localist group, faired well in the February New Territories East by-election by receiving more than 66,000 votes, coming third after pan-democratic Civic Party and pro-Beijing DAB, gaining about 15 percent of the total votes. A day after the election, localist groups including Wong Yuk-man's Proletariat Political Institute, Wong Yeung-tat's Civic Passion and Chin Wan's Hong Kong Resurgence Order announced a plan to field candidates in all five geographical constituencies.

On 10 April 2016. six post-Occupy organisations, Youngspiration, East Kowloon Community, Tin Shui Wai New Force, Cheung Sha Wan Community Establishment Power, Tsz Wan Shan Constructive Power and Tuen Mun Community, political groups formed after the Umbrella Revolution, formed an electoral alliance planned to field candidates in four of the five geographical constituencies with the agenda to put forward a referendum on Hong Kong's self-determination. Hong Kong Indigenous and another new pro-independence Hong Kong National Party also stated that they will run in the upcoming election.

On the same day on 10 April 2016, the student leaders in the Umbrella Revolution, Joshua Wong, Oscar Lai and Agnes Chow of Scholarism and Nathan Law of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) also formed a new party Demosisto which was inspired by Taiwan's New Power Party which was formed by the Sunflower Movement leaders and fared well in the 2016 Taiwanese legislative election. The new party calls for referendum on Hong Kong's future after 2047 when the One Country, Two Systems is supposed to expire. The party aimed at fielding candidates in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon East, facing competitions from other new political groups while posing challenge to the traditional pan-democracy camp.

Finally, turning to the USA: With Bernie Sanders’ inability to unset the Hillary Clinton base in New York (Manhattan 66% – 33%; Westchester County 67% – 32%) on Tuesday, it looks more and more like a Clinton victory at the convention is a lead pipe cinch. Who knows? She might even have the team to out-Diebold the Trump machine. In Brooklyn, tens of thousands of voters discovered too late that they were ineligible to vote. The New York City Elections Board confirmed that more than 125,000 Brooklyn voters had been scrubbed from the voter rolls and the NY Attorney General's office is on the case. Clinton can now win less than half of the remaining primaries and still gain the required number of delegates.

Can she throw some kind of a aikido move on the Trump steamroller? We don’t yet know who controls the machines, but it is a pretty good bet it ain’t the Donald.

This past week George Monbiot penned one of the best essays of his career, although it was actually a teaser for his new book, How Did We Get into This Mess? published by Verso for £12.99.

In naming Neoliberalism as the root of all our problems, Monbiot linked the Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, rigged Philippine elections, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump to a single bad gene in our political DNA.

Monbiot writes:

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

When George W. Bush attributed the rise of Islamic jihadis to “they hate our freedom,” what he was doing was reinforcing the neoliberal meme. As Monbiot puts it:

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

Hillary Clinton likes to tell audiences that because of the Affordable Care Act, "We now have driven costs down to the lowest they've been in 50 years.” Actually, health spending in the United States is higher than it's ever been, so the statement on its face is inaccurate. The U.S. spends more per capita than every other country in the OECD; and twice as much per capita as the system in France, with considerably worse average outcomes.

Monbiot writes:

The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income.

Unearned income is what buys elections, and not just in the United States.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. And that is what none of the elections in 2016 seem to be doing.

An Interview with Cassandra

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Published on Chimera Myth on April 9, 2015

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The prophetess Cassandra was cursed to be always right in her prophecies, but never to be believed. That places her on a par with modern climate scientists. (image: Cassandra as interpreted by Marvel comics)

I don’t have to tell you that this story is a work of fantasy, but several details are taken from modern historiography, for instance the Hittite king Mutawalli, the possible contemporary events of the battle of Kadesh and the fall of Troy, the habits of the Babylonian temple priestesses, and more, including a little attempt of inventing a Sumerian root for the name “Cassandra”, whose etymology is unknown. You may also like to know that this story came to my mind, nearly complete, while I was mounting some bookshelves at home; maybe I have to consider it as a gift from the Goddess Ikea.

____________________________________

After that I had googled “summoning spells” on the web, I found one that I liked. I needed some peculiar stuff to perform it, including crocodile liver, platypus’ whiskers, bat’s earwax and more. But once I got all that (via Amazon.com), I thought I could try. And, immediately, there materialized in front of me, right in my office, a translucent image of a dark haired lady wearing gold jewels and a curious dress. No less than the ghost of Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess. And I could interview her!


Ahem….. Lady Cassandra, I humbly welcome you here….

Oh…. Where am I?

I summoned you, Lady Cassandra…. you are far in the future. More than three thousand years.

Three thousand years in the future, you say? You must have some really powerful magic, here. Where did you learn it?

Well, we have something we call the “Internet”

A library? Plenty of scrolls you must have in there.

Not exactly scrolls, lady Cassandra, but you can find a lot of things in it. But I must say that I am not a great expert at summoning ghosts; it is the first time I try.

You have to be careful with these spells, you know? It is dangerous stuff. You could have summoned some Galla demons of the underworld and they would have shred you to pieces. You are lucky that you summoned me in your first try. But the Gods of the underworld must like you – really! They even granted me the gift of being able to speak your language. A curious language, by the way; it doesn’t sound like anything I knew before. Where does it come from?

We call it ‘English’, lady. It comes, well, it comes from the lands of the North. 

Oh…. from those barbarian lands? No wonder that it sounds so weird, Well, never mind that; evidently the Gods like me to speak this language. But enough with this “Lady Cassandra”. Why do you call me like that?

Well, after all, you are the daughter of King Priam.

The daughter of King Priam? You believe in that story?

Well, it is what is said about you. Are you that Cassandra…. ?

Oh, yes, I am that Cassandra – the one they say was the daughter of King Priam of Troy. A lot of things have been said about me, I know; some are even true. But the daughter of King Priam? No, no…. It is just a legend, one of the many. Actually, I came to know Priam very well; and I was in Troy when the Achaeans destroyed it. But I am not Priam’s daughter. You see, I was born in Babylon…..

Born in Babylon? Really? Lady Cassandra, this is surprising!

Well, Babylon is where I was born. And I was born as Kasanna before those silly Greeks mangled my name turning it into “Cassandra”. But I wasn’t born as Lady Cassandra. I mean, I have been in the underworld long enough that I can drop all those silly titles. But if you really like to call me Lady Cassandra, it is fine for me. So, who are you, by the way?

Oh.. you see, I am nobody of any importance. I was just reading about you, and I was curious.

Enough that you risked to be shred to pieces by a Galla demon? You have to be a very curious person.

It is my job to be curious. I am called, well…. we say, “scientist”

Something like a priest? You make prophecies?

Sometimes I make prophecies about climate….. you know, how climate will change in the future.

And are you believed?

Oh… well, that’s a big problem.

I know, I know! It happens all the time. Anyway, if you are so curious, I figure I could tell you a few things about me. I don’t think that the demons of the underworld will leave me chatting with you for a long time. But as long as the spell lasts, why not?

Thank you, Lady Cassandra. It is an honor to be told this story

So, Let me see…. I have to start from the beginning. As I told you, I was born in Babylon. And I became a shamhatu of the temple of Ishtar. You probably don’t know what a shamhatu is; well, she is a hierodule of the temple. A temple girl, just that. It was my job. The job of the temple girls is to celebrate the goddess of love, Ishtar. We also call her “Inanna” in the old language, in Sumerian, that is. And we do that, you know, it means to have sex with the king, celebrate the sacred marriage of Tammuz and Ishtar – or, as they said in the times of our Sumerian ancestors, Dummuzi and Inanna.

So, I was studying to become a priestess. It was my career, to learn the old language of the Sumerians, to recite the hymns, to perform the sacrifices. It is a complicated job, you know? You have to study a lot and then, when it is time to perform the sacred marriage rite, you have to look all coquettish with the king, wear jewels, sexy clothes, all that….. Ouf…. Not all kings are nice… But all kings like a lot to play the role of Dummuzi in the sacred marriage rite. And a priestess plays the role of Inanna, the goddess. In a way, it is fun.

Now, in my times, the big man, the king, was someone called Muwatalli the second, an Hittite. His father had conquered Babylon earlier on and, at that time, in Babylon we were part of the Hittite Empire. So, the king of the Hittites would come to Babylon once in a while, just to make sure that everything was quiet and that everybody pays their taxes to him.

So, he came to Babylon, this king Muwatalli, from the capital of the Empire, from Tarhuntassa. Quite a retinue he carried with him. Soldiers, slaves, ladies in waiting, concubines, servants, cooks, all the rest. And he arrived in time for the rite of the sacred marriage. And you can imagine who was the hierodule who had the task of performing the rite that year. Just the modest me; Cassandra – or rather, as I said, Kasanna.

So, I performed this rite with King Mutawalli. Not a bad guy, I’d say, although he had this idea that everyone should call him Nergal, which means the God of War, but kings have these bizarre ideas. Anyway, he must have been impressed by our rituals. You know, in Babylon, at that time, we knew how to impress people! Fancy dresses, songs, harps playing, all the rest. But I think he was more impressed by the way the priestesses could perform divinations. Kings are always interested in divinations – they must feel very insecure all the time. Or so I think.

Anyway, King Muwatalli was impressed enough by the whole circus that he wanted to take me to Tarhuntassa. People used to say that I was a nice looking girl at that time, but I am not sure that he wanted me for my looks. I think he was thrilled by the idea of having a personal Babylonian priestess at his court – available any time. Whatever, I had no choice, anyway. I remember that my Ensi, the high priestess of the temple, told me that I had to be careful, because I had learned a lot of things in the temple, even how to make prophecies, but that of prophetizing is not an easy job and that I had not learned yet how to make myself believed, and so I risked to be misunderstood all the time. She was right, of course. But I was young and I must say that I was excited at the idea to go with king Muwatalli. You know, I could have given a son to the king, then he would have married me and I would have become Queen, or Empress, or something like that. I knew that it wasn’t likely that it would happen; and it didn’t happen. But – you know – a girl can always dream!

So, let me keep going. I went with King Muwatalli to Tarhuntassa and I became one of his concubines; he had a lot of them, as kings use to have. He also had a wife, or perhaps more than one – I am not sure. Anyway, I was not to be his wife. Just a concubine. Which is fine, after all; you know, the job of the concubine is not very difficult. You just have to be ready when the king wants you, which is not so often, because the king has a lot of concubines. It was little boring, sure, but after a while you get used to that; you spend a lot of time chatting with the other concubines, eating, drinking, and laughing. So, that could have been all of my story; to get old in the king’s harem; it is the lot of concubines, But, instead, my destiny was to be completely different.

As a concubine, I was a little special, because I was from Babylon, and I had been a hierodule of the temple of Ishtar and the priests and the priestesses of Babylon have this fame of being able to make prophecies. So, one day, the king summoned me, and I went to see him all dressed up nice, kohl on my eyes, good perfume all over, and gold jewels on my wrists and ankles. But that day I found that that he didn’t want to play Dummuzi and Inanna with me. I saw right away that he was worried, very worried. So, he told me that messengers had come from Egypt and had told him that the Egyptian army was marching North in full strength, toward the lands of the Hittites, led by the young Pharaoh Ramses the second. So, he asked me to make a prophecy for him. A prophecy about this battle.

What could I do? When a king asks you something, you can’t refuse. So, I wore the dress of the prophetess, had a liver from a freshly killed goat brought to me and I made this prophecy for him. And it was not a good prophecy. I saw a lot of dead people, plenty of smashed chariots, and the remains of the Hittite army retreating. I told him this, and he got angry at me. He said that he didn’t believe me and that he was going to lick these Egyptians as they deserved. And that he would teach this stupid Ramses a good lesson. And that he didn’t believe a word of my prophecy.

It was what my Ensi had said. That nobody would believe my prophecies; actually she had said it was a curse, and maybe it was true. But what could I do about that? King Muwatalli assembled the whole Hittite army, all the chariots and the infantry, and he marched south, to meet the Egyptian army at the city of Kadesh.

From Tarhuntassa, we saw the king leaving and, a couple of months later, coming back. But half of the army was not there and the king was not happy, not happy at all. Of course he told everyone that it had been a big victory for him, at Kadesh; that he had really licked those Egyptians and taught a big lesson to that young Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses the second. But the survivors told different stories of people being hacked to piece and drowning while trying to swim across the Orontes river, pursued by the Egyptians. Later on, there came messengers from Egypt, who said that king Ramses had come back home telling of the great victory he had won against the Hittites.

So, you can understand how things were at the court of Tarhuntassa after the battle. The king was worried that the Egyptians would attack again, that the provinces would rebel, that the nobles would try to overthrow him… a mess. And about me…. ow… you can imagine that. It is no good having been right about a king’s disgrace. I was afraid that King Mutawalli would kill me; he didn’t, but for sure he didn’t care any more for me as a concubine. But at this point there happened something special.

Not that I was supposed to be told about these political things, I was just a concubine. But everything becomes known in court after a while, and so I learned that there had come a messenger from King Alaksandu of Wilusa. You probably never hear of these names, but you can surely understand if I say, instead “king Priam of Troy”. So let me call him Priam, even though the Hittites called him Alaksandu.

Now, this messenger arrived, and he said that King Priam was in trouble because this king Akagamunash, ruler of the Ahhiyawa was planning to attack the city of Troy. Even these names, you probably never heard of. But they are known also as king Agamemnon and the Achaeans; people living across the sea from Anatolia. So, this messenger said that King Priam had always been a faithful vassal of king Mutawalli, and that he would remain a faithful servant forever, and that his sons would be forever faithful servants of King Muwatalli, too, and he kept going like that for quite a long time. Then, while still paying homage to the victorious king of the Hittites, he – king Priam – said that he badly needed some help from King Muwatalli and that the great Hittite ruler was surely able to chase away these barbarian Achaeans with his powerful army as if they were ants pushed away by fire.

That message made king Mutawalli even angrier and more worried than before. And that came to be known all over the court of Tarhuntassa. He had no army that he could send West to defend Troy. And if he tried to defend Troy, he would risk another defeat, or to leave the Eastern provinces unguarded, and that would have been truly the end of him. But if he did nothing, he risked the whole left flank of the Hittite Empire. So, he had this idea: to send me to king Priam. I don’t know if that was to be taken as a joke or if he really thought I could help the Trojans – maybe yes, you know, these Babylonian priestesses have strange powers. Anyway, the king had his scribes write a pompous letter to Priam, saying that because of his faithful service he wanted to reward him with a precious gift, a gift of great value. And he was sending him this wise woman, Cassandra from Babylon, prophetess of renown and that he – king Muwatalli – was sure that King Priam would appreciate the gift for what it was worth.

All that I came to know later. What happened is that the king summoned me in front of him and he told me “Cassandra, you are going to Wilusa” – And I couldn’t understand Hittite so well, so I said, “What?” And he laughed and he said, “Aren’t you a prophetess, Cassandra? You should know!” Silly humor of kings, but let me say nothing about that.

One month later, I was there, in front of the walls of Troy, with a caravan that had traveled all the way from Tarhuntassa. And I was in front of King Priam, who came out of the door of the city to meet me. I still remember his face. He was expecting an army to help him, and all what he got was a dressed up concubine escorted by eunuchs and slaves. Oh, that he was disappointed!! But he put on a brave face, and he escorted me into the city with all the pomp of the occasion.

Now, King Priam was too old to be interested in playing Dummuzi and Inanna with me. But his sons were young enough, and I was the new girl in town, and I think that Priam didn’t want anyone to quarrel because of me. There was a war that was going to start, and he didn’t want Trojans to kill each other. So, he placed me in the temple of the Goddess they had in Troy; Athena Parthenos; who was supposed to be a virgin. And the hierodules, there, were also supposed to be virgins. Now, it is a bit strange for a hierodule of Isthar to be said to be a virgin. It would be like saying that Nergal, the God of War, fears blood! And about all the other hierodules; virgins? Well, let me say nothing about that. But, anyway, the king placed me there, and there I had to stay. And not just that. He adopted me, telling everyone that from then on I was supposed to be his daughter and that any offense against me, just an attempt to jeopardize my virginity, was supposed to be an insult to the king and to the whole royal court. At least I didn’t have to worry about too many things.

So, while staying in the temple, I learned a little about the city and about all the buzz there was about this woman, Helen. One of the sons of King Priam, Paris, had snatched her away from her husband, a big Achaean boss called Menelaus. This Helen was supposed to be extremely beautiful, but I can tell you that she was kind of overrated. Anyway, it was none of my business about whether this Paris and Helen were playing Dummuzi and Inanna together. But it didn’t seem to me that it was such a good idea to steal this woman from her husband, who was a powerful Achaean King. Now the Achaeans were buzzing like angry bees and that was the reason why Priam was expecting an invasion.

Sure enough, not long after I had arrived, there appeared a big fleet of those Achaeans, right in front ot the city of Troy. They landed, and out of the ships they came with chariots, swords, and all what is needed for war. And all Trojans, including the hierodules of the temple, went up the walls and looked down to the plain in front of the city and – my gosh – there was a huge band of those Achaeans there. Truly an awful lot of them.

Later on, that day, King Priam summoned me and he asked me to perform a divination for him. And I told him, “King, I don’t need to make a prophecy for you; haven’t you seen how many of these Achaeans there are?” And he told me not to be silly and to make this divination. So, I got a goat liver and I performed the ritual and I told him what I saw. Which was a lot of blood and the city in flames. And, of course, he wasn’t happy. He got angry at me and he started screaming things I didn’t understand. So, I told him, “king, don’t you think it was a silly idea that your son, Paris, snatched away this girl, this Helen, from her husband? Now he is here with all his friends and he wants her back. So, why don’t you give her back to him, and so you save the city?” But he muttered something like “the honor of Trojans is not negotiable!” And he left, angry, saying that he didn’t believe a word of my prophecies. As if that was new.

Not that Priam was especially stupid. He was old, he couldn’t really tell people what to do. But there was this idea in Troy that the honor of the city was at stake and that they had to fight, even though they might have avoided it. I know this because I spoke with other people of the city, including one of Priam’s sons, a guy called Hector. He seemed to be smarter than the average, but still he didn’t budge from that position. So, what could I do about that? I didn’t insist, because they had started looking at me askance, as if I was a traitor or a spy; after all I was a foreigner. Don’t misunderstand me. These Trojans were not bad people – actually I liked them. But they had this idea that there is no other way to solve problems than hacking at each other using swords. I told them that swords create problems, don’t solve them, but they looked at me as if I had been a Galla demon, just materialized in front of them.

So, there started the this war. In the temple, with the other hierodules, we couldn’t see what was going on, out there, but every evening, when the warriors came back to the city, we heard stories of the battle. We heard of this guy having killed that guy, and of another guy coming up and killing the first in revenge. I figure this is the way wars are; not very interesting for a hierodule. Anyhow, and I must say that the Trojans put up quite a good fight, though badly outnumbered. And they trusted their walls, they thought they were safe behind them.

There is a legend that says that the siege of Troy lasted for ten years, but it is not true, it lasted just for a season – what do you think those Achaeans would have eaten if they had to stay in the plain for ten years? But never mind that. One day, someone came up to the temple and he told me, “Cassandra, come and see!” So, I walked up to the battlements and I saw a big wooden thing right in front of the walls. And everyone was asking “what the heck is that?” and they asked me because they knew I was a priestess from Babylon and I had seen a lot of things. And, of course, I knew what it was, I had read about those things in the temple. So, I told them, “it is a siege engine!” And they looked at me with bovine eyes and they said “What?” And I told them, “it is made to smash down the city walls!” They looked at each other, shaking their heads. They didn’t believe me. What’s so new about that?

Sp, they kept discussing about that big wooden thing and they came up with this brilliant idea that it was supposed to be a  horse and that it was a votive offering for the God Apollon. And I tell them, “Look, you idiots, you must set that thing on fire before it is too late.” I was trying to do my best, after all, they were not bad people – I liked them. But they just looked at me, askance and again, they started muttering that I am a foreign and that I should not be trusted. What could I do about that?

So, I went back to the temple, and night came, and I went to sleep and I woke up when I heard a lot of noise, people screaming, and the smell of things burning. I understood immediately what’s going on but, again, there was nothing I could do about that, just noting how silly these people were. And, again, I was sorry for them. Then, at some moment, the door of the temple was smashed open from the outside there came in an hirsute idiot wearing armor and carrying a sword. You can imagine that I was afraid, so I clung to the statue of Athena, but the idiot tried to pull me away – I mean, so stupid: if he had wanted to play Dummuzi and Inanna with me, he could have just asked in the proper manner. So, I got even more scared and I clung to the statue more, and in the end I got a dislocated shoulder, quite some bruises, and the hirsute idiot carried me away.

You can imagine how angry I was, in addition to the dislocated shoulder, this idiot had managed to desecrate the temple of the Goddess. So I cursed him for good, using some curses that my Ensi had taught me; while telling me that I should never use them, but I did. He was cursed for good and he had lots of troubles. Later on, the Goddess had his ship sink at sea, and he drowned. In a way, I was sorry for him, but that was how things went.

So, while Troy was burning, I ended up playing Inanna and Dummuzi with the king of the Achaeans, someone called Agamemnon. I said that I was a good looking girl, so he wanted to take me with him on his ship, when he sailed back to his city, Mycenae.  Before leaving, he asked me to make a divination for him; which I did. And I told him that I saw blood and murder, and he just laughed and he said that his loving wife was waiting for me and that he was very happy to go back and that everything would be fine. Nothing unusual for me.

So, we arrived in Mycenae, and Agamemnon took me with him to his palace. His wife, Clytemnestra, didn’t like that — not so much because of me, but because she had a lover, and she didn’t want her obnoxious husband back. So she killed Agamemnon by stabbing him while he was taking a bath – loving wife, yes! –  and then she ran after me with an axe. She almost got me, but I managed to run away. Later on, the legend spread that said that she had killed me. That was not true, but I was perfectly happy with that. I had had enough troubles with all those stories and I much preferred if people thought I was dead.

That was not the end of the story, but I’ll skip several details of what happened after I ran away from Mycenae, chased by a madwoman yielding a battle axe! Let me just say that I managed to meet another Achaean who was also coming back home –  Odysseus his name. He took me on board of his ship and he played a little of Dummuzi and Inanna with me, then he asked me a prophecy for his return home. I don’t have to tell you that I saw bad things there, but he didn’t believe me – of course. But this Odysseus was nice enough to land me in Byblos, in Lebanon. There, I found a ride on a caravan that took me back to Babylon.

And there I was, a few years had gone by, but in the meantime my Ensi priestess had died and they recognized me, and they wanted me to become the new Ensi of the temple. But I didn’t want to – I had had enough of prophecies. I married a tavern keeper in Babylon, I had children and grandchildren, I died very old. I had a happy life and now I am a ghost. And that’s the end of the story of Cassandra – actually known as Kasanna in Babylon.

Just one more detail; I think it may interest you. One day there came someone to the tavern, an old Greek. He was blind and he had no money, but he said he could sing for me in exchange for some good beer. So, he did, and he sang the story of the war of Troy. It was nice, but I told him that it was wrong in many details. I tried to tell him that Cassandra was not the daughter of King Priam, and that the siege engine was not supposed to look like a horse. But he didn’t believe me – imagine that! So, I told him that he could have his beer for free, and might the goddess bless him. And that’s truly the end of this story.

….. Lady Cassandra, it is a nice story to hear. Thank you very much. So, you even meet Homer…

Yes, I remember that Homer was the name of that blind Greek. I think he became famous.

But, Lady Cassandra.. You said that your name in Babylon was…. how did you say?

My name? Kasanna…. it was my name in Babylon.

What does it mean?

Oh… it is an old Sumerian name. Kash is beer in Sumerian and Anna is heaven. So, Kashanna means “heavenly beer.”

A very nice name.

Thank you. Do you like beer?

I do. Although sometimes it gives me headaches.

Not the beer I served in my tavern, in Babylon. I am sure that it didn’t give headaches to anyone.

I don’t think they make that kind of beer any more…. unfortunately. Do you like beer Lady Cassanra?

Well, I used to. The beer I served in the tavern in Babylon was very good. But, you know, as a ghost……

Oh…. sorry, I didn’t mean…

No, it is all right. It is the way the Gods have arranged things to be. Everyone has to become a ghost. Sooner or later.

But, Lady Cassandra, I was thinking that I might ask you something…..

You want a divination, don’t you?

Well, if possible…. I am not sure I can find a goat liver for you, but…..

Oh… don’t worry about that. As a ghost I can make divinations even without a goat liver. And what would you like the divination to be about?

That’s very nice of you, Lady Cassandra. So, you know, we have plenty of problems, here. But there is this one we call “climate change”…. I am not sure you are familiar with this concept.

Ghosts have special powers, you know? So, I know what you are talking about. It is very dangerous, indeed. More dangerous than having the whole Achaean army lined up in front of the city doors. So, let me make this divination for you.

Well, maybe it takes time…

No…. as I said, we ghosts have special power. I just have to think about the matter, and the prophecy comes. And, you know, I am sorry, I am really sorry…..

Why?

It is not a good prophecy. It is even worse than for Troy. Everything on fire. People dying, blood everywhere. But many, many more.

But am I not supposed to disbelieve you?

Oh… no, that curse was for when I was alive. Now that I am a ghost, not any more….. I think you believe me. I can see that.

Not that I am happy about that, but….

It seems that people in your time are even more stupid than the Trojans. They just had to give back Helen to the Achaeans to save the city. All what you have to do is to stop burning that awful black stuff you keep burning. Is it so difficult?

Apparently, yes. It seems to be very difficult.

I see….. I am sorry that I upset you.

It is all right. I should have expected that.

I am really sorry. I see that you are very upset. I should go back to the underworld….

No, no… there is no hurry. But, Lady Cassandra, do you really think your prophecies…. I mean, do they always come true?

They do. It is the will of the Gods.

Ah……

See, I was sorry for the people of Troy, and I am sorry for your people, too. You see, maybe you should pray to the Goddess Inanna, maybe she can help you.

I think I should try that, yes…..

Really, I guess it is time for me to go…… Ghosts are not supposed to chat with the living for such a long time. And good luck, you really need it.

Thank you, Lady Cassandra

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Technical Journals

The South Atlantic Ocean is currently undergoing significant alterations due to climate change. This [...]

This paper assessed the variability and projected trends of solar irradiance and temperature in the [...]

Following the impact of droughts witnessed during the last decade there is an urgent need to develop [...]

A “nadir-only” framework of the radiometric intercomparison of multispectral sensors usi [...]

A fuzzy random conditional value-at-risk-based linear programming (FCVLP) model was proposed in this [...]