Tuesday, February 8, 2011

127 Hours - human survival at it's most extreme

Last night I went to a preview screening of 127 hours at the outdoor cinema at Burswood. As I expected from reading some reviews prior, the film was excellent. All of the film elements: script, casting, acting, set, sound, music, cinematography, editing/pacing, effects etc were singularly exceptional and also perfectly gelled together.

The dynamic soundscape, bright colours, slightly raw but crisp and powerful camera-work made for a strong impact on the senses. The representation of Aron: as reckless, bold and adventurous; spontaneous, creative and unhinged; a loving son; a young man reflecting on the failures in his life; and finally, the mix of a primal, wild super-human mad-courage and a serious, calculated and desperation-driven rationality that enabled him to cut his own arm off.

The story is inspiring because many of us would not be able to do the same. Many of us would perish, pinned by the rock. It reveals the human survival instinct at its most extreme, and it serves as a reminder for all the softies out there (myself included) to toughen the $%#* up!.

I thought I'd now dedicate the rest of this blog entry to some other brave self-amputees (being, as they are, so few in numbers - at least according to Wikipedia). On the"Self-surgery: Amputation of Trapped Limbs" page of Wikipedia, there are only four other individuals mentioned other than Aron Ralston. The following text has been copied and pasted from this page (and the cited pages). Warning: not for the squeamish!

On July 20, 1993, Donald Wyman was clearing land in a remote section of Pennsylvania, as part of his work for a mining company. In the process, a tree rolled over his shin, severely breaking the leg, and pinning Wyman to the ground. He yelled for help for one whole hour, but no one came. He concluded that the only way to save his life would be to cut off his leg. So he made a tourniquet out of his shoe string and tightened it with a wrench. Then he took his pocket knife and cut through the skin, the muscle and bone just above the knee and freed himself. He crawled thirty yards to a bulldozer, drove a quarter-mile to his truck, then maneuvered the standard transmission with his good leg and a hand until he reached a farm house one-and-a-half miles away, with his leg bleeding profusely. The farmer at the house helped him get to a hospital where his life was spared.
In 1993 Bill Jeracki was fishing near St. Mary's Glacier in Colorado, when a boulder pinned his left leg. Snow was forecast and without a jacket or pack, Jeracki didn't believe he would survive the night. Fashioning a tourniquet out of his flannel shirt and using his bait knife, he cut his leg off [3] at the knee joint, using hemostats from his fishing kit to clamp the bleeding arteries.

In 2002 Doug Goodale cut off his own arm [4] at the elbow in order to survive an accident at sea. He had become caught in a winch hauling lobster pots up from the sea floor, and could not free himself. The power of the winch left him hanging over the side of the boat, unable to either free himself or clamber back aboard. Somehow he managed to haul himself back onto the deck, dislocating his shoulder in the process. However, he was still trapped in the winch, bleeding heavily, and with no way of getting free, his only option was to pick up a knife and cut through his right arm. He then managed to pilot his boat back into harbour to get medical help.

In 2003 an Australian coal miner trapped three kilometres underground by an overturned tractor cut off his own arm[5] with a box-cutting knife. The 44-year-old man, who was not identified by police, was working late at the Hunter Valley mine when the tractor tipped over, crushing his arm and trapping him.

Monday, February 7, 2011

You can't ignore MONEY

If you had of asked me 7 years ago what I thought about the topics of "money", "investment", "economics" etc I probably would have said: "BORING!". I grew up in a middle-class household where money wasn't a big issue (or one that was even spoken about),... and I also found the subject slightly distasteful. I did poorly at Economics in Grade 10, I think because at the time I found it to be abstract and had no experience in its practical application.

Today I am hardly a bastion of knowledge when it comes to the subject of money/finance. Don't ask me any questions about Keynesian economics (ask Ai-Ling!). I have very little in savings, zero investments and no assets. But a few things have changed since then.

Probably the biggest thing that has changed is: I have recently noticed that, uh, the whole world is currently in a tremendously momentous period of change due to developments in global and regional management of MONEY. If you are interested in the past, present and particularly the future path of human-kind, therefore, there is absolutely no way you can ignore this subject.

A problem that I have with the subject of money, is how enormous, expansive and complex the world economy is. There is no way that I will ever understand either its entirety or all of the tiny cogs and micro-machinations that it is composed of. I am not an economist, I do not work in finance and I never plan to. So it can be hard to come to any sort of understanding, when you only dedicating perhaps 1% of your time towards it.

One video that I found really helpful was Money as Debt by Paul Grignon. The most useful part of this video, I thought, was a very simple and visual explanation of how finance came to exist. So at first people were trading gold. Carrying gold around all the time was not very practical, so people started storing their gold with other people who offered the service. These first "bankers" then issued pieces of paper stating the amount of gold that each person had deposited, which people then used as currency. Then the bankers realised that they could easily issue MORE PIECES OF PAPER than ingots of gold... because people hardly ever came and retrieved the physical gold. I learnt that in these early times, rules were developed about the ratio of "paper money" to physical gold that the bankers were allowed to "create" ie, the birth of fractional reserve banking. But of course lots of people didn't abide by these rules. I don't know the figures,... but say,... at first the ration was 4 paper units:1 gold ingot,... this later became 10000 paper units:gold ingot... something like that. Of course this is all simplified but it really helped me to understand how the world of finance was born.

I was also pretty interested to find out, that when you take out a loan, the bank
WRITES THAT MONEY INTO EXISTENCE. Ie, you ask for $400K for a home loan. The bank says: "sure thing!" and then writes $400,000 on its balance sheet. Even though the $400 is in the negative, that debt can then be "re-packaged" into some-one else's investment. So when you see those clips on the news of money being printed... and you think that's how most money comes into existence,.. it's not really true. Money is virtual!

One thing that I find really bizarre and a bit scary, is that the world of finance/the amount of "virtual" money that is created and traded in the stock-market etc is way bigger than the actual world economy. The amounts of debt just kept increasing, puffing up like a massive balloon... and now, in most places in the world this has popped/or is rapidly deflating,... taking down with it the ACTUAL economy. The balance sheets of ACTUAL companies involved in real physical products and services.

So everyone is panicking, selling their "virtual" monies and buying physical gold again,... but unfortunately that is removing a lot of the actual finance and liquidity that was required by actual businesses to go on operating.

It's a little surreal, living in Australia where large effects from the global financial crisis have yet to hit home. I look at the rest of the world and feel sad for the low-middle classes of very normal people around the world who have now had the brunt of the crash forced upon them as austerity measures such as reduction/elimination of social services, pensions, welfare, public health, education etc. I think only time will tell if Australia will suffer a similar fate...

Anyway, to sum this post up,... we are now living in a time where MONEY is the biggest player of our times. It will be extremely interesting to see how things go from here,.. we can only hope that more people will try to understand it and hopefully be able to curtail its worst abuses.