Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quotable

From a recent Der Spiegel interview with Noam Chomsky:

SPIEGEL: Who prevents intellectuals from asking and critically answering these questions? You praised the freedom of speech in the United States.

Chomsky: The intellectual world is deeply conformist. Hans Morgenthau, who was a founder of realist international relations theory, once condemned what he called the conformist subservience to power on the part of the intellectuals. George Orwell wrote that nationalists, who are practically the whole intellectual class of a country, not only do not disapprove of the crimes of their own state, but have the remarkable capacity not even to see them. That is correct. We talk a lot about the crimes of others. When it comes to our own crimes, we are nationalists in the Orwellian sense.
That seems to be the rub, and a general theme that Chomsky has been exploring for the bulk of his career. On a related note, Chomsky's remarks remind me of something Arthur Silber was writing just a little while ago:
Take a look at a description of the famous Asch experiment in social conformity. Another simple test, as simple as recognizing that certain consequences are unavoidable should be. Yet many people got it wrong. You know perfectly well why they got it wrong:
To Asch's surprise, 37 of the 50 subjects conformed to the majority at least once, and 14 of them conformed on more than 6 of the 12 trials. When faced with a unanimous wrong answer by the other group members, the mean subject conformed on 4 of the 12 trials. Asch was disturbed by these results: "The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black. This is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct."

Why did the subjects conform so readily? When they were interviewed after the experiment, most of them said that they did not really believe their conforming answers, but had gone along with the group for fear of being ridiculed or thought "peculiar." A few of them said that they really did believe the group's answers were correct.

Asch conducted a revised version of his experiment to find out whether the subjects truly did not believe their incorrect answers. When they were permitted to write down their answers after hearing the answers of others, their level of conformity declined to about one third what it had been in the original experiment.

Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: because they want to be liked by the group and because they believe the group is better informed than they are.
The pathetic truth is that most people fear genuine independence more than they fear death itself. So desperate are they for "acceptance" and so fearful of being thought "peculiar," they will deny the evidence of their own eyes and mindlessly repeat the lies and ignorance of others. When it comes to a subject like economics or foreign policy, they think: "Oh, that's so hard! I can't understand that. I'll just listen to what the 'experts' say. They know best."

If events of the last seven years have demonstrated nothing else at all, they should have made absolutely clear that "experts" are often the very last people you should look to for guidance. The experts are precisely those people most likely to repeat "conventional wisdom," that is, the views accepted by the ruling class -- because, by virtue of the fact that they are regarded as experts, they are part of the ruling class.
I look at the whole process of graduate training, which is where most of us experts initially hone our skills, as one that encourages conformity. On one level, there is the coursework in which one becomes well-versed in the prevailing acceptable theory and methodology for the discipline. That comes with the territory. Failure to conform within the acceptable parameters on that level will end a professional career before it even begins. Read Kuhn's work on paradigms and normal science (I'm sure there's a good analog for normal science in the arts and humanities as well), and you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about. Why conform? The usual reasons are normative and informational. One, young experts and technocrats to be wish to gain the good graces of their advisors and movers and shakers in their fields in order to grease the path to career success. Two, if there's anything intellectuals hate, it's being wrong. Hence any information about how to function correctly in one's field is to be sought after and retained.

If that were all. There's more. There is of course an enculturation process that goes on outside of the lab, the advisor's office, the classroom. If one ever wondered why so many of academicians tend to dress the same, have fairly similar cultural tastes, and so forth, spend some time among grad students (either among themselves or in the company of their department's faculty) and you'll get the picture. To the extent that one can fit in, one gets "accepted" which of course will grease the old career path. There is not a lot of room for radicalism in the intellectual world either - contrary to what right-wing culture warriors would contend. I used to shock people when they found that I was quite open about having no use for Bill Clinton circa 1996 (or for the mainstream of the GOP crowd from that period), but would rather endorse third party candidates. Of course I had found it easy to get into some bad habits as far as news information during the grad school days, and hence it became rather easy to accept some of the conventional "wisdom" about the land of the "free" while running to and from various lab responsibilities, writing a dissertation, etc. For example, I don't think I bothered to question the propaganda regarding the rational for the Balkans "war" (more of a one-sided NATO-led massacre), even as I questioned the need to actually go to war until years after the fact. I can assure you that a more radical analysis of that particular war (as with the "humanitarian" sanctions against the Iraqis) would have never come up in conversations. Besides, radical analyses, especially when voiced openly, tend to make those who might be awarding tenure or grants for research a bit nervous - making them nervous is not exactly good for one's career. Just look at folks like Norman Finkelstein, whose politically incorrect research (incorrect in the sense of not serving the ruling class) was arguably the main rationale for denying him tenure. Don't even get me started on Ward Churchill. Bottom line is that you're not likely to find to many actual radicals in the academic world, and almost certainly not inside of Beltway think tanks, or among mass media punditry. The lure of the trappings of success (as defined in our current Gilded Age) is just too tempting to pass up. Your intelligentsia is basically safe as milk, as far as the ruling elite is concerned. Even better, for the ruling elite, that same intelligentsia, which may initially reluctantly swallow the propaganda that passes for conventional wisdom, can over time come to accept it as true - there's a nice body of research on attitudes and persuasion that demonstrates the effects of rehearsing a particular attitude or set of attitudes on later behavior. Short story - it becomes easy to believe your own press, if you just keep repeating the myths often enough. We come to "love Big Brother."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Something of a followup to Willful Ignorance

Thanks to Annie of Home of the Brave, I got wind of Emptywheel, who's been piecing together the concerns that are increasingly being voiced by the mainstream, such as it is, within both Dem and GOP about the increasingly virulently angry and mob-like behavior at McCain-Palin rallies. Both posts should be read in full. While you're at it, this would be a good time to get a refresher course on eliminationism, something that I periodically address here (as I did on my old Left End of the Dial blog). Here's a sampler of a few things I've said in the past, with the hope that you'll find them of interest. Let's start with something from June, 2004 - Feeling the Love? Or is it the Hatred?
An issue that I've touched on a bit over the last few months, and which has been discussed much more ably by David Neiwert, is that of the mainstreaming of eliminationist rhetoric in right-wing circles. Whenever I encounter one of Junior Caligula's true believers, the conversation almost invariably shifts to how supposedly hate-filled so-called left-wing blogs, websites, and media figures are in their treatment of Dear Leader and Dear Leader's supporters, etc. When I offer a whole laundry list of examples of right-wingers engaging in hate speech as a rejoinder, the response is typically one of dismissal (e.g., "those are only isolated incidents."). If only I could be so sanguine. Ask cartoonist Ted Rall or comedian Margaret Cho their opinion: they've received countless such "isolated" incidents in the form of email insults, and threats of physical harm. Why? They've touched a nerve by taking the piss out of a few wingnut sacred cows (whether it's the canonization of the soon-to-be first Protestant saint, Ronald Reagan, or pointing out the rather obvious fact that Dear Leader is the emperor without any clothes). Add to that various and sundry reports of movie theatre owners receiving death threats right before Fahrenheit 9/11 hits the screens, the goons who assaulted an art gallery owner recently over a controversial painting depicting an Abu Ghraib style torture scene, the goons who physically threatened and in at least one case assaulted opponents of Arnold Schwartzenegger's candidacy for governor of California last year, any of a number of accounts of threats and assaults on anti-war demonstrators, etc., and one sees that rather than isolated incidents we have something of a pattern emerging.

Once again, David Neiwert takes a look at where the hatred really is coming from. Contrary to popular opinion, it sure isn't coming from Moveon.org. Rather it is coming straight from not only the streets but also the mainstream where such enlightened pillars of society such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Linda Chavez, Grover Norquist, etc., have been more than happy to spew and transmit plenty of hate and violence-filled bile over the airwaves and in print. Why are these folks important? As it turns out, they are important in the influence they have on those right-wing authoritarians who look up to them for leadership. One thing that Bob Altemeyer noted so aptly in various books on right-wing authoritarianism is that among the facets of the authoritarian personality structure is something called "authoritarian aggression." That's not to say that right-wing authoritarians are dispositionally aggressive or violent. As an aside, the data that I've been collecting on right-wing authoritarians shows no link between scores on Altemeyer's RWA scale and standard measures of trait aggressiveness. Rather, people who are highly authoritarian tend to show a greater tendency to engage in aggressive or violent acts under a specific set of conditions: namely when such actions are perceived to be sanctioned by those authority figures whom they follow. If authoritarians' own leaders are stating that their political opponents or "enemies" are inhuman, pure evil, and need to be eliminated by any means necessary, that's a pretty strong signal to the average authoritarian that aggression against those particular targets is at least tacitly sanctioned. Such aggression is primarily viewed by authoritarians as punitive.

A quick note: keep in mind that when I discuss right-wing authoritarians that I am not in any way, shape, or form discussing conservatives. As I see it, much of what makes one a conservative is a tendency towards conventionalism: that is, a tendency to strongly conform to established customs or norms. Authoritarians too are very conventionalistic, but in addition are highly submissive (ordinary run of the mill conservatives tend to be a rather independent lot) and willing to engage in aggression if sanctioned by authorities (something that I really don't see much if at all among ordinary conservatives). Conservatism is a different vibe. One can hold reasoned and cordial discussions with conservatives (one won't likely change their minds, but they'll tend to hear you out), whereas with authoritarians such efforts at civil conversation are likely exercises in futility - unless of course your idea of a good time is shouting matches, shoving matches, and death threats.
Just change the names a bit - replace Junior Caligula with McCain-Palin - and the song remains eerily the same. From around the same period - this time May 2004 - Let's Have Fun with Eliminationism!

Check this piece, I Have Met the Enemy..., written by Patricia Kneisler about a recent encounter with a rather belligerent wingnut:
For the first time ever in my life, I had someone threaten to kill me tonight. He was nearly apoplectic with rage, screaming curses, his finger right in my face, his eyes slits of venom. Ex-Navy lifer, I gathered. Probably in his late 50’s. Beer belly. A person so devoid of humanity I was stunned.

Good lord, you might ask. What on earth did you, a 52 year old professional woman, do to provoke that?

All I did was exercise my duty as a very concerned citizen in what I thought was America. I stood silently out on the sidewalk in my California town with a sign in each hand. One sign showed a tally of the number of Iraqi civilian dead from the Iraq Body Count website … the other the number of coalition soldiers dead to date. This is my regular Thursday night gig, something I’ve done every week for 14 months now.

...The man took enough of a breath for Tom to get a word in edgewise. “What about the Constitution?”

“FUCK the constitution! I WILL NOT LET YOU PEOPLE DESTROY MY COUNTRY! I WILL NOT LET YOU!”

“No,” I replied. “It is us who will not let YOU destroy our country. We – will – not – let - you.” Well, OK, I called him an asshole, too. Tom is my witness. I thought of those 11,000 innocent dead Iraqis and I called him an asshole.

As he finally stormed back around to the driver’s side of his car, a shouting match ensued (not on Tom’s part … I’m afraid he was the only adult in the group). And then came the parting shot:

“Bush will win in a LANDSLIDE. And if he doesn’t, WE know where to find you. WE can take care of you. WE can make sure you don’t EVER fuck with this country again.”

...That’s when I thought of Abu Ghraib. In fact, the pictures seemed to flash like a slide show through my brain, one after another. Grinning, leering Americans torturing human beings stripped of every shred of their humanity in the eyes of their torturers.

And I understood. Mr. Ex-Navy would have fit right in.

I met the dark underbelly of America tonight. I really did meet the enemy. And he really is ______.
I periodically ask myself how well the analogies hold up between contemporary American social and political life and that of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and 1930s. Although no analogy is likely to be perfect, there are some parallels. A cat by the handle "Lupin" over at Billmon's Whiskey Bar expressed some of those parallels fairly aptly:
Selfishly, I am also very much concerned by the consequences of the FAILURE (ie: all the various failures you enumerated in your remarkable analysis) at home.

There is, of course, the economic failure. It was Paul Krugman, I think, who once wrote that our budget deficit puts us in the position of the Warnes Bros Coyote after he's run off the edge of the cliff, and before he's looked under his feet.

How long will it take until we fall, and how hard will the fall be?

Then we have a societal failure. Fascism is always born from the failure and the pauperization of democracies.

As was the case with Germany, a U.S. reeling from a huge deficit, possibly inflation, job outsourcing, unemployment, high gas prices, and a humiliating military defeat caused by a "stab in the back from the liberals" (watch the right-ewing already orchestrating this as we speak), will be fertile ground for increased / renewed neo-fascist activity.

...I've been concerned that, even if Kerry wins, the neofascists will not give up easily. I don't necessarily mean BushCo, I mean the base. Political assassinations, intimidation, violence, etc.

Let us recall the recent case of Michael Breit who kept a hit list of high-ranking U.S. officials and celebrities, such as former Attorney General Janet Reno and filmmaker Michael Moore.

Now, in Breit's case the system seems to have worked (somewhat), but how many more Breits are loose out there in our red neck beerhalls? How many are ready to move and enlist in the 2006 American version of the S.A.?

The picture you outline, Billmon, is only the foreign picture. The domestic consequences of the FAILURE are inescapable and many.

The future of America may be very grim indeed.
I've written and/or provided links to other excellent commentary on this theme a bit over the past few months; for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, and there's probably more. Each of these links captures some facet of the theme or analogy, from the eliminationist rhetoric and its mainstreaming into respectable conservative channels, incidents of violence against dissidents, home-grown right-wing terror groups, and the sorts of factors that allow destructive obedience to thrive.

My guess is that those of us comprising the liberal/progressive/leftie communities will need to be especially vigilant not only in the coming months, but the coming years, as even Junior Caligula's eviction from the White House will not mean the end of our own home-grown fascist elements. No doubt that these cats will be more than a little pissed off at the outcome of the Iraq war fiasco and potentially the outcome of this year's elections, and we're the ones they're pinning the blame on (even though a reasonable person would know better not to). Reminds me of that old Chinese curse about living in interesting times...
Obviously, Junior Caligula remained in the White House - thank a combination of vote tampering and the uninspiring and very warmongerish "opposition" candidate John Kerry. But one could find plenty of examples during the run-up to the 2004 election that were disturbing, to say the least, including articles and images of right-wingers assaulting anti-war and anti-Bush protesters. Eliminationist rhetoric, and occasional action, has continued unabated in the years since. As Annie does, it is important to place the behavior at McCain-Palin rallies in its context, and realize that what we're witnessing now is not something that just came out of a vacuum, but rather has been brewing for a while.

There's a lot of anger and real and perceived disenfranchisement out there, and it will be manifest in actions. It's only a matter of how that energy gets channeled. Like Richard of American Leftist, given the abysmal failure of neoliberal style capitalism, we on the left (not the faux left of "progressive" Democrats) have an opportunity to offer attractive alternatives to potentially fascist or authoritarian tribalist approaches.

In the meantime, be vigilant.

Here's your Petraeus Doctrine

I was checking out After Downing Street this early afternoon and just happened to notice an article called War Crimes Manuals. That will lead you to an article on Wikileaks titled McCain's real Petraeus doctrine, which itself links to another article titled US Special Forces counterinsurgency manual FM 31-20-3. From McCain's real Petaeus doctrine:

[T]he psychological effectiveness of the CSDF concept starts by reversing the insurgent strategy of making the government the repressor. It forces the insurgents to cross a critical threshold-that of attacking and killing the very class of people they are supposed to be liberating.

— US Special Forces doctrine obtained by Wikileaks

So states the US Special Forces counterinsurgency manual obtained by Wikileaks, Foreign Internal Defense Tactics Techniques and Procedures for Special Forces (1994, 2004). The manual may be critically described as "what the US learned about running death squads and propping up corrupt government in Latin America and how to apply it to other places". Its contents are both history defining for Latin America and, given the continued role of US Special Forces in the suppression of insurgencies, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, history making.

The leaked manual, which has been verified with military sources, is the official US Special Forces doctrine for Foreign Internal Defense or FID.

FID operations are designed to prop up "friendly" governments facing popular revolution or guerilla insurgency. FID interventions are often covert or quasi-covert due to the unpopular nature of the governments being supported ("In formulating a realistic policy for the use of advisors, the commander must carefully gauge the psychological climate of the HN [Host Nation] and the United States.")

The manual directly advocates training paramilitaries, pervasive surveillance, censorship, press control and restrictions on labor unions & political parties. It directly advocates warrantless searches, detainment without charge and (under varying circumstances) the suspension of habeas corpus. It directly advocates employing terrorists or prosecuting individuals for terrorism who are not terrorists, running false flag operations and concealing human rights abuses from journalists. And it repeatedly advocates the use of subterfuge and "psychological operations" (propaganda) to make these and other "population & resource control" measures more palatable.

The content has been particularly informed by the long United States involvement in El Salvador.

In 2005 a number of credible media reports suggested the Pentagon was intensely debating "the Salvador option" for Iraq.
It might be helpful to get a couple pictures of what the Salvador Option looked like, to get a feel for how it would play in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan.


It ain't pretty.

Not exactly happy, uplifting news

Insomnia got the better of me, so here's a little something I ran into as I was getting ready to shut off the computer for the night.

The world is at severe risk of a global systemic financial meltdown and a severe global depression:
The US and advanced economies’ financial system is now headed towards a near-term systemic financial meltdown as day after day stock markets are in free fall, money markets have shut down while their spreads are skyrocketing, and credit spreads are surging through the roof. There is now the beginning of a generalized run on the banking system of these economies; a collapse of the shadow banking system, i.e. those non-banks (broker dealers, non-bank mortgage lenders, SIV and conduits, hedge funds, money market funds, private equity firms) that, like banks, borrow short and liquid, are highly leveraged and lend and invest long and illiquid and are thus at risk of a run on their short-term liabilities; and now a roll-off of the short term liabilities of the corporate sectors that may lead to widespread bankruptcies of solvent but illiquid financial and non-financial firms.

[snip]

At this point severe damage is done and one cannot rule out a systemic collapse and a global depression. It will take a significant change in leadership of economic policy and very radical, coordinated policy actions among all advanced and emerging market economies to avoid this economic and financial disaster. Urgent and immediate necessary actions that need to be done globally (with some variants across countries depending on the severity of the problem and the overall resources available to the sovereigns) include:

- another rapid round of policy rate cuts of the order of at least 150 basis points on average globally;

- a temporary blanket guarantee of all deposits while a triage between insolvent financial institutions that need to be shut down and distressed but solvent institutions that need to be partially nationalized with injections of public capital is made;

- a rapid reduction of the debt burden of insolvent households preceded by a temporary freeze on all foreclosures;

- massive and unlimited provision of liquidity to solvent financial institutions;

- public provision of credit to the solvent parts of the corporate sector to avoid a short-term debt refinancing crisis for solvent but illiquid corporations and small businesses;

- a massive direct government fiscal stimulus packages that includes public works, infrastructure spending, unemployment benefits, tax rebates to lower income households and provision of grants to strapped and crunched state and local government;

- a rapid resolution of the banking problems via triage, public recapitalization of financial institutions and reduction of the debt burden of distressed households and borrowers;

- an agreement between lender and creditor countries running current account surpluses and borrowing and debtor countries running current account deficits to maintain an orderly financing of deficits and a recycling of the surpluses of creditors to avoid a disorderly adjustment of such imbalances.

At this point anything short of these radical and coordinated actions may lead to a market crash, a global systemic financial meltdown and to a global depression. At this stage central banks that are usually supposed to be the "lenders of last resort" need to become the "lenders of first and only resort" as, under conditions of panic and total loss of confidence, no one in the private sector is lending to anyone else since counterparty risk is extreme. And fiscal authorities that usually are spenders and insurers of last resort need to temporarily become the spenders and insurers of first resort. The fiscal costs of these actions will be large but the economic and fiscal costs of inaction would be of a much larger and severe magnitude. Thus, the time to act is now as all the policy officials of the world are meeting this weekend in Washington at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings.

Thursday midnite update: A few hours after I had written this note the market crash that I warned about is underway in Asia: the Nikkei index in Japan is down 11% and all other Asian markets are sharply down. This reinforces the urgency of credible and rapid policy actions by the G7 financial officials who are meeting in a few hours in Washington and the need to also involve in such global policy coordination the systemically important emergent market economies.

I'd say "pleasant dreams" - but that might not be quite the right phrase.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Willful ignorance.

Some folks seem to enjoy wallowing in it. Sometimes the best thing to do is to watch it in action, as well as read about it. It's something I try to point out from time to time. As a public service, once more I offer:
One thing that I can routinely count on as Silly Season (also known as a Presidential election year) reaches its crescendo is the half-truths, lies, and damn lies that circulate both in the course of face to face conversation and via the Internet tubes. If I had a nickel for every mass email I have received about Barack (and Michelle) Obama being "radical Muslims" or other such nonsense, I'd have enough money to get through this month pretty comfortably.

So, in the name of a periodic public service to the rest of blogtopia, I would strongly suggest taking Internet rumors with a grain of salt, and do some basic fact-checking prior to continuing their circulation. One good starting point is snopes.com, which has dossiers on Barack Obama, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. I'm somewhat surprised that Joe Biden (D - MNBA) doesn't have a dossier, but maybe he just doesn't inspire the urban legend tellers the way the others do. At this point, as soon as I encounter someone via email or on the blogs spreading an obvious urban myth on a candidate, I merely find the requisite link to the myth and direct that individual to read up before further embarrassing themselves. Personally, I think there is enough objectionable about all of these folks to fill plenty of cyberspace and newsprint without relying on falsehoods. Keep it real and keep it honest.
Those who are bound and determined to wallow in their ignorance will probably not be swayed by some basic fact-checking (they are after all the "Know Nothings" of the 21st century), but the main point is to catch those who are a bit more conscientious before they fall for an urban myth. As I was saying then, there is plenty objectionable about these candidates to keep us occupied without relying upon falsehoods. Keep it real and keep it honest.

[The usual disclaimer is in order: If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you already have figured out that I'm sour on both anointed prez candidates, and am sitting this one out. Some of the Obamamania creeps me out as well.]

Suicide or murdered by capitalism

I was just going through a friend's blog that I hadn't visited in a while and ran upon a rather interesting essay & rant on economic stress as a factor in suicides and murder-suicides.

The NY Times recently reported the deaths of a man tasered for exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. He fell to his instant death. Several days later, the officer who gave the order to shoot him has killed himself with a bullet to his head.

There was an overnight murder and suicide of a working couple. The man updated his website to reflect that the deaths were a direct result of his distress over economic woes and impending homelessness.

A woman killed herself the day before her home was being foreclosed. Her family hadn’t been aware of the impending proceedings.

Many deaths are well hidden, but they are none the less deaths from killers who hide behind impersonal stressors they place on the victims.

The deaths are on society for allowing people to be squeezed until they cannot survive.

A few weeks ago, a neighbor of my in-laws killed himself. He was a real estate agent. I'm guessing that given the market in SoCal, he was no longer making the commissions that had enabled him to live a suburban middle class existence, and perhaps saw no hope in that changing for the foreseeable future. We'd chatted during my last visit to the area, just weeks before his suicide. Seemed like a nice person. When I got the news, even though he was at most a casual acquaintance, I silently mourned his loss.

I thought of the spike in suicides in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, or of the drastic increase in suicide rate in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed and Yeltsin's regime imposed neoliberal "shock therapy" on the nation's economy, leading to a massive influx of displaced, unemployed workers who could not find a way to make a living. I also thought of the increase in suicides among subsistence farmers in India, who have become increasingly displaced as corporate conglomerates have driven them off their land. What these folks have in common is the rather profound stress of no longer being able to live productively, to the extent that identities tend to get tied at least partially to our vocations. Even for those of us who have steady, and likely stable, work situations, there has been a confluence of factors that have squeezed us financially. Although nominally a professional person, my salary on a good month barely pays for basics, and when energy costs spiked over the last year, even that ability was stretched to and finally beyond the breaking point. Let's just say that I'm facing the prospect of making difficult decisions between paying for food and paying utilities. Given my own cultural makeup, no matter how radical I may be, I have never been able to shake off the basic southern white mindset of the male as provider, and the inability to be able to provide on an increasingly regular basis quite frankly gets to me. I can easily empathize with those who've taken their lives in the wake of lost income, foreclosures, and the like (in research on stress, those tend to fall under the rubric of "major life events" - the more profound of the stressors), if for no other reason than I've stared into the same abyss. My saving grace is the knowledge that next year's tax refund will provide some breathing room, so if we can just ride out the winter somehow.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Learn something new every day

I love the sciences:

Arnhem Land, jutting into the Arafura Sea at the top of Australia, has always been a special place for Aboriginal people. Just how special has been reinforced by the discovery of an extraordinary collection of rock art recording life in the area for the past 15,000 years, up until 50 years ago.

Alongside ancient paintings of thylacines, a mammal long extinct on the mainland, are images documenting modern-day inventions – a car, a bicycle wheel, a biplane and a rifle – as well as portraits of a missionary and a sea captain. Scientists documenting the rock art, spread across at least 100 sites in the remote Wellington Range, say it ranks among the world's finest.

It also appears to rewrite Australian history, undermining the widely held assumption that the continent was isolated and largely unvisited until the First Fleet arrived in 1788. The paintings suggest that, on the contrary, the people of northern Australia have been interacting with seafaring visitors from Asia and Europe for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Quotable

John Le Carré sez (h/t Avedon):
'I know about interrogation,' he said, alluding to his days as a British spy in the 1950s. 'I've done interrogations, and I can tell you this: By extracting information under torture, you make a fool of yourself. You obtain information that isn't true. You receive names of people who are supposedly guilty and aren't. You land yourself with a wild goose chase, and you miss what is being handed to you on a plate, and that is the possibility of bonding with someone and engaging with them and talking to them reasonably.'

Juan Santos Has a New Essay

Check it out - The Killing Horizon: Capitalism at the Expense of All Life. Here's the punch line:
You decide who and what nurtures us all and who and what destroys us. You decide. Is it saner to hug a tree, a cold stone building on Wall Street, or a stock certificate? Look at it. You decide. Everything that matters to you depends on the nature of your decision.