Thursday, June 30, 2011

'Singing penis' sets noise record for water insect - BBC News

David Seaton's News Links 
In a phenomenon, which I believe is known as "fractalization", the tiniest parts of nature are reproduced on a much larger scale and vice versa. For example, under a microscope, a grain of sand appears identical to the tallest mountains... or the following story:
WeinerA tiny water boatman is the loudest animal on Earth relative to its body size, a study has revealed. Scientists from France and Scotland recorded the aquatic animal "singing" at up to 99.2 decibels, the equivalent of listening to a loud orchestra play while sitting in the front row.  The insect makes the sound by rubbing its penis against its abdomen in a process known as "stridulation". Researchers say the song is a courtship display performed to attract a mate. Micronecta scholtzi are freshwater insects measuring just 2mm that are common across Europe.  In a study published in the journal PLoS One, the scientists discovered that the small animals make a mighty sound.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What's up with Hugo?

David Seaton's News Links
Hugo Chávez has managed to keep his mouth shut since the 10th of June and the world's rumor mills are alive: he is dead, he has cancer, he is in coma... soon there will be sightings like Elvis.

What advantage could there be for Hugo Chávez to simply sit in his hospital bed in Havana and keep his mouth shut for a few days?

The silences of the talkative can be very powerful.

For a devious man, and Chávez, behind his clownish behavior, is a very cold and devious man, this silent stay in the hospital could provide some unique opportunities.... rather like attending one's own funeral and watching out for who cries too little or too much.

He and his security organization in Caracas could observe very closely who in the opposition or even among his followers might have plans for a future without him at the helm and might show their hands during his strange silence. Lots of interesting and even incriminating conversations may be flying around bugged telephones...

They say he'll be back in Caracas next week and why not? A night of long knives may very well follow. DS

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Is democratic capitalism in danger?

“In the quest for growth, many countries have neglected to build a reliable system of social security that will help citizens buffer the market's volatility.(...) Democratic capitalism’s greatest problem is not that it will destroy itself economically, as Marx would have it — but that it may lose its political support.” Raghuram Rajan 
David Seaton's News Links
Professor Rajan's idea that capitalism might lose its "democratic support" unless it protected its citizens with a reliable social net just wont leave me alone, I keep coming back to it over and over again... especially when the entire system's trend at this moment seems to be going in exactly the opposite direction: leaning toward reducing not enlarging "entitlements" and the worse things get, the more cuts are being put on the table and the more entitlements are being taken off.

What exactly would "democratic capitalism, may lose its political support” mean?

I take it to mean that under extreme pressure, a large number of citizens would be giving a serious look to other economic systems, specifically "democratic socialism", and they might be tempted to organize democratically to achieve that.

If that were the case: what tools would the corporate system need to protect its version of capitalism from democracy?

If you take that that question to form a paradigm, many disparate things in our political system begin to cluster together in interesting patterns.

Look at the following snippets for a sample of what I mean:
The Supreme Court on Monday blocked a massive sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of female employees in a decision that makes it harder to mount large-scale bias claims against the nation's biggest companies. AP
 And of course we already had this:
Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.(...) The ruling represented a sharp doctrinal shift, and it will have major political and practical consequences. Specialists in campaign finance law said they expected the decision to reshape the way elections were conducted. NYT - January 21, 2010
 You might say we are looking at a concerted plan of action:
The Supreme Court, which winds up its term Monday, has once again shown itself to be highly skeptical of large lawsuits against big business, regardless of whether the suits are intended to protect workers, consumers or the environment. This year, a 5-4 conservative majority gave companies a stronger shield against class-action claims from consumers who said they were cheated and from employees who said they were victims of discrimination. The same five justices also blocked lawsuits against the makers of generic drugs for failing to warn patients of new dangers. And in a unanimous decision, the high court killed a broad lawsuit that sought to force the major power producers to limit the carbon pollution linked to global warming. LAT
 Now stir this into the mix:
The Obama administration has long been bumbling along in the footsteps of its predecessor when it comes to sacrificing Americans’ basic rights and liberties under the false flag of fighting terrorism. Now the Obama team seems ready to lurch even farther down that dismal road than George W. Bush did. Instead of tightening the relaxed rules for F.B.I. investigations — not just of terrorism suspects but of pretty much anyone — that were put in place in the Bush years, President Obama’s Justice Department is getting ready to push the proper bounds of privacy even further. Editorial - New York Times
Reading the above as if were one text, it would seem to me that the great and the good are expecting things to not only stay rough for a long time, but to get a lot rougher and the war on terrorism, like the war on drugs, and all the other endless wars that America finds itself engaged in have been a vary practical workbench for developing some extremely useful tools, if and when "democratic capitalism" ever lost its "political support". DS

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why I miss George W. Bush more and more with each passing day

David Seaton's News Links
The Obama administration has long been bumbling along in the footsteps of its predecessor when it comes to sacrificing Americans’ basic rights and liberties under the false flag of fighting terrorism. Now the Obama team seems ready to lurch even farther down that dismal road than George W. Bush did. Instead of tightening the relaxed rules for F.B.I. investigations — not just of terrorism suspects but of pretty much anyone — that were put in place in the Bush years, President Obama’s Justice Department is getting ready to push the proper bounds of privacy even further. Editorial - New York Times

A review of President Obama’s record suggests that he may have been for same-sex marriage before he was against it. New York Times

I miss George W. Bush more and more with each passing day.

What do I miss most about George W. Bush?

I miss "hope".

George W. Bush gave the American people hope.

When Bush was president I, and many like me, had the hope that the United State's fundamental problem was that the president of the United States was stupid.

Now that Bush has gone, and we have elected a president who is said to have a very high IQ and a suitable time has passed, and looking around, it is becoming clear that things are no better: Guantanamo is still there, the Patriot Act is still there, the people who caused the financial crisis are still there. The two wars that Obama inherited are still there, plus another one he has started on his own...

It is obvious that the problem we and the world are facing isn't as simple as presidential bandwidth and although Barack Obama is beginning to look a bit like William Faulkner's impression of Henry James, whom he described as, "one of the nicest old ladies I ever met"; whatever the problem is in American government, presidential stupidity is not at the heart of it.

It is beginning to look as if perhaps the American political system itself and perhaps even the country itself are stupid; that George W. Bush and the United States of America were a perfect fit.

And if that is true, then it is quite difficult not to lose hope. DS

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Humanity: up a tree, with no fireman in sight

Raghuram Rajan
“The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.” [Marx - Capital, Volume III, Chapter 30]

“It is the end of cheap goods,” says Bruce Rockowitz. He is the chief executive of Li & Fung, a company that sources more clothes and common household products from Asia than perhaps any other.(...) China helped to keep global inflation in check. But that era is now over, (...) Nothing can replace the Chinese miracle. “There is no next,” says Mr Rockowitz. Prices will now start to rise by 5% or more each year, with no end in sight. And that may be optimistic. So far this year, Mr Rockowitz says, Li & Fung’s sourcing operation has seen price increases of 15% on average. Other sourcers of Asian toys, clothes and basic household products tell similarly ominous tales. Economist

“In the quest for growth, many countries have neglected to build a reliable system of social security that will help citizens buffer the market's volatility.(...) Democratic capitalism’s greatest problem is not that it will destroy itself economically, as Marx would have it — but that it may lose its political support.” Raghuram Rajan
David Seaton's News Links
Marx's predictions of the system collapsing under the "enmiseration" of workers seem to have been foiled over and over again by the system's growing ability to produce and market ever cheaper and more abundant consumer goods and then, when incomes began to stagnate, to make available ever cheaper and more abundant credit with which to buy those goods: a form of consumption which used to be aptly known in England as "buying on the never-never". The role of the worker was replaced by the role of the consumer and the connection between the two roles became ever more tenuous.

Thus did the system square the circle: people could "own" their own home and consume just as if they were prosperous, despite stagnant or falling wages and to tide people over the rough spots, in most developed countries, there was a generous welfare state in place.  This formula for dynamic economies combined with social peace appears to be have run out of road. And in this financial crisis the "never" of never-never seems to have arrived.

In the video above, Chicago University professor and former (clairvoyant) chief economist of the IMF, Raguram Rajan lays great emphasis in improving education in order to prepare workers for a labor market demanding ever more sophisticated skills, as those without said skills, seem irredeemably doomed to Marx's "enmiseration". 

As much as I admire professor Rajan, and I admire him very much, I am skeptical about the possibility of training the mass of humanity, the grandchildren of homo habilis, in the skillful, rather obsessive, management of the abstract symbols and concepts which make up so much of the new technologies... This is a sort of skepticism I have been incubating for a long time. I remember even writing a poem when I was in my teens, with the lines:
On a rectangular plot of manicured grass,
Sits the man of tomorrow,
On yesterday's ass
My intuition tells me that we are quite a young species -- only about 200,000 years old -- and only living in permanent village-town-cities, that is to say, "civilized", for some 10,000 years. We belong to a species, which, by a quirk of evolution, is intelligent enough to have gotten itself into a situation which we are not intelligent enough to get out of... something like a kitten climbing a tree... Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a "fire department" to get us down from our "tree".

Let me give a simple, graphic, example of what I am trying to say. Look at today's epidemic of obesity, which I think is a perfect indicator of our dilemma. For almost all of our 200,000 years of existence as a species, right up till the very recent development of our advanced agricultural and distribution techniques, being able to gain weight quickly, when food was abundant, and lose it slowly, when food was scarce, was a vital plus for surviving frequent crop failures, droughts and other natural disasters. Suddenly, within a few generations, thanks to our logistics and food processing systems, a large percentage of the population finds itself waddling toward an early grave.  I think this will serve as metaphor for many observable phenomena today, you are welcome to make your own list.

Certainly most of humanity through most of its history and prehistory, survived and did useful work without having to manage abstract symbols and concepts and it seems to me as cruel as laughing at fat people  to make those abilities essential for living with any security and dignity today.

The challenge today is to allow the most average of people to have a decent life, with good health, as much education as they are able to absorb and a chance to work gainfully in occupations within their capacities and enjoy a dignified retirement. The person able to "re-invent" work, and make this possible would be the "Einstein" of today's world.  DS

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Movements without "leaders"

David Seaton's News Links
The other day, a top American political consultant, Matthew Dowd, was visiting Madrid and was interviewed by the local "newspaper of reference", El País. When he was asked his opinion about Spain's "15th of May" citizen's movement, AKA, "The Spanish Revolution" or "Los Indignados", he dismissed them saying, "If they want to influence the system they must work from within, supporting a leader." In so saying, I think this consummate insider has revealed one of the keys to a political system which today seems much more in tune with lobbies and special interest groups than with the lives and concerns of its citizens and voters: a "caste apart"... precisely what los indignados are indignant about.
Are political leaders a solution?

A true political movement is about agreed goals, not about "leaders". Look at the American Civil Rights movement, a true citizen's movement if there ever was one. Martin Luther King was its voice, but the energy behind his voice was the energy of thousands of "Rosa Parks": black people, who had it very clear in their minds that they had had enough. Men and women, even children, who simply were not about to take any more shit.

Without those thousands upon thousands of "Rosa Parks", marchers and martyrs, and their firm decision not to back down even one step, Martin Luther King would have been no more than another fine example of the African-American community's legendary, evangelical pulpit artistry. The nobility of the movement he gave voice to washes away any controversies over personal frailties he may have had and enshrines him in American history. In short, Rosa Parks "created" Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King Day and not vice-versa. 

Therefore a clear cause, with clear objectives, is the heart of a powerful movement: objectives which elicit the commitment of those who join it, and that combination of objectives and massive commitment calls forth clear "leadership" as needed. In short a healthy mass political movement is created first by the "followers" not by the "leaders".

Starting with the leader and then looking around for some objectives and then looking for followers is simply manipulative, no different really than selling any other product. You could even say that in a "leader-originated" movement, the leader's role is to take the "movement" out of the movement. Certainly there could be no greater contrast than between the Civil Rights Movement and the  marketing operation, cast as a "movement", that took Barack Obama to the White House. Contrast MLK's, "If man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live." with Obama's lawyerly, "change (you can believe in) ".

The proof of this is that, what should have been the crowning moment of the Civil Rights struggle, putting an African-American into the White House, after all the froth and self-congratulation, is turning out to be next to meaningless by any objective measure.

So Matthew Dowd is wrong. There is a surfeit of "leaders" today, politics is crawling with them, what are needed are people: masses of committed people, people who come together with clear objectives to change things and just like Rosa Parks, wont take no for an answer.

It would make me happy to think that anything as spontaneous and potentially fertile as Spain's "indignados" could spring to life in the USA... that would change not only the USA, it would change the entire world.

We live in hope. DS

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Times Change

David Seaton's News Links
I happened on this clip and I began to wonder about how something that was once so mainstream, so top of the line, so wholesome, so American "family" entertainment, now looks so painfully like a charter flight full of scummy, leering, pedophile, sex tourists setting off on holiday to Phnom Penh. The word "inappropriate" falls far short. What has happened... what has changed? Reality? Fantasy?  It is hard to believe that the sophisticated libertines of 1930s Hollywood were not fully aware of all the implications of what they were selling. Or a significant part of the public too, if only subconsciously. To my mind this bit of film seems even older than the "Dancing Lady" of my previous piece. DS

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Memento Mori: In a hundred years we'll all be bald

"It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth -- and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up -- that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had." Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
David Seaton's News Links
A favorite subject of painting's old masters was that of a saint contemplating a skull or some such memento mori to remind him or her of the unbearable lightness of being. But the cinema has been around long enough now for the shadows of people to populate it who were dead before your grandparents or even great-grandparents were born and they do a better job than any painting of reminding us how fleeting life really is.

Looking through old cinema archives several years ago I stumbled on a brief scrap of film of this joyfully erotic "Hootchi Cootchi" dancer from the Saint Louis World's fair of 1904. I put it in my editing program and slowed it down to cancel out the jumpiness of the pre-24 frames a second footage and then hunted around for some raunchy music to set it to... and there I had my own memento mori, standing there, dead as Cleopatra and everyone who ever her knew her or ever loved her, just as dead as she is: shaking her booty just for me.

I wonder how many great, great granddaughters of my dancing lady are going clubbing tonight totally ignorant of where the DNA that has their boyfriend's hormones so fissiparous comes from. DS

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Better watch out for the cucumber that ate Hamburg, for he may eat your city soon

The number of people hit by a massive European outbreak of foodborne bacterial infections is a third bigger than previously known and a stunningly high number of patients suffer from a potentially deadly complication than can shut down their kidneys, officials said Wednesday. Associated Press

You'd better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago,
For he may eat your city soon.
You'd better watch out for the eggplant that ate Chicago,
If he's still hungry, the whole country's doomed.

Is this “simply” a very bad on-farm breakdown of Good Agricultural Practices? Is the outbreak the result of an exceptionally toxic warehouse somewhere in the supply chain? Could it possibly be agro-terrorism, as unthinkable as that prospect is? - The Packer
David Seaton's News Links
"Could it possibly be agro-terrorism, as unthinkable as that prospect is?" That is a haunting phrase if ever there was one.

Reasons for thinking it could be:
  • Osama bin Laden was killed recently and Al Qaeda has promised a spectacular response.
  • Documents captured way back in Tora-Bora days, showed that even at that time Al Qaeda was investigating using human feces cultures to develop deadly pathogens as a simple, cheap method with which to sabotage the enemy's (our) food distribution systems.
  • It is doable. Wholesale food distribution, loading, unloading, classifying, re-packing for retail: the vegetables and fruit we eat pass through countless hands on the way to our tables and many of those hands are minimum wage immigrants, therefore the selection of employees cannot be very rigorous... it is proving immensely difficult to determine exactly where the infection has its origins.
  • As we can see with the German, "cucumber panic" our food distribution systems, with their huge volume, are complex, sophisticated and vulnerable.  Moreover, if anything affects them, it receives enormous media coverage everywhere, because the idea that the food we buy in the supermarket might kill us is extremely disturbing to modern city dwellers entirely dependent on said distribution systems. If this proved to be Al Qaeda's work the resulting terror and paranoia would be indescribable
  • German public opinion is very unenthusiastic about Germany's participation in the war in Afghanistan and generally hostile to German military adventures of any kind. Jihadists poisoning cucumbers to kill German hausfraus might be the straw that breaks the camels back and has them running for the Afghan doors.
At this writing we don't yet know the exact causes of this infection, which is drawing the fascinated horror of the developed world. And even if turns out to be only fortuitous or simply human error or cupidity, we have been given a sobering reminder of how artificial our world has become and how helplessly vulnerable we might find ourselves in the midst of all our power and wealth. DS