A dovetail joint of news, art, science, politics, philosophy & global affairs

Grasping the currency true to our time

"Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει"










December 22nd
1:17 PM
Dana Priest  |  Washington Post »

The 50-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), once considered the best-funded insurgency in the world, is at its smallest and most vulnerable state in decades, due in part to a CIA covert action program that has helped Colombian forces kill at least two dozen rebel leaders, according to interviews with more than 30 former and current U.S. and Colombian officials.

The secret assistance, which also includes substantial eavesdropping help from the National Security Agency, is funded through a multibillion-dollar black budget. It is not a part of the public $9 billion package of mostly U.S. military aid called Plan Colombia, which began in 2000.
The previously undisclosed CIA program was authorized by President George W. Bush in the early 2000s and has continued under President Obama, according to U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic officials. Most of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program is classified and ongoing…  >continue<

Dana Priest  |  Washington Post »

The 50-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), once considered the best-funded insurgency in the world, is at its smallest and most vulnerable state in decades, due in part to a CIA covert action program that has helped Colombian forces kill at least two dozen rebel leaders, according to interviews with more than 30 former and current U.S. and Colombian officials.

The secret assistance, which also includes substantial eavesdropping help from the National Security Agency, is funded through a multibillion-dollar black budget. It is not a part of the public $9 billion package of mostly U.S. military aid called Plan Colombia, which began in 2000.

The previously undisclosed CIA program was authorized by President George W. Bush in the early 2000s and has continued under President Obama, according to U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic officials. Most of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program is classified and ongoing…  >continue<

July 25th
8:04 PM
Benjamin Wallace-Wells  |  New York Magazine&#160;&#187;

For all of measurable human history up until the year 1750, nothing happened that mattered. This isn’t to say history was stagnant, or that life was only grim and blank, but the well-being of average people did not perceptibly improve. All of the wars, literature, love affairs, and religious schisms, the schemes for empire-making and ocean-crossing and simple profit and freedom, the entire human theater of ambition and deceit and redemption took place on a scale too small to register, too minor to much improve the lot of ordinary human beings&#8230;
Then two things happened that did matter, and they were so grand that they dwarfed everything that had come before and encompassed most everything that has come since: the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1750 or so in the north of England, and the second industrial revolution, beginning around 1870 and created mostly in this country. That the second industrial revolution happened just as the first had begun to dissipate was an incredible stroke of good luck. It meant that during the whole modern era from 1750 onward—which contains, not coincidentally, the full life span of the United States—human well-being accelerated at a rate that could barely have been contemplated before. Instead of permanent stagnation, growth became so rapid and so seemingly automatic that by the fifties and sixties the average American would roughly double his or her parents’ standard of living&#8230;
At some point in the late sixties or early seventies, this great acceleration began to taper off &#8230;  perhaps, the global economic slump that we have endured since 2008 might not merely be the consequence of the burst housing bubble, or financial entanglement and overreach, or the coming generational trauma of the retiring baby boomers, but instead a glimpse at a far broader change, the slow expiration of a historically singular event. &gt;continue&lt;

An interesting long read centering on the thinking of economist Robert Gordon.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells  |  New York Magazine »

For all of measurable human history up until the year 1750, nothing happened that mattered. This isn’t to say history was stagnant, or that life was only grim and blank, but the well-being of average people did not perceptibly improve. All of the wars, literature, love affairs, and religious schisms, the schemes for empire-making and ocean-crossing and simple profit and freedom, the entire human theater of ambition and deceit and redemption took place on a scale too small to register, too minor to much improve the lot of ordinary human beings…

Then two things happened that did matter, and they were so grand that they dwarfed everything that had come before and encompassed most everything that has come since: the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1750 or so in the north of England, and the second industrial revolution, beginning around 1870 and created mostly in this country. That the second industrial revolution happened just as the first had begun to dissipate was an incredible stroke of good luck. It meant that during the whole modern era from 1750 onward—which contains, not coincidentally, the full life span of the United States—human well-being accelerated at a rate that could barely have been contemplated before. Instead of permanent stagnation, growth became so rapid and so seemingly automatic that by the fifties and sixties the average American would roughly double his or her parents’ standard of living…

At some point in the late sixties or early seventies, this great acceleration began to taper off …  perhaps, the global economic slump that we have endured since 2008 might not merely be the consequence of the burst housing bubble, or financial entanglement and overreach, or the coming generational trauma of the retiring baby boomers, but instead a glimpse at a far broader change, the slow expiration of a historically singular event. >continue<

An interesting long read centering on the thinking of economist Robert Gordon.

July 22nd
1:31 PM
The Republican Congress is testing a new frontier of radicalism— governmental sabotage
Jonathan Chait  |  New York Magazine&#160;&#187;

The hard right’s extremism has bent back upon itself, leaving an inscrutable void of paranoia and formless rage and twisting the Republican Party into a band of anarchists.
And the worst is not behind us.
&#8230;In the actual world, the economy is recovering and the deficit, currently projected at half the level Obama inherited, is falling like a rock. Yet messianic Republican suicide threats in the face of an imagined debt crisis have not subsided at all. The swelling grievance within the party base may actually be giving the threats more fervor. The reign of the Republican House has not yet inflicted any deep or permanent disaster on the country, but it looks like it is just a matter of time.  &gt;continue&lt;

Hat tip to the smithian on an excellent long read and some damn good modern history. We need a kind of political anthropology to account for the GOP&#8217;s ever tightening embrace of absurdity. Is it an odd master/slave dialectic? Managerial sophists, the Atwater&#8217;s, Roves, and Gingriches, employing the infinite power to entrance the shotguns &amp; sixpack demographic - and yet, ironically finding themselves thralls before an outraged army of simpletons. Would that we weren&#8217;t all now hostage to this new frontier. 

The Republican Congress is testing a new frontier of radicalism— governmental sabotage

Jonathan Chait  |  New York Magazine »

The hard right’s extremism has bent back upon itself, leaving an inscrutable void of paranoia and formless rage and twisting the Republican Party into a band of anarchists.

And the worst is not behind us.

…In the actual world, the economy is recovering and the deficit, currently projected at half the level Obama inherited, is falling like a rock. Yet messianic Republican suicide threats in the face of an imagined debt crisis have not subsided at all. The swelling grievance within the party base may actually be giving the threats more fervor. The reign of the Republican House has not yet inflicted any deep or permanent disaster on the country, but it looks like it is just a matter of time.  >continue<

Hat tip to the smithian on an excellent long read and some damn good modern history. We need a kind of political anthropology to account for the GOP’s ever tightening embrace of absurdity. Is it an odd master/slave dialectic? Managerial sophists, the Atwater’s, Roves, and Gingriches, employing the infinite power to entrance the shotguns & sixpack demographic - and yet, ironically finding themselves thralls before an outraged army of simpletons. Would that we weren’t all now hostage to this new frontier. 

August 7th
12:29 PM

What we don't understand about religion might just kill us

Argument - long read »

God and the Ivory Tower

…anthropologist Richard Sosis and his colleagues studied 200 communes founded in the United States in the 19th century. If shared religious beliefs really did foster loyalty, they reasoned, then communes formed out of religious conviction should survive longer than those motivated by secular ideologies such as socialism. Their findings were striking: Just 6 percent of the secular communes were still functioning 20 years after their founding, compared with 39 percent of the religious communes….

In an age where religious and sacred causes are resurgent, there is urgent need for scientific effort to understand them. Now that humankind has acquired through science the power to destroy itself with nuclear weapons, we cannot afford to let science ignore religion and the sacred, or let scientists simply try to reason them away. Policymakers should leverage scientific understanding of what makes religion so potent a force for both cooperation and conflict, to help increase the one and lessen the other. >continue<

June 14th
7:21 PM
How Obama Has Failed to DeliverUllrich Fichtner, Marc Hujer and Gregor Peter Schmitz  | Der Spiegel&#160;&#187;

&#8230;The bloggers and tweeters have taken control of the media, as have new media outlets like Politico, a blog whose reporters have 15 minutes after a presidential speech to turn in their first analyses. They are groomed to focus on conflict because it attracts the most attention. Readers are quick to click away from stories that don&#8217;t titillate, so that fleeting moments become the real story in Washington.&#8230;The Tea Party is a problem for Obama, not because it could come into power itself, but because it exerts so much influence over the Republican Party and, in the end, has become the loudspeaker for the conservative half of America&#8217;s population. More alarmingly than ever, the Tea Party combines the glorification of the unsophisticated with megalomania, and conspiracy theories with poor education. Its supporters represent dark clichés of a vapid America, one in which there are plenty of people who would have no objection to many a modern book being burned.  &gt;continue&lt;

A German analysis of the state of America and the Presidency - and a good long read with some focus on the evaporation of civil intelligence and the apparent collapse of critical thought.  In one recent but poignant blip a Sunday Morning talk show host felt the need to apologize for evidencing the rare spirit of scientific and interrogative play, this time up against the sentimental employment of the term &#8216;hero&#8217;. In a nation reduced to &#8220;people&#8221; who &#8220;only read opinions that reinforce their own views" any pause over pushing sacred premises must abase itself before the altar of vulgarity.
The same overwhelming stew of outrage that once wielded the accusation of a &#8220;pre 9/11 mentality&#8221; now, after a financial collapse in 2008 which arguably eclipses the significance of September 11th, gives a pre 2008 mentality free reign. The duplicity has all the consistency of denial. We can&#8217;t look at Obama as rational individuals, taking in a shocking modern scenario earnestly and interrogatively, for we - as in Children of Men - aren&#8217;t reproducing humans any more. At best, when we can see past our appetites, we glimpse only broken bits of culture all jumbled up in a disfigured background.
A foreign perspective, then, which takes longer to read than a tweet.

How Obama Has Failed to Deliver
Ullrich Fichtner, Marc Hujer and Gregor Peter Schmitz  | Der Spiegel »

…The bloggers and tweeters have taken control of the media, as have new media outlets like Politico, a blog whose reporters have 15 minutes after a presidential speech to turn in their first analyses. They are groomed to focus on conflict because it attracts the most attention. Readers are quick to click away from stories that don’t titillate, so that fleeting moments become the real story in Washington.

…The Tea Party is a problem for Obama, not because it could come into power itself, but because it exerts so much influence over the Republican Party and, in the end, has become the loudspeaker for the conservative half of America’s population. More alarmingly than ever, the Tea Party combines the glorification of the unsophisticated with megalomania, and conspiracy theories with poor education. Its supporters represent dark clichés of a vapid America, one in which there are plenty of people who would have no objection to many a modern book being burned.  >continue<

A German analysis of the state of America and the Presidency - and a good long read with some focus on the evaporation of civil intelligence and the apparent collapse of critical thought.  In one recent but poignant blip a Sunday Morning talk show host felt the need to apologize for evidencing the rare spirit of scientific and interrogative play, this time up against the sentimental employment of the term ‘hero’. In a nation reduced to “people” who “only read opinions that reinforce their own views" any pause over pushing sacred premises must abase itself before the altar of vulgarity.

The same overwhelming stew of outrage that once wielded the accusation of a “pre 9/11 mentality” now, after a financial collapse in 2008 which arguably eclipses the significance of September 11th, gives a pre 2008 mentality free reign. The duplicity has all the consistency of denial. We can’t look at Obama as rational individuals, taking in a shocking modern scenario earnestly and interrogatively, for we - as in Children of Men - aren’t reproducing humans any more. At best, when we can see past our appetites, we glimpse only broken bits of culture all jumbled up in a disfigured background.

A foreign perspective, then, which takes longer to read than a tweet.

January 4th
5:02 PM

#Riot: Self-Organized, Hyper-Networked Revolts—Coming to a City Near You

Wired.com | Bill Wasik »

For tech to become effective as a tool for civic disorder, it first had to insinuate itself into people’s daily lives. Now that it has, there can be no getting rid of it. The agent provocateur lives inside our pockets and purses and cannot be uninstalled.  >continue<

Interesting long read & observations on protests, technology and social media.  Wild too trying to get a fix on the irony of blanket attitudes of opposition to a system which in large part are enabled and sustained by what is undeniably a product of the system.

November 8th
9:13 AM

Pakistan: The Ally From Hell

Atlantic

Nuclear-weapons components are sometimes moved by helicopter and sometimes moved over roads. And instead of moving nuclear material in armored, well-defended convoys, the SPD prefers to move material by subterfuge, in civilian-style vehicles without noticeable defenses, in the regular flow of traffic. According to both Pakistani and American sources, vans with a modest security profile are sometimes the preferred conveyance. And according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, the Pakistanis have begun using this low-security method to transfer not merely the “de-mated” component nuclear parts but “mated” nuclear weapons. Western nuclear experts have feared that Pakistan is building small, “tactical” nuclear weapons for quick deployment on the battlefield. In fact, not only is Pakistan building these devices, it is also now moving them over roads.

What this means, in essence, is this: In a country that is home to the harshest variants of Muslim fundamentalism, and to the headquarters of the organizations that espouse these extremist ideologies, including al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba (which conducted the devastating terror attacks on Mumbai three years ago that killed nearly 200 civilians), nuclear bombs capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans on congested and dangerous roads. And Pakistani and American sources say that since the raid on Abbottabad, the Pakistanis have provoked anxiety inside the Pentagon by increasing the pace of these movements. In other words, the Pakistani government is willing to make its nuclear weapons more vulnerable to theft by jihadists simply to hide them from the United States, the country that funds much of its military budget. >continue<

related: Coping with a Failing Pakistan

A highly complex and lamentable situation which, one might argue, represents a slow motion train wreck in the wake of the late 70’s U.S. intervention against Russia in Afghanistan. “Winning the Cold War” sure sounded good at the time.

November 7th
1:14 PM

The End of the Innocents

How America’s longtime man in Southeast Asia, Jim Thompson, fought to stop the CIA’s progression from a small spy ring to a large paramilitary agency — and was never seen again.

Thompson was in many ways unique, but by the 1950s and early 1960s he would become part of a larger, growing, and much less idealistic machine, one that would expose his naivete — and punish him for it…

…he truly believed that, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt had promised during World War II, the United States would help free countries from colonial masters and set them on the road to democracy. Neighbors on all sides of Thailand — Indochina, Burma, India, and Indonesia — were deep in it. “Jim was an idealist, a romantic, an anti-imperialist, and there was no more idealistic time than just after the war,” remembered Rolland Bushner, who served in the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. “We had stood with the anti-colonialists, the democrats, in the war, and we expected that would continue.”  >continue<

October 31st
2:10 PM

Occupy Europe: How a generation went from indifferent to indignant

…on Puerta del Sol square, the kids were hashing it out. They wanted to bed down on the square, but the police had other ideas. About 4 a.m., the police pushed the makeshift campers off. A month before, students had slept there to buy tickets to a Bieber concert. No one is sure who sent the first “Bieber tweet,” but it went instantly viral: "We can sleep on the square for Bieber tickets, but not to discuss our future."

The tweet distilled perfectly frustrations among youth that Europe, Spain, their politicians, the banks, the system, their lives – all are in trouble and need to change.  >continue<

October 28th
5:23 PM

Guilded Age 2.0? | Has America become an Oligarchy?

"We are the 99 percent," is the continuing chant of the protestors, who are now in their seventh week of marching through the streets of Manhattan. And, surprisingly, they have hit upon the crux of America’s problems with precisely this sentence. Indeed, they have given shape to a development in the country that has been growing more acute for decades, one that numerous academics and experts have tried to analyze elsewhere in lengthy books and essays. It’s a development so profound and revolutionary that it has shaken the world’s most powerful nation to its core…

Writer Mark Twain coined the phrase “the Gilded Age” to describe that period of rapid growth, a time when the dazzling exterior of American life actually concealed mass unemployment, poverty and a society ripped in two.

Economists and political scientists believe the US has entered a new Gilded Age, a period of systematic inequality dominated by a new class of super-rich. The only difference is that, this time around, the super-rich are hedge fund managers and financial magnates instead of oil and rail barons.  >continue<

October 1st
1:39 PM

Unrest in the forrest, trouble with the trees

Experts are scrambling to understand the situation, and to predict how serious it may become.

Scientists say the future habitability of the Earth might well depend on the answer. For, while a majority of the world’s people now live in cities, they depend more than ever on forests, in a way that few of them understand.

Scientists have figured out — with the precise numbers deduced only recently — that forests have been absorbing more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide that people are putting into the air by burning fossil fuels and other activities. It is an amount so large that trees are effectively absorbing the emissions from all the world’s cars and trucks. >continue<

Forest Deaths Signal Loss Of Key Climate Protectors  « NY Times Long Read

September 8th
12:55 PM
Kenya&#8217;s Newest CityThe Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is the world&#8217;s largest. The machinery of international famine relief is in full gear there, but hundreds of thousands of people may become long-term residents. Conditions have prompted a camp manager to transform a temporary refuge into a city of the future.

Somalia suffers from the double curse of drought and war. The situation has worsened in the twenty years since the nation&#8217;s central government collapsed. And now international speculators, betting on agricultural commodities markets, have driven up prices and forced people like Nuriya to leave their homes. The West gives millions of dollar every year; but the West also takes. Dadaab and its residents are a microcosm of Africa, a place full of people forced by war, global markets and drought into a life that could not exist without the global aid machine.  &gt;continue&lt;

Kenya’s Newest City
The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is the world’s largest. The machinery of international famine relief is in full gear there, but hundreds of thousands of people may become long-term residents. Conditions have prompted a camp manager to transform a temporary refuge into a city of the future.

Somalia suffers from the double curse of drought and war. The situation has worsened in the twenty years since the nation’s central government collapsed. And now international speculators, betting on agricultural commodities markets, have driven up prices and forced people like Nuriya to leave their homes. The West gives millions of dollar every year; but the West also takes. Dadaab and its residents are a microcosm of Africa, a place full of people forced by war, global markets and drought into a life that could not exist without the global aid machine.  >continue<

September 6th
1:08 PM
Via

Battle for Afghanistan’s Gambir Jungle: Five Part Series

csmonitor:

Monitor reporter Anna Mulrine is embedded with Havoc Company in Afghanistan, and reporting on “Operation Hammer Down” - one of the repeated efforts by the US military to clear Al-Queda training camps from the Pech River Valley.

Part 1: Soldiers’ tale of an epic fight

Part 2: Into the ‘Valley of Death’

Part 3: 1st Platoon’s ‘last stand’

August 29th
4:23 PM

Persistent vegetative state undone with common sleeping pill

George Melendez, who is also brain-damaged, has lain twitching and moaning as if in agony for years, causing his parents unbearable grief. He, too, is given this little tablet and again, it’s as if a light comes on. His father asks him if he is, indeed, in pain. “No,” George smiles, and his family burst into tears.

It all sounds miraculous, you might think. And in a way, it is. But this is not a miracle medication, the result of groundbreaking neurological research. Instead, these awakenings have come as the result of an accidental discovery by a dedicated - and bewildered - GP. They have all woken up, paradoxically, after being given a commonly used sleeping pill.  >continue<

August 17th
11:52 AM

Excellent Spiegel interview with Mikail Gorbachev on the past and present

'They Were Truly Idiots'

"[Yeltsin] should have been shunted out of the way and made an ambassador in a banana republic, where he could have smoked water pipes in peace….

…we proved ourselves to be semi-idiots, myself included.”