What A Country: After Wall Street Screws Us, 45% Of Americans Want A Wall Street Guy To Be Our Next President

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

RomneybainHere comes Mister One Percent. Mitt the Twit Romney. He used to be a leveraged buyout specialist, which was what these private equity guys were called before they got ashamed of the name.

Leveraged buyout means you put a company in debt, and use the money you extract from it to partly buy the company. You also use this debt to pay yourself huge fees and get tax benefits. Basically you're looting the company, which is why many leveraged buyouts end in bankruptcies. The excuse these guys use for what they do is that they bring “efficiency” — one of those meaningless hide-my-hypocrisy phrases like “free market” and “collateral damage.”

So Mitt Romney is a dyed-in-the-wool Wall Streeter, engaged in one of its most egregious practices. He also has money stashed away in the Cayman Islands, may still have a Swiss bank account, has helped export jobs overseas, and is building an elevator for his cars. His wife drives a couple of Cadillacs, and he pays 15% in taxes.

He is what one may safely call a caricature of a Wall Street fraudster. The perfect plutocrat. So obviously slumming among us hoi polloi that he comes off as awkward. And he also happens to be a serious serial liar.

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W.B. Yeats, Magus

HermesJamie James in Lapham's Quarterly:

If the paramount project of W. B. Yeats’ professional life was the perfection of the art of poetry, it was intertwined with a personal preoccupation, the study and practice of magic— not in any metaphorical sense, but the dedicated pursuit of supernatural powers based upon the ancient traditions of alchemy and necromancy, which began in his youth and persisted to the end of his long life.

Yeats wrote frankly about his vocation as a magician in several memoirs and in A Vision, a dense astrological treatise he labored over for twenty years. A Protestant Irishman in Victorian Britain, Yeats as a young man was pulled in conflicting directions, but the occult always trumped worldly concerns, because it was so deeply connected with his poetic craft. In 1892, when the Irish patriot John O’Leary admonished the twenty-seven-year-old poet for his devotion to magic at the expense of the Cause, Yeats answered:

Now as to magic. It is surely absurd to hold me “weak” or otherwise because I choose to persist in a study which I decided deliberately four or five years ago to make, next to my poetry, the most important pursuit of my life…If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book [The Works of William Blake, with Edwin Ellis, 1893], nor would The Countess Kathleen [stage play, 1892] have ever come to exist. The mystical life is the center of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.

That’s plain speaking, which admits no ambiguity. If one would understand the works of the poet often described as the greatest of his age, it might seem necessary to come to terms with this lifelong passion. Yet apart from the prose works mentioned and a handful of supernatural tales in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe, Yeats never directly addresses the practice of magic in the poetry and plays upon which his magisterial reputation rests. He alluded to it only rarely, with ambiguous metaphors and a select hoard of words charged with esoteric meanings.

Magic imbrued Yeats’ thinking so profoundly that it’s nearly impossible to disentangle the strands without rending the garment.

Live Through This

Mermaid_WEB_schulnik-383x458There are a few controversial pieces this week about rape. First, in reddit is a post from someone who claims to have been a serial rapist and a discussion that follows. (Warning: needless to say, it's disturbing. He seems to be a sociopath who claims to have now somehow managed to keep his sociopathology at bay.) Second is this piece in New Inquiry by Charlotte Shane (which has some graphic descriptions of rape):

In our society, we recognize this as rape, an act of violence that in all its permutations (date, stranger, violent, anal, oral, gang) is understood to be the worst thing that can happen to a woman — worse than a serious car accident, worse than a protracted divorce, worse than the death of a parent. It is regularly equated with being murdered. It is life-shattering. It is soul-destroying. If you are a woman, you can never move past your rape; you can only “learn” to live with it, as though it is akin to abrupt blindness or a paralyzed limb. If it does not ruin you, it will at the very least change you forever for the worse. This is the only allowable truth about rape. There are no alternatives.

In my eight years as a sex worker, I’ve been sexually mistreated a relatively small number of times. For instance, I’ve been held down and penetrated without a condom twice, once vaginally and once anally, by separate men. The first was over so quickly that I was too shocked to have much of a reaction. He pulled out to ejaculate after maybe six rabbit fast strokes. It wasn’t painful. At that time I was providing so-called sensual massage, which means there was no implicit agreement for anything beyond a hand job. I was 22.

After he left, I gradually became furious. What I most wanted was not for him to serve jail time or face some retributive physical assault; what I wanted was the chance to berate him, to tear him down verbally for deciding he could use me, another human being, however he wanted and without consequence — ultimately, an accurate assessment on his part. I wanted to make him feel ashamed.

Then I mostly forgot about it. I didn’t quit my job. I didn’t stop enjoying sex.

The Ruins of Empire: Asia’s emergence from western imperialism

Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian:

EmpireThe unctuous belief that British imperialists, compared to their Belgian and French counterparts, were exponents of fair play has been dented most recently by revelations about mass murder and torture during the British suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. Nevertheless, in one of the weirdest episodes of recent history, a Kipling-esque rhetoric about bringing free trade and humane governance to “lesser breeds outside the law” has resonated again in the Anglo-American public sphere. Even before 9/11, Tony Blair was ready to tend, with military means if necessary, to, as he put it, “the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant” around the world. His apparently more intellectual rival Gordon Brown urged his compatriots to be “proud” of their imperial past. Sensing a sharper rightward shift after 9/11, many pith-helmet-and-jodhpurs fetishists boisterously outed themselves, exhorting politicians to recreate a new western imperium through old-style military conquest and occupation of native lands.

Embracing such fantasies of “full-spectrum dominance”, American and European policymakers failed to ask themselves a simple question: whether, as Jonathan Schell put it, “the people of the world, having overthrown the territorial empires, are ready to bend the knee to an American overlord in the 21st”? After two unwinnable wars and horribly botched nation-building efforts, and many unconscionable human losses (between 600,000 and one million in Iraq alone), the “neo-imperialists” offering seductive fantasies of the west's potency look as reliable as the peddlers of fake Viagra. Yet, armour-plated against actuality by think tanks, academic sinecures and TV gigs, they continue to find eager customers. Of course, as the historian Richard Drayton points out, the writing of British imperial history, has long been a “patriotic enterprise”. Wishing to “celebrate” empire, Michael Gove plans to entrust the task of rewriting the history syllabus to Niall Ferguson, one of the “neo-imperialist” cheerleaders of the assault on Iraq, who now craves “creative destruction” in Iran and whose “skilful revision of history” the Guardian's Jeevan Vasagar asserted last month, “will reverberate for years to come”.

Read the rest here.

I’m wired, therefore I exist

From New Statesman:

InterToday if you are not often wired, you do not exist. Like radio and television in other times, the internet has become not only an indispensable tool but also a vital component of our life. It has become so useful, significant, and meaningful for variety of administrative, cultural, and political reasons that a life without it seems unimaginable in the twenty-first century. But the ownership of this interactive life is troubled: when you start seeing interesting advertising on your Gmail banner, personalised ads aimed just at you, your existence has begun to belong to others. At last count, there are now 2,267,233,742 users of the internet, that is, 32.7 per cent of the world population. While these numbers refer primarily to North America, Asia, and Europe, in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East its use is growing rapidly. However, there is a big difference between being online and being wired. This is not a simple semantic difference, but rather an existential distinction that determines our roles, tasks, and possibilities in the world today. Without suggesting a return to twentieth century existentialism (which arose as a reaction against scientific systems threatening humans beings uniqueness) philosophy must stress the vital danger that being wired can pose for our lives.

Not everyone who is online is also wired. The latter refers to those capable to finding a date or a job through social networks such as LinkedIn, downloading the latest episodes of True Blood, or purchasing self-designed Nike shoes; the former avoid these services. Using the internet just for an email account and cheap airline tickets does not make you technologically incompetent, but rather concerned for your existential distinctiveness, that is, autonomy. For the wired West the danger of the internet does not lie in going crazy from too many hours spent online, although this is becoming more common, but rather in considering a wired existence transparent, free, and vital for your life rather than an active threat. Although being wired assures you an identity on the web, that is, a position in the new wired world, it also frames your existence within the possibilities and limitations of the web. This is why Tim Berners-Lee, a founder of the web, recently pointed out how the “more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social networking site becomes a central platform—a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it.”

More here.

Syrian war of lies and hypocrisy

Robert Fisk in The Independent:

Has there ever been a Middle Eastern war of such hypocrisy? A war of such cowardice and such mean morality, of such false rhetoric and such public humiliation? I'm not talking about the physical victims of the Syrian tragedy. I'm referring to the utter lies and mendacity of our masters and our own public opinion – eastern as well as western – in response to the slaughter, a vicious pantomime more worthy of Swiftian satire than Tolstoy or Shakespeare.

While Qatar and Saudi Arabia arm and fund the rebels of Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad's Alawite/Shia-Baathist dictatorship, Washington mutters not a word of criticism against them. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, say they want a democracy in Syria. But Qatar is an autocracy and Saudi Arabia is among the most pernicious of caliphate-kingly-dictatorships in the Arab world. Rulers of both states inherit power from their families – just as Bashar has done – and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Salafist-Wahabi rebels in Syria, just as it was the most fervent supporter of the medieval Taliban during Afghanistan's dark ages. Indeed, 15 of the 19 hijacker-mass murderers of 11 September, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia – after which, of course, we bombed Afghanistan. The Saudis are repressing their own Shia minority just as they now wish to destroy the Alawite-Shia minority of Syria. And we believe Saudi Arabia wants to set up a democracy in Syria?

More here.

Sunday Poem

The Camel

Don't tell a camel about need and
want.

Look at the big lips
pursed
in perpetual kiss,
the dangerous lashes
of a born coquette.

The camel is an animal
grateful for less.
It keeps to itself
the hidden spring choked with grass,
the sharpest thorn
on the sweetest stalk.

When a voice was heard crying in the
wilderness,

when God spoke
from the burning bush,

the camel was the only animal
to answer back.

Dune on stilts,
it leans into the long horizon,
bloodhounding

the secret caches of watermelon
brought forth like manna
from the sand.

It will bear no false gods
before it:
not the trader
who cinches its hump
with rope,
nor the tourist.

It has a clear sense of its place in
the world:

after water and watermelon,
heat and light,
silence and science,

it is the last great hope.

by Wislawa Szymborska
from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska
translated by Joanna Trzeciak

No LOL matter: Tween Texting May Lead to Poor Grammar Skills

From Penn State Live:

TextText messaging may offer tweens a quick way to send notes to friends and family, but it could lead to declining language and grammar skills, according to researchers.

“Overall, there is evidence of a decline in grammar scores based on the number of adaptations in sent text messages, controlling for age and grade,” Cingel said.

Not only did frequent texting negatively predict the test results, but both sending and receiving text adaptations were associated with how poorly they performed on the test, according to Sundar.

“In other words, if you send your kid a lot of texts with word adaptations, then he or she will probably imitate it,” Sundar said. “These adaptations could affect their off-line language skills that are important to language development and grammar skills, as well.”

More here.

Why Do We Hate Seeing Photos Of Ourselves?

From Robert Gonzalez in io9:

OriginalYou know what I'm talking about. There you are, clicking through your friend's Facebook album, when suddenly you happen upon a picture of yourself — or rather, a slightly less attractive version of yourself. The “real” you appears to have been abducted, replaced with some second-rate knock off. What gives? you ask yourself. Is that really what I look like?

Yes. Yes it is. But don't worry, there's a perfectly sound explanation for why the person staring back at you looks so very unfamiliar, even though that person is, well, you. And by the way: that funny-looking, ersatz-you in the photograph? They're actually more attractive than you think.

More here.

Where Does Nature’s Wisdom Lie?

IMG_2378R. Ford Denison in Berfrois:

Consider wild rice, shown above growing near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Natural selection has been improving this species, by evolution’s criteria, for millions of years. Better-adapted plants (those best at extracting nutrients from flooded soils, defending themselves against pests and pathogens, and producing seeds in warm and cold years, in deep or shallow water), had more surviving offspring. Their descendants inherited those adaptations. So plant breeders developing new rice varieties (especially for farmers who can’t afford fertilizer or control water depths) might learn something useful from research on how wild rice faces similar challenges.

What about nature’s “lies”? Notice that wild rice grows naturally almost as a monoculture, not mixed with other plant species. Tropical forests, on the other hand, have much greater species diversity. Can we conclude that aquatic plants, like rice or taro, should be grown as monocultures, while tree crops should be grown as diverse mixtures of species? Or maybe cold climate crops should be grown as monocultures (many northern forests aren’t very diverse either), while tropical crops should be grown as mixtures.

These hypotheses implicitly assume that natural selection, or other natural processes, have improved the overall organization of natural plant communities, not just the individual species that live there. Most evolutionary biologists, however, tell us that natural selection is much better at improving trees than forests. This is especially true when the interests of individuals conflict with those of the community as a whole. A more diverse forest might be less susceptible to disease outbreaks, but that won’t stop individual redwood trees from growing taller and shading out competitors of other species. Similarly, the low diversity of wild rice stands doesn’t prove that more diverse plant communities wouldn’t be more productive, more efficient in the use of scarce resources, or more sustainable over decades.

Race, IQ, and Wealth: What the Facts Tell Us About a Taboo Subject

IqRon Unz in The American Conservative (via Brainiac):

[A]n objective review of the Lynn/Vanhanen data almost completely discredits the Lynn/Vanhanen “Strong IQ Hypothesis” [“namely that IQ accurately reflects intelligence, that IQ is overwhelmingly determined by genetics, and that IQ is subject to little or no significant cultural or economic influence”]. If so many genetically-indistinguishable European populations—of roughly similar cultural and historical background and without severe nutritional difficulties—can display such huge variances in tested IQ across different decades and locations, we should be extremely cautious about assuming that other ethnic IQ differences are innate rather than environmental, especially since these may involve populations separated by far wider cultural or nutritional gaps.

We cannot rule out the possibility that different European peoples might have relatively small differences in innate intelligence or IQ—after all, these populations often differ in height and numerous other phenotypic traits. But this residual genetic element would explain merely a small fraction of the huge 10–15 point IQ disparities discussed above. Such a view might be characterized as the “Weak IQ Hypothesis”: huge IQ differences between large populations may be overwhelmingly due to cultural or socio-economic factors, but a residual component might indeed be genetic in origin.

We are now faced with a mystery arguably greater than that of IQ itself. Given the powerful ammunition that Lynn and Vanhanen have provided to those opposing their own “Strong IQ Hypothesis,” we must wonder why this has never attracted the attention of either of the warring camps in the endless, bitter IQ dispute, despite their alleged familiarity with the work of these two prominent scholars. In effect, I would suggest that the heralded 300-page work by Lynn and Vanhanen constituted a game-ending own-goal against their IQ-determinist side, but that neither of the competing ideological teams ever noticed.

After Nehru

NehruPerry Anderson in the LRB:

All liberal democracies are significantly less liberal, and considerably less democratic, than they fancy themselves to be. That does not cancel them as a category. There is no reason to judge India by a higher standard than is complacently accepted in older and richer versions. The explanation of democratic stability in a society that is so much poorer and more populous is only to a secondary extent to be found in institutional restrictions common enough in the species. It lies in a far larger enabling condition. To see what this might be, a truly distinguishing feature of Indian democracy – one that sets it apart from any other society in the world – needs be considered. In India alone, the poor form not just the overwhelming majority of the electorate, but vote in larger numbers than the better-off. Everywhere else, without exception, the ratio of electoral participation is the reverse – nowhere more so, of course, than in the Land of the Free. Even in Brazil, the other large tropical democracy, where – unlike in India – voting is technically compulsory, the index of ballots cast falls as income and literacy decline.

Why then has the sheer pressure of the famished masses, who apparently hold an electoral whip-hand, not exploded in demands for social reparation incompatible with the capitalist framework of this – as of every other – liberal democracy? Certainly not because Congress ever made much effort to meet even quite modest requirements of social equality or justice. The record of Nehru’s regime, whose priorities were industrial development and military spending, was barren of any such impulse. No land reform worthy of mention was attempted. No income tax was introduced until 1961. Primary education was grossly neglected. As a party, Congress was controlled by a coalition of rich farmers, traders and urban professionals, in which the weight of the agrarian bosses was greatest, and its policies reflected the interests of these groups, unconcerned with the fate of the poor. But they suffered no electoral retribution for this. Why not?

The answer lies, and has always lain, in what also sets India apart from any other country in the world, the historic peculiarities of its system of social stratification. Structurally, by reason of their smaller numbers and greater resources, virtually all ruling classes enjoy an advantage over the ruled in their capacity for collective action. Their internal lines of communication are more compact; their wealth offers an all-purpose medium of power, convertible into any number of forms of domination; their intelligence systems scan the political landscape from a greater height. More numerous and more dispersed, less equipped materially, less armed culturally, subordinate classes always tend, in the sociologist Michael Mann’s phrase, to be ‘organisationally outflanked’ by those above them. Nowhere has this condition been more extreme than in India.