ltmurnau: (CX)
... ohhh pleasedontsuck pleasedontsuck....

From this morning's CBC:

Filmmaker Ben Wheatley is 'a cup of tea away from anarchy'
British director's new film, High-Rise, explores the intersection of condo life and class warfare
By Matt Meuse, CBC News Posted: Apr 16, 2016 8:00 AM PT Last Updated: Apr 16, 2016 8:00 AM PT

"They say you're only two meals away from anarchy," British director Ben Wheatley tells On the Coast host Gloria Mackarenko.

"You know, I like to eat. I'm probably about a cup of tea away from anarchy, usually."

Wheatley's new film, High-Rise, tells the twisted story of a utopian condo complex on the outskirts of a gentrifying city, and its rapid descent into chaos.

The transformation takes three months in the film. But in real life, Wheatley reckons it would be much quicker. In the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis, he realized he only had a day's worth of food in his house, and no real cash or valuables.

"I started looking around at the people in the street going, oh, I'd have to fight them, wouldn't I, for food," he said, laughing. "It would collapse really fast."

The film is based on a novel written by English author J. G. Ballard in the 1970s. Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Robert Laing, a resident of the titular High-Rise.

The book was speculative fiction at the time, but Wheatley finds it to be remarkably prescient.

"When I reread the book in my mid-40s, I realized that it wasn't predictive science fiction anymore, it was much more like I was reading pages out of a newspaper," he said. "It was a bit depressing."

To capture the feel of the novel, the film is set in a sort of alternate-history "super 70s," as Wheatley describes it — an ambiguous, highly-stylized representation of the era.

As if to highlight this, the film ends with an archival monologue from former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, whose right-wing economic policies dominated British politics in the 80s.

"Hearing Thatcher in the air [at the end of the film] is like the ending of John Carpenter's The Thing," he said, referencing a classic 80s horror film with a similarly bleak ending. "When I hear that voice, I get a slight twinge of fear. I find her disconcerting and terrifying."

"It's saying that the whole thing is cyclical and it will start again. And we have the hindsight of knowing what's going to happen next."

Parallels with modern Vancouver

The city in the film is implied as London, which is currently facing housing affordability problems not unlike Vancouver's. Prices are surging in both cities, and many blame investors who use real estate as a way of making and storing money.

Wheatley said the practice of treating real estate primarily as an investment has a devastating impact on cities.

"I always think of it as a bit like when these investors buy Van Goghs and stick them in a vault somewhere," he said. "The art gets turned into money, becomes abstracted and then put away, and it no longer serves the point it had in the first place. So, you know, if you do that to a city, you basically kill it."

"And what happens when no one can afford to live in the city? Do we all have to live on the outskirts and just look to it like Oz or something in the distance? I don't know, it's terrifying."

High-Rise was screened Friday night as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival, with a wider Canadian release on May 20. He'll be giving a master class as part of the festival Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Vancity Theatre.
ltmurnau: (CX)
I hate reading stuff like this.
It's so discouraging.


CBC Asks: Many Canadians distrustful of federal politics, poll indicates
4 in 10 Canadians never talk politics, Samara Canada survey suggests
CBC News Posted: Mar 25, 2015 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 25, 2015 4:02 PM ET
A strong majority of Canadians don't take part in politics beyond voting and don't trust their federal parties or MPs, a new report suggests.
What's more, four in 10 Canadians said they hadn't had a single political conversation in the past 12 months, according to Samara Canada, a non-partisan charitable organization that works to improve Canadian democracy.
In Democracy 360, Samara's report card on the state of Canadian politics, a wide-ranging poll of Canadian residents shows strong levels of distrust and disengagement.
Among the highlights:

  • Only 40 per cent of Canadians say they trust their MPs to do what is right, and only 42 per cent place some trust in political parties.

  • Sixty-two per cent feel politicians only want their vote.

  • When asked to rate MPs across six areas of responsibility, Canadians gave failing grades in five categories, including helping people in their riding and explaining decisions made in Parliament. The only passing grade was for "representing their parties' views."

  • Thirty-one per cent of Canadians say they have contacted an elected official in the last year.

  • Thirty-nine per cent of Canadians say they haven't had a single political conversation in a year, online or off.

  • Many see politics as irrelevant

Samara says in its report that Canadians are withdrawing from the democratic system, because they see politics as irrelevant. Less than a third of Canadians (31 per cent) believe politics affects them daily, and slightly more than half (54 per cent) believe MPs can shape the direction of the country.
Despite the apparent negativity toward the country's democracy, 65 per cent of poll respondents said they are "very" or "fairly" satisfied with democracy.
Samara said in its report that there is some cause for hope: while only 37 per cent of Canadians give time or resources to political activities between elections, 83 per cent did participate in at least one civic engagement activity such as donating or volunteering.
"This is proof that many citizens do care about their communities and their country and are willing to give their time or resources accordingly. But this activity is often at a distance from politics." the report says.
Samara plans to use their report as a baseline and re-do the survey in 2017 in time for Canada's 150th birthday.
Samara Canada conducted its survey online, surveying what it called a nationally representative sample of 2,406 Canadians in English and French from Dec. 12 to Dec. 31.


Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, how can people see politics as irrelevant?
I guess they do, if they can't even see past the plate of nachos set in front of them.
Small-p or large-P, politics horns in on anything and everything in modern life.
You can try and live without, but it will come and get you, and bite you in the ass eventually.
But it will be too late by then.

I wouldn't be so upset by this if democracy would stay the same whether these butt-scratching schlubs were around in such numbers or not, but this is no longer the case - there's less and less of it to be had these days, and a certain fraction of people would seem to be just fine with that.
But the roof will fall in on all of us.
ltmurnau: (CX)
Canada Post's Deepak Chopra says seniors want exercise from picking up mail
An emergency parliamentary committee is asking questions about cancellation of urban mail delivery
By Leslie MacKinnon, CBC News Posted: Dec 18, 2013 2:53 PM ET

The head of Canada Post says seniors have told the corporation they want more exercise and fresh air in answer to an MP's question about how the elderly will be especially hard hit by the cancellation of home mail delivery.

I guess they'd get even more fresh air and exercise if their mail was scattered in a nearby wet field, as the mailbox thieves will no doubt do for fun.

"seniors have told the corporation...." yet another invention from the Tim Horton's School of Public Policy.
ltmurnau: (CX)
I've read a lot about guns and mental health lately, and was going to write something, but Ian Welsh, a fine essayist, put what I've been thinking already quite well, and offered a few suggestions too:

On Killing Spre
2012 December 19
by Ian Welsh

.I’ve waited a bit to weigh in on this, but I think it’s time.

Read more... )
From - you should see what else he has written there.

He offers some very good suggestions, however I do not seem them actually being enacted, least of all in the USA. You know a lot of the reasons, sing them with me: There are too many guns (about 300 million, or about 85 guns for every 100 Americans of all ages, sizes and trigger pulls) and they will never be reeled back in. There's too much ammunition of the wrong kinds, and it can all be reloaded anew with only a bit of trouble at home or in the bunker. There are already too many high-capacity clips, again in the wrong hands. Big Pharma has far too high a stake in keeping far too many people medicated at far too early a stage - I think we're seeing just the leading edge of this. Oh, and as for not treating everyone you meet like shit? Not quite the default setting yet for everyone, it wasn't always the American Way but it is now the way to bet.

It's so easy to be overwhelmingly negative in this very frightening, overwhelming and chaotic milieu, or rather to stand at the edge of it all whatching it swirling down the bowl and hoping that your country will not follow suit... I see so many of the signs here. I have no easy, quick or conclusive methods of my own to offer besides - aw hell, I started writing them and it got Pollyannaish too quickly.

It didn't have to be this way. It never really did. And it still doesn't.
ltmurnau: (Default)
I really must read more of what Zizek has to say.

This is from the London Review of Books:

Shoplifters of the World Unite
Slavoj Žižek on the meaning of the riots

Read more... )
ltmurnau: (Default)
Just placing this here for future reference - gee, now that the Conference Board of Canada has noticed it, it may actually officially exist, no matter what outfits like the CCPA have been reporting for years and years.

Canada's income gap widens, report says
CBC News Posted: Jul 13, 2011 12:10 PM ET

The income gap between rich and poor in Canada widened in the period from 1993 to 2009, the Conference Board of Canada reported Wednesday.

The richest Canadians increased their share of total national income while the poor and those with middle incomes saw their portions shrink, according to the board's analysis, entitled "How Canada Performs."
Read more... )
ltmurnau: (Default)
From the NY Times Magazine. Yes, America's possible RepubliTeaLibertarian future is probably more like Pakistan then Somalia, but never mind, there'll be enough misery for lots more people:

Read more... )

And this, from the Washington Post, in continuation of another article I posted several years ago... ( Shouldn't the Department of Homeland Security focus on what's going on IN the Homeland, as well as what's trying to get into it?

Read more... )

Yeah, it's always The Other... but what kind of Other? And why on earth would a government department worry about civil liberty issues, when practically all such are surrendered on a daily basis by millions of Americans, to no particular purpose?
ltmurnau: (Default)
I haven't read Vonnegut in years, but this makes me want to go out and get his last book:

Read more... )

In other news, tomorrow we're off to Tempe AZ for the Consimworld convention! Lianne will lie by the pool and read while I bring her ice cream from time to time, and I will spend my time trying to get people interested in the batch of unpublished games I will be bringing with me, besides showing off Summer Lightning:

- EOKA (Cyprus 1955-59 - yep, whipped it into shape on the weekend, still think it's a bit too fiddly though)
- The Scheldt Campaign (First Canadian Army Oct-Nov 1944, first game focused on the campaign)
- Third Lebanon War (Israeli Army invades souther Leb in near-future to stop Hezbollah, Or Not)
- Kandahar (non-historical game on Afghanistan)
- Virtualia (FID in a fictionalized post-Chavez Venezuela)
- Greek Civil War (been waiting a long time for this to come out, there is a new mag-with-a-game-in-it coming out that focuses on post-WW 2 conflicts)
- Balkan Gambit (when, o when?)
- Guerrilla Checkers (simple, interesting abstract game I invented last year)

Holy mac, I have been busy the last couple of years.

We also plan a visit to a Goth club (the only one, I think) and visit downtown Phoenix; I think there's some kind of desert flora centre we can visit too - I like cacti and desert plants, they're interesting.

It's gonna be hot!


Apr. 28th, 2011 10:24 am
ltmurnau: (Default)
There are about half a dozen blogs I read almost daily. Here is a recent post from one of them:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The end game

I think it's not a secret that I think something has gone way wrong with America, and that things are not going to turn around until utter national disaster has happened and there simply is no choice. Let's look at a few reasons why I think that:

A broken media. But this is always been true. What is new today is the phenomenon of crapflooding -- flooding people with so much information from such a wide variety of sources that they are unable to pick out the grains of truth from the flow of utter crap flooding our airwaves and our media. Searching for truth in the babbling cacophony that is our modern-day media is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack, it's there, but carefully hidden under piles of reeking money feces. Back in the days when there was one or two major newspapers in any given town and three networks, it was much easier to dig out those little shards of truth hidden in all the utter crap.

Apathetic narcotized population. As long as they have a job (no matter how much they hate it), as long as they can come home and watch their narcotic television shows and play their narcotic video games, they're happy. They don't vote, they don't research the candidates when they do vote, they can't name who their Congressman or Senators are, hell, half of them probably would agree with you if you told them that President Reagan should resign because he's getting too old to be President.

A broken political system. The political system has gone astray from any attachment to reality and devolved into a freak show of cowards and babbling lunatics, incapable of spending much attention on any real problem or accomplishing much beyond wasting space and air. Given the previous entry, it seems unlikely this will end anytime soon.

A broken social infrastructure. Ironically, the evangelical Christians are probably the only group in America that still has a working social infrastructure, one where they know their neighbors, go to church every Sunday and greet the people on either side of them in the pew by name, help each other in time of need, and donate significant sums of money to charitable causes that they agree with. Most of the rest of America is no longer like that. Most of us don't know our neighbors, have no groups of people with common cause that we meet with on a monthly basis to share and have community with, have no sense of community. We are isolated in our homes, with only our televisions and our computers as our friend. This is no way to organize a society, this is a way to create a society of sociopaths -- which is what it's doing.

A broken *physical* infrastructure. Conspiracies by auto makers from the 1920's onwards accompanied by racism in the late 50's to late 80's led to the explosion of suburbs, the collapse of cities, and the utter ruin of most fuel-efficient mass transit systems. Efficient electrically-driven light rail systems were the norm in most American cities prior to the 1940's, and even many small towns prior to the 1940's had heavy rail service connecting them to the rest of the nation. Today, for most of America, the only way to get from here to there is by automobile. The thing is, the automobile is not a sustainable system. It is not sustainable environmentally, it is not sustainable on a per-capita infrastructure basis (requiring acres upon acres of land for nothing but its physical housing in shopping areas and homes and a highway capable of carrying 100,000 automobiles per day takes up ten times more space and requires ten times more maintenance than a rail line capable of carrying 150,000 riders per day), and it is not sustainable spiritually, leading to sterile suburbs where nobody knows anybody and where you can't do anything because anything you could do -- shop, attend plays, whatever -- is somewhere else. Yet America's infrastructure today is built around the automobile, and the hurdles to re-urbanization are formidable. For most Americans, you will take their autos from their cold dead hands... a prediction that will, sadly, likely come true.

A broken educational infrastructure. America's educational infrastructure has always been creaky. This has never been a nation that worshiped intellectuals or cared much for intellect. Americans prided themselves on being a nation of doers, not a nation of thinkers. But today's schools prepare students neither for thinking nor for doing. Unless, by "doing", you mean "bubble in pointless bubbles on endless Scan-Tron cards". And then these students hit the universities, which themselves are under attack, confronted with endless budget cuts because the lizard people need their tax cuts after all...

Thing is, all of these reinforce each other. The end result is going to be an America that every year is a little poorer, a little meaner, a little more vicious, until at the end we tear each other's throats out like a pack of rabid dogs goaded to violence while our lizard overlords smile on from their walled estates protected by armed guards, secure in the fact that they can jet out by helicopter and private plane to their estate in the south of France or in Panama if things get too hot here. I don't know what the nature of the end game is going to look like, but in the end there's going to be a tenth of the population, maybe, either huddled together for self-protection in the ruins of our cities like the ten thousand people who huddled in the ruins of Rome in 500 AD (a city which only 100 years prior had held over a million people), or out on the land working as subsistence farmers perhaps on the estates of our new lords, or what. But there's going to be a lot of dead people, and a society that comes out of it that is utterly unlike our current one, which is an evolutionary dead end that simply can't survive because, as with the dodo bird, it has gone down an evolutionary dead end that can't survive contact with outside reality. Maybe somehow the survivors will put together a better society, will re-urbanize, will re-build the infrastructure of community and nation, will create something afresh that is worthwhile. Or it could turn out to be a feudal nightmare. But our current existence will end.

So anyhow, that's my read of the future. I hope I'm wrong about the body count before things hit bottom. But I doubt it. I seriously doubt it. Winston Churchill once said that Americans always do everything wrong until there is no choice but the right one. Thing is, there's a *lot* of wrong choices that can be made between now and then... and most of them end up in complete and utter national disaster, with something better emerging only from the ruins at the end after a lot of dead bodies...

-- Badtux the Apocalyptic Penguin

As always I hope he is wrong; certainly he cannot be completely and exactly right. But what worries me is that we in Canuckistan are chained by the neck to this nation as it slips beneath the waves, and there are those who want to shorten that chain.

Another book I want to get around to finishing is The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler. ( Many of the same doom-laden tropes, but he also talks about how to cope with what's coming by creating, or rather re-creating localized communities - hopefully different from the paranoid Outsider-hating communities the Evangelicals are building out in the sticks.
ltmurnau: (Default)
I'm sure there are umpteen thousand links and reposts of this article from the May 2011 issue of Vanity Fair, but I'm putting it here just so I don't have to search it out every time:

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

By Joseph E. Stiglitz

May 2011

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous —12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades —and more— has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s —is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise —it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Economists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role—for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12 percent.

But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power —from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself —one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.

When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s —a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift —through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price— it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect —people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military —the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”) —given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation —voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses —will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population —less than 1 percent— controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society —something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.


Edited to add some comparative figures for Canada, summarized from a December 2010 report by the Canadian Centre ofr Policy Alternatives ( Apparently Canada is substantially more equal than the US or UK (where union membership has declined even more than in the US), but less so than in most Scandinavian and Western European countries.

Canada's richest 1% number about 246,000 people, making more than C$169,000 per year but with an average annual income of over C$405,000, control about 13.8% of incomes in Canada. This share peaked at about 18% in 1937, fell to its lowest point of 7.7% in 1977, and has been climbing back up ever since. Over 32% of the economic gains in income made 1997-2007 went to this 1%.

The next tier, the richest 10% of Canadians, make more than C$63,350 (2007 figures), number about 2.5 million, and control about 41% of the total income.

The remaining 22 million or so Canadian taxpayers divvy up the remaining 59%, of course.

Surprisingly, most of the wealth of the one-percenters comes from wages, not capital gains etc.: 67.6% of their income comes from working wages. But while they are paid a lot more than most of us, they are taxed a lot less than they used to be: in 1948, the top marginal tax rate was 80%, for $250,000 or more (which would be $2.37 million today) - in 2009 it was 42.9%, for $126,000. These are federal rates; there is wide variation in provincial marginal tax rates but they have generally fallen the most at the highest end of the scale too. Also, there are a lot fewer tax brackets than there used to be.

Anyway, the report above is interesting to look at, though it has some rather inflammatory language!

Sorry, perhaps I should have put all this under an LJ-cut.
ltmurnau: (Default)

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System
Monday 11 April 2011
by: Chris Hedges, Truthdig

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system—whose primary concern is certainly not with education—are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

The demonizing of teachers is another public relations feint, a way for corporations to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers and a landscape where one in six workers is without employment. The speculators on Wall Street looted the U.S. Treasury. They stymied any kind of regulation. They have avoided criminal charges. They are stripping basic social services. And now they are demanding to run our schools and universities.

“Not only have the reformers removed poverty as a factor, they’ve removed students’ aptitude and motivation as factors,” said this teacher, who is in a teachers union. “They seem to believe that students are something like plants where you just add water and place them in the sun of your teaching and everything blooms. This is a fantasy that insults both student and teacher. The reformers have come up with a variety of insidious schemes pushed as steps to professionalize the profession of teaching. As they are all businessmen who know nothing of the field, it goes without saying that you do not do this by giving teachers autonomy and respect. They use merit pay in which teachers whose students do well on bubble tests will receive more money and teachers whose students do not do so well on bubble tests will receive less money. Of course, the only way this could conceivably be fair is to have an identical group of students in each class—an impossibility. The real purposes of merit pay are to divide teachers against themselves as they scramble for the brighter and more motivated students and to further institutionalize the idiot notion of standardized tests. There is a certain diabolical intelligence at work in both of these.”

“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors—poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition—are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”

The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals—themselves.

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself,” Socrates said.

Those who can ask the right questions are armed with the capacity to make a moral choice, to defend the good in the face of outside pressure. And this is why the philosopher Immanuel Kant puts the duties we have to ourselves before the duties we have to others. The standard for Kant is not the biblical idea of self-love—love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you—but self-respect. What brings us meaning and worth as human beings is our ability to stand up and pit ourselves against injustice and the vast, moral indifference of the universe. Once justice perishes, as Kant knew, life loses all meaning. Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside—including religious laws—are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason. Socrates made the same argument when he said it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.

“The greatest evil perpetrated,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

As Arendt pointed out, we must trust only those who have this self-awareness. This self-awareness comes only through consciousness. It comes with the ability to look at a crime being committed and say “I can’t.” We must fear, Arendt warned, those whose moral system is built around the flimsy structure of blind obedience. We must fear those who cannot think. Unconscious civilizations become totalitarian wastelands.

“The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back,” Arendt writes. “For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.”

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.


He does get a bit shrill at times, and I think there are other factors at play, but right on!
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Ganked from who go it from a recent edition of Newsweek - heavily edited from the original, which is here:

The Creativity Crisis

For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it.

[ snip - stuff about Torrance tests, named after a psychologist who started testing kids for creativity in 1958]

Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

Read more... )
I've been thinking along these lines for some years, and have been meaning to write a rant about it for just as long, but this is the first time I've bumped up against long-term research on the topic.

I'd also like to blame TV and video games, but I fear they are just more distractions (albeit major ones) in what must be a highly distracting world for a child, one where there is simultaneously a great overload of stimuli and a mental environment that doesn't exactly encourage originality.

The phrase about how there is little creativity development in schools is particularly telling; children do become less creative when it's not encouraged - there are always other things to do than use your imagination. It's not just that things like art and music education, even in their most rudimentary forms, are discarded as "frills", and untestable ones at that, it's also that there are fewer and fewer teachers left who have any idea of how to encourage creativity - and the spiral goes on and on.
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On Monday we went to see Collapse a documentary about Michael C. Ruppert, a man who has been analysing open-source intelligence for thirty years and has tied much of it together around the concept of Peak Oil and what it means for us as a planet. Gripping to listen to (but not well filmed, mostly it's a talking head with some clever montages intercut) and follow the ideas, and mostly a real bummer.

And today, Dangerous Minds gave me a link to this man's blog: (Charles Hugh Smith,

Why I am Optimistic (February 16, 2010)

I am optimistic about the future because the status quo is doomed and better options abound.
One of the characteristics readers seem to like about is that fundamentally I am an optimist about the future, even as I trace out the inevitability of the status quo's devolution and implosion.

Read more... )

Nice to hear another perspective, though I am not convinced of his arguments and rather more convinced that the transformation will not be easy - agreed there will be one, and the longer it is delayed the nastier it will be.
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I post this here because I know I'll wnat to refer to it later, and I'll forget where it was.

I saw it on, a place I peruse a lot lately, but ultimately, it came from

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Becoming a Third World Country

In the course of writing last week’s Archdruid Report post, I belatedly realized that there’s a very simple way to talk about the scope of the brutal economic contraction now sweeping through American society – a way, furthermore, that might just be able to sidestep both the obsessive belief in progress and the equally obsessive fascination with apocalyptic fantasy that, between them, make up much of what passes for thinking about the future these days. It’s to point out that, over the next decade or so, the United States is going to finish the process of becoming a Third World country.

Read more... )

Interesting points raised here. Further below in the comments, someone posted:

"Over the past couple of decades, gangs and their turf wars have spread far from the inner cities and large population areas of the northeast and west where they first gained a foothold, into the south and areas much more sparsely populated and rural. Case in point, a small city near here with no more than 15K in population, tucked deeply inside the local "potato belt," now has a gang problem ! A gang problem complete with graffiti border markings, drug trafficking and murder of rival gang members. It seems that gangs are now well established in most areas of the country. And the sheer number and variety of gang affiliations out there is mind-boggling, to say the least.

So, it occurred to me a few weeks ago that in many ways, this gang phenomenon echoes the turf wars and civil wars that often break out in third world countries and work to keep the populace hounded and terrorized, drain the economy of some of its last shreds of normal productivity and continually disrupt normal trade operations. If the US governing infrastructure weakens significantly - as it well may because of funding issues, many cities and counties are already cutting back their police forces - I worry that the vacuum will be rapidly filled by this ever-present "criminal element" and that these rival factions will plunge many areas of this country into a situation very like the one Mexico is currently dealing with where the civilians in some areas are literally trapped between armies in an ongoing and vicious war over turf and political control....."
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Ordinarily one should not rely on the National Post for social commentary, but today's editorial nailed it (in striking contrast to the shrieky, grating, entirely predictable tone of the rest that paper's coverage of the event):

Read more... )
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Hockey brawl gets green light

Last updated Jun 28 2005 10:47 AM PDT (CBC News)

Prince George city council has decided to allow the controversial Battle of the Hockey Enforcers to go ahead after all – reversing its earlier decision to cancel the show.

It will features ex-hockey players skating onto the ice and scrapping for cash – without playing any hockey.

Council's decision follows the threat of a lawsuit by the show's organizers, who said they stood to lose $2 milliion because of the cancellation.

The city had gone to its lawyers for advice. And most councillors who originally voted to cancel the show changed their minds – among them Glen Scott.

"The legal advice came down, and the least risk for the city was to allow the event to go ahead," he says.

Councillor Brian Skakun had led the effort to stop the fight from coming to town. And he says the city should have taken its chances against any lawsuit.

"We have to draw the line somewhere, and look at what we want in our community."

Scott agrees, and says he now wants to change city policy to stop similar fights from being held in Prince George in the future.

"I don't think it does anything to enhance the city of Prince George. It certainly reinforces the redneck image we've had given to us over the years. And this certainly is still in my mind a black mark against the city of Prince George."

But Councillor Dan Rogers, who pushed for the reconsideration by council, blames the Vancouver news media – not the event – for tarnishing the city's image.

"It's interesting to note that of all the coverage, it's frankly been the Lower Mainland media that's been targeting Prince George more than any media across the country," he tells CBC News.

"Across the country, it's been more focused on the event. I'm not sure what that says about Vancouver, and the way that they look at Prince George."

"reinforces the redneck image we've had given to us over the years."
Hm, well, I guess I should change my mind too. I think PG has worked very hard for that image, and now they should enjoy the fruits of their labour.
ltmurnau: (Default)
...and a hockey game almost broke out.

I'm just putting this here for the sake of posterity and my own amusement (two very compelling reasons, in my view).

On-ice slugfest triggers backlash
Last updated Jun 21 2005 09:11 AM PDT

CBC NEWS – A Prince George city councillor is leading the campaign to stop the Battle of the Hockey Enforcers from happening in the northern B.C. city this summer.

Brian Skakun has filed an appeal with the city to block the event – which would feature ex-hockey players on skates scrapping for cash without playing any hockey.

The city's athletic commission approved the event. But Skakun says under a bylaw created 30 years ago, the commission's authority covers only boxing and wrestling matches.

He also says many residents are opposed to the fight, and thinks the city should respect that.

"A lot of minor hockey organizations are doing all they can to get violence out of the game, and this is just promoting more violence in hockey and sending a bad message to the children."

But some Prince George residents are defending the city's decision, including Mike Hickson whose son plays minor hockey.

"These are professional athletes that are getting paid money to beat on each other. If they want to do that, go for it."

The promoters took the show to Prince George after other cities, including Winnipeg and Minneapolis, nixed the idea.

Despite the criticism, organizers say people are snapping up tickets quickly, with 1,000 of them sold on the first day alone.

Please hold the cliches about Prince George people; I admit though, they practically write themselves.

But tell me how this "event" differs from a plain old prize fight, which is still an offence under section 83 of the Criminal Code:

Prize Fights: Engaging in prize fight

83. (1) Every one who

(a) engages as a principal in a prize fight,
(b) advises, encourages or promotes a prize fight, or
(c) is present at a prize fight as an aid, second, surgeon, umpire, backer or reporter,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Definition of "prize fight"
(2) In this section, "prize fight" means an encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them, but a boxing contest between amateur sportsmen, where the contestants wear boxing gloves of not less than one hundred and forty grams each in mass, or any boxing contest held with the permission or under the authority of an athletic board or commission or similar body established by or under the authority of the legislature of a province for the control of sport within the province, shall be deemed not to be a prize fight.


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