Thursday, April 16, 2015

Что вы ищете в этом?

Gettin' Weird Out There
Sad Vlad The Putin had a one-sided conversation with a large, stuffed Totoro for over two hours on Russian Television. While viewers were somewhat mystified, this seemed to make Vlad feel better, though the Totoro had no comment (as Totoros are wont not to). 

All this because Before Nine has been getting a lot of traffic from Russia (not that we get a lot of traffic at all), and even the continuing lure of Johanna Sällström doesn't seem to explain it.  Well -- enjoy!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Reprint Heaven: The Random Barking Pesach Miracle

(From 2012)

Whether this observation bounded by the strictures of religious belief, or as open as any question in quantum mechanics -- it can't be denied that we live on a single planet, its atmosphere captured by gravity, orbiting a single star in a universe so vast that we can't conceive just how large that vastness is.

So.. what? What is all this for? Religion will insist on one answer, science another -- though unlike religious leaders, scientists (not ones paid by the Koch Brothers™, or some other bored billionaire, anyway) will tell you their answers aren't absolute. But though you can debate about the purpose, the facts of where and how big can't be argued. So, what's it for? What are we for?

And from that perspective, President Boner's toupee, Obama's support for Banksters™ or 'National Security', or "Bucky The Beaver" Brooks' rat-toothed giggle doesn't mean much.

President Obama Graciously Ignores The Incident Of President Boner's Hairpiece (Photo: People/Newsroom; TPM; Inset Detail By Mongo)

In the face of the unanswered Big Questions, many of the things we consider so important, aren't. There are obvious things which are important, but much of what captures our attention in this place we inhabit -- as Ellen Ripley reminds us, "all this, all this bullshit you think is so important" -- isn't.

We should be asking The Big Questions. But, I'm only a Dog, and no one listens to me.

MEHR, MIT SCHADENFREUDE, UND FROHE OSTERN, PEEPS!  Three guys appear before Saint Peter, sitting at his raised dais while guarding the entrance to Heaven Itself.  Pete fixes a gimlet eye on them and intones, "You wish to enter the Kingdom Of Heaven. To see God, and to know your place in All Things, and to live forever and ever in Paradise. Is that about right?"

"Yeah man."   "Yes, your honor."   "I do!"  The men replied.

"Okay." Peter leans on his raised podium and squints down at them. "Listen up; here's how it works. I'm going to ask each of you a question. You get it right; you're in. You blow it, and I pull the string and you go to Hell. Ready?"  The men, obviously frightened, nodded. Peter pointed to the first man. "You. What's the meaning of Easter?"

 The man opened his mouth, but no sounds came out. "Well?" peter said, frowning. "That your 'final answer'?"

"Uh... isn't it about Moses, and wandering somewhere for forty days and BWWWAHH HHHHAAA!!!!!!" The ground beneath the man opened up; flames shout out of the ground and he fell into the flaming maw. The earth closed and the air was redolent of sulfur and brimstone. Peter shifted his gaze to the second man. "You -- what's the meaning of Easter?"

"Well, it's about -- well, there's a whole bunch of fish and bread at the end of it but BWWWAHHH HHHAAA!!!!!!"And the earth opened beneath him, flames spewed towards the sky, and he was pulled down into the fiery pit; the earth closed over him.  Peter looked at the last man. "You. What's the meaning of Easter."

"Ah... isn't that where, uh, Jesus had the last supper, and was betrayed, and tried for heresy, and sentenced to be crucified?" The man said.

"Okay," Peter replied. "Say more."

"And He was crucified, and taken down and placed in a tomb?" The man said with a hesitant smile.

"All right," Peter said, leaning forward. "Keep going."

"And they rolled a big rock in front of the tomb, and He was there for three days?"

Peter was nodding. "You're on a roll, man; tell it."

The man, beaming, smiled back at him. "Yeah! And on the third day, Jesus rolled back the rock -- and he came out of the tomb -- and saw His shadow; and that meant we had three more weeks of Winter BWWWAHHH HHHAAA!!!!!!"

Oh, and Gut Pesach.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Someone Else Today. You Tomorrow.

This bill is not about discrimination... [the purpose of the legislation] is very simply to empower individuals when they believe that actions of government impinge on their constitutional First Amendment freedom of religion... 
-- Indiana Governor Mark Pence, to ABC's George Stephanopolis

SB 101: Religious freedom restoration. Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest... Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding ... Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability... Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer... (The RFRA, per the Indiana General Assembly)

I had intended to post a long rant on the perfidy and outright evil which characterize right-wing evangelism in America, but we'll just take those items as a given.

SB 101 isn't the first law passed in even recent memory allowing a minority in political control to enshrine their intolerance with the force of legislation -- in this case, evangelical christians (with a small "c") and their god-given (well, somebody's god, anyway) right to condemn -- in this case, LGBT Americans. And evangelicals love to condemn; being a True Believer seems to gives them the authority to do that, filled with Grace™ and love (and something else) as they are.

And our right-wing evangelicals want to be the dominant authority -- over women, over children, over education and art and sexuality. Our evangelicals, like the Taliban, would like to enact their own version of religious law in America -- and religious law is not about uplifting and empowering the human spirit; it's based on Thou Shalt Not.

Religious law of whatever flavor is based on the fundamental precept that Humans are bad, stained from birth with evil, who must be carefully watched by the Elders and restricted from committing more acts which The Elders believe are affronts against (somebody's) god.

And (as is always true in less democratic forms of governing), the force of religious law always rests on ultimate punishment. Those who break these laws are whipped and disfigured, have parts of their bodies crudely amputated; are tortured until they confess their crimes; are stoned to death, beheaded, or burned at the stake. And the entire community will be made to watch, or may be required to participate in a ritualized killing... as a religious requirement. As an object lesson.

And nations ruled by True Believers and their edicts -- religious, or political -- always become bankrupt cultures; shabby, frightening, and ultimately murderous places.  Ask the Muslims of Serbia and Croatia. Ask the Tutsis of Rawanda. Ask the people of Cambodia. Ask the people of Afghanistan. Ask the Jews of Europe.

(A Dog has a long memory:  The last member of my family had been a born-again evangelical; for a time, they were associated with a tiny sect, organized around a self-proclaimed 'pastor'. After a long illness, my family member died; at the funeral, I watched the 'pastor' turn what was a moment of grief and remembrance into his opportunity to tell a captive audience, at length, that their time on earth was short and everyone in earshot and beyond was hellbound and they'd better get right with the lord.

(He shouted and strutted; he preened -- a True Believer in full, in love with the power that act of condemnation gave him. Of passing judgement, and settling scores. I've found some of him in every individual I've seen or experienced since who claims to be 'moved' by an allegedly higher power. And the so-called "laws" associated with whatever freakshow delusion they're pushing which allow them to do pretty much whatever they want. Yes, they'll make fine leaders of America, or whatever they'll call their New Kingdom.

(Ask the members of the People's Temple at Jonestown. Ask the Branch Davidians at Waco. You might even ask the members of 'christian' congregations across America, listening to speeches made by their 'pastors' condemning other people as less than human and feeling such putrescent drivel is not only just fine but righteous.) 

SB101 is not the last legislation of its kind that we'll see passed in America. And if an evangelical christian ever becomes President of the United States, we will see many more. The United States is, in the eyes of many, the country where political apathy is king; perhaps that's so.

If it is, then God help us all. In our torpor, ultimately we may find ourselves ruled by the same kind of strutting, egotistical monsters that a real pastor, Martin Niemöller, had in mind when he made the oft-quoted observation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out. --  Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)


(Reuters) - Indiana's Republican Governor Mike Pence, responding to national outrage over the state's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said on Tuesday he will "fix" it to make clear businesses cannot use it to deny services to same-sex couples.

Pence, in a news conference, said the law he signed last week had been widely mischaracterized and "smeared" but he called on the state's Republican-controlled General Assembly to send a new law to his desk this week to fix it...

But Pence found support from conservatives including Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz and possible presidential contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio...
Critics say Indiana's law went too far in potentially allowing businesses to deny services to gay couples, because they could argue that doing so went against their deeply held beliefs.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana under an appeals court ruling last year.

Religious Freedom Acts in Georgia and North Carolina appeared to stall this week after Indiana came under fire. But the Arkansas House of Representatives is expected to approve this week an RFRA that has already passed the state's Senate.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Greg Stillson For President

I Saw The News Today Oh Boy

   Sen. Ted Cruz; June 6, 2014  (Photo: Texas Tribune / Bob Daemmrich)

Martin Sheen As Greg Stillson In The Film Adaptation Of King's The Dead Zone (1983)

We've all seen the news.  Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz of the Soverign Nation Republic State of Texas announced that he was running for the Republican party's nomination as its candidate for President in the 2016 election. He said many things, and repeated the word "imagine" many times.

As I watched him speaking in a number of film clips on mainstream news, I was suddenly reminded of a character in contemporary writing and film -- Greg Stillson, in Stephen King's The Dead Zone.  If you've seen the 1983 film (possibly the best screen adaptation of any of King's books), then you've seen Martin Sheen playing the role of a local politician in Maine, a Huey Long-style populist who runs for Senator -- very much what would pass for a Tea Partei candidate today.

Stillson says he believes in America, and Values -- oh, and the truth, so long as he agreed with it. And, outwardly a confident and canny politician, King's character was written as an evangelical, too -- and very much convinced that it was his destiny to become President and Do God's Will (well; the will of somebody's god, anyway).

But the truth was that inwardly, Stillson was altogether not all he seemed -- and whatever it was people were voting for when they looked at him, what they got was very different.
Stillson is introduced in the novel at the beginning of the book as a struggling traveling salesman for a Bible-printing company ... During a stop at a house in rural Iowa, Stillson is attacked by the absent homeowners' dog and, enraged, sprays ammonia in the animal's eyes before beating it to death. As he drives away, Stillson comes to the realization that he is destined for greatness. (Stephen King Wiki)  
It is possible the truth is, in the long, oily wake of the Scalia Court's decision in Citizens United, that America's elections are now the property of people like the Koch brothers, Addled Sheldon, and Little Rupert? Just another thing to be purchased. Because they can. Because Freedom.

But, maybe not. Maybe that's not the truth. Maybe elections might be the last place where, when casting a vote, we are in fact all equal and anything is possible. The truth? We have a moral obligation to work against ignorance and malevolence, or we will get the leaders we deserve.

The truth, too, is that King's novel and the film it's based on are just that -- fiction. In the real world, people like the Senator from Canada Texas are all too present a reality, and using the political process (such as it is) we should work pretty damn hard to ensure he or anyone like him, if they receive the nomination of any party, will be defeated at the polls.

 I'd suggest going here and adding your name, and even spending a few dollars. And yes, this will be on the final.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Second Star From The Right

And Straight On 'Till Morning
Leonard Nimoy  1931 - 2015

Not all that many people affect a wider world; the number that have a positive influence are even smaller.

El Rog (that's pronounced "Raj") The Magnificent at my Place Of Witless Labor™ spoke over the Great Wall Of Cubicle a while ago and advised Leonard Nimoy has died. The visual image which immediately popped into my mind was the character he made immortal, Spock, as he'd appeared in the first JJ Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise, and so my first thought was Spock, dead? No; that's not possible. It took a few seconds to remember Nimoy in any other way, and then the news seemed not only possible but not unexpected. Now He Knows What We Do Not.

As Lynda Barry tells it, television was role model, teacher, and refuge for several generations. It was all those for me, and due to an odd twist of pre-frontal cortex which allows me to recall the complete dialogue of specific films nearly intact, I would remember the faces of character actors who appeared in films and different television series (which would lead to posts like this, and this, and this one).

I watched Star Trek when it was new in 1966, and a new concept for television -- a science fiction episodic television program (the audience could 'get involved' with the lives of its characters, and their relationship with each other, to create a backstory to support the arc of the series).  It's true that 'The Twilight Zone' had appeared in 1959, and One Step Beyond not long after; then "Outer Limits" in 1964, but each of their episodes were separate presentations, a series of short stories.

Star Trek was the first of its kind, and it made all the other series that followed, Star Trek-related or not, possible -- ST Next Generation; ST Deep Space Nine; ST Voyager; Starship Enterprise; Babylon 5; Stargate; Battlestar Galactica (original, and the remake); Space 1999; even the Saturday morning Thunderbirds! marionette series.

It also made possible a long string of other sci-fi and fantasy-related programs that we take for granted, today, from X-Files and Roswell to the SciFi Channel. 

The crew of the NCC 1701 were a family, and Leonard Nimoy's rendition of the science officer and XO was spot on, right from the beginning; I can't imagine another actor in 1966 who could have brought more to the role (Try and imagine it. Go ahead). The series was a popular success, but even with a large write-in campaign from fans, NBC cancelled it; episodes in the spring of 1968 were the last.

In the1970's Nimoy joined the cast of Mission: Impossible, replacing Martin Landau (who ended up as the star of -- yes; 'Space 1999', with his MI co-star and then-wife, Barbara Bain).  When Star Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry, finally received financial backing to produce "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", Nimoy returned to his Spock role. But, the movie had a poor showing when it was released in 1979 and for a time it wasn't clear whether there would be any sequels. Nimoy began looking for other ways to reinvent his career -- as a writer, an artist, as a stage actor.

Four years later, with a different director and script, The Wrath Of Khan (with another decent character actor, Ricardo Montalban) appeared, and was a success -- even when the unexpected happened; Spock sacrifices himself to save his ship, its crew, and the officers on it that were his family.
 "I was, and always shall be, your friend." If you saw the film when it was released,
tell me you didn't feel just a little misty when he spoke that line. 

There would be another four star Trek films with the original cast  -- two of them written, and directed, by Nimoy. In 1987, he directed Three Men and A Baby for Disney Studios -- a big hit, financially. Nimoy continued directing other productions until 1995.

Over the last twenty years, Nimoy had been candid that as a person, it hadn't all been a bed of roses; he had suffered with an alcohol addiction since the late 1960's, but had conquered it. Even as he grew older he continued to do what he did best, to act -- his appearance as the reclusive Dr. Bell on the series, Fringe, and reprising Spock in the 2012 Star Trek reboot, were his last hurrahs as an actor.

Nimoy and Zachary Quinto at the opening of Abram's Star Trek (2012)

Through the original series and the motion pictures, Spock's character was about resolving inner conflict, the Path Of Logic versus human instincts. But Nimoy's character, which he did a good deal to shape, was also about loyalty, compassion, and Right Action.

For generations of people who grew up watching Nimoy as Spock, the character showed a bridge between our illogical selves and Something Larger, in a positive way.  The planet Vulcan may not exist, but that there might be a choice between instinctive or unconscious behavior, and some level of clarity achieved through discipline, does. No matter how that is internalized, it's a powerful message.

And, it's not a stretch to say that Nimoy's role as (arguably) Star Trek's most popular character helped to popularize science fiction on television. This was different from the B-Film sci-fi that was churned out in the 50's and 60's  -- it made science fiction acceptable as a dramatic form, The Human Dilemma in the vast reaches of space. Without Trek on television and in film, there might have been a very different and less nuanced 'Star Wars' (all six of them), or Blade Runner, Alien, or "Interstellar".

So, another Mensch leaves us -- I hope, for another continuing adventure.
Kirk:  I think its about time we got underway ourselves. 
Uhura:  Captain, I have orders from Starfleet Command. We're to put back to Spacedock immediately ... to be decommissioned. 
Spock:  If I were human, I believe my response would be, "go to Hell" -- if I were human.
Uhura:  What are your orders, sir?.
Kirk:  Second star on the right -- and straight on 'till morning.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Fast Food Chains

Greece Shows The Way


MEHR, MIT AROOO:  Paul Krugman, one of the Smartest Humans On Earth™, explains that there's more to the Greek finance drama than meets the eye -- principally, that The Syriza Party's standing up to bullying by EU finance ministers may be the beginning of the end of Austerity programs in the Eurozone. 

From an economist's perspective, Krugman believes Greece has done well in the sort term and is positive about its future. The actors in this drama who aren't happy in the EU are the Austerians, who should just go back to Planet Buzzkill, already.
... the main issue of contention involves just one number: the size of the Greek primary surplus, the difference between government revenues and government expenditures not counting interest on the debt. The primary surplus measures the [amount of money] that Greece is actually [paying] its creditors. Everything else, including the [total amount of Greece's] debt — which is a more or less arbitrary number at this point, with little bearing on the amount anyone expects Greece to pay — matters only to the extent that it affects the primary surplus Greece is forced to run.

For Greece to run any surplus at all — given the depression-level slump that it’s in and the effect of that depression on revenues — is a remarkable achievement, the result of incredible sacrifices. Nonetheless, Syriza has always been clear that it intends to keep running a modest primary surplus. If you are angry that the negotiations didn’t make room for a full reversal of austerity ... you weren’t paying attention.

The question instead was whether Greece would be forced to impose still more austerity. ... So did the current Greek government back down and agree to aim for those economy-busting surpluses? No, it didn’t. In fact, Greece won new flexibility for this year...

And the creditors did not pull the plug. Instead, they made financing available to carry Greece through the next few months. That is, if you like, putting Greece on a short leash, and it means that the big fight over the future is yet to come. But the Greek government didn’t succumb to the bum’s rush, and that in itself is a kind of victory.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Reprint Heaven: Stuff Out There

Dude; Where's My Spacecraft
(I appear to enjoy shouting at the heavens [or, as The Spouse Of Chuck puts it, 'raving'] about the terrible beauty of this, our place in this Universe, but believe me -- there are people out there talking about stuff on the Intertubes who (a)Believe it all, and (b)Have little if any sense of humor.  So, this, from 2011.)

Extraterrestrial Pere Ubu; Or, The Klan In Space
(Alien Captured On Someone's Cell Phone Video)

I rant and rave about the world's hereditary wealthy and that The Fix Is In; but, that's nothing. In an attempt to put our fingers on the truth behind how the world operates; to answer The Big Questions, many people are drawn to varying degrees of conspiracy theories. You go down the rabbit hole of the Intertubes, and don't be surprised at what you find.

For example: Did you know that we are all "soul cattle", and that Grey Aliens and "The Nordics" ( ! ) are battling it out in the skies above, over whether to guide us as carriers of souls, or harvest us for what we're dragging around?

Or, that 'The Elites' are preparing for a round of nuclear exchanges and bioweapon releases to eliminate 50% of the world's population, and ensure the worldwide rule of Caucasians of Northern European extraction?  
Officials In The United Nations Want You Dead... If we were to borrow from Reagan’s wisdom, we have the potential to unite humanity against our common foe. For those who are awake, it is your duty to your creator and to fellow man to relentlessly educate humanity as to the true nature of the elite along with exposing their final solution. 

...“No one will enter the New World Order unless he or she will make a pledge to worship Lucifer. No one will enter the New Age unless he will take a Luciferian Initiation.” 
David Spangler, Director of Planetary Initiative, United Nations

But of course.  And,
This is just the tip of the scary events coming. There are tons of things you need to know. Like how all kinds of ancient cultures have always known. Polar shift has happened before and so has global destruction. We aren't bigger than the universe! If Planet X Nibiru is going to come, they can't control what the solar system does to Earth.

Because ... it's all perfectly clear now - after being up all night thinking about it: Everyone is nothing more than a small captured 'piece of Light Being' in a bag of skin and bones. And, since light has both wave and particle functions, the expression of this duality in real life must be exemplified in the air conditioning conundrum. I hope this helps. Have a snick and think about it.
My God; if saying so wasn't "stayin in denial by being co-oppted by the Power Struktur ", I'd add that it's probably better people be employed full-time so their minds (such as they are) aren't allowed to wander around like pigeons.

And I'll pass on the 'Snick', thanks; chocolate's not good for Dogs.

Monday, February 9, 2015

But, You Knew That

You All Somebody's Bitch

Everywhere you turn, there's yet another story on air or online about the growing gap of inequality between the top one per cent, or the top one-tenth of one per cent, and everyone else.

The central feature of these articles is based on the fact that a small number of human beings (statistically, 380,000 here in the United States) own the lion's share of everything.

From Prof. G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz : "In terms of types of financial wealth, the top one percent of households have 35% of all privately held stock, 64.4% of financial securities, and 62.4% of business equity. The top ten percent have 81% to 94% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and almost 80% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America."
But the focus of the news items isn't about dry statistics any longer; these numbers are so abstract as to mean almost nothing to the average person. 

What does it mean in real terms? Here's one example:  Your family will have to work harder to afford to send even one child to a university that delivers a high quality education.  Middle class families will struggle to afford just to put that child in (as a California example) the UC system, or a State University.  With each passing year, going to college will become more stratified -- the Elite receiving the best education money can buy, an extension of connections with the children of other Elite families which  they've had since Prep School.

Not everyone can go to an Ivy League, elite school. There has always been a percentage of admissions to Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth from the middle class and below... but that number has never been high, and it will shrink further the more expensive education becomes.

The children of working class families will be able to afford trade schools, or an AA degree at a local Junior College. Some may go on to finish a Bachelors' degree online as they work a 9-to-5 job, but even Internet degrees have become more expensive -- it's a business too, you see.  And that's just education. 

If a society is forced into economic stratification by changing the flow of wealth to a small percentile at the top, it's harder for the salaried or wage-earning masses (who don't receive raises while their managers take home splendid bonuses).  "Income and Wealth Inequality" means the kind of lives 80% or more of us can afford will not have as many options. 

And accurate or not, the American Dream has always been sold as one with no limits -- that salaries and wages would continue to rise, just because.  Life will get better and better in this, the greatest place on earth of all time. And as commercial teevee continues to tell us to buy the things which will mean we're Living The Good Life, in the real world people will have to make choices that don't reflect that illusion. 

"Living within your means" has always been a reality for most of us, for generations, but I'm not talking about that. This is a situation where the economy has flattened out, even begun to run backwards, for most of us. That is what's different.

The reality of income inequality means not being able to afford to go out to so many restaurants, or take the kind of vacations you could less than a decade ago -- because while prices went up, your income did not.  It will mean more limits on the clothing and cars we can buy, on gasoline and air travel; the kind of homes we can afford and the neighborhoods we can live in -- and from that, the K-through-12 schools we can send our children to.

Income inequality will affect the quality of food we can buy, the health care we receive, and (when the time comes) will dictate the quality of life in retirement we'll have.  If climate change turns nasty, or if any real social dislocation occurs, not having more options may affect how secure and protected we are, even how many calories a day or how much water we'll receive.   

I've noted how rigged the game is many times before. What amazes me is, why news agencies even bother reporting on this any longer, because nothing happens. Nothing changes.

Do the networks (even Little Rupert's Fox, which has to try and appear as if it isn't the mouthpiece of an Oligarch)  believe the 0.01% will be shamed by any reporting into allowing a more egalitarian society? Is Downtown Abbey, shown here in the U.S., also a teaching moment about how the rich are just people too, and about how we should become the 'good' servants below stairs -- keeping our dignity, but learning our places in good Calvinist fashion ('High and Low hath He ordered their estates')?  Is there an American version of "Land Of Hope And Glory" we should learn?

Do the reporters and chroniclers of the New Gilded Age believe that by reporting The Fix Is In, it'll create change? Do mainstream "liberal" politicians believe the sheer rhetoric in their speeches about income inequality will do the trick?

It won't. Jake -- It's Chinatown.

What I ask myself is, Why aren't more people in the streets because of this? It's happening right in front of us. We allow it to continue.

Through most of human history, the wealthy have had it their own way. This period of democratic change, human expansion and technological advancement -- the so-called Age Of The Common Man -- has been brief. As the climate changes, and as everything from space and security to actual food and potable water become more scarce... the rich have said We are first in line and you will take what we allow you. The historical wheel has begun to turn back to what they consider a more 'equitable' balance.

Move along; nothing to see here. Go get you some of that sports action on teevee, huh? And, hey -- here's a happy, furry puppy.

 Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo At Close Of Blog Rant

Mehr, Mit Unmöglichkeit

(Benjamin Schwartz; ©The New Yorker 2015)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Reprint Heaven: The Droids You're Looking For, Not

A Brief Business Analysis Of Episode Four

(From November, 2011. Because it is funny, and you all seem to like it so.)

You realize, of course, that the entire Rebellion could have been stopped in its tracks if one checkpoint at Mos Eisley had been on its toes.

Large organizations can operate using top-down management structures, but risk increases as functional groups become silos that are a handicap towards reaching organizational goals -- and at the worst times, leading to extreme, 'Black Swan'-style failures, as demonstrated here.

Plus, one result of this Epic Fail was that we were condemned to sit through Episodes 1 through 3.

And at some point, long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away... In managing resources, there have to be clearly delineated and documentable disciplinary processes -- generally beginning with a verbal warning; written warning; and finally a Performance Action Plan, where the areas of concern and specific performance benchmarks for the employee are clearly defined, is issued.

If the employee can't meet these benchmarks, they are terminated from Imperial service and end up working for Pizza The Hutt.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Meanwhile, In Downtown Europa: Greece, Part VI

Playing Chicken In The Eurozone

 Some men see things as they are and ask, "Why?"
I see the same stuff and say, "Yeah, yeah; whatever:"

Bender Bender Bender / Bender Bender Bender...
-- Bender

Things are truly going on, out there in whatever you consider the Big World to be. And, dogs do pay attention to these things.

Yes; we know -- you think all we're interested in is food, elimination of bodily waste -- squirrel! -- your attention; food; other Dogs -- hey! another squirrel! -- being left outside the store; food; and dry-humping an available leg.   So wrong.

Greece has apparently said Γαμώτο λιτότητας. As we've noted many times in the past (like, 2010, and in 2011 and also 2012), since The Crash of 2008, Greece has suffered through a tragedy worthy of Sophocles.

It's economy was overextended when the Bankster class (led by America -- USA! USA!) set up the Crash. Greece's national debt was roughly 175% of GDP, where it remains today. It had, like any country, sold bonds as investments -- and without loans from the EU (primarily, German banks), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF, the country might default on payments when the bonds came due.

Worse, they might default on paying the bailout loans -- and as the graphic below indicates, that default action would be Sehr Schlecht for banks in France and Germany.

 Circa 2012: Why Greek Debt Matters For Europe
(Click On Image To Enlarge: It's Easy and Fun!)

So Greece was provided a series of four IMF/ECB loans -- "bailouts" -- but as a condition of receiving the money had to accept forced austerity measures to reduce the country's deficits and pay down their public debt.

The EU state in the best shape, financially, after 2008 was Germany -- and principal among EU leaders who supported austerity was Die Eisen Kanzellerin Angela Merkel.  Many European nations, Angela said, had been profligate and spent above their means; it had taken an American-led financial crisis to show the cracks in Europe's financial foundations.

To correct that, nations like Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Greece, would have to reduce public spending until the pips squeaked. This meant reductions in public services, massive layoffs of government workers, and cuts in pension payments to retirees. Without promises to do so -- no soup for you! and no loans from Germany's banks.

So, Greece's economy contracted by one-quarter after 2008, and Greece's unemployment rate climbed steadily to 25% and has remained there. The lack of jobs meant few people had much discretionary spending power -- they were too busy trying to figure out how they would feed their families.

Greece's public electricity utility is state-owned -- so it was negotiated away to be sold to a "private consortium" (Read: Oligarchs), along with Piraeus, the country's largest port and shipping facility. There was even talk of selling some of Greece's national art treasures to museums and "private collectors".  The country was holding a Fire Sale: Our Misfortune Could Be Your Fortune! Everything Must Go!

Fortunately, Greece's cultural heritage remained in its museums. However, private individuals had to drain their savings accounts, and sell any private assets they had for whatever they could get -- art, land, jewelry; businesses.  "Private investors" (Read: Vultures) in Russia, Europe, and China all swooped down to pick up a few bargains. The wealthy were able to weather the storm, but by 2013 the majority of Greece's population was declared by the BBC to be "living in poverty".

None of this could have happened without the collusion active support of the Greek government, led by Center/Right politicians, who negotiated loans from the EU and tried to convince the Greek populous that austerity today would mean prosperity and security down the road.

The problem was that austerity is a complete failure. Forcing a nation into high rates of unemployment doesn't stimulate economies; exactly the opposite -- though even a brain-dead chimpanzee would have known that), one bailout loan was followed by Greek inabilty to meet its loan payments, meaning another loan... which the EU, ECB and IMF would not provide without even more austerity measures.

2012, Athens: Happy Greeks Enthusiastically Embrace Austerity 
To Assist European Allies By Vowing To Live On Dog Food For
The Next Ten Years (Photo: Guardian UK / Milos Bicanski)

So it went for three years. The belt-tightening continued; strikes and riots occurred across the country. There were several changes of governments -- which involved penalties for anyone not supporting austerity (in February of 2012, members of Greece's parliament who voted against accepting the ECB/IMF's financing terms were thrown out of their political parties). The Center-Rightists always managed to maintain just enough of a majority in Greece's parliament to be the party forming a government, and maintaining control... until this past weekend.

The election of a majority of Leftist Syriza party candidates for the Greek Parliament placed it in control of the Greek government -- which has announced it would 'renegotiate' the country's $240 Billion-Euro debt, shelved plans to sell its state utility and the port of Piraeus, and declared the 'era of humiliation' was over.

This sent a shiver through Brussels. It was, possibly, the beginning of a worst-case scenario which some peripheral EU nation has threatened to deliver for over five years -- and if not Greece, then Portugal, or Spain; Italy; even France. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said he will meet with Greece's new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, next week, for some "straight talking". 

New Prime Minister Tsipras stated earlier this week that the new government did not plan a "Grexit" from the EU or the Euro -- that Greece intends to honor its debt obligations and not default. However, he was clear that the terms of repayment would be theirs, and not the debtholders' -- that demands for austerity wouldn't continue. 

The new plan would be to renegotiate terms of Greece's debt with the individual EU countries which had provided money for their loans -- something like renegotiating the terms of your auto loan with the depositors whose money was used, instead of your bank.

Today, the Eurogroup finance chief and Dutch politician, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, met with the new Syriza party Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, to discuss how Greece's new government planned to meet its loan obligations to the "troika" (EU banks, ECB and IMF).  Dijsselbloem represented the troika, and finance ministers of the core EU states most at risk from a default; he appeared in typical business suit and tie, but his eyebrows shot up when Varoufakis arrived wearing a shirt without a tie, and not even tucked into his trousers.  Things kind of went downhill from there.

After meeting privately for two hours, the men held a brief press conference. Varoufakis said flatly that Greece would no longer negotiate with the "troika", but with the individual EU countries involved in the loans.  Dijsselbloem  appeared surprised (so, what did they talk about for two hours?), and said he was disappointed. 

After less than ten minutes, the men stood up -- Dijsselbloem shook hands with Varoufakis and whispered something in his ear, then walked off without looking back  (It was reported that Dijsselbloem had said, "You just killed the troika," and that Varoufakis simply responded, "Wow").  Dijsselbloem clearly felt dissed.

Why is any of this important? If the Troika of lenders and the new Greek government can't reach an agreement on repaying the loans they already have, there will be trouble -- European finances are tight, and if some lenders aren't repaid on time ( It's been noted already that the Greek debt most at risk is in loans from German banks), it can unbalance a whole house of cards.  

And, there's always the worst-case: Greece pulls out of the EU or removes itself from the Euro, which would send financial markets into a nose-dive.  That probably won't happen -- and Paul Krugman, Very Smart Human (smarter than you and me; that's for sure), will explain it all for you here.

Of course, if he's wrong, we'll have our own brand of Fun in the not-too-distant future: