Examine History Archive


Blackout Updates

While our own personal “blackout” was mostly ceremonial (granted, I’m sure our moms were disappointed, but other than that…), the same certainly can’t be said about some of the other major players in the game. In fact, according to the diligent folks over at CNET,

The Wikimedia Foundation disclosed on Thursday that more than 8 million U.S. readers looked up their Congressional representatives through Wikipedia.


“More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge,” the organization wrote in a post earlier today. “You said no. You shut down Congress’s switchboards. You melted their servers. Your voice was loud and strong. Millions of people have spoken in defense of a free and open Internet.”

It obviously wasn’t a one-man show. Wikipedia was part of a bigger Internet protest (For example, Google’s online petition received 4.5 million signatures.) And the nascent movement could claim immediate results with eight lawmakers withdrawing their support for the bills — including a couple of co-sponsors — Marco Rubio from Florida and Roy Blunt from Missouri. By any measure, it was an extraordinary demonstration of muscle-flexing.

Before last year’s “Arab Spring” (a misleadingly optimistic monker these days, unfortunately), pundits and politicians alike were still dubious about whether the Internet could truly generate the sort of activist enthusiasm previously reserved for more conventional boots-on-the-ground movements. Sure, it was great for organizing pranky flash mobs and finding a few signatures for online petitions, but how could such weak-sauce displays ever wield any real influence? Then Twitter laid the smackdown on Ben Ali and Mubarak, Bank of America and Verizon nixed their borderline usurious fee propositions, and suddenly, power was back in the hands of the people — or, if not actual power, at least a much louder means of squeaking. The only trick now is to keep the momentum going. I think you’ll agree: America’s wheels still have a lot of greasin’ to go.


Canadian Racism (or, Attawapiskat on the Internet)

While the thrust of my argument to support the community of Attawapiskat was received by many understanding and empathetic ears, it also exposed blatant public racism and harmful ignorant commentary, both of which are elaborated upon below.  Going up to nurse in northern Manitoba, I felt I knew what I was getting into – abject poverty, abysmal living conditions, and people suffering from health ailments stemming from these conditions.  Sitting comfortably at home, surrounded by familiarity and emotional support, I could deal with it.  Cerebral ways of knowing, however, are only one way of knowing, and my knowledge in no way prepared me for the emotional shock and conditions far exceeding my expectations.  Anything I knew and thought I was prepared for at home became background fodder as I contended emotionally with what presented itself and felt the oppressive crush of poverty and isolation.  In the same way that I was academically prepared for nursing in the north, I knew perfectly well of the racist attitudes of many Canadians towards people in some northern communities.  My intellectual acknowledgment of racist realities, however, did little to temper the sting of actually encountering it in the flesh – the responses to my post shocked me despite what I thought I knew was out there.  And much like in northern Manitoba, I’m still coming to grips with a reality that’s torturing my soul.

Tortured soul aside, when writing the original Attawapiskat piece I thought a lot about my experiences researching and nursing in the north, and reflected on how these experiences refounded my understanding of the social determinants of health and made real just how determinative they can be.  In this follow up essay, I am going to talk a bit about the goals I had intended for the original piece, the commentary generated by the piece and my take on it, as well as justice.  In addition, I will reiterate on the social determinants of health, coming full circle to Canadian values and the Canadians of Attawapiskat.

The original post, at root, was about increasing the awareness that some Canadians aren’t doing so well. Writing as a nurse with experience working in healthcare in a Northern First Nations community, I further wanted to give an experienced healthcare practitioner’s account of why this is the case.   I wanted to emphasize that the situations in which folks in these communities find themselves are largely a function of historical and current events as well as social and environmental determinants over which they have little control.  This is something that is important for everyone to understand because, like it or not, all Canadians are implicated in this system, and unless we acknowledge all of this, there’s little hope the situation will improve. Finally, I wanted to generate some discussion about Canadian values and walking the talk, underlining the difference between the cushy lives of many and the starkly harsh lives of others, and perhaps garner some empathy and justice for fellow Canadians in need.

It was Ben (see his posting on B&S) who initially brought my attention to the comments generated by the original Attawapiskat piece and the polarization of the opinions expressed on Reddit.  For the uninitiated, Reddit is an online forum that allows users to vote in favour of or against posts and comments, and much like the opinions expressed, the votes on the comments stemming from the Attawapiskat piece were extremely polarized.  Such conspicuous polarization on this forum is unusual, especially considering the fact that the article was received fairly favourably by the larger Reddit Canada community (36 votes in favour to 20 votes against the piece as of January 11th 2012).  It is difficult to know how representative r/Canada voters are of the general Canadian voting public, but the opinions expressed in the comments are the real opinions of real Canadians, making them valid enough to talk about.  Moreover, racist sentiment and attitudes are worth confronting regardless of how many people hold them.  So whether or not we have a microcosm of general Canadian public opinions and attitudes with regard to the debate on Aboriginal policy and moral obligation in Canada, I wanted to take some time to take up the shape of the comments.  As such, I think it’s important to have a look at the comments first, and then reconsider them in terms of justice and the social determinants of health I highlighted in my previous post.

There’s a lot to pick apart in the comments, but for the purposes of this essay I’m going to focus on providing a very brief overview only.  Some participants offered well-considered and thoughtful remarks reflecting an understanding of history, causation, and moral obligation.  Just as many used the forum to sling disdain and promote ignorant and harmful opinions.  Rampant throughout were vindictiveness and resentment, as well as hateful characterizations of Aboriginal people as lazy, irresponsible, and entitled.  Many racist remarks were made and slurs slung, and participants denied moral responsibility.  The idea that “people should pull themselves up by the bootstraps” underscored a lack of understanding of how social and environmental determinants can severely limit people’s opportunities to improve their situation, and confirmed that many determinants are taken for granted and assumed to be options available to everyone.  None of this is pretty.  Nothing new to those who spend any amount of time on the ‘net, but in this instance, the level was exceptionally remarkable.  Some of the more horrible comments were also the most popular and polarized ones in terms of votes, for example, this one received 14 upvotes and 11 downvotes, and this one received 9 upvotes and 10 downvotes.  I would encourage readers to have a look at the other comments – their popularity and number of upvotes vs. downvotes are revelatory.  Arguably the most tragic occurrence, a few people also displayed internalized racism and oppression, failing to recognize the existence of such phenomena and their insidious effects on identity and well-being.  What Ben and I found especially horrible was the degree to which internalized racism seemed to be interpreted by non-Aboriginal people as substantiation for racist sentiment and discrimination.  And what struck me as interesting is that, supposedly responding to a piece about how social and environmental determinants affect the trajectory of one’s health and well-being, the significance of these determinants was largely ignored.

So where do we go from here?

Racism 101:  Even though race is a social construct, it is still wrong to discriminate racially against someone, and discrimination, both individual and systemic, is learned and can be unlearned.  Unfortunately, many people who propagate racism and discriminate against others think of themselves as non-racist and of their actions as non-discriminatory.  No one is exempt from this.  So if you think you are one hundred percent free of racist or discriminatory thought, it’s time to re-examine because you are wrong.

Justice 101:  Since the idea of giving people what they deserve had a strong presence in the comments, and since logic can help us think categorically about social issues, I thought it might be good to broach the topic of justice.  Broadly defined, justice is acting in a just and/or fair manner.  It can be rather nebulous when trying to apply this concept to practical situations.  Fortunately for us, Michael Sandel gives a brilliant and relevant interview on justice and the various ways of understanding it, highlighting the contributions of various philosophical traditions.  He not only explains the more abstract stuff eloquently, but also touches on practical ethics and the application of these philosophical traditions to certain questions that are very relevant to the whole Attawapiskat piece and its resulting discourse.  One of the theoretical aspects of his lecture that is highly pertinent to our discussion here is the fact that while commonly applied philosophical traditions play a huge part in our debates about what is right, they lack the depth required to provide us with soundly considered answers that are reflective of our complex social existence.

On a more practical note, he talks about collective responsibility, the notion of community and individual identity, and the idea of special responsibility based on particular community membership, and how these fit into justice.  For example, he argues that in as much as it is possible and appropriate for one to take pride in a country’s historical achievements (e.g., many Canadians are proud of the Canada Health Act despite having had nothing to do with its establishment or current implementation), it is also possible and appropriate for one to bear a moral responsibility for wrongs previously committed (e.g., contemporary Canadian society is making financial reparations to survivors of the residential school system).  Stated explicitly, if it is possible for Canadians to feel pride in something in which they were not directly contributing, it is must be possible to bear a moral burden for wrongs that were not committed by them.

In another example, Sandel elaborates that there are certain cases in which you can be responsible for actions that were not your doing, a stance that is in sharp contrast with the Kantian position that you are only responsible for your own actions.  In one case, Sandel discusses the fact that contemporary Germans who were not alive during the holocaust feel it is their moral burden to right the wrongs of their grandparents’ generation, and make reparations to Jewish families because they understand how those events devastated Jewish communities and that lingering trauma from those events are still being felt today.  Similarly, some Canadian people make the argument that they are not responsible for what other people did in this country hundreds of years ago, especially given the fact that they didn’t even have ancestors on the continent at that time.  This clearly a Kantian approach to ethics, the idea that one is only responsible for one’s own actions that arise from the exercise of one’s will, is difficult to reconcile with the idea of a collective responsibility that extends across communities and across time.  Unfortunately, reasoning via this philosophical perspective fails to take into account the fact that the only reason we, as contemporary Canadians, are able to live here and prosper is because of the genocide and colonization of Aboriginal people that occurred.  So while we are not responsible for the genocide or colonization, it is incontrovertible that we benefit from the spoils of these events.  And it follows that we should take moral responsibility for those historical events.

So go listen to the Sandel podcast.  It is well worth its 20 or so minutes in length and will augment our consideration of justice in the current context.

Issues of justice and philosophy aside, my personal and professional stance is that as decent human beings, we should recognize current and historical facts, and work towards helping to strengthen communities who are suffering as a result of historical and contemporary oppression.  Furthermore, as decent Canadians, we should do what we can to take care of each other and help any struggling Canadian community regardless of its history.  So even if you don’t agree that we have, as contemporary Canadians, some moral responsibility to help repair genocidal and colonial damage done to Aboriginal Canadians, we still have a collective responsibility to help struggling Aboriginal Canadian communities on the basis that they are just that – Canadian communities.

Social determinants of health 101: Justice is important to discuss here, both theoretically and practically, because it is strongly related to social determinants of health, especially with regard to social and distributive justice.  Following from the Reddit comments it is clear that a significant proportion of people might not actually understand what social determinants of health are, and how they affect health and well-being.  Either that, or they don’t care.  To reiterate from the original Attawapiskat piece, the World Health Organization has defined social determinants of health as:

(…)the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.”

Much like justice, the idea of social determinants affecting the trajectory of one’s health can be rather nebulous.  So instead of rattling off the fourteen Canadian social determinants of health, let us firstly appreciate that Aboriginal Status is the one and only grouping of people in Canada for whom specific ethnicity is a social determinant of health.  That Aboriginal status is its own social determinant of health is weightily significant, and something demanding serious consideration in addition to “why” questions.  So, why is this important?  Well, namely because the health of Aboriginal Canadians is inextricably linked to their unique history of colonization and genocide.  Adverse social determinants of health stem from discrimination in the form of legislation (e.g, the Indian Act of 1876), community relocations, residential schools, and the sixties scoop, to name a few.  Financially, Aboriginal Canadians fare significantly more poorly than non-Aboriginal Canadians, and educationally, achieve a lower level of education.  Moreover, crowded living conditions, food insecurity, and infectious and chronic diseases are much more prevalent in Aboriginal Canadians.  In short, merely being born an Aboriginal Canadian predisposes one to poor social determinants of health.

While the issues and implications elucidated therein are vastly different than the situation in Attawapiskat, I would strongly recommend listening to the following two podcasts from the program “Ideas” by CBC radio.  The podcasts are called “Boot Camp Moms” parts one and two.  In it, the producer talks about a program set up in Toronto called “Women Moving Forward” designed to assist a group of young mothers on social assistance, most of whom have histories of abuse and neglect, rebuild their lives with their children and transition to a position of self-sufficiency and independence.  She stresses that money, while one important contributor to poverty, is merely one of the many factors entrapping Canadians in the poverty cycle.  She also has numerous interviews with the women where issues stemming from social determinants of health are exposed, enabling listeners to make the link between inadequate housing, mental health issues, as well as minority status, and impaired health and well-being.  I won’t go into details of these podcasts, but they are an excellent and free resource for those who want to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms behind generational poverty and the social determinants of health.

As a closing note, I would be happy to meet Canadians in the middle ground.  It would be a huge step forward if Canadians took some time to try to unpack the issues surrounding marginalization and oppression in general, and surrounding Aboriginal Canadians in particular.  It would also be a huge step forward if we would regularly practice self-reflection, challenging ourselves to ask hard questions, like: “Am I reasoning justly?  Am I acting in a discriminatory fashion?  Am I being empathetic and understanding of the effects of social determinants of health?”  Idealistically, I would be ecstatic if as an end result of self-reflection, empathy and understanding, we saw eliminated, through collective responsibility and equity, the barriers that impede optimal health and well-being for all Canadians.

“a civilization is to be judged by its treatment of minorities.” [m. gandhi]

Brief update on the situation in Attawapiskat: Despite some emergency aid going to the community, the Canadians living in Attawapiskat are still far from being in the black.  It’s going to be minus thirty-nine degrees Celcius with the wind there tonight, and many people still have no choice but to continue to live in shacks and dump raw sewage in their yards…  more than two months following the declaration of a state of emergency.  So let’s not forget about them, ok?  Just sayin.’

The Year is Over

So, it’s 2012 in a bit, and as 2011 winds down, we figured we’d do you the disservice of providing some links to some of the better stuff we’ve put out this year. Everyone does it, I know. We’re not trying to blaze trails here, we’re just trying to toot our own horns. We did some terrific shit! It’s just a shame that back when we actually tried, no one paid attention.

Without further ado:

The list is long, but if you’re new here, those are some of the things we’re proud of in this website’s brief existence. We’ll be back next year with more. We hope you’ll stick around.

Much love & respek,

~The editors


Thanksgiving Quote of the Day

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.

~Jon Stewart


Democrats write for the Wall Street Journal?

I tend to develop a taste for Tevas whenever I try to publically analyze politics, but after reading yesterday’s WSJ opinion piece by two Democrats literally begging Obama not to run next year in favor of Hillary Clinton, I couldn’t resist taking another whack.

Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen begin with an appeal to the history books:

When Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson accepted the reality that they could not effectively govern the nation if they sought re-election to the White House, both men took the moral high ground and decided against running for a new term as president. President Obama is facing a similar reality—and he must reach the same conclusion.

A couple things here: Truman (1945-1953) and Johnson (1963-1969) both ascended to the presidency after their predecessors died in office and thus spent a substantial amount of time as president before being voted in on their own merits during the subsequent elections.

Working in reverse chronological order, Johnson was inextricably linked with the most unpopular war in American history, which drowned out every other accomplishment on his CV and left him electorally fucked from the get-go. However, not only is there no single issue today that is perceived as negatively as the Vietnam War was (and still is) in Johnson’s day, Obama isn’t even the first entity most people blame for our current political albatross: a dead-fish economy.

According to the recent McClatchy-Marist Poll, conducted Nov. 8-10,

a nearly 2-1 majority of voters think that President Barack Obama inherited, rather than caused, today’s slumping economy, and more Americans trust him to create jobs than they do the Republicans in Congress.

Continuing along our reverse presidential timeline, thanks to FDR’s ill-advised and subsequently short-lived fourth term, Truman had basically already served two full terms before the 1952 elections. Yeah, he could have run again, but only on a technicality, and there’s no indication that he had any desire to do so anyway.

From Wikipedia:

In 1951, the U.S. ratified the 22nd Amendment, making a president ineligible to be elected for a third time, or to be elected for a second time after having served more than two years of a previous president’s term. The latter clause would have applied to Truman in 1952, except that a grandfather clause in the amendment explicitly excluded the current president from this provision.[197] However, Truman decided not to run for reelection.

So after their stirringly irrelevant introduction, Mssrs. Caddell and Schoen go on to suggest that Obama

should abandon his candidacy for re-election in favor of a clear alternative, one capable not only of saving the Democratic Party, but more important, of governing effectively and in a way that preserves the most important of the president’s accomplishments. He should step aside for the one candidate who would become, by acclamation, the nominee of the Democratic Party: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Excuse me while I WTF??? to myself for a few minutes over here. Maybe sentiments have changed since I last looked, but isn’t Hillary as polarizing a figure for Republicans as Obama is? Isn’t she married to the most reviled Democrat of the last 30 years? How can the authors possibly deem her more capable of governing than Obama when the only thing that seems to matter these days is not original ideas backed up by nonpartisan data and expert consensus, but merely which capital letter you carry next to your name? Are they really so naïve as to believe that one Democrat is more likely to be successful than any other in navigating the poisonous bipartisan swamp known as Congress?

Newsflash: from the point of view of most Republicans, it’s no longer specifically Obama whose policies are Singularly Evil and Destructive — it’s Democratic Philosophies in general. Look at the president’s actual list of pursuits and accomplishments in the White House. The dude is a classic weak-sauce centrist, yet in the hyperbolic rhetoric of the GOP, he has led us to the veritable verge of communims and/or socialism (depending on which histori-political analogy you’ve chosen to be ignorant of) in three short years as president.

To suggest that Hillary Clinton is the answer is to cop to an inexcusable political tonedeafness. Who cares if

President Obama is now neck and neck with a generic Republican challenger in the latest Real Clear Politics 2012 General Election Average (43.8%-43.%). Meanwhile, voters disapprove of the president’s performance 49%-41% in the most recent Gallup survey, and 63% of voters disapprove of his handling of the economy, according to the most recent CNN/ORC poll.

In case you’ve forgotten, Obama isn’t running against “generic Republican challenger” in the general election — he’s running against an actual Republican challenger, who at this point is guaranteed to be either someone so unexciting that he has come in second place in basically every poll ever taken (Romney), or someone who has actually finished first in a poll…but by law was only allowed to remain there for a couple of weeks until the next flavor of the month went on sale (in order: Trump, Bachman, Perry, Cain, and now Gingrich, with random calls for the never-even-running Barbour, Palin, and Christie thrown in for fun).

After some more nonsense about how Hillary somehow “has the ability to step above partisan politics, reach out to Republicans, change the dialogue, and break the gridlock in Washington” where other Democrats do not, the authors end with a melodramatic plea to the other leaders of the big “D”:

If President Obama is not willing to seize the moral high ground and step aside, then the two Democratic leaders in Congress, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, must urge the president not to seek re-election—for the good of the party and most of all for the good of the country. And they must present the only clear alternative—Hillary Clinton.

Right. Because nothing inspires bipartisan accord like a Clinton.

(For the record, in a normal political climate, I actually think Hillary would make a great president. I just think it’s a zero sum game switching out Obama for her in 2012. Alas and alack that my secret hope for a Clinton/Obama package in 2008 through 2016, followed by an Obama/Who cares? continuance from 2016-2024 never materialized.)


P.S. If the authors’ hopes magically come true next year, I’ve already got my Halloween costume all picked out:


Hilarity Clinton

Hilarity Clinton


It turns out we’re going to make it after all…

The future is thorium, and everything about this documentary is awesome. The “too long; didn’t watch” takeaway is that thorium is a power source that could pretty much save the world. But you should really watch this.

(h/t to Motherboarders)


The Beginning is Near

The Beginning is Near
I think I have End Times fatigue. Global thermonuclear annihilation, rogue meteors, swine flu, AIDS, alien invasion, magnetic pole shift, climate change, Y2K, 9/11, planet Nibiru, The Australian Jesus that looked like Mark Twain in a jean jacket, Economic Meltdown, etc. I’ve followed them all closely. It’s a family tradition that wasn’t supposed to be.
I don’t know what stressed my parents out more, The End being so close or The End not showing up. The more elusive the American Dream became for my parents, the more attractive The End became. When I was much younger, say four, God (speaking through my Dad) and my Dad both told me that we were in the tribulation, and the shit could be expected to hit the fan at any moment. In the interim, I was expected to not touch my penis, pursue a business degree, and keep my hair short. The notion of the apocalypse is a large part of what made it possible for me to live in a fundamentalist household. For those of you that have had actual relationships with fundamentalists, you know: The idea that their suffering through life could be shortened through divine destruction has an understandable appeal. It’s no fun being right all the time.
I’m over 40, I’m not a fundamentalist, and I’m not miserable enough to want the entire world to end just so I can stop pretending to be a good person and have my debt wiped. But still, I cannot get enough of the apocalyptic notions — especially when served up with conspiratorial zeal. Tasty. I feel compelled to engage in them. I’m addicted to the high that the specter of doom provides. Just a little suspension of disbelief, and BOOM — aliens could be living among us, but as trans-dimensional algorithmic forces engaged in the hijacking of the human narrative in order to steer us into a side gig of creating an artificial life form for them to mate with and spawn the next big thing in Life. Or somesuch.

The conspiracy threads on the web often entertain me far more than the bland, rehashed, blockbuster narratives of the broader culture. If we agree that truth is stranger than fiction, and say the most extreme conspiracy/doomsday stories are fiction, then that just makes life even more interesting, as far as I’m concerned. I see it as our modern mythology. Metadata. A conspiracy/doomsday story, true or invented, will only live and grow if it appeals to the kind of anxiety that we are addicted to as a culture.

It’s natural for people who feel powerless in their lives to be prone to the doom-adrenal fix . Sudden, immanent annihilation of the status quo can be seen as a beacon of hope to people with lots of credit card debt and hateful spouses. “I feel powerless to change the circumstances of my life, so, please, can we just get this over with? Jesus…” The prospect of extinction can become favorable to the onus of reclaiming personal sovereignty, or even just continuing on. I can see lust flash in the eyes of the true believers as they enthuse about the Apocalypse. I think the apocalyptic fetish of our culture comes largely from a national sense of powerlessness and hopelessness.We were raised on a stress-inducing diet of dueling doomsdays, economic boom and bust, energy scarcity, Them against Us — forever! (…Er, until the apocalypse.) The specter of Doom spikes fight-or-flight adrenaline, and our eyes widen and while we get high on worst case scenarios. A thrill here and there is nice, but it’s become a chronic condition in vast numbers of the modern world. And that’s not healthy.Prolonged stress can be very hard on a human. It clogs arteries. It’s been shown to actually gnaw at the nubs of ones chromosomes and fray the ends like an old shoestring. Stressed humans are not as effective as unstressed ones. Stressed people are more prone to violence and illness. Meanwhile, we have become addicted to our media prescribed stress. We’re hooked on fear- the MSG in our media diet. We wouldn’t eat the nightly news without it, not with the low content infotainment they serve up.We need 100% real journalism, at some point, for a healthy society to live and grow. A focus on collective human issues instead of the partisan cockfighting. The cocks like to fight, and they like us to watch and cheer them on. We like to watch, cheer, and support as a passion pacifier . Eventually, soon eventually, some one has to rise above the cockfight and point out to the spectators that the arena is on fire.

So, how do we make a break from the chronic stress we feel on a national and global level? What would ease our collective survival anxieties? Perhaps working on a pressure point to release some blocked energy? (Hello, Wall Street.)

Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist from Stanford, studies the deadly effects of chronic stress in humans and other primates. Here he describes a moment in the day of a typical baboon colony hierarchy;

“You’ve got some big male that loses a fight , he chases a sub-adult, who bites an adult female, who slaps a juvenile, who knocks an infant out of a tree; all in 15 seconds. A huge component of stress is a lack of control, lack of predictability. You’re just sitting there watching a zebra, and somebody who is having a bad day comes along and it’s your rear end that’s gonna get slashed. It’s tremendously stressful for the folks further down on the hierarchy.”

A Baboon colony that he had been studying in the wild for a number of years suffered a tragedy that yielded a provocative finding. The colony came across an abandoned camp and rummaged through the rubbish. When meat was discovered, the most aggressive alphas, the source of the stress that trickles down through the colony, took it all for themselves. It so happened that the alphas contacted a fatal illness from the meat and all died. The colony continued, sans abusive alpha class. Health improved, violence went down, prospects of longevity went up. As outsider males entered into this liberated colony, they were adjusted or rejected.

The events of one day dramatically altered the stress level, and well being, of a colony for generations after. They Occupied DoucheBaboon Street in the midst of a self created Alpha Male Meltdown. Having suddenly lost the stress of unpredictable hierarchical abuse, and feeling life without it, the colony of baboons was inspired to perpetuate it through regulation and enforcement.

In my experience, being proactive in civic and social life can serve to cure apocalyptic anxiety. We have an opportunity to have national dialogue beyond the arena of partisan politics. I think most will agree that there must be an intervention in the corporation/lobbyist/politics game. It’s an easy thing to rally around. There are solutions available. That hasn’t been the issue. The issue has been lack of participation in the governance of our nation by the best and brightest members of our society. The Fat Cats have thoroughly dominated our political sandbox with their buried offerings, so that any one who jumps in to earnestly shape solutions runs into shit. What decent person wants to jump into a sandbox full of shit? It’s too big for one personality to handle cleaning out. We all have to get our hands a little dirty on this one.

We need our system of representation gutted and retrofitted before it will have the integrity to effectively reflect the will of the people now clamoring for attention. Mike Gravel’s proposal of a National Referendum should be dusted off. Everyone votes directly, bypassing the house and senate. Initiate the new and improved tamper-proof ballot process nation wide, put a muzzle on Wall Street with a public examination and auditing. Let sanity have a say in the matter.

The etymological roots of the word apocalypse are “revelation, disclosure, uncover”. The modern interpretation, “a cataclysmic event”, I think, applies to those that are invested in a concealment. As the scale of the corruption and collusion becomes more apparent, more and more of the population will have to face their personal responsibility in allowing the scam to have happened, or even their collusion in it. Our economic system has been ravaged. I think a certain level of shame is responsible for our not talking about it much until now; shame for having suffered the brutality, or shame for having profited from it. The people flowing into our streets in New York and elsewhere are an apocalyptic force, in that they are uncovering and revealing the truth of our condition. This is where the helpless are very helpful: coming down and showing up to sustain and support as the reality of the occasion percolates. They may not know why they are there, but they feel why. It would be a shame to remain shameful when the opportunity to reveal and heal comes on this scale.

The reality of our condition — as a country, a species, a planet — has been badly photoshopped, and edited far out of context. I don’t believe that the solutions for our collective well-being are as difficult and abstract as we are led to believe. The impotent alphas that need big stacks to compensate for the lack in their souls have the bullhorn and are writing the narrative. In that narrative we are all doomed without them. Without their guiding hand we will start having sex with donkeys and burning the elderly for winter heat (I suspect that that would not come to pass, though I concede that isolated instances could be inspired by the suggestion). We are due for a new narrative. We can pull out the hook and clear the stage of the hacks. The finiteness of the world has never been more apparent, and at the same time, blithely dismissed as an issue devoid of any real importance.The age of sustainability is dawning, casting long shadows of the dark age predators exiting the stage.Rats have chewed their way into the pantry, which isn’t surprising. Not bothering to patch the holes has compounded the misfortune. At this point they almost have us convinced that it is their pantry, and that they are busy working on fixing it up. We get the updates from the cockroaches that scurry under the blocked door. We neglected to notice that the cats we hired to patrol the scene were becoming fat, not with rats, but rat kickbacks from our stash. They stopped bringing us heads and gall bladders some time ago, and we were happy not to have to deal with the little messes.

As this recent movement swells, I believe that the already overstated rhetoric of apocalypse will grow as well. I’ll start: This is an apocalyptic event. The Occupiers are doing the revealing, what gets revealed behind the corporatist veil of Wall Street/Washington will be The End of something. We can be minion victims of the mighty corporate menace, or the producers of the show, willing to pull the plug of a vulgar and abusive segment.

Why the hell do we vote on different days again?

I thought I was done with the irritating irrelevance of first-in-the-nation primaries, but today’s article in the Christian Science Monitor about “Why Jon Huntsman will boycott the GOP debate tonight” (say it with me, undecided voters: “Who?”) seems worthy of a follow up.

First of all, I’ll note that the headline is a red (or is that “dead” — as in, dead in the water?) herring, since Huntsman isn’t even mentioned by name until the fifth paragraph. Rather, the article is more concerned with reiterating the absurdity of our quadannual practice of moving primary and caucus dates around like a masochistic game of musical who-gives-a-fuck?

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has been threatening to set a mid-December date for the New Hampshire primary ever since Nevada moved its caucuses up to January 14. (Nevada, for its part, moved after Florida moved its date up to January 31, which then prompted South Carolina to reschedule its primary for January 28. Got all that?)

Here’s why. With Iowa’s caucuses now officially scheduled (as expected) for January 3, New Hampshire would have to hold its primary just one week later on January 10, only to be abruptly followed just four days after that by Nevada. New Hampshirites apparently feel that this might rob the Granite State of some of its stand-alone importance (and they say it would violate a state law that requires at least seven days between its primary and “any similar election” – though they could technically get around that by saying caucuses aren’t the same as primaries). As a result, the state is threatening to upend the whole process and move its primary to December.

Holy. Sheet.* I’m sure someone can provide a reasonable explanation for why we began holding these things on different days once upon a time (though I’m sure as hell not gonna waste time on the Google figuring out what that might be), but this mutual masturbation has become an electoral epidemic. ‘member a couple years ago how we voted for the next president of the United States on the same day and then actually found out the results that night? ’member how satisfying and conclusive that result was? There’s a reason it’s not spread over weeks and weeks, and that reason is what I like to call the doctrine of equal information. Granted, I only like to call it that because I just invented the term, but hear me out.

If we were to hold general elections over a span of multiple days, it would mean that voters would have access to disparate information when making their ultimate decision. After all, every extra day a candidate is given to campaign is an extra day for him to put his foot in his mouth and/or save a kitten from an oak tree. If Iowa votes for a president based on one finite set of factors, and those factors are undermined the very next day by new information coming to light that affects how the voters of New Hampshire cast their ballots without offering any redress for perturbed Iowans, it would result in each state essentially voting for two different candidates (candidates being nothing more than a representative amalgam of what we think they believe and how we feel about that) in the form of a single person. Talk about unrepresentative democracy. (Seriously, talk about it. I’ll wait.) Yet that’s exactly what happens at the primary level during each and every presidential election cycle.

So what to do? Well, our previously cited — and, apparently, easily stymied — author says that

Calendar chaos has become a standard feature of the election process – and while there’s always plenty of hand-wringing and lamenting about the downsides of a frontloaded process, no one has figured out a way to change it.

No one has figured out a way to change it? Really? Hey, here’s a way: just make everyone vote on the same goddamn day. Seriously, what am I missing here?

*Also the nickname for the ghost Pope.


On Class Warfare

What kind of phenomenon is Tom Friedman? What does he think about as he sips his morning coffee? Does he honestly believe that the United States would be a better place if his particular brand of “enlightened” oligarchy were to be implemented? Could he possibly endorse the tripe he peddles in the nation’s most important newspaper twice a week? Would he maintain that it’s worth the salary he makes, the position of influence he holds? What does he really think of himself? Does he go to bed satisfied with the life he’s led? Does he have regrets? Can the sheer lack of self-awareness that he demonstrates in column after column really and truly be genuine? What makes the Mustache of Understanding tick?

I bring these questions up because The Friedman wrote a particularly egregious column today. Or, if not particularly egregious, then at least rather telling. In the process of whining about how we need Leadership For A Grand Bargain Otherwise Herbert Hoover, Friedman lays all of his cards out on the table:

All I know is this: If either of you [Boehner and Obama] had been a real leader truly committed to a Grand Bargain — which you both know is what we need — you wouldn’t have just walked away from your negotiations. You would have taken the issue to the country and not let up until the other guy came back to the table.

Instead you both mumbled publicly about a Grand Bargain and how you were prepared for it but the other guy folded — and then retreated to your bases. Boehner went back to his base, arguing that more tax cuts can get us out of this, and Obama moved back to his base, with his focus on taxing millionaires. (In my next life, I want to be a member of the “base” — any base. They seem to have so much more fun and influence.)

That’s it. That’s Tom Friedman. Sorry there’s so much bold, but it really needs to sink in for a second. So let’s unpack this really quickly.

First, “all [he] know[s] is” completely wrong. Let’s take it one step at a time. 1) Obama offered the Republicans everything but the kitchen sink (though he did offer some of the dishes!) for the Grand Bargain, 2) Boehner couldn’t get his nutbag caucus in line because he’s facing a power struggle with Eric Cantor, who epitomizes House Republican craziness, 3) Republicans threatened to ruin the economy if they didn’t get everything they wanted, 4) …? 5) “Both sides do it!!!”

The “neither of you is a TRUE leader, nyah!” stuff is equally repellent. Again, Friedman is a man who gets paid — paid very well! —  to follow politics very carefully, but his analysis reads like that of someone with absolutely no knowledge of how the wheels of American government work. He’s too thick to realize that there was nothing that either of these leaders could do at the time. Obama could not allow his presidency to adopt a full-metal wingnut economic policy if he expected to be taken seriously as a Democrat in the next election; Boehner could not control his caucus, and very nearly lost his speakership over the debt ceiling, “Grand Bargain” fiasco. The country was quite literally held hostage by an intransigent group of extreme Republicans — highlighting, in fact, the crises our democracy might more regularly undergo if these people are given more power — but Friedman treats it as though it’s a lack of leadership that brought us to this place. “If you were real leaders, you wouldn’t have walked away from negotiations,” Friedman says, but did it ever occur to him that you can’t negotiate with nihilists — even if, as in Boehner’s case, you happen to share a good part of your endgame with them?

Of course it didn’t, because that was two months ago, and Friedman’s ideological filters have since transformed what actually happened into what he would prefer to have happened. Which, of course, goes like this: Left = bad, right = bad, center = good. Both sides do it, and there is no monopoly on truth, regardless of what the facts are.

The real tell, though, the part that I thought was revealing, was this (which I’ll quote again in full, for the lazy):

Instead you both mumbled publicly about a Grand Bargain… and then retreated to your bases. Boehner went back to his base, arguing that more tax cuts can get us out of this, and Obama moved back to his base, with his focus on taxing millionaires. (In my next life, I want to be a member of the “base” — any base. They seem to have so much more fun and influence.)

Nowhere in this “analysis” does Friedman assess the merit of the two bases’ arguments. For him, and other Village centrists, bases are irrational by definition, so there’s no need to investigate any further. Case closed, as it were. But what’s most galling is Friedman’s assertion that he’s not part of any base — that, moreover, the “bases” he so clearly disdains seem to have much more “influence” than people like him. Let me make this as plain as I can.

Earlier in the column, Friedman advises Obama, et al:

[U]nlike [Herbert] Hoover, who was just practicing the conventional economic wisdom of his day when we fell into the Depression, you have no excuses. We know what to do — a Grand Bargain: short-term stimulus to ease us through this deleveraging process, debt restructuring in the housing market and long-term budget-cutting to put our fiscal house in order.

What kind of history is this? Amity fucking Shlaes? “We know what to do,” Friedman says, “and yet I’m going to pretend that the Roosevelt administration didn’t exist, that John Maynard Keynes didn’t exist, and that my fellow columnist Paul Krugman does not exist. Because history is just a set of facts, and grand narratives are so much more fun, even when they’re wrong.”

Which brings me back to Friedman’s assertion that he is of no base, but that he sincerely wishes he were because of all the “fun” and “influence” he would have. It brings me back to my rhetorical questions in the beginning, which can be summed up basically as, “Does Tom Friedman have a soul, and if so, how hard is he going to hell anyway?” The answers to which are simply, “No,” and “Very.” Friedman is a man who will do everything in his power to make sure that people like him, the political taste-makers and shot-callers, are comfortably sated till the day they die. He will peddle transparent crap like “entitlement reform” while decrying Obama for his “focus on taxing millionaires,” of which he is, of course, one. He will claim to be of no party or clique, and then shamelessly plug for the very wealthy under the guise of speaking for the hardworking man everywhere.

Of course, your everyday New York Times reader doesn’t have digs quite like this:

Nor does your everyday Times reader support “entitlement reform.” (Though, curiously, she does endorse higher taxes on millionaires.)

But then, Tom Friedman isn’t exactly your average Joe. He just plays one on TV.

Tom Friedman can call for slashing Social Security benefits because he’ll never have to rely on them. He can talk about raising the Medicare eligibility age, because his financial adviser informed him that he was a fucking multimillionaire and he will never ever be without leisure, never mind without a refill of a prescription. He can call for short term stimulus and long term austerity, because he’ll be fine either way. It’s all of a piece with Tom Friedman. He represents the interests of the very well-off to an audience of the well-off and the fairly well-off; he disguises it as sober analysis amid a flurry of cliches; and then he cashes his check and goes home to his mansion. He goes back to his base. His base isn’t left or right. It’s that sweet spot right in the middle, the one that caters to the interests of the wealthy under the patina of being above the fray. It’s the visage of cool, calm, and collected centrism — the “both sides do it” nonsense. The epitome of intellectual laziness: “In the final analysis, splitting the difference is the only sensible policy.” That mentality has never made less sense than it does now, as one of the country’s two political parties has been taken over by complete loons.

Nevertheless, you can count on people like Tom Friedman to keep counseling us about the error of our ways. “We don’t compromise enough,” he’ll warn. “We need to bargain more grandly! Everyone’s opinion is valid, there’s plenty of blame to go around (except when it comes to people like me, of course — it’s you left- and right-wingers who are the real problem).”

“Are they stupid or crazy?” is a question that gets asked a lot about the Republican party these days. The answer is always, “Both.” But when we’re talking about people like Tom Friedman, or David Brooks, or Fred Hiatt, or Mark Halperin, or any of the other pundits I don’t feel like rattling off right now, I think you should add a third possibility. The question should be, “Are they stupid or crazy or craven?”

To which the answer is, “Yes.”


“Aboriginal genome rewrites history of human migration”

…is the breathless headline from the Science section of The Telegraph today. In the article, we learn that

Genetic information extracted from the lock of hair, which was donated by a young Aboriginal man to a British anthropologist in the 1920s, suggests that instead of leaving Africa in one single migratory movement, humans departed in two separate waves.


Their remarkable findings, published in the journal Science, suggest that modern Aborigines moved out of Africa 24,000 years earlier than the humans who went on to form the populations of Asia and Europe, challenging current theories of a single phase of dispersal from Africa.

As it happens, I’ve finally gotten around to starting Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, and the chapter I just finished yesterday deals with none other than “theories of a single phase of dispersal from Africa” — specifically, its previously documented unlikelihood as illustrated by Alan Templeton’s 2002 study in Nature.

The article and accompanying graphic are heady stuff (see below), but the bottom line is that well-regarded theories promoting multiple African dispersals have existed for at least a decade. In Templeton’s specific conclusions, “The genetic impacts of Africa upon the entire human species is large because of at least three major expansions out of Africa.”

So, I guess, suck it Telegraph? (At least until Ben points out where I went wrong this time.)

"The model of recent human evolution shown in Fig. 1 is dominated by genetic interchange and a special role for Africa. I consider first genetic interchange. African and Eurasian populations were linked by recurrent gene flow, certainly over the last half a million years, and probably longer. Overlaid upon this gene-flow trellis are occasional major movements out of Africa and out of Asia that enhanced gene interchange through interbreeding. More recently, population expansions acted to extend the geographical range of the human species and to establish additional areas linked by gene flow. This model emphasizes that genetic interchange among human populations, facilitated both by gene flow and range expansions coupled with interbreeding, has been a major force in shaping the human species and its spatial pattern of genetic diversity."

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