Links 8/21/10

Study tracks ocean plastic spread BBC

Report Says Public Transportation Makes You Skinny inhabitat (hat tip reader John D)


‘Zombie ants’ controlled by parasitic fungus for 48m years Guardian (hat tip Lambert Strether). Ugh

Australian exit polls point to narrow Gillard win Telegraph

Dealing with the Sunset of the Bush Tax Cuts (Part II in a series) Linda Beale

Democrats Hold Financial Advantage Over GOP Huffington Post. I find this remarkable, but I have to remember first, the Dems have plenty corporate friendly, they’ve just tried throwing the occasional bone to the peasants, and second, the Republicans have managed the neat feat of being generally less well liked.

With consumers slow to spend, businesses are slow to hire Washington Post. Some interesting quotes, but a failure to connect the dots. Businesses have record profits but complain that there demand outlook is uncertain because consumers aren’t spending like they used to. They mention the immediate culprit, high consumer debt loads, but predictably omit that the utter lack of labor bargaining power, and the attendant lack of job security, are also a big part of the picture. Grind down on workers for thirty years, take away the debt punchbowl, and guess what, you don’t have such a great customer base left. Dean Baker also objects to the piece, see The Washington Post Reports Businesses Tell Them That Stimulus Will Boost Hiring, but Doesn’t …

Bankruptcy and the Crisis: Why so Few? Alan White, Credit Slips

U.S. Mortgage Relief Effort Is Falling Short of Its Goal New York Times

Economic forecaster: ‘Greatest Depression’ coming Raw Story (hat tip reader John D)

Corporate Rotten Eggs Robert Reich (hat tip reader Francois T).

The June Trade Release: A Clash of Narratives Menzie Chinn, Econbrowser. Late to this, but still germane.

The Pain Caucus Comes to National Review MIke Konczal

Fighting Flares on New Rules For Street Wall Street Journal. I’ve been skeptical that a derivatives clearing house would be implemented in a way that would reduce systemic risk, and these discussions are not looking good. Although nothing has been decided yet, the intensity of the pressure means the odds the regulators will cave are high. So much for Treasury’s cheery assertions earlier this week to the contrary.

Antidote du jour:

Picture 5

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  1. Ina Deaver

    Is that zebra pregnant? Seriously gorgeous coat, but seems a tad chunky for running away from lions! It’s a lovely photograph.

    You know, the piece from Reich boils my blood – in the paper today, I saw that Blackwater reached a settlement that includes paying a fine, but will not preclude future contracting with the government. The paper was not specific about what that means, but I know for certain it means that no felonies are involved in the plea. This is for a huge number of export control violations, which routinely are felonies and put executives at “lesser” companies in the slammer.

    This trend towards letting companies that the government likes take a lesser plea so that they can keep on contracting (I’m looking at all of the insurance companies, all the banks, many oil companies) is obscene. It fosters lawlessness, and assures that the bad get bigger. How many times do we have to learn that it does no good to have laws on the books if they are selectively enforced?

    1. Francois T

      About the favoritism toward certain corporations: That is why I think Celente is right (forecaster predict…link above).

      “A good field for entrepreneurs would be guillotines.”

      People are beginning to be really fed up. All we need is a seemingly insignificant catalyst to trigger social mayhem.

      Things are tense; just take a look at the incredibly ugly rhetoric surrounding the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. That is a suree fire sign that nativism is on the rise…like during any period of significant upheaval.

      This time however, the National Security State apparatus is ready to control the masses. They have the laws, the courts and the operators all set to impose draconian restrictions on the hoi polloi.

    2. DownSouth

      Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.

      By the Fourteenth Amendment the powers of the States in dealing with crime within their borders are not limited, but no State can deprive particular persons or classes of persons of equal and impartial justice under the law.
      –Chief Justice Melville Fuller, Caldwell v. Texas

      Could that explain why some of our politicos on the hard authoritarian right are so intent upon doing away with the Fourteenth Amendment?

      1. DownSouth

        Kind of like the change from:




      2. DownSouth

        Also from the Celente interview in Today’s Links:

        All the breaks are for the big guys.


        All my life, they’ve been telling me that capitalism ‘You rise and fall on your own merits.’ Except when it comes to the big guys! Then they’re too big to fail. Who made this up?

      3. attempter

        Every time I see this anti-14th amendment meme I reflexively think the same thought: How to use this to crush “corporate personhood” (fraudulently derived from the 14th)?

        But I haven’t yet figured out how to go about it.

  2. attempter

    Re few bankruptcies:

    I keep reading that this is the intended result of the 2005 debt indenture bill, which made it far more difficult to achieve bankruptcy in anything but name.

    Re Greatest Depression:

    What Celente says on this subject is just self-evident common sense, and it’s really hard to understand how almost everyone, even those most skeptical about the kleptocracy, still think there’s going to be any other outcome, that the recession can “end” according to any metric other than accounting fraud, or that there can possibly be such a thing as a “recovery” as conventionally defined.

    Perhaps ant zombieism provides exactly the right analogy, and more than just an analogy. At what point does brainwashing and cowardice reach such an entrenchment in the neural patterns that it can be called biological zombification?

    1. DownSouth

      attempter said: “…and it’s really hard to understand how almost everyone, even those most skeptical about the kleptocracy, still think there’s going to be any other outcome.”

      The New Atheists–Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins being by far the best-known—promoted the belief that morality consisted of, as Jonathan Haidt put it, “cultural constructions that are foisted upon us in childhood.” And in lieu of traditional morality, they believed that a new morality, that of “Greed is Good,” could be taught.

      Haidt argues that it’s not so simple. Two mainstays of traditional morality—-do no harm and fairness/reciprocity—-are hardwired into our brains. Haidt and associates conducted cross-cultural studies of many societies across time and space, and what they found was that the principles of do no harm and fairness/reciprocity are “psychological systems that are universally present.” Of the “five foundations of human morality” that Haidt identified, do no harm and fairness/reciprocity are the most “highly developed.”

      I think the New Atheists, and the upper classes whom they provide moral and intellectual cover for, will soon find out that “you can’t fool mother nature.”

      The idea of reciprocity is one I find most intriguing. As Herbert Gintis et al explain in Moral Sentiments and Material Interests, a fairly large percentage of any given human population are “conditional cooperators.” If treated with altruism and fairness they will respond with altruism and fairness. But if harmed or treated unfairly, they will respond in kind. And some individuals are extreme in this regard—-wrong them and they will hunt you down and kill you. That’s why Celente’s comment that “A good field for entrepreneurs would be guillotines” is most germane.

      1. attempter

        I have high hopes for this reciprocity instinct asserting itself as an ingredient for the transformative movement. Otherwise there really is no hope.

        (I think you make too much of the stupid celebrity pseudo-atheists, however. Just a mass media concoction, more “culture war” crap that doesn’t really mean anything. Sometimes I fear you’re unwittingly going in for MSM-style “two-extremes”-ism. The system never needed the likes of Dawkins; unfortunately any randomly selected rich rentier seems to be an adequate propagandist, just by his very existence.)

        You’re right that the “greed is good” indoctrination, in the form of the religious belief that “growth” can and must continue, that no other existence is even conceivable, must be part of the cult of “recovery”, where the mild-sounding “double dip” is the worst imaginable speed bump before we all finally get our flying cars.

        1. DownSouth

          “…the religious belief that “growth” can and must continue.”

          Robert H. Nelson identifies this—that “progress,” where “progress” is defined as growth, is unlimited and its pursuit constitutes the ultimate social good—-as the core religious belief of modernism:

          The intellectual history of Western thought since the Enlightenment is characterized by one utopian vision after another, each finding fault with its predecessors, but then holding out the prospect of yet another, truer—-more scientific—-path to heaven on earth.


          Economic policies or instruments for Samuelson (and for his entire generation of economists) are to be judged simply by their contributions to the goal of increasing the total amount of production and the resulting levels of goods and services available for consumptive use (properly measured over time with a discount rate). The long-run amount of “discounted” consumption is the one and only measure of economic well-being for “Economics.”


          [T]he traditional Christian concepts of good and evil thus take on a brand-new economic meaning. In the implicit theology of “Economics,” that which is good is now that which is efficient; conversely, evil is defined to be that which is inefficient.


          Like members of the priesthoods of old, American economists actually spend much of their time researching and pronouncing on the moral status of various actions in society, now assessed in terms of an economic morality in which efficient and inefficient have replaced the good and evil of old.
          –Robert H. Nelson, Economics as Religion: from Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond

      2. reslez

        The New Atheists–Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins being by far the best-known—promoted the belief that morality consisted of, as Jonathan Haidt put it, “cultural constructions that are foisted upon us in childhood.” And in lieu of traditional morality, they believed that a new morality, that of “Greed is Good,” could be taught.

        Grouping Richard Dawkins with Ayn Rand is a favorite tactic of religionists who hope to smear atheism by linking Dawkins with Rand’s sociopathic ideology. Had you actually read Dawkins’ work you would not make such a mistake. How disappointing — DownSouth’s comments are usually of a higher level.

        To claim Dawkins teaches “Greed is Good” is a ridiculous and disgusting distortion. Rand viewed altruism and empathy as despicable weakness. Dawkins believes they arise out of our basic humanity. Dawkins’ view: “[O]ur morality has a Darwinian explanation: altruistic genes, selected through the process of evolution, give people natural empathy.” And he points out the simple fact that morality has changed over the centuries: “Thus, Dawkins states, morality does not originate from the Bible, rather our moral progress informs what part of the Bible Christians accept and what they now dismiss.” Perhaps this gives room to attackers who equate his beliefs with cultural relativism or with Rand’s. But it’s a pathetic, ignorant misrepresentation.

        The term “New Atheists” usually refers to a specific group of authors who published books on atheism during the last decade: Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. They synthesize some basic insights of biology and science to argue that religious claims need to be supported by evidence and that religion is not necessary to morality. They and the Objectivists are an entirely different breed.

        1. DownSouth


          Un hun. Do you remember the book Dawkins wrote called The Selfish Gene?

          And your assertion that “Grouping Richard Dawkins with Ayn Rand is a favorite tactic of religionists who hope to smear atheism by linking Dawkins with Rand’s sociopathic ideology” is completely misinformed.

          In fact you are so badly informed that you don’t even understand what the debate is all about, or that the debate is one of atheist vs. atheist.

          If you should have any interest in finding out, I recommend viewing the
          following three conferences sponsored by The Science Network, with special attention given to the presentations given by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Joan Roughgarden, V. S. Ramachandran, Jim Woodward, Melvin Konner, David Sloan Wilson, Jonathan Haidt, Peter Turchin, Marco Iacoboni and Paul Zak.

          After taking the time to get yourself up to speed with what’s going on in the world of science, we might have an intelligent discussion.

        2. DownSouth

          reslez said: “They [the New Atheists] synthesize some basic insights of biology and science to argue that religious claims need to be supported by evidence…”

          And that is exactly the same reason the New Atheists are coming under fire, both within the scientific and the atheist communities, because their “claims need to be supported by evidence,” which they are not.

        3. craazyman

          if you just channel it yourself you’ll see that all these folks are doing is throwing up big word clouds, churning up the “moiling masses of motes” as Faulkner once wrote, probably drunk. no point in channeling the motes when the big orb is right there just a mind-jump away, ready to reveal all to anyone who asks, just like JC said. ha ha ha. :) oh well, it keeps the bookstores in business, which isn’t entirely a bad thing, especially the used bookstores, lots of really wacky stuff there, like the bible, KJ version, none of this new standard version crap. how can anyone read that shit is beyond me. ha ha hahaha

        4. james

          Such is the fundamental misunderstanding of Objectivism. The best explanation for this topic has already been written:

          “What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

          Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

          Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”

      3. Anonymous Jones

        With all due respect (and I really do mean that, I *love* your posts), “principles of do no harm and fairness/reciprocity” fit squarely into “strategy” rather than “morality.” You’re investigating human action and genetic predisposition, not a higher universal code of conduct.

        Yes, maybe I’m Humpty Dumpty and doing nothing more than saying morality “means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less,” but I do truly believe that these principles you cite do not fall within what people usually think of as morality–universal rules of conduct that can at times supersede our own instincts for self-interest. [Investigations into “conventional morality” or “personal morality” are not really relevant here, or anywhere outside a discussion among you, your family, your priest or other spiritual advisor]

        There are three basic principles that underlie my own “moral skepticism”:

        1. I have no evidence that there is universal morality.
        2. If there is universal morality, I have no evidence that any human has uncovered what that universal morality is.
        3. If there is universal morality and some human could uncover it, I have no evidence that humans even adhere to the morality they *profess to follow*; so the existence and discovery of a universal morality would be irrelevant at best.

        [And yes, please understand that I *do* intend to mean that I do not find unprovoked murder (or any other act) “immoral.” The *horrors*. Yes, I would prefer not to be murdered, but I have virtually no control over that, and the act seems to me neither moral nor immoral, just something I wish to avoid.]

        [I also, just as an aside, don’t have any particular desire to partake in it on the murderer side either.]

        1. attempter

          We discussed this once before, and I’ll ask again.

          If “morality” is a strategy, and its evocation therefore is a tactic, then toward what goal is your attempted debunking tactic? (Surely you’re not going to claim majestic impartiality for yourself.)

          For myself, I see no reason at all why we can’t intellectually understand the biological basis of human phenomena but still experience them in their full humanist sense, so that we recognize and validate our psychology as both animal as well as exceptionally “human”, just from different perspectives. Nietzsche never understood this all-or-nothing reductionism either.

          1. Anonymous Jones

            I’m sorry (truly), but I’m not sure I understand the question.

            I certainly don’t claim anything majestic. Or impartial. In fact, most of my posts are rooted in the deeply held belief that I know absolutely nothing about almost everything (and yes, the corresponding belief that most humans share this trait with me). And even further, I believe my posts are often rooted in traditional humanist values. You could call them hedonist, whatever. If you look at the 8/17 comment about the optimism/pessimism false dichotomy, I hope this shows through.

            Also, I wouldn’t call my theories reductionist. Of course, with language, one can twist everything around in a Humpty Dumpty fashion, but my “reductionism” is in the reducing of what we know and the opening up of what we don’t know. The latter part of that idea is that we can never hope to explore all there is in this world in the brief time we inhabit it. It is a belief that we can never be bored, that we can never have it all figured out. It is, to me, a perspective that the Sisyphean journey we undertake is wonderful and precious.

            I am not a nihilist. I do not lie in bed and question whether the floor will hold me if I stand up. I operate on the basis (and with the axioms) that my perceptions fairly reflect reality and that the principles of logic that have been around for thousands of years are basically sound.

            Anyway, just because I insist on precision in word use and logic does not mean that we do not share the same preferences as to how the world should be run. I have read most of your posts. I like them. We agree far more than we disagree. We may come from different vantages, but I believe that is far less important given how much needs to be done in the short time we have.

  3. DIDRICH Damien


    Firstly, thanks for all your work !

    Increasingly there are many citizens who decided to watch the hypocrisy of our world in the face. The mobilization is becoming more and what we can tell, worldwide.
    More and more citizens who are determined to show that people have effective means to act, as peacefully as possible, and most importantly, show that alternatives exist and are relatively simple to implement if there a real desire to do so.
    To this end, we would like to share with you an initiative.

    He is organizing a World boycott on September 7, 2010 and of course, as long as anybody can. Withdraw money from banks, multinational boycott evil, boycott the TV, etc. … While highlighting that more ethical consumption patterns are possible and do exist! The action will be repeated several times in the near future.

    One of the goal is to enlignt the power of the consumer.

    All leaflets are in A4 and downloadble here (many languages) ->> or
    And a blog including list of contacted website ->>
    A facebook group which coordinates the action ->>!/group.php?gid=152761024734730&ref=mf

    We would simply like you to share or distribute the information.

    I said that we do not represent any movement, whether anarchist, fascist or other zeitgeist, we are simply citizens of the world in search of truth and freedom for all.

    Sincerely and cordially.

    The People awakening

  4. Pelle Schultz

    Beware university media office press releases re: their scientific research. They tend ever so slightly towards hyperbole. Otherwise cancer would have been eliminated decades ago.

    As a side note: $225K microscopes are commonplace, and not magical.

    1. Nately

      I work at a large, elite university with a rather significant academic medical research arm.

      Although cautious in some respects, they do indeed to tend oversell the progress being made in particular areas of medical research. It’s hard to avoid — a part of human nature.

  5. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Regarding zombie ants with parasitic ants, perhaps that’s what they feed the Chinese economic planners, seeing how their female athelets set numerous world records by eatiing ‘cordeceps’ which are insects with parasitic fungus.

    So, maybe one way to keep up with the Chinese is to make sure our economists have plenty of zombie ants with parasitic fungus for breakast…I am just guessing here.

  6. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    About today’s antidote, the lesson here is that the world is not just black and white, but also some green.

  7. KFritz

    re: Zombie Ants

    Similar to Rabies for mammals. Horrible death. If host is carnivore, almost guaranteed to be passed on.

  8. Eliza

    Re this link: Fighting Flares on New Rules For Street

    I do hope an archived webcast of the CFTC/SEC joint Public Roundtable to Discuss Governance and Conflicts of Interest in the Clearing and Listing of Swaps is made available at both the CFTC and SEC websites.

  9. Monko

    Australia looking at hung parliment with Conservatives forming gov’t with independents. Labor will be removed after only 1 term.

  10. Jack Parsons

    “Ooohhh, talk about a well-hung parliament!” Sorry.

    In west-central California, near Pleasanton, there is an Old Zebra’s Retirement Home. You drive through the hills and see horses…horses…more horses…zebras…horses…hey wait!

    There’s a Gary Larson cartoon of a bunch of cows standing up, smoking, just hanging out. One yells “car!”. It’s like the zebras did not put on their horse costumes in time.

  11. Eugenio Whisby

    Just cant wait for the World of Warcraft cataclysm expansion. You just have to look into this website for a updated video that lets you in on whats comming up.

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