Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Roswell and all that

Given that Reflecting Light has a fair number of posts under the "Paranormal" heading, it might seem odd that UFO phenomena have been almost completely neglected. (Here's the only exception.)

From time to time I have looked at UFO studies web sites, and on the whole it has been an unrewarding experience. You can find whole cosmologies -- I'm almost tempted to write ideologies -- about UFOs. Various species of aliens (grays, Pleiadeans, blues, oranges, etc.) are authoritatively described. There are disturbing accounts of an underground facility housing aliens where dreadful experiments are carried out on aliens, or humans, or both. Ultimately all a rational person can do is file this stuff under "Hmmmm." And, not surprisingly, adherents of various schools of ufology can be quite unkind about one another's alleged ignorance or misunderstanding.

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Almost everyone in the field agrees about the importance, although not the facts or details, of the UFO said to have crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, on or about July 4, 1947. Here, if anywhere, we should be able to examine the evidence objectively.

Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt seem to have made a serious effort to do that in their book, The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell, which I read recently. It was published in 1994, and while there have been Roswell books since and doubtless will be many more, this is among the last to be based on interviews with people or close relatives of people involved with events immediately following the crash. By now the eyewitnesses have almost all left this life, so unless some new physical evidence turns up, this may be as close as we are going to get to knowing what happened.

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The authors slightly alienated me (pun intended, as usual) by a sentence in their very first paragraph: " ... In New Mexico, where the population is still sparse, it is fortunate that there was anyone around to see what might be considered the major event of the last one thousand years." 

Even supposing, as the book tries to show, that a UFO crash occurred, debris was recovered, and alien bodies were found, I am slow to see why it should be considered the major event since the year 994. What is so important about life on, or from, other planets? We have still not finished finding all the species on earth. The possibility of extraterrestrial life is interesting, but is it more interesting than finding a living coelacanth, formerly thought to have exited the stage 65 million years ago?

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If I have a somewhat negative attitude (or prejudice, if you prefer) toward UFO researchers, it is because of this notion that extraterrestrial life is a complete game changer. I suspect the great majority of ufologists are scientific meterialists. Based on such evidence, or speculation, as now exists there appears no reason to think that UFOs have any particular spiritual meaning. 

Life has evolved in different forms for different environments; we see that all around us on earth; what's the big deal if it happened on other planets as well? Even if some alien races have evolved spiritually beyond most humans (an idea for which there is little evidence), the human race has also produced men and women who have been highly evolved spiritually: the Buddha, Jesus, saints, mystics. Fewer people than ever today try to emulate them. Why would they do any better following teachers from another solar system?

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Now I've gotten that out of the way, I can recommend Randle and Schmitt's book, with a few reservations. Their dedication is admirable. They spent five years or so conducting personal interviews with every available persona dramatis, in some cases several times. The authors went to great lengths to track down anyone who might be able to shed light on any aspect of the case. They persisted in an often frustrating document search as well.

Truth is written fairly clearly, but not too well edited; a lot of the testimony and proclaimed facts are repeated several times, although in different contexts. Even that has an upside, because it helps to understand who all the players were, and there were surprisingly many people involved in some aspect of the purported crash, recovery, and subsequent cover-up.

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Unless Randle and Schmitt made up the witnesses' words (unlikely, and some of them were recorded) or the witnesses themselves were being economical with the truth, it's hard not to accept the crash and cover-up story at least in its broad outlines. (It's also chilling to read, according to several witnesses, that they and their families -- civilians -- were threatened by the army with being killed if they ever breathed a word of what they saw.) The book's tone is pleasingly straightforward, sticking to what the authors believe the evidence shows, without extravagant theorizing about the nature and purpose of the alien visitors.

It also perhaps enhances Randle and Schmitt's credibility that they consider the famous Majestic-12 documents to be a hoax.

No one source, or perhaps all sources put together, can tell us for sure what happened at Roswell. But for the curious, Truth is worth looking into.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

You must believe in Spring

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Springtime reveals, even to our eyes dulled by routine and manmade ugliness, a hint of the creative aspect of God. Each miniature leaf unwrapping itself to defy the chill of winter's dregs, the frilled daffodils, cadmium forsythia fountains, cherry trees wrapped in their pink clouds -- individually and collectively, they rouse us, however briefly, from obsession with our troubles and the world's. "Sleepers, awake" is the title of one Bach cantata, and it could be an anthem for the season.

In our human circumstances, all that offends rightness and decency, the shocks of tragedy and the weight of despair, can make life seem a blighted passage filled with sorrow. No logical argument can fully convince us otherwise. Spring does not argue or contradict: it is, a demonstration, conceding nothing to our philosophies or cynicism, telling its own story as though nothing else is real.

Beneath the deepest snows,
The secret of a rose
Is merely that it knows
You must believe in Spring!

Just as a tree is sure
Its leaves will reappear;
It knows its emptiness
Is just the time of year ...

You must believe in love
And trust it's on its way,
Just as the sleeping rose
Awaits the kiss of May

So in a world of snow,
Of things that come and go,
Where what you think you know,
You can't be certain of,
You must believe in Spring and love

-- "You Must Believe in Spring"
Michel Legrand and Jacques Demy

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You must believe in Spring. It is its own proof. Creation and rebirth can never be defeated. Look closely and you see eternity spilling from heaven.

And so hail to you, Dionysos,
God of abundant grapes!
Grant that we may come again
Rejoicing to this season,
And from that season onward for many a year.

-- Homeric Hymn to Dionysos
c. 680 BC

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Friday, March 25, 2011

From Picasso to Libya

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With everyone trying to explain what sleep of reason induced The President Without a History to immerse "his" country in a tribal war between Libyans, type 1, and Libyans, type 2, I might as well throw in another theory. It makes no more sense than the rest, but perhaps no less.

Let us cast our gaze back a century and consider a bloke named Pablo Picasso, an artist about whom your blogger has mixed feelings (with oil and vinegar dressing). He is famous as a pioneer of Cubism, a style that departed from conventional views of people and objects by observing them from multiple viewpoints simultaneously. However, for our purposes, that is neither here nor there nor anywhere else.

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Picasso was, if not the first artist-as-rebel, at least the first superstar of the artist-as-rebel cult. And the beginning of the widespread cultural celebration of the outsider thumbing his nose at traditional standards, thereby showing his superiority. High-class primitivism, nostalgie de la boue as the French called it, and they had quite a bit of it in Paris in the 1920s.

The Depression left too many people trying to keep body and soul together to have time for counterculture monkeyshines, and then came a world war that had many distracted for a while. But after the war, hoo boy.

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Rebellion 1.0 had been mostly confined to artistic circles, was not without some excellent products, and the bohemian life style could be enjoyed from the sidelines as an eccentric subculture. But postwar rebellion began to trickle down to the masses. One early pop culture manifestation was the 1953 film The Wild One, with Marlon Brando as the leader of a motorcycle gang taking over a small town. (Something like it actually happened a few years earlier in Hollister, California; appropriately, a line of teenage clothing now bears the Hollister label.)

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There's a famous line from the movie that goes something like this:
"What are you rebelling against?"
Brando: "Whattaya got?"

Then came James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and rock and roll, then ... the '60s. There is no need to elaborate on that social revolution. Easy Rider. All of us in our 20s were dropouts, protesters, anti-anti-disestablishmentarians.

And ever since, hip and cool and fashionable has meant edgy. Revolutionary.

Are you beginning to see where this is leading?

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During the Cold War, our presidents and diplomats were strategists, whether you agreed with their strategy or not: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennan, Dulles, for example. Grown-ups with some knowledge of history and geopolitical facts were in charge of foreign policy.

Beginning with Bill Clinton's mob, we have been led by people raised on the rebellious imperative. That trend has reached escape velocity with our incumbent. In war as in movies, the Obama maladministration views rebels as the good guys, even if they're Muslims of unknown pedigree in an opaque cause.

Hey, Mr. President, what are you rebelling against? "What have you got? American military power used on behalf of American interests? Or not used to protect the lives of civilians conducting an armed revolution in Hollister-on-the-Mediterranean? It's our job to organize the rebels' community for them. If we can do that and bottle up those Yids in downtown Tel Aviv, world peace is guaranteed forever. Can they give me the Nobel Peace Prize again?"

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What have I done? 

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Photo op

I had a brief attack of conscience after I posted the ludicrous photo of Hillary Clinton yesterday and considered deleting it. Anyone who is photographed multiple times in every public appearance is bound to be caught once in a while looking goofy. It could just as well happen to you or me if we were public figures. (Well, you may be one, for all I know, but I'm not and hope to keep it that way.)

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But I have not made the photo go away. For one thing, it's already been published in a newspaper, so it will hardly make any difference if it appears in Reflecting Light. (The photo editor of the Mail must either dislike Clinton or have a strange sense of humor: did you notice the other picture, in which she is staring wide-eyed into the sky, as if entering the Rapture?)

The other reason is, the leading politicians of my country are making me feel sick. I am so disgusted I don't feel like being "fair." Hillary Clinton seems to be as instrumental as anyone in urging us to commit ourselves to the violent ward at the Arab League and U.N. Psychiatric Facility for reasons that escape reason. 


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Why are we bombing one set of Libyans on behalf of another set of Libyans?

To save the rebels from savage retribution by Kadaffy's forces? I'm sorry, you start a revolution against a Middle Eastern Supersheik, you have to expect it will go hard with you if you lose. Our very own founders knew jolly well that they would swing from British nooses if the colonies finished out of the money.

I don't want to see nasty retribution against the anti-Kadaffy insurgents, but why do we have to commit any more of our resources to save their hides? Who says they are anything but another alliance of tribes in a kaleidoscopic constant shifting of tribes? What if they turn out to be palsy-walsy with Al Qaeda and their ilk? Check out the picture of that rebel-for-"democracy" shouting "Allahu Akbar!" Is this the elusive Bigfoot, the "moderate" Muslim?

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But in a sense there is no point debating strategy with the Obama administration and their running dog Republican enablers in the latest mid-east rumble. There is no strategy, no game plan, no prize to be won except "looking good, baby" if we and the Arab League come out momentarily on top. This no-fly-zoning and missile launching is pure improvisation, making it up as Commander Barack and the enraptured General Hillary go from one news conference to another.

What also makes me sick is that our policymakers seem to have a conception of war that is purely abstract, played out by impersonal "forces." We decide, almost on a whim, which "force" is good and which is bad. Those distinctions don't look so clear on the ground. I am haunted by that photo of the burning tank and the soldiers cooking inside it. To our humanitarian war leaders, they are members of the "pro-Kadaffy forces." But it's unlikely any of them gave a rat's bum about Kadaffy. They were drafted, or were poor men who joined the army to have any job at all. 

I'm no pacifist. I want us to have the world's strongest military. Sometime we really may have to use it once more. This isn't that time.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Human rights" imperialism

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To see what an air strike by the "coalition" supporting the United Nations looks like up close, go here.

Chris Roach, at Mansizedtarget.com, has posted perhaps his best commentary ever, on the folly of intervention in Libya:
Obama is now getting on the train he couldn’t get off after saying–unwisely in my opinion–Kaddafi must go.  That’s the problem with threats . . . they cascade upon themselves. This is all just emotional reaction to disturbing and violent news from the region, coupled with a self-fulfilling prophecy of presidential rhetoric.  There is no real moral reason to intervene here and not, say, Iran a few months ago or Bahrain or Egypt or many other places. And the reasons here are many times less compelling than Iran, which has, unlike Libya, been hostile to the US in very recent times. ...


Worst of all, we have no strategy here. A congressional debate may not do any good, because, in both parties, we have this reactive, emotion-laden, and vaguely Wilsonian approach to the world that has no end game, cannot distinguish the unimportant from the irrelevant, and, through a misplaced concern for “human rights,” makes no distinction from a genuine problem to the global order from what used to be called “internal affairs.”  So today we go to war with Libya.  Iran, not so much.  We are this big, lumbering, powerful country, but our leaders’ thinking is worse than that of children.  It’s like that of adolescents:  impulsive, overly self-satisfied, contemptuous of risk, ignorant of potential pitfalls, forgetful of recent failures, and a product of peer pressure.
Anyone viewing the United States from outside would have to conclude that we are all neocons now. Our once-overwhelming military power -- now considerably eroded by nearly a decade of continuous fighting and occupation in Afghanistan and then Iraq -- has gone to our heads. Uncle Sam, M.D., wants to cure every national illness on earth even if it means draining ourselves of strength that we will urgently need against threats foreign and domestic.

The U.S. empire acknowledges no bounds. It is a new kind of imperialism, aimed not at acquiring territory or markets, but to convince ourselves of our virtue in a wicked world. We'll fight to the death to enforce human rights in places where such rights have no meaning and never have had. We've shipped our manufacturing and jobs to coolie labor countries, we've kept our economy alive only through the artificial respiration of public and private debt, but no one can gainsay that we're ready to step into any geopolitical fight as long as it's to show off our nobility of intent, rather than on behalf of any discernible interest of our own.

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Hillary does the Benghazi Twist.

Actual consequences are of little account, whether it means creating a stalemate (as we are likely to insure in Libya) or open-ended policing. It's about bathing in collective self-righteousness, replacing the individual morality our ancestors held in high esteem. We're the Universal Referee, but scoring our own goals against whichever team we hold to be the less drunk on Democracy.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

U.S. to invade Japan?

Well, why not? A country that can't prevent an earthquake and tsunami clearly doesn't believe in Democracy. We cannot allow it. Begin with a no-fly zone over Japan (after we re-take Okinawa) and if that doesn't sort things out, let's put boots on the ground so we can follow up with a troop surge. We've got to support the Rising Sun revolution!

"General, this is Barack. I need a few divisions, and would you tell Admiral what's-his-weight, I can't recall at the moment -- man, this heat in Brazil is something -- tell him to get a half dozen aircraft carriers off Japan, and do it last week. What? You've already planned to plop your soldiers into Libya? I thought we'd pulled our ally Khadaffi's nuts out of the fire already. What? Oh, right. He's the dictator. We've got to organize his neighborhood for him. Go anywhere, pay any price for freedom, Saint Jack said. 

"Right, I'll leave the details up to you, and if you run into Hillary ... you know what that bag of lips said, to the press? 'A no-fly zone requires certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems.' How do we know which kind of Libyans we're bombing, you know what I'm saying? Anyway, we might need those boots in the air, I mean bombs on the ground, for Japan's nuclear reactionaries if it comes down to that. I'm hoping the Japanese rebels will just go quietly. I'll tell Ben Bernanke to print 'em a few billion dollars, that should have 'em licking the spoon.

"Okay, Gen, good talking, let's do lunch, right now I've got to get ready for a reception at the International Emergency Global Warming Action Committee -- damn, you know how hot it is here in Brazil? -- right after the massage. Life's hard at the top. 'Bye."

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Secession talk in Tucson

There's talk of part of Arizona seceding from the state and forming a new one. Those looking for the exit are -- wait for it -- leftists.
TUCSON, Ariz.—On the patio of a downtown bar here last Wednesday night, a handful of people gathered over pitchers of beer to plot the creation of America's 51st state.

With copies of the Arizona constitution before them, they debated how to turn Pima County—a liberal southern swatch of Arizona that borders Mexico and includes Tucson—into "Baja Arizona."


Baja Arizona (the working title) will almost certainly remain a dream, but it suggests the growing chasm between the state's Republican leaders and its frustrated liberal minority.
This story from the Wall Street Journal, which is now liberal about everything except corporate welfare, is questionable in its analysis.

As a former resident of Tucson, I feel confident in saying that Pima County is not "a liberal southern swatch of Arizona." Tucson is home to the University of Arizona, a pit of cultural Marxism as well as an assembly line of reconquista plans. The Mexicans in South Tucson are more involved in drug dealing than political action, but are reliably unfriendly to gringo interests, so I guess in leftist terms that makes them liberals. The daily paper, the Arizona Star, is one of the worst newspapers in a country of very bad ones, but it's consistently left-wing (locals call it the "Red Star").

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Other than that, it would be hard to dredge up more than a few hundred residents of Tucson or the county who'd want to become citizens of "Baja Arizona." Most would just as soon drop kick the university into the part of the state with the most rattlesnakes. I used to feel my heart sink when I went near the campus, or into it to hear a concert -- UA does get good touring jazz and classical musicians.

But if Baja Arizona is a non-starter, I still welcome this development. When the liberals who dominate U.S. institutions start banging on about taking back local authority, it makes devolution that much more respectable. If Pima county was, in fact, the liberal stronghold the story claims, I'd be for it giving Arizona the kiss-off -- provided conservative areas could do the same, and in other states as well.

I am convinced that the break-up of the United States is inevitable. It has been a house divided against itself for four decades, with the official status of nationhood maintained only by the militancy of a federal government that is forever aggrandizing its power over states and localities, with an imperial judiciary, an elephantine bureaucracy, and a Congress whose strings are pulled by lobbyists. Voters in national elections are given a choice between right liberal and left liberal politicians.

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While times were pretty good for most people, there were plenty of government jobs to buy off the dissatisfied, and we could (so we imagined) afford the dosh to keep the rioting classes quiet with welfare, the house divided held together despite cracks in the foundation. Now the payoffs are becoming untenable amid a worldwide economic crisis and Greater Depression at home.

The question about devolution is: can we devise a framework where it can be done peacefully and legally (granting that it will be a wrenching experience for many), or will it entail insurrection, local anarchy, and perhaps a savage Washington-directed suppression?

I choose door no. 1. I'm happy to let Arizona's "frustrated liberal minority" have their turf. One cheer for Baja Arizona.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Time's fool

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Lisbon, 1755

I suppose I ought to say something about Japan's agony, but it is the sort of thing that leaves even people much wiser than me groping for meaning. So arbitrary; capricious; undeserved.

The 1755 earthquake that destroyed Lisbon and killed an estimated 30,000 people occurred on All Saints Day, one of the holiest days in the Catholic calendar. Besides the loss of life and devastation of the city (as well as elsewhere in Portugal), it prompted Europe-wide soul searching: was God actually benevolent? The event gave an extra push to the development of the agnosticism and deism of the philosophes. Voltaire famously used it as one example showing up the fatuity of his optimistic character Candide.

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Post-war Japan has been one of the world's better-behaved citizens. Its people actually seem to have learned something from the takeover of power by the military caste that led to Pearl Harbor and its aftermath. If Japan could build a decent society after the devastation in 1945, it will survive this. Which, of course, does not lessen the personal grieving that so many are going through now.

Apparently this was one of the best recorded disasters in history. The Web and newspapers are turning somersaults over the "shocking" videos, and I can only imagine TV news has run and re-run the images. I haven't watched any of the videos. What good would it do, me or anyone?

That isn't bashing the media for "sensationalism" or bad taste. The tsunami is real news and there is no reason why it shouldn't be shown; maybe the videos will impress someone enough to invent new ways of mitigating water invading the land.

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Compared with 1755, relatively few people in today's materialistic world will have their faith in God shaken, because there is so much less faith. But even those who still try to base their lives on spirituality know, or should know, that this world is of a lower order of reality than God's, that catastrophes which tear our minds and bodies cannot touch our souls. This earthly life is always tentative, even without natural disasters, and it is always later than we think. Medieval monastics kept a human skull nearby while they prayed, a memento mori symbolizing physical death, urging them to greater efforts at decanting eternity from daily life.

Shakespeare's character Hotspur speaks with his last breath:

But thought's the slave of life, and life time's fool;
And time, that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop.

God offers us no promise about our length of time, only the opportunity to seek the greater Truth, to be filled with light, to be kind.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Laugh track for a funeral

The Death Watch for the U.S. (and perhaps the world) economy has become an industry. Every day brings e-mails descending like a flock of birds into my inbox, from the likes of Martin Weiss, Bill Bonner, Whiskey & Gunpowder, and Justice Litle of Taipan Publishing Group, telling me how I can get rich while everyone else is selling paperclips for the metal value and rooting for turnips. 

Those are only the e-mails. Then there are the almost countless funeral directors with blogs of their own like Karl Denninger and the editor of The Burning Platform.

It's interesting stuff, and I'd be the last to deny that dire events, economic and otherwise, are unfolding. The theme of the '90s was dumb and dumber. For the '10s, it's dire and direr. (Slight surprise: the computer's word check feature didn't balk at "direr," a word I doubt I have ever used before or heard anyone else use.)

If all the oxygen is to be sucked out in the Greater Depression, at least there's one pundit who is restocking our little space capsule with laughing gas.

Not that Jim Willie isn't serious. His analysis is about as ominous as they get these days, and that's very ominous. He's hysterical -- both in the sense of flamboyant, over the top, and wickedly satirical: a Hogarth for the new Gin Lane that is Wall Street -- and at times exceedingly funny. Which is to say, he's a prophet of doom but also a stylist. If you are the former, it's good to be the latter as well.

I'll leave this introduction (an introduction if, that is, you don't know him already) with a few quotes from his latest posting, "Hyper-inflation to Oblivion."
Capital destruction is the main byproduct of monetary inflation, a concept totally foreign to the inflation engineers at the USFed and its satellite central banks. They are agents of magnificent systemic devastation. In the wake of each QE [quantitative easing, or creating money by printing more] round are discouraged creditors who turn away in disgust. The damage and inflation feeds upon itself in stages of intense wreckage. The motive, need, and desperation for QE3 is being formed here and now, to be announced by late summer probably. Prepare for QE to infinity, endless hyper-inflation, a process that cannot be stopped, as the urgent needs grows. Any attempt to halt the process results in almost immediate total annihilation. So continuation of QE rounds serves to manage the deterioration process and guide the financial structures gradually and orderly into oblivion. ...
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Almost half of the US Gross Domestic Product is derived from financial paper shuffling, whose negative value has been clearly displayed in the form of mortgage bond wreckage, profound bond fraud, home foreclosure processing, absent home equity withdrawals, bankruptcy processing, and piles of debt that burden households. US economists fail to comprehend the entire concept of capital, this from the supposed leading capitalist nation. The banking and political leaders struggle to produce jobs without a clue of what capital is, instead seeking to put cash in consumer hands. They should pursue business formation, with capital investment, encourage risk taking, provide broad tax incentives, and lead the consumer spending process with job creation and income production. But no. They prefer QE, the accelerator that pushes the nation over the cliff. ...
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The shift to financial commodities in Gold & Silver has been even greater than for crude oil, the traditional hedge. Despite not being the leading non-financial commodity in price increase, the crude oil impact is enormous, in food production, in transportation costs, and especially in industrial feedstock costs. The result is an energy tax, compounded by a systemic cost that acts like a gigantic tax. The US Fed QE program thus imposed a significant tax increase on the entire US Economy. The entire population is aware, except for the US Fed, the Wall Street master, and banking elite. Actually, they are aware, but they cannot speak about the scourge they unleashed since they would invite criticism and turn the blame onto themselves for destroying the United States financially, economically, and systemically. The moral fiber is long gone among leaders, as the US nation is being recognized as a fraud king playpen.  
Enjoy Jim Willie's weekly funeral orations. It looks like rain, and the pallbearers are anxious to get on with their business.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Pianism: 10.0 on the Richter scale

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I always thought fine distinctions among musical performances, and performers, were lost on me. A lot of them surely still are. It takes a truly astounding player to penetrate my obtuse musical understanding.

Well, I discover one such now and then. The latest is Sviatoslav Richter, the Russian pianist. I had heard of him, of course, knew he was considered one of the greats; had no idea why. Almost by accident, I borrowed a Richter disc from the library. It didn't take long to realize this man was a communicative genius. Now I am kind of a Richter addict, having added some of his recordings to my collection and looking forward to getting acquainted with others.

How to describe what I hear in this artist? It is not mere interpretation. Every pianist of professional rank interprets a piece he plays; there's nothing special about that. But Richter seems to be playing the music from the inside out, conveying its essence. Every phrase is characterized, its meaning distilled.

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I've heard quite a few famous pianists, mostly in recordings, a few in concert. (Many years ago, Arthur Rubinstein. I was probably too callow to appreciate him, and he was quite advanced in years so probably his fingers weren't as agile as they once had been, but I'm sure the spirit was still there. In any case I have virtually no musical memory, can't remember the sounds I've heard played. I do remember this: at one point I glanced around the auditorium and saw hundreds of enraptured faces, seemingly transfigured by the beauty of what they were hearing. And I remember wondering: what can it be like, to have the gift of making so many people happy by doing what you do?)

Anyway, while it would be incorrect to say I am not impressed by technical ability -- on the contrary, I never fail to marvel at how a pianist can create music from little lines and dots on paper, and move so swiftly and accurately over the keyboard -- I have learned that immense talent isn't always quite enough. There have been virtuosic performances that left me cold. Perhaps that was partly just my lack of appreciation, but I do recognize the skill involved. Sometimes it just doesn't have anything to say to me.

So far, I haven't heard anything played by Richter that didn't seem addressed to my soul.

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What is particularly striking is that he seemed to have an intuitive understanding of many different styles and eras of composition. Take the recital above: Haydn, Chopin, Debussy, and Prokofieff! So diverse, except for their talent, that they might be from different branches of the human tree. But Richter seems fully in tune with each, as if he had internalized their individual sound worlds. The Haydn, for instance, reflects feeling expressed through restraint, the aristocratic milieu in which the piece was created, but there is none of that brittle and tinkly "period performance" artificiality that you encounter so often nowadays. And he's equally at home with Prokofieff (whom he knew personally), who was a romantic by temperament, a modernist by inclination. Richter "gets," and expresses, both.

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He was more or less of the same generation of Soviet musicians who opened a window to the West at the height of the Cold War, the generation that included Emil Gilels and Mstislav Rostropovich. I've read that European and American listeners were astounded when they heard Richter on primitive Soviet-made recordings before they'd ever had the opportunity to hear him in person. It was a major cultural event when Richter was allowed to travel to Europe and America for concerts.

His personality is often described as "enigmatic." He never seems to have gotten into hot water with the Soviet system in the way Shostakovich notoriously did, yet was no Communist booster. Although too depressed to play in public for months on end, concerts were his preferred medium. He disliked the recording studio, so most of the performances that have been preserved were from live appearances. (He liked very low stage lighting, believing that semi-darkness would help the listeners concentrate on the music, not the player.) His homosexuality is said to have been behind his reticence and Angst, which I tend to discount because the Homintern always believes being gay is the most influential quality in an artist's life.

Here he is, playing four Chopin ├ętudes, late in his life to judge from his appearance. The power and the poetry are there, inseparable.



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Thursday, March 03, 2011

The toxi-city of Brussels

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Brussels is the fortress city of the European Union, or EU (pronounced "yuck").

The EU seems to be the source of everything that's crazy, laughable, or suicidal in Europe these days. Seventy years ago a war was fought to save Europe from Berlin. It hasn't been so successful with Brussels.

Britain, which as far as I know has never formally joined the EU -- but what does that matter when Brussels Speaks? -- is particularly its victim. Recently the EU ordered Britain to give its convicts voting rights, which the country is actually resisting. I wouldn't hold out too much hope it will prevail.

What next? How about this:
As many as 100,000 migrants from Eastern Europe will be allowed to claim £250-a-week as Europe forces Britain to abolish its restrictions on benefits. In a move that could cost the British taxpayer tens of millions of pounds, migrants from the former Soviet bloc will be allowed jobseeker's allowance, council tax benefit and housing benefit.
It may sound totally mad to admit several hundred thousand "migrants" from Eastern Europe to an island that is already overcrowded and has a high unemployment rate. But multinational oligarchies like the EU are not required to observe common sense. They are, after all, the monarchs of all they survey.

But U.K. immigration minister Damian Green tried to put the best face on it. He "pointed out that at the same time that the scheme ended in the UK, countries including Germany and Austria were opening up their labour markets even more to workers from their eastern neighbours."

The implication was that the migrants would migrate to someplace closer to the countries they were trying to get away from. How quaint. When you can buy a plane ticket and be on the other side of the world in 24 hours, where's the aggro in going a few hundred miles past Germany and Austria to plant yourself in the U.K.?
A spokesman said: 'No-one can just come into the UK and start claiming our benefits.
'We have strict rules in place to protect the system from any abuse.
'For instance, to claim an income-related benefit, a person from the EU will have to pass the Habitual Residence Test alongside all of our other eligibility criteria.
'They will have to prove they have a right to reside here and will then be asked to prove their attachment to the UK; they will have to show an intention to settle here and their reasons for coming to the UK.
'We will be keeping our benefit rules to people from abroad under review to ensure it's secure.'
Prove they have a right to reside there? The EU says so. Show an intention to settle there? "Da, you bet, I staying. Where I get job-sleeper's allowance, council house? You wasting my time, let's getting on with it."

I don't know why I bother to even write about the loony bin that is modern Britain, home to water-veined mopes who have handed their lives over to computer-generated bureaucrats -- not even of their own nationality. Maybe it's just the sentimental attachment I used to have for England, so strong it persisted even after the first couple of times I visited there. Maybe I can't quite dismiss the hope, futile as it seems, that after a few more years of Eurodementia and population replacement enough British will realize the full horror of what they have brought on themselves to apply the needed remedy.

I suppose that possibility is still there, however dim, when an English newspaper (a working-class, very unrespectable one, of course) can still publish an opinion piece like this: (Tip of the hat: Lawrence Auster)
The gross annual rate of immigration has topped 500,000 in recent years, the vast majority of incomers hail from Africa or Asia. Moreover there are probably around a million illegal immigrants in our midst, tolerated by a government machine that has lost any desire to uphold our national integrity.

That is why the British public is in such despair over mass immigration. An independent survey published yesterday revealed the depth of this anger, with 60 per cent of people describing immigration as a “bad thing” for Britain and 52 per cent agreeing that “Muslims create problems in the UK”. This is not even a racial issue: 39 per cent of Asians and 24 per cent of blacks want a crackdown on immigration.  

What is remarkable about these findings is that the public feels this way after all the years of aggressive, institutionalised propaganda about the joys of cultural diversity and the unalloyed benefits of mass immigration. But then, while the politicians live in their ivory towers, ordinary people can see with their own eyes the disaster brought about by the cultural revolution.
"Despair" ... "depth of the anger" ... Those dwellers in the ivory towers might find one of these days that they are not safe from the wrath of those they hold in contempt.

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