Around the web

The Inventor of the High Five…

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From Priceonomics

The high five is ubiquitous. It’s a gesture that permeates every social environment — the workplace, the bar, the middle school kickball field — and it seems to be appropriate in almost any situation. Your friend got married? High five. You chugged an entire liter of IPA? High five. You just re-enacted, word-for-word, the opening sequence of A Clockwork Orange? High five! Since its inception, the hand-slapping maneuver has taken on multiple iterations and has never fallen out of style.

But tracing the origins of the high five reveals a riveting, heroic, dark story that seems to be everything the joyous gesture is not.

Death On All Sides…

sA member of the Free Syrian Army sits on a sofa in Deir al-Zor, Syria (Reuters/Khalil Ashawi)

From Adbusters

Forgotten and encircled in Syria, Brandon Gray reports from a refugee camp in Northern Syria.

The refugee camp of 20,000, mostly children, on the Syrian side of the Turkish border north of Aleppo faces death on all sides. There is a grinding lack of humanitarian aid, a ruthless Assad regime offensive led by elite troops from Iran pushing a wave of new refugees toward the camp, and fundamentalist Islamic State fighters advancing towards them from the East with Russian T-72 tanks and American humvees captured from defeated Iraqi military units.

If the Islamic State captures the area, “they will cut my head [off]” says Yusuf, a young rebel fighter and media activist fresh from fighting them 40 km to the east of the camp. He had already lost eight friends and fellow fighters in Aleppo when their unit became encircled seven months ago by the Islamic State, then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He escaped death only by a “miracle.” Now they have tanks, humvees, artillery, heavy machine guns — “they have everything” — and have captured Yusuf’s home town of al Bab, right next to Aleppo city. “They have come to conquer our country. To make an Islamic State, a Caliphate.” Since speaking with Yusuf, the Islamic State has launched attacks within Aleppo itself, killing several rebels.

Drone Warfare: Who is dying in Afghanistan’s 1,000-plus drone strikes?

dCrewmen from 39 Squadron, Royal Air Force, pilot a Reaper over Afghanistan (Photo: Ministry of Defence)

From Bureau of Investigative Journalism

On the afternoon of September 7 last year, a truck made its way along a remote road in Watapur, a region in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. A local farmer, Miya Jan, heard a buzzing overhead, and looked up to see a drone above him, he told the Los Angeles Times. Minutes later, he heard an explosion.

Reaching the site, he realised the mangled vehicle belonged to his cousin. Among the bodies, he recognised his brother and his brother’s family. “There were pieces of my family all over the road,” he told the newspaper. “I picked up those pieces from the road and from the truck and wrapped them in a sheet to bury them.”

‘Witch Hunt’: Fired MSNBC Contributor Speaks Out on Suppression of Israel-Palestine Debate…

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From AlterNet

As Gaza body toll mounts, NBC executives crack down on criticism of Israel.

MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal’s on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage of Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip has brought media suppression of the Israel-Palestine debate into sharp focus. Punished for her act of dissent with the cancellation of all future appearances and the termination of her contract, Jebreal spoke to me about what prompted her to speak out and why MSNBC was presenting such a distorted view of the crisis.

“I couldn’t stay silent after seeing the amount of airtime given to Israeli politicians versus Palestinians,” Jebreal told me. “They say we are balanced but their idea of balance is 90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians. This kind of media is what leads to the failing policies that we see in Gaza.”

Welcome to Utopia…

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From Australian Magazine

On a remote Island, a rich former executive and his wife wait for the world to end. They want others to join — but it’s a one-way trip…

Three reasons why the world can’t end: my wife and daughters. Things I won’t miss: eight-character passwords, four-digit pins and leaf-blowers; life’s merry-go-round of small victories, the carrot-and-stick mystery of existence and “down, down, prices are down”.

A bullying moonlit ocean wave slams the wall of my cabin, our 14m ­catamaran dips into a trough and a blue ink line slashes across my notepad. We are nine hours’ hard night sail from the new world.

I sleep and dream of drowning. Before dawn I emerge above deck to find Steve Quinto at the ship’s wheel, where I left him last night. Steve is a rich American businessman. He once owned an international airline, pioneered low-cost travel across the United States. Steve believes the world I know is in the second phase of certain self-destruction. “So you’ve found your way to us,” he says. He nods to the horizon. Cloud and fog seem to shift at his command and the untouched, impenetrable west coast forest mountains of the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, rise out of the Pacific like monsters made of moss and vine.

Beyond those mountains is Steve’s utopia, an 800ha living ark that he has spent the past eight of his 79 years creating, investing his life’s fortune in the shipment of 300 tonnes of materials from around the world to the very edge of human existence. Paradise. Salvation. A new world for when the old one dies. He calls it Edenhope. Eden would have sufficed. “Soon you will meet Ona,” Steve says. Ona is a girl. Ona is a beginning…

Complete story with videos here
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Reasonable Doubt…

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From The Automatic Earth

Presumed innocent. Innocent until proven guilty. Reasonable doubt. How long ago it seems that these principles guided our societies. Perhaps there are a few courts in the heartland left that still live up to them, but the aftermath of 9/11 certainly erased them from the overall American conscience. Some animals are more equal than others, said Orwell in Animal Farm.

Guantanamo Bay showed that some people are far less equal than others, and laws that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. That, somewhat ironically, is probably the case at the other end, the upper echelons of society, as well, judging from the – lack of – numbers of persecuted bankers.

War Zones…

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From James Howard Kunstler

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summed it up the other day when he said, “We use our rockets to protect our women and children; they [Hamas] use their women and children to protect their rockets.”

Some time ago, the Left adopted the Palestinians as their pet oppressed minority group so there is nothing that Israel might do that will be okay with them, except to commit suicide, that is, cease to exist — which is the stated policy of Hamas. Every time Israel refuses the suggestion that it cease to exist, the Left becomes inflamed. They cannot imagine why Israel would prefer to fight for its existence than to roll over and die.

Tony Serra a tireless courtroom ‘Verbal Warrior’…

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From SF Gate

On Thursday morning, Tony Serra will put on his best $10 suit and loose secondhand shoes to begin what could be his last big courtroom battle – the defense of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, presumed leader of a Chinatown money laundering ring and a central figure in an indictment that has also targeted state Sen. Leland Yee.

The hearing, in federal court before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, will involve 29 defendants. Among their lawyers, Serra will be easy to spot – shaggy side hair, broken teeth, loud tie, but still at his fighting weight of 195 pounds and arguing for his client at every turn.

Dying With Dignity: A Reading List About the Right-to-Die Debate…

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From Longreads

Should patients suffering from terminal illnesses and unbearable pain be able to make the decision to end their lives? Helping the terminally ill end their lives is illegal in all but five states in the U.S. Here, five stories looking at the right-to-die debate.

1. “Helping Dad Die: A Daughter’s Story.” (Catherine Syer, Financial Times)

In the U.K., Britons with terminal illnesses or incurable diseases have nowhere to go if they want aid in dying. A daughter’s personal story about finding a way to ease her father’s suffering.

2. “The Right to Die is the Right to Live.” (Lisa Carver, Vice Magazine)

A mother decides to give her son Wolf, a talented artist who suffers from a range of ailments, autonomy over his own life.

The Education Delusion…

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From Club Orlov

Recently I have run across a number of articles in American newspapers which emphasize the importance of higher education and reassure us that there is no crisis with the way it is being financed. The fact that such articles are written by PhDs speaks to some of the unfortunate aspects of the problem. I am probably being too kind in assuming that the authors of these articles are deluded; I could just as easily accuse them of being high-ups in a massive Ponzi scheme.

The Washington Post published recently published an article by Donald Heller, an academic and a dean, who asserted that the $1.2 trillion-plus in student loans, with a 15% default rate, is no big deal. Now, even social scientists are supposed to understand that correlation does not equal causality, while some facts he mentioned, such as the fact that college grads are more often employed than high school grads or drop outs, may just indicate that they have more active personalities, not that college allowed them to learn some special skill that made them better baristas. A college degree may or may not pay off over a lifetime, but the debt will certainly come due. While $29,000 (which Heller asserted was an average debt for undergraduate training) may seem like pocket change to an overpaid college administrator, it translates into the inability to afford food or rent for many a college-educated debt slave. Not to be outdone, the New York Times published an article about the “education debate” in which David Leonhart, a journalist of some acclaim and accomplishment, offered what many commenters saw as an advertorial for the higher education industry.

Cockamamie Stories Infecting the Body Politic…

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From James Howard Kunstler
Thanks to Meca

Reality-Optional Economics

The total tonnage of economic malarkey being shoveled over the American public these days would make the late Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Nazi Minister of “Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”) turn green in his grave with envy. It’s a staggering phenomenon because little about it is conspiratorial; rather, it’s the consensual expression of a public that wants desperately to believe things that are untrue, and an economic leadership equally credulous, unmanned, and avid to furnish the necessary narratives that might preserve their jobs and perqs.

By “economic leadership” I mean the consortium of business executives, government officials, academic economists, and media disseminators — and even some bloggers and financial advisers. Some of the latter may be “talking their book,” since they may manage other people’s money and need those other people to believe in the soundness of markets, true or not. And some of the former may be motivated by the fear that even a little erosion of trust in the system could lead to a collapse of the system basted together by little more than blind faith in currencies and dubious “innovative” instruments. But most of these characters are mainly just flat-out delusional.

Another Silent Spring?

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From George Monbiot

Neonicotinoids appear to have devastating effects across the natural world: we need a global moratorium…

Here’s our choice. We wait and see whether a class of powerful pesticides, made by Bayer and Syngenta, is indeed pushing entire ecosystems to oblivion, or we suspend their use while proper trials are conducted. The natural world versus two chemical companies: how hard can this be?

Papers published over the past few weeks suggest that neonicotinoids, pesticides implicated in killing or disabling bees, have similar effects on much of life on earth. On land and in water, these neurotoxins appear to be degrading entire foodchains. Licensed before sufficient tests were conducted, they are now the world’s most widely used pesticides. We are just beginning to understand what we’ve walked into.

The Case for the End of the Modern Zoo…

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From New York Magazine

This weekend The New York Times Magazine published a moving, beguiling portrait of a veterinarian named Vint Virga, who helps zoos to improve the psychological lives of their animals. I say “beguiling” in part because the writer, Alex Halberstadt, isn’t all that explicit about what I take to be his true topic: whether there is a good reason for zoos to exist at all.

I realize that to even raise this issue makes you sound like some kind of sour, rule-bound vegetarian, so let me make clear my position up front: I love zoos. My daughter is not quite 2, and the zoo brings out all of her best and least complicated emotions — awe, delight, empathy. You go into parenthood figuring zoo trips are going to be a kind of live-action survey of the cast of The Lion King (elephants, lions, the safari greatest hits tour), but a kid who is not yet three feet tall tends to gravitate toward otters and foxes, purely as a matter of physical scale, and those animals turn out to be really great and interesting too. We mostly go to the National Zoo in Washington, which is a pretty progressive place, all things considered: Orangutans swing over the walkways on ropes, without cages or nets. Panda visitation is managed to minimize panda stress. Care, basically, is taken.

Far right’s secret SCOTUS strategy: What Boehner’s lawsuit is REALLY about…

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From Salon

When a fringe party can no longer win legislative elections, boosting the impact of judges is its best last resort… 

If you hadn’t thought the House GOP had gone completely around the bend before, their decision last week to sue the president for failing to enforce a law they had all voted against and to which they remain adamantly opposed must have convinced you. They are actually suing the president because he delayed the health care mandate for small businesses — one of the most highly valued constituencies in the Republican Party. That’s right, they are going to court to screw over one of their most prized voting blocs simply in order to challenge the limits of executive power. That’s either a hard core commitment to principle or their desire to hurt the president is so overwhelming that they are willing to sacrifice their own voters in the process. (And one can’t help but wonder just how dictatorial the president is actually being if the only example of his tyrannical policies they feel confident in citing is one they support.)

So why are they doing this? The most common assumption is that John Boehneris trying to head off impeachment. Evidently the crazies are getting very restless and the leadership thinks it would be a good idea to throw them some red meat just to keep them from jumping the fence. Having been more obstructionist than any minority party in history (keeping in mind that they only hold a majority in one house of Congress) they are now taking offense that the executive branch is moving ahead with its agenda the best it can. It’s a very neat trick:

Buddhist Economics: How to Stop Prioritizing Goods Over People and Consumption Over Creative Activity…

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From Brainpickings

“Work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.”

Much has been said about the difference between money and wealth and how we, as individuals, can make more of the latter, but the divergence between the two is arguably even more important the larger scale of nations and the global economy. What does it really mean to create wealth for people — for humanity — as opposed to money for governments and corporations?

That’s precisely what the influential German-born British economist, statistician, Rhodes Scholar, and economic theorist E. F. Schumacher explores in his seminal 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (public library) — a magnificent collection of essays at the intersection of economics, ethics, and environmental awareness, which earned Schumacher the prestigious Prix Européen de l’Essai Charles Veillon award and was deemed byThe Times Literary Supplement one of the 100 most important books published since WWII. Sharing an ideological kinship with such influential minds as Tolstoy and Gandhi, Schumacher’s is a masterwork of intelligent counterculture, applying history’s deepest, most timeless wisdom to the most pressing issues of modern life in an effort to educate, elevate and enlighten.

The Art of Self-Renewal: A Timeless 1964 Field Guide to Keeping Your Soul Vibrantly Alive…

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From Brainpickings

“The self-renewing man … looks forward to an endless and unpredictable dialogue between his potentialities and the claims of life — not only the claims he encounters but the claims he invents.”

In 1964, the prolific social science writer John W. Gardner published Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society (public library) — a forgotten book of extraordinary prescience and warm wisdom, which rings even timelier today. It’s a must-read as much for entrepreneurs and leaders seeking to infuse their organizations with ongoing vitality as it is for all of us as individuals, on our private trajectories of self-transcendence and personal growth.

Gardner explores what it takes for us — as individuals, as a society, even as a civilization — to cultivate the capacity for self-renewal so vital to countering “the dry rot produced by apathy, by rigidity and by moral emptiness,” which often comes with attaining a certain level of complacent comfort or success. Referencing his previous book, Excellence — an equally prescient exploration of the educational system, its promise and its limitations, and the role of high standards in cultivating character — Gardner writes:

Nationalize Amazon and Google: Publicly Funded Technology Built Big Tech…

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From Salon

They’re huge, they’re ruthless, and they touch every aspect of our daily lives. Corporations like Amazon and Google keep expanding their reach and their power. Despite a history of abuses, so far the Justice Department has declined to take antitrust actions against them. But there’s another solution.

Is it time to manage and regulate these companies as public utilities?

Growing is forever…


Thanks to Rosalind Peterson
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