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Censorship and What Freedom of Speech Really Means: Comedian Bill Hicks’s Brilliant Letter to a Priest…

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From Brain Pickings

“‘Freedom of speech’ means you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with.”

In early June of 1993, several months before cancer took his life at the age of thirty-two, beloved comedian Bill Hicks received a letter from a priest, bemoaning the “blasphemous” content in Hicks’s live television special Revelations and reprimanding British broadcaster Channel 4 for having put it on the air. Writing a mere eight days before his fatal pancreatic cancer diagnosis — a young man still oblivious to his imminent tragic fate — Hicks decided to respond to the missive personally, in what became one of the most lucid and beautiful defenses of the freedom of speech ever articulated, on par with Voltaire’s piercing admonition about censorship and Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless words on the subject.

The Pariah…

He tells me I’ve got to understand about when the big dog gets off the porch, and I’m getting confused here. He is talking to me from a fishing camp up near the Canadian border, and as he tries to tell me about the Big Dog, I can only imagine a wall of green and deep blue lakes with northern pike. But he is very patient with me. Mike Holm did his hard stints in the Middle East, the Miami station, and Los Angeles, all for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, and he is determined that I face the reality he knows. So he starts again. He repeats, “When the Big Dog gets off the porch, watch out.” And by the Big Dog, he means the full might of the United States government. At that moment, he continues, you play by Big Boy rules, and that means, he explains, that there are no rules but to complete the mission. We’ve gotten into all this schooling because I asked him about reports that he received when he was stationed in Miami that Southern Air Transport, a CIA-contracted airline, was landing planeloads of cocaine at Homestead Air Force Base nearby. Back in the eighties, Holm’s informants kept telling him about these flights, and then he was told by his superiors to “stand down because of national security.” And so he did. He is an honorable man who believes in his government, and he didn’t ask why the flights were taking place; he simply obeyed. Because he has seen the Big Dog get off the porch, and he has tasted Big Boy rules. Besides, he tells me, these things are done right, and if you look into the matter, you’ll find contract employees or guys associated with the CIA, but you won’t find a CIA case officer on a loading dock tossing kilos of coke around. Any more than Mike Holm ever saw a plane loaded top to bottom with kilos of coke. He didn’t have to. He believed his informants. And he believed in the skill and power of the CIA. And he believed in the sheer might and will of the Big Dog when he finally decides to get off the porch.

Carl Sagan’s Bullshit Detection Kit: Rules for Critical Thinking…

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From Brain Pickings

Necessary cognitive fortification against propaganda, pseudoscience, and general falsehood.

Carl Sagan was many things — a cosmic sagevoracious reader,hopeless romantic, and brilliant philosopher. But above all, he endures as our era’s greatest patron saint of reason and common sense, a master of the vital balance between skepticism and openness. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library) — the same indispensable volume that gave us Sagan’s timeless meditation on science and spirituality, published mere months before his death in 1996 — Sagan shares his secret to upholding the rites of reason, even in the face of society’s most shameless untruths and outrageous propaganda.

In a chapter titled “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” Sagan reflects on the many types of deception to which we’re susceptible — from psychics to religious zealotry to paid product endorsements by scientists, which he held in especially low regard, noting that they “betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers” and “introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity.” (Cue in PBS’s Joe Hanson on how to read science news.) But rather than preaching from the ivory tower of self-righteousness, Sagan approaches the subject from the most vulnerable of places — having just lost both of his parents, he reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn’t make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.

How America’s Imperial Defeat and Collapse Could Happen…

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From John Michael Greer (2012)
Parts 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Over the course of this year, my posts here on The Archdruid Report have tried to outline the trajectory of America’s global empire and explore the reasons why that trajectory will likely come to a sudden stop in the near future. To bring the issue down out of the realm of abstraction and put them in the context of history as lived, I’ve returned to the toolkit of narrative fiction, and this and the next four posts will sketch out a scenario of American imperial defeat and collapse. The narrative takes place at some unspecified point in the next two decades; it’s probably necessary to say outright that is not how I think the end of America’s empire will happen, simply one way that it could happen—and thus a model that may help expose some of the vulnerabilities of the self-proclaimed hyperpower currently tottering toward history’s compost bin.

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The news of the latest Tanzanian deepwater oil discovery broke on an otherwise sleepy Saturday in March. Thirty years before, a find of the same size might have gotten two column inches somewhere in the back pages of a few newspapers of record, but this was not thirty years ago.  In a world starved for oil, what might once have been considered a modest find earned banner headlines.

The Dying Russians…

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From The New York Review of Books

Sometime in 1993, after several trips to Russia, I noticed something bizarre and disturbing: people kept dying. I was used to losing friends to AIDS in the United States, but this was different. People in Russia were dying suddenly and violently, and their own friends and colleagues did not find these deaths shocking. Upon arriving in Moscow I called a friend with whom I had become close over the course of a year. “Vadim is no more,” said his father, who picked up the phone. “He drowned.” I showed up for a meeting with a newspaper reporter to have the receptionist say, “But he is dead, don’t you know?” I didn’t. I’d seen the man a week earlier; he was thirty and apparently healthy. The receptionist seemed to think I was being dense. “A helicopter accident,” she finally said, in a tone that seemed to indicate I had no business being surprised.

The deaths kept piling up. People—men and women—were falling, or perhaps jumping, off trains and out of windows; asphyxiating in country houses with faulty wood stoves or in apartments with jammed front-door locks; getting hit by cars that sped through quiet courtyards or plowed down groups of people on a sidewalk; drowning as a result of diving drunk into a lake or ignoring sea-storm warnings or for no apparent reason; poisoning themselves with too much alcohol, counterfeit alcohol, alcohol substitutes, or drugs; and, finally, dropping dead at absurdly early ages from heart attacks and strokes.

Petrolify®: Don’t Just Seize the Day, Seize Life…


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Reboot or Die Trying…

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From David Roberts
Outside

A star political blogger for Grist.org, David Roberts spent so much time posting and Tweeting and staring at screens that he almost went nuts. So he pulled the plug for a year, restarting his relationship with technology and actively seeking health, balance, and adventure in the real world. What he learned just might save you from meltdown.

One night, late in the summer of 2012, discussion at my dinner table turned to the venerable topic of What to Be When You Grow Up. My older son, Griffin, then nine years old, wanted to be an “underwater paleontologist.” His little brother, Huck, then seven, wanted to be a monkey.

“Do you know what I do for a living?” I asked Huck.

His eyes grew wide. “All you do is sit on your computer and say, ‘Blah blah blah Congress, blah blah blah Mitt Romney’!”

We all—OK, mostly my wife—got a big laugh out of that. For my birthday that year, she and the boys gave me a print emblazoned with Blah Blah Blah. It’s hanging in my office.

Huck was not wrong. At the time, I was a journalist covering climate-change politics for a nonprofit Seattle news site called Grist. I’d been with Grist almost ten years, and as my job had transitioned into full-time writing, I’d lived through—indeed, built a career on—the rise of blogging, social media, and hyperspeed news cycles. By the end of 2012 I was, God help me, a kind of boutique brand, with a reasonably well-known blog, a few cable-TV appearances under my belt, and more than 36,000 Twitter followers.

Peak Oil Review – Sept 1…

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From ASPO-USA

1.  Oil and the Global Economy

Oil prices moved higher last week resulting in the first weekly gain in more than a month on an increasingly serious Ukrainian situation and better US economic data. At week’s end NY futures were back up to $95.96 a barrel and London’s Brent was up to $103.19. Prices on both markets, however, are still about $10 a barrel lower than last June when the IS was threatening to overrun much of Iraq and the Ukrainian crisis was starting to heat up again.

The sustained price drop this summer was occasioned by increasing US shale oil production which is largely offsetting disruptions elsewhere; weaker demand for oil from China; and the growing belief that neither the worsening Middle Eastern situation nor the Ukrainian – EU standoff would lead to disruptions in oil supplies in the immediate future. In the past week, however, some traders are beginning to say that the summer’s selloff was overdone.

Labor Day: Labor’s Demise Is America’s Demise…

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From Paul Craig Roberts

Labor Day is a holiday that has outlived its time. Like Christmas, Labor Day has become a time-out period. As Christmas has become a shopping spree, Labor Day has become the last summer holiday.

The holiday originated in 1887 to celebrate the contribution made by American workers to the strength and prosperity of the United States. The first Monday in September was chosen by President Grover Cleveland to avoid a May date that would keep alive the memory of the previous year’s Haymarket Massacre in which workers striking for an eight-hour day suffered casualties from the Chicago police.

As time passed union leadership became a career rather than a movement in behalf of a cause, but the labor movement in its initial years was reformist. It brought safer working conditions into industry and manufacturing. Unions served as a countervailing power and constrained the exploitative power of capital. An industrial or manufacturing job was a ladder of upward mobility that made the US an opportunity society and stabilized the socio-political system with a large middle class. A large and thriving industrial and manufacturing sector provided many white collar middle class jobs for managers, engineers, researchers and designers, and American universities flourished as did their graduates.

The Last Gasp of Climate Change Liberals…

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From Chris Hedges

The climate change march in New York on Sept. 21, expected to draw as many as 200,000 people, is one of the last gasps of conventional liberalism’s response to the climate crisis. It will take place two days before the actual gathering of world leaders in New York called by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the November 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris. The marchers will dutifully follow the route laid down by the New York City police. They will leave Columbus Circle, on West 59th Street and Eighth Avenue, at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday and conclude on 11th Avenue between West 34th and 38th streets. No one will reach the United Nations, which is located on the other side of Manhattan, on the East River beyond First Avenue—at least legally. There will be no speeches. There is no list of demands. It will be a climate-themed street fair.

The march, because its demands are amorphous, can be joined by anyone. This is intentional. But as activist Anne Petermann has pointed out, this also means some of the groups backing the march are little more than corporate fronts. The Climate Group, for example, which endorses the march, includes among its members and sponsors BP, China Mobile, Dow Chemical Co., Duke Energy, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Greenstone. The Environmental Defense Fund, which says it “work[s] with companies rather than against them” and which is calling on its members to join the march, has funding from the oil and gas industry and supports fracking as a form of alternative energy. These faux environmental organizations are designed to neutralize resistance. And their presence exposes the march’s failure to adopt a meaningful agenda or pose a genuine threat to power.

Our only hope comes from radical groups descending on New York to carry out direct action, including Global Climate Convergence and Popular Resistance. March if you want. But it should be the warm-up. The real fight will come once people disperse on 11th Avenue.

Heyday Books Turns 40…

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From SFGate

Since the first carton of newly printed books landed on a Berkeley sidewalk in August 1974, Heyday Books has been telling stories about California that might otherwise never be known: intimate descriptions of an Ohlone Indian village by San Francisco Bay; stories about Allensworth, the African American utopian community that sprung up in the Central Valley in the early 20th century; Joaquin Miller’s accounts of life among the early settlers of far Northern California – to name a few.

At the center of all the storytelling is Heyday founder Malcolm Margolin, a man who lives by the rule that “anything that gets you out of the office is good.” He roams the state, hanging out with Native Americans, artists, writers, naturalists, just about anyone who has a story. Out of these experiences has come a large portion of the eclectic Heyday catalog, including Margolin’s own account of the Ohlones before the white man came.

The Witness…

From Texas Monthly

For more than a decade, it was Michelle Lyons’ job to observe the final moments of Death Row inmates — but watching 278 executions did not come without a cost…

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Ms. Lyons,
Hi, if you are reading this then they killed me. I wanted to tell you that I enjoyed talking to you, you seem like a really great lady. I’m sorry we didn’t meet under different circumstances. . . . Thank you for your kindness. Have a wonderful day.
—Letter from death row inmate Robert Coulson, June 25, 2002

Early one morning  in April, Michelle Lyons pulled up outside her daughter’s elementary school in Huntsville, seventy miles north of Houston. Set deep in the Piney Woods, Huntsville—which is home to no fewer than five prisons—is a company town whose primary industry is confinement. Many parents who were dropping their children off at school that day worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Huntsville’s largest employer. Michelle, who sat behind the wheel of her blue Chevy sedan nursing a travel mug of coffee, had worked for TDCJ herself for more than a decade. She had been the public face of the agency, a disarmingly friendly, upbeat spokesperson for the biggest prison system in the nation. Though she had left the position two years earlier, she was still well-known around town, and several mothers waved as her car idled in the drop-off line. “Have a beautiful day,” she murmured when her nine-year-old leaned in to kiss her goodbye.

California’s Drought — Who’s Really Using all the Water?

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From One Green Planet
Thanks to Ron Epstein

Governor Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency for the state of California. 2013 was the driest year in the state’s history – since records started being kept about 100 years ago. State water reservoirs are critically low and farmers, lawmakers, and environmentalists’ growing concerns have gone from a slow drip to a raging storm. Activists and farmers recently joined forces and came in droves from the Central Valley to rally on the capitol steps in Sacramento, demanding action as water levels drop and anxiety levels rise.

California residents have been asked to be vigilant and cut back on household water use, but only about 4 percent of California’s water footprint is individual, personal use. A stunning 80 percent goes to agriculture, according to a recent report from the NRDC and Pacific Institute, so if we really want to talk about drastic conservation, perhaps we should look at our food choices.

Who’s Really Using all the Water?

Dark Age America: The Population Implosion…

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From John Michael Greer

The three environmental shifts discussed in earlier posts in this sequence—the ecological impacts of a sharply warmer and dryer climate, the flooding of coastal regions due to rising sea levels, and the long-term consequences of industrial America’s frankly brainless dumping of persistent radiological and chemical poisons—all involve changes to the North American continent that will endure straight through the deindustrial dark age ahead, and will help shape the history of the successor cultures that will rise amid our ruins. For millennia to come, the peoples of North America will have to contend with drastically expanded deserts, coastlines that in some regions will be many miles further inland than they are today, and the presence of dead zones where nuclear or chemical wastes in the soil and water make human settlement impossible.

All these factors mean, among other things, that deindustrial North America will support many fewer people than it did in 1880 or so, before new agricultural technologies dependent on fossil fuels launched the population boom that is peaking in our time. Now of course this also implies that deindustrial North America will support many, many fewer people than it does today. For obvious reasons, it’s worth talking about the processes by which today’s seriously overpopulated North America will become the sparsely populated continent of the coming dark age—but that’s going to involve a confrontation with a certain kind of petrified irrelevancy all too common in our time.

There was no first human…


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The Fall and Rise of Investigative Journalism…

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From TomGram

From Asia to Africa to Latin America, Muckrakers Have Corrupt Officials and Corporate Cronies on the Run

In our world, the news about the news is often grim. Newspapers areshrinkingfolding up, or being cut loose by their parent companies.Layoffs are up and staffs are down. That investigative reporter who covered the state capitol — she’s not there anymore. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune have suffered from multiple rounds of layoffs over the years. You know the story and it would be easy enough to imagine that it was the world’s story as well. But despite a long run of journalistic tough times, the loss of advertising dollars, and the challenge of the Internet, there’s been a blossoming of investigative journalism across the globe from Honduras to Myanmar, New Zealand to Indonesia.

Woodward and Bernstein may be a fading memory in this country, but journalists with names largely unknown in the U.S. like Khadija Ismayilova, Rafael Marques, and Gianina Segnina are breaking one blockbuster story after another, exposing corrupt government officials and their crony corporate pals in Azerbaijan, Angola, and Costa Rica. As I travel the world, I’m energized by the journalists I meet who are taking great risks to shine much needed light on shadowy wrongdoing.

The Best Reporting on California’s Drought…

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From ProPublica

This year may be the driest in California in half a millennium. These reports explore how the drought is affecting agriculture, business and living conditions in the nation’s most populous state.

After a decade of relatively little rain, California is facing its third year of debilitating drought, and 2014 may be the driest in 500 years. The drought has placed a $44.7-billion-a-year agriculture industry, drinking water for millions of people, and some 204 cities located in high-risk fire zones in jeopardy. In January, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency and in July the California Department of Public Health said at least eightcommunities could run out of drinking water without state action. The State Water Project also shut off its supply to major urban and agricultural water districts for the first time in its history.California is the nation’s largest state economy and agricultural producer, and so the state’s well-being affects the entire country. ProPublica has rounded up some of the best reporting on California’s drought, from fallowed farms to “zombie” water projects.

10 George Orwell Quotes That Predicted Life In 2014 America…

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From Zero Hedge

George Orwell ranks among the most profound social critics of the modern era. Some of his quotations, more than a half a century old, show the depth of understanding an enlightened mind can have about the future.

1)  “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

Though many in the modern age have the will to bury their head in the sand when it comes to political matters, nobody can only concern themselves with the proverbial pebble in their shoe. If one is successful in avoiding politics, at some point the effects of the political decisions they abstained from participating in will reach their front door. More often than not, by that time the person has already whatever whisper of a voice the government has allowed them.

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