19 April, 2014

APPLE, PINCHED SHOES AND ASPHALT: THE ONE LITTLE DESIGN FLAW THAT COULD DESTROY THE WORLD:



I thought I’d try  my hand at writing a Malcolm Gladwell column. Just because he’s getting a lot of shit from people. And I rather liked his “Outliers” book.

Here we go:

Apple did some great design work, but there’s one thing that really bugs me about my Mac. Mainly, the USB slot that goes into the left, instead of the right, of the computer. Now I am right-handed, so I use the mouse from the right. At first, there’s no need for the mouse because there’s a trackpad and a mouse built into the center of the MacBook Pro. But unfortunately these things have a way of breaking down, after which you need to attach an external mouse. Which, of course, goes to the right side. But there is no USB port on the right side. Which means you have this long snaking cord attached to a clunky USB port, going from the left to the right. 

Just a minor detail, you may say. But these things matter. Panasonic lost me after it sold me a camera with 20 cords and a DVD burner that needed a PC. Its not like the camera didn't work. It did. But those 20 unused cords (with all sorts of different plugs) and the unused DVD burner bugged me. it’s the sense of loss from unused potential. Enough to make me think: next time I’ll buy something else.

Its like the woman’s shoe design. Whoever thought up the “pinched at the front” woman’s shoe deserves to be shot. Seriously. “Pinched at the front” shoes have tortured generations of women. I’m surprised the ever vocal feminist movement of America hasn’t taken this up. Seriously, people, wake up. It’s the 21 century and women walk and spend their entire working day standing in their shoes. “Pinched at the top” may have worked for 19th century China but it sure doesn't work today. If you LOOK at the feet, you will see that the natural shape of the feet tapers at the back, towards the ankle—not where there are five toes played out and begging for space. But almost all women’s shoes are designed the wrong way around—they are tapered at the front and wide in the back. Now when children put on shoes the other way around, we laugh. But when shoe designers do the same, we give them the greatest of respect. Now why is that?  Perhaps because feminine beauty and delicacy became defined at some long forgotten past in mincing steps and lack of mobility. And the shoe designers of today, of course, have kept that tradition of feminine restriction alive and well by glamorizing even more impossibly torturous shoes. The prime culprit is probably Jimmy Choos.

In much the same way as the “pinched shoe” continues unconsciously as the default shoe for women, asphalt continues to be the default material to lay down on ever increasing tracks of roads all over the world. Asphalt, if you think about it, is the worst material to cover miles and miles of verdant green land. As soon as a road is tarred, the temperature of that neighborhood goes up a few degrees in centigrade. Do that to the entire city and you have a very hot city. Not to mention that most trees that lived by the side of the roads are carelessly cut down to lay down this monster material on the ground. But do we have an alternative? Not really. The discourse of development is like the discourse of beauty that promotes the pinched shoe—there’s no other way to think about asphalt but as the absolutely necessary accouterments in a developed country’s march to progress. And so we keep getting loans from the World Bank to lay even more ever increasing lengths of roads with black tar.

Black tar absorbs heat like there’s no tomorrow. So the new design, when it arrives, has to include another color. White will not work because it reflects light and could disorient drivers. A white plastic highway would obviously be something the Chinese could lay down in about a nanosecond, but probably its something to be thought about with greater thought. I vote for brick-it’s a known material, people have used and loved it for centuries, and when I walk on the brick-tiled lanes of Kathmandu (almost extinct by now, but one or two still remain) I can feel the temperature plummeting down to human levels. Frogs and crickets may even survive in these brick lanes. Brick highways, with bricks made out of solar heaters? Why not? Alternately, perhaps some of the hot shot Asian designers could design a highway out of bamboo. Bamboo’s very versatile, it doesn't absorb much heat, it grows fast and covers huge areas each year, and it is possible to prepare it in a way that doesn't make cars slip and slide. I think that would be entirely cool, in all senses of the term.

Let me know when the Mac team shifts one USB port from left to right. I think that’s essential to the survival of Mac. The man who makes the first sexy woman’s shoe that’s wide at the front and tapered at the bottom is going to be a trillionaire. And the person who designs the first bamboo highway will save the world.

Did you like my Malcolm Gladwell column? Please send all comments to sansarmagazine@gmail.com











18 April, 2014

MONEY GETS MORE MYSTERIOUS





Seems like almost every country in the world is now selling its debt (or is it buying debt? What's the "euro-debt markets", anyways?.) Apparently Turkey just raised 1 billion this way.

Why can’t countries in Africa, which supply all the metal that make up today’s Apple computers, or places like Nepal, which supplies the world with semi-precious jewels and pashmina scarves, do the same, and print a few billion dollars a year for free?  

According to this article, there’s someone out there saying: you guys can issue debt and we’ll buy it. You guys can’t.

According to the same article quoted above: The euro debt market is so far open only to investment grade-rated, frequent issuers, says SocGen's Cherpion. Lowly rated or debut issuers, from Africa for instance, are unlikely to find takers.

Seems like these higher authorities, arrayed like a pantheon of Roman gods, doling out the cash are:
JPMorgan's EMBI Global or CEMBI
And SocGen’s Cherpion

Now who are these folks?

Cherpion, who sounds like a Harry Potter character (yes, that bearded guy in the underground who guards the gold and hands it out to his favorites) is “Managing Director, head of global bond syndicate at Societe Generale.”

Notice the word “syndicate”—usually found in association with “Criminal syndicates” and the like.

Now what are these bonds, anyways? Apparently its these papers that countries issue and from which money magically springs forth. That is reserved only for white people, because the rest of the world doesn’t get Cherpion’s approval to issue it. In countries like Nepal, people are forced to work as bonded laborers in the Gulf or Malaysia for 1/100th of the salary because they don’t have these elaborate methods of generating free cash for their government and people.

Now lets go on to JPMorgan’s EMBI Global or CEMBI.  According to Rimes.com:
J.P. Morgan’s Corporate Emerging Markets Bond Index (CEMBI) is a global, liquid corporate emerging markets benchmark that tracks U.S.-denominated corporate bonds issued by emerging markets entities. The corporate CEMBI is a liquid basket of emerging markets corporate issues with strict liquidity criteria for inclusion in order to provide replicability, tradability, robust pricing and data integrity.
  • CEMBI countries include: Asia (China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan), Europe (Kazakstan, Russia, Ukraine), Latin America (Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru), Middle East (Israel) and Africa (Egypt)
  • CEMBI sectors include: Banks, Industrials, Oil, Retail, Telecom, Utilities, and Metals
Basically, JPMorgan CEMBI is another syndicate that is set up to decide which economic and business ally gets some of the 10 billion free dollar notes the USA prints every month. Note the inclusion of Israel and Egypt, but I don’t see any other Middle Eastern country. Note China and Malaysia—important as allies and business partners which continue to suck up the resources and exploit labor of neighbouring countries and which spit out everything from metal to wood in processed form that the USA then “buys” at super cheap rates. With its billion dollar notes, of course.

The world is clearly more unequal due to the existence of these syndicates and economic entities that continue to suck up vast amount of the world’s resources through opaque means and incentives for the benefit of the few. Capital by itself has become suspect—clearly the rich countries are just churning out this stuff (whether dollar or euro) with abandon, and the unsuspecting Third World continues to handover their coffee, sugar, chocolate, timber, precious metals, oil, and gems everything else in between for those pieces of paper. Remember the exchange that occurred between the Europeans and the Native Americans—tobacco and useless beads for an entire continent. Nothing much has changed, in many ways.

There has to be a  conscious rebalancing of global trade and labor relations in this century, that much is clear. What form that will take may herald the end of the most exploitative of economies, mainly that of Europe and America, for more balanced trade relations towards Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin and South America. It is clear some of it is already happening automatically—a country like the USA cannot keep printing trillions of dollars each year and not expecting that to have an inflationary impact on its economy. 

The American attempts to destabilize Ukraine may have the opposite consequences that they intended-suddenly the BRICS have become aware that the dollar may no longer be necessary as an intermediary currency. America may have been a “Safe Haven” in the 1940s—it may even be a safe haven as long as its opaque financial wizardry continue, but ultimately there’s going to be an accounting of its actual assets and liabilities. Psych-ops has worked for the past century in keeping the currency liquid. But what now? The rebalancing of the world’s economic inequalities may, ironically, have begun from a miscalculated attempts to beat down the Russians, by  the very economy that kept the economic status quo firmly in place for the last century.










14 April, 2014

THE TORTURE EMPIRE: FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA




I take back what I wrote yesterday about there being nothing new we didn’t know already in the torture report that is currently stuck at the US senate.

According to this news article, there is something we didn’t know about the US’s use of torture:
A former CIA analyst says the CIA’s torture techniques used during the presidency of George W. Bush were identical to methods used by Nazi Germany’s secret police and were at times more enhanced than enhanced.
In a phone interview with Press TV on Sunday, Ray McGovern said many people around the world do not know that the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks were identical to torture methods used by the Gestapo and even the words ‘enhanced interrogation’ are literal translation of German words verschärfte vernehmung.
 
‘Enhanced interrogation’ techniques, McGovern said, “is a direct translation from the Gestapo manual ‘Verschärfte Vernehmung’; German words for interrogation, vernehmung, and verschärfte means enhanced or sharpened.”

Seems the Atlantic reported on this in 2007: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2007/05/-versch-auml-rfte-vernehmung/228158/

So the analogy I have been using in my past blog posts about the Gestapo wasn’t hyperbolic, after all.

It is clear this torture report is the equivalent of the moment when 1940s Germany came face to face with the knowledge it was operating death camps. From sea to shining sea, the Americans have set up these camps that tortured people to death. There is no way around this—and the US government, and the international community, have to deal with it on an international level, taking all the black site locations into account. A lot of international people who cooperated with the Americans on these sites also have to be held accountable.
The question that the UN should be asking right now (if it was functional, and not filled with bureaucrats afraid of losing their jobs) is this:

Is the USA still operating these sites?: the answer is probably yes.

What else is the USA  doing NOW that continues this torture around the world?

And: has it added even more diabolical methods of torture unknown to the Bush cadets to their repertoire?

My sense is yes, they may still have these sites up, they are torturing people still, and it is very possible they have added even more torture to that “revived” by Bush and his criminal accomplices during 9/11 and after.

Apparently the UN chief has condemned torture in Syria. According to this article:
U.N. rights chief slams 'rampant' torture in Syria
Don’t worry, she’s not slamming the Americans, who started the civil conflict in Syria. She is slamming the rebels.

It is absolutely clear the UN is either asleep, or is unwilling to take up the responsibility for dealing with the worst crimes against humanity in this century.

The end of Nazi Germany came with military action taken by a coalition of forces that won decisively against the Nazis. The end of the American torture empire, it seems, will come when the dollar, already weakened by the unfortunately move to isolate the Russians in the world of finance, becomes even more marginal as a world currency. The Chinese and Russians are talking about cutting out the middleman—once the dollar stops being used as a currency of transaction in international trade, there will be a readjustment of world power, bringing more players into the unipolar world of today. And that is the only way to ensure the torture empire comes to an end.

People are already pulling out their money from the American stock market. The Dow Jones keeps falling, the SP 500 keeps falling. And despite Americna alarmism that the sky will fall if the US  markets fall, the sky doesn’t fall—the currency merely makes its way into the economies of emerging markets, where it balances out some of the unfairness of the past 100 years. There’s a fierce attempt to fight the slide of the dollar, with pressure on central banks to keep the American dollar up with regards to other currencies, but morally it has now become untenable for even the staunchest allies of the USA to keep propping up this empire of torture, as well as their hollow, debt-ridden currency. Taiwan, for one, should object to the central bank policy to to prop up the dollar—already individual investors are pulling out their money from all US related businesses and transactions.

Not only does the torture report have to come out. But the American government now needs to open up all its secret national security agencies to public scrutiny. The torture report is the tip of the iceberg— the time has come to open up all its agencies to the scrutiny the international community demands today in order to regain its moral footing in the world.




13 April, 2014

WHO’S THE TORTURER?: NOT JUST BUSH. IT IS ALSO OBAMA




It’s clear that there's some sort of turf war going on in the USA. Mainly, it centers around showing how spectacularly bad the torture conducted by the CIA was after 9/11. And that that torture was authorized by the Bush Administration.

While it is very important to get all details of the torture that occurred under the Bush Administration into the open, it is also important to investigate-and bring to justice-torture that is occurring right now under the Obama Administration. Waterboarding, slamming people against walls, shackling--these were all done under President Bush's watch. But Mr. Obama may himself not be immune from being responsible for authorizing other secret persecution and torture that continues right now under his watch.

Amongst others, it is clear the NSA (which seems to be at war with the CIA) has taken over the airwaves and cellular technologies, and it may be implicated in these following acts of mass crimes against humanity:
1. Using "white noise" to torture whole communities of people in the US and abroad
2. Sleep deprivation via cellular technologies: enough people have documented and told their stories online. Clearly there are cellphone tower-lookalikes designed to keep people awake at night. This torture is particularly effective because it leaves no marks on the victim, but can make them completely dysfunctional in a workplace. Sleep deprivation that is triggered by automatic technology (that is clearly piggybacking off existing communications technology like cellphone networks) is particularly effective because these networks are everywhere, and nobody's asking questions about what kind of "multi-tasking" they may be doing, besides providing effective phone services.
3. Mosquitoes and bugs: Drones used for multiple purposes, including surveillance 24/7, and sleep deprivation; these drones may come disguised as insects
4. Using technology to download people's thoughts: there is enough scientific developments, funded by DARPA et al, that has shown that people's thoughts can be downloaded. And not only that, these scientific people are also working on linking thought to the Net, ostensibly for the good of humanity (but we know by now that technologies have been hijacked multiple times for purposes other than good.)
5. Other “biological” inventions that is as yet unknown, but could include attacks on crops, people and food via various biological agents. Read the DARPA website interview with its current director who says the “biological” finds are bubbling along at great speed.

It is clear that a campaign of complete surveillance and terror is the goal of the USA's various secret agencies. This big furor over the torture report in many ways is an eyewash. There is nothing new in these reports that people don't know already. Including the fact that the CIA is an organization that has used brutal torture across different nation-states, violated the sovereignty of many countries, worked with and supported dictators, and in general has a reputation so bad it will have to be shut down by the end of this year. This is not news.

What is news-and what the mainstream news are not reporting at all--is a story much bigger than Edward Snowden's. The Guardian is not going to touch this story, folks! It is going to stick with Edward Snowden, which is a safe bet—and which also deflects attention from the fact that cellular technology is not just being used to sweep up data from networks. It is being used to torture people worldwide. And it may be used to vacuum up “data” from people’s brains, allowing for that ultimate violation in privacy.

In other words, USA is now extending its nets of torture worldwide via cellular technologies. And that it is doing it now, in the time of Obama, not Bush. Nobody is willing to talk about this because the Europeans are implicated in this, in most likelihood. Their governments are probably using these technologies as well—we will only know when these files come out in the open. And the other nation-states that are being attacked by these technologies don’t want to investigate it due to fear of disrupting the myth that the USA is still a moral superpower that leads the world with democracy and freedom of speech.

What is clear is that almost all nation-states on the planet right now are complicit with fascism. This is because the fascistic cliques of the military-industrial complex have become intricately intertwined with the global corporate world, including the one that is spreading cellular technologies and Internet technologies under the guise of “development” and human progress.

In the 40s, it took the French resistance and the Allies and the Russians to bring the Nazis down. Clearly there has to be a similar resistance now, at this moment. To think that “good” and “evil” are somehow fixed categories, and that a nation-state that behaved with goodness in the 40s will do so in 2014 is a fallacy. Goodness is not inherited. It is something that has to be practiced on a day to day level. And the USA hasn’t really done that, in the past decade or so. Traditional alliances of the past may have worked for the 40s, but now its time to ask if Europe and others should continue to support the USA down this path. The developments in the Ukraine should be a warning to Europe that the USA will not stop its destructive attacks on any continent, including Europe.







11 April, 2014

WHITE GUYS ARE ELIGIBLE FOR A LOT OF AWARDS--I JUST VOTED FOR THEM, AGAIN





Now the title may seem a little self-explanatory. But let me explain. I received a little email in my inbox from Prospect Magazine, saying: who do you think should be the world thinker of 2014?

I click and scroll—through a list that seems to have a lot of white guys. Granted, I saw Arundhati Roy there, Naomi Klein, Martha Nussbaum, and even Judith Butler--if I remember the list correctly. Sasia Sassken, who I’d seen live at some conference, was also on the list. But wait a minute, I’d seen Arundhati speak in person (twice), once wearing a rather gorgeous white sari and in animated flow in the Riverside Church in New York, Naomi Klein holding forth, somewhere in New York and even Judith Butler explaining herself (where, I can’t remember). Martha Nussbaum used to teach at Brown when I was an undergraduate—I never took a class with her, but I have seen her lecture. Then I also saw, on the list, Habermas, Zizek, and the Pope. Then, of course, like the rest of the world I voted for the White Guys.

Now why is that?

Perhaps there’s a tendency to think that awards and lists of this nature are only meant for guys?

I did attend the New School for Social Research in New York. It would have been a shame not to vote for Habermas. Just to refresh my memory, I went to the Wikipedia page on him. And the interesting thing was not his communicative theory--which I’ve long since forgotten, although I think we read about it in almost every single graduate class at the New School. No, it was the long list of awards that he had already received from everywhere, from the Kyoto Prize to the Holberg Prize. I didn’t even know there were all these prizes in existence—apparently all of them are equal to the Nobel Prize. Besides these, he also received a host of other prestigious and financially rewarding prizes. 

Now go and click on all these prestigious awards—and the lists that pop up show that mostly they went to Europeans, and mostly men. Yawn, you say. What’s new, you say. Eurocentricism abounds, this is nothing new. But what interested me is that even the Japanese decided to give the Kyoto Prize to mostly Europeans. Perhaps the Europeans are more highly advanced on the scale of intellectual production than other people? That’s entirely possible of course. But why shouldn’t we think the intellectual production of Arundhati Roy (prodigious) could just as well compare to Habermas?

Or not? Lets be brutal here. What constitutes a great thinker? For me, Arundhati lost me when she glorified the Maoists. Perhaps skepticism, and questioning, of all establishments and party lines is one requirement of a great thinker. Once you put in your lot with one party, then you become just a party hack.

Now Judith Butler is a fun thinker—who doesn’t like performativity and gender? Especially if you’ve lived the metrosexual life in New York. But world shaking? Possibly.

Martha’s done some interesting work on ethics. Then she’s written about the women’s movement in India, which is a refreshing departure. But how come she’s not considered a world famous philosopher? I don’t really have an answer. Perhaps her work is too rooted in the Ivies and not in the world? But surely the women’s movement work was just such an answer to such a criticism?

Sassia Sasken appeared to me to be an interesting thinker, definitely. Although she wasn’t saying anything new I hadn’t heard before.

Naomi Klein—critiques of ads and media. All very well and good. I think Marshall McLuhan did that a while back. Besides, she’s already rich from her bestselling book (filthy lucre and “great thinker” don’t go together).

So why do we go back to Habermas,Zizek, and the Pope? Because they are men? Because they are eligible for a lot of awards—so why not give it to them, anyways?

I don’t really know. Perhaps the “Greatest thinker of 2014” from Prospect Magazine comes stamped with this little asterixed footnote (invisible, a la Harry Potter): Please note, this list is only for white men. We list the women as a courtesy.

I think I chose the Pope because right now he’s in a position to get the attention of a lot of people, and he’s been critiquing capitalism. Fair and simple.

Then Zizek. Not entirely sure why I chose him. Perhaps its the iteration of an idea, of what a philosopher should be like. A white dude from Eastern Europe. Slovenia, no less. For a moment, I thought he had run for head of state and headed a nation state in Eastern Europe, then I realized that was someone else. Nice.

As for Habermas, we had to read him in grad school. Thank god we don’t have to read him anymore. I’m happy to list him as “Greatest Thinker of 2014.” May the best man win!
__________
I meant to say:

Žižek of course. Don't you love all those little birds flying above his name?

Seems like he wrote an interesting article in the Kyiv Post but somebody doesn't want me reading it, so I just got the first few paragraphs. Try from your country:

Slavoj Žižek: What Europe can learn from Ukraine

 

 

PRIVATE CAPITAL IS ON STEROIDS BUT THERE’S NOBODY TO DISQUALIFY IT





The Europeans have been very good at reigning in the power of private capital for their own internal greater good. Their nations promise-and deliver-public health care, transport, education, and a leveling of social hierarchies on a practical, day to day basis. They take care of their old and vulnerable. They support their arts and culture. Consequently, they remain rich, despite the fluctuations of the casino of foreign currency and the stock market.

Other countries that have fallen prey to private capital without reigning it in with the boundaries of social benefits, however, have not fared so well. And none more so than in Nepal, where the increasing disparities of what happens when a tiny minority seize all flows of capital has become clear. The banks have been generous with loans—real estate projects that follow no cultural or architectural codes abound, leading to a glut of badly made, glass fronted buildings that nobody wants to live, work or shop in. And yet the banks continue to fund these structures-clearly, there are no consequences to the loans, or their subsequent defaults. Why should one worry about this, you may wonder. Let the empty buildings prevail. But the more insidious takeover seems to be the takeover of land—or squatting, rather—by private capital. In America, millions have lost their homes when this greed from banks to own all property went haywire. Instead of reigning this in through the law, the American government recently bailed out the very banks that caused a decade of foreclosures. The neighbourhoods continue to fall to luxury development in cities like New York—clearly, private capital hasn’t given up its quest for the takeover of all land.

There’s also been a glut of automobiles on the roads—cleverly, it seems, through various schemes and incentives, the automobile industry has made it virtually imperative for almost everyone to own a vehicle, because without one the once pedestrian friendly roads have become treacherous.

Then there’s the continuous labor violations that continue to occur as Nepalese continue to flee in mass numbers from the countryside—countries like Malaysia, the Gulf and the Middle East continue to be destinations where labor violations are rife, and a slavery system, funded by private companies hungry for labor and capital from Western countries immune to prosecution, continues to thrive and multiply.

Clearly the banks have become omnipotent, omniscient, and above the law of any country. They play god—they make winners and losers. They take the money of some people and give it to others—true, this could be seen as an investment in entrepreneurships and new ventures. Alternately, it could also just been seen as playing god. The money goes to people who the bankers know, that goes without saying. Often it ends up in the hands of museums and art dealers who pay stratospheric amounts for a piece of canvas. Clearly, we have become a world where the value of human lives remains disposable and worth very little, in comparison to works of art whose “value” keeps soaring, and appear to have no limits.

Any attempts to reign in the power of private capital is going to be seen as a dirty commie movement that has to be instantly squashed. The problem with letting the monster grow bigger and bigger is that even the country which ostensibly benefited from it, mainly the USA, may be in its death throes. Clearly the people of the USA are not doing very well—neither its economy, nor its people, are thriving at the moment. Vain attempts to revive the glory of the 90s (witness the lame attempt to inject 40 million into the bland and uninspiring Imgur via Anderssen Horowitz, in a desperate attempt to make it look like the roaring Clintoneque 90s are back again)  is bound to fail. Bill Gates may have tweaked his old software for a new device—one that will be downloaded by a few billion into their smartphones, but that still doesn’t bail out the rest of the country suffering from the deep malaise of capital gone amok.

It is clear the world leaders of the present time have to sit and think about what may be the greatest challenge of this century—mainly, how to reign in the unbrindled power of private capital and its adherents. Capital has become a blank cheque to do whatever and whenever in the top echelons of finance, government and the military—might is right has been the catchword of the past decade. The only problem is that it hasn’t worked—either for those being exploited, or those doing the exploitation. In fact, the massive unleashing of capital has boomeranged—countries like the USA with the most unregulated financial systems have become worst hit with the economic crisis.

Will there be more restraint and regulation in the flow of capital? Will it be distributed more equitably this century? Or will we continue to walk the path of the laissez faire, liberal, privatized, “trickle down” economy?