Friday, October 22, 2010

Posh English voice demands Irish evictions

The credit rating agency Fitch attained notoriety in Ireland recently by calling for people to be evicted from their homes to help balance the banks’ books.  “Fitch wants banks to evict more Irish families” is the headline in one blog I've visited, where someone evoked the Famine with this post : “Just what the situation was lacking: a posh English voice demanding that Irish agents evict Irish people from their homes.”

Apparently Fitch Ratings MD Andrew Currie was interviewed on RTÉ TV News and said that Ireland's banks should foreclose on more residential mortgages.  It’s a terrific story and I wish I could source it in print. So far I haven't come across any evidence that Fitch has explicitly called for evictions. The Irish Times and Irish Examiner both have the following on 9th October: ' “While arrears levels continue to increase, very few loans have yet had their security enforced,” Fitch said, in reference to the relatively low number of repossessions in the Irish market. '

Credit rating agencies are an offshoot of financial journalism.  I recommend an episode of the Australian radio programme Background Briefing, broadcast on 26/7/09.  These agencies have become both critic and chef in the big financial kitchens, the blurb says, but they claim to be really journalists and take no responsibility for their advice; they are probably beyond the law, yet governments have said their advice is mandatory.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A tale told by an idiot


The queen, my lord, is dead.

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

From Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

If there was a competition for the most sublime passage in the English language this would get into the top 3.  Would the other two also be by Shakespeare?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tea Party’s cold war roots

Glenn Beck – huge on the American right

Another must-listen from NPR’s Fresh Air (that’s American National Public Radio).  An interview on 13th October with Historian Sean Wilentz.

He had an article in The New Yorker on Oct 18th: “Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party’s Cold War roots.”

He tries to answer the question, why have extremist ideas held at bay for decades inside the Republican Party exploded anew?   And why, this time, have party leaders done virtually nothing to challenge those ideas, and a great deal to abet them?

Glenn Beck the educator

You can't hear about the Tea Party without Glenn Beck’s name being mentioned. He is a Fox News host. In the interview Wilentz says Beck has emerged as a unifying figure and intellectual guide for the Tea Party movement.  Polls of Tea Party members show they respect Beck more than anyone else, even Sarah Palin, and that they consider him not as an entertainer
but as an educator.  (Rush Limbaugh in the same poll came out as an entertainer - that's the radio talk show host who is hugely influential as a conservative political commentator and opinion leader.

Beck presents himself as a truthful historian, in contrast to all the academic historians who are conspiring to hide the truth from the American people.  His bugbear is President Woodrow Wilson (the brains behind the League of Nations).  He claims Wilson was a fascist and cites the following as evidence. In Wilson’s presidency a dime coin was minted depicting war and peace. Peace was an olive branch. War was a bundle of sticks (a Roman symbol known as a fasces.) Later, Mussolini made the fasces the symbol of the Italian fascists. But Beck reversed the order of events and says  'Aha! Who brought the dime in? It was Woodrow Wilson. We've been on the road to fascism for a long time.'

“I started watching Fox News and getting more informed”

Fox News is huge in America and is a megaphone for the Tea Party. On October 14th NPR broadcast interviews with rank and file Tea Partiers to enable them to explain what makes them boil.  Retired financial services worker Shelby Burnett says : "I was unaware of what was going on around me until I retired.  And we started watching Fox News, and getting more informed on what was going on in our nation ..  We were asleep." 

Back to the Sean Wilentz interview on Fresh Air.  He describes the John Birch Society founded in 1958.  This is often mentioned in the same breath as the Tea Party, though I knew little about it. It sprang from the same root as McCarthyism. Robert Welch founded it, and seems to have run it like a dictatorship.  He saw the country as having been taken over by totalitarians, by the communists.  He said Dwight D Eisenhower was part of a communist conspiracy against America.  Wilentz says the Tea Party is reviving the John Birch Society’s ideas. Now Obama is a fascist. Or it is communist.  Can they tell the difference.

Do listen to this interview. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Koch billionaires and Tea Party funding

David H. Koch in 1996. He and his brother Charles
are lifelong libertarians and have quietly given more
than $100 million to right-wing causes.  But what's
he up to in this picture? Impersonating Hannibal?
I think I've tracked down the original exposé of the Koch brothers and their funding of the Tea Party and linked right-wing organisations.  It’s an article by Jane Mayer, a staff writer at The New Yorker, in the August 30th edition.  “Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama”.
You can hear an interview with Jane Mayer on an American radio show called Fresh Air

Fresh Air, I should add, is an excellent programme and I frequently download interviews from their site.

The article "Covert Operations" describes how the brothers' political interests dovetail with their corporate interests. Here's an extract:-
“The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry - especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a 'kingpin of climate science denial.' The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies - from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program - that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.”  

Monday, October 18, 2010

First life-friendly exoplanet may not exist

Yes, that’s the headline above a story on the New Scientist website.

It says it might be too early to claim a definitive detection of Gliese 581g. A second team of astronomers have looked for signals in their own data and failed to find it.

Francesco Pepe of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland is quoted: "We easily recover the four previously announced planets, b, c, d, and e. However, we do not see any evidence for a fifth planet in an orbit of 37 days."  He presented the results on the 11th at an International Astronomical Union symposium in Turin, Italy.  You can be sure there will be a good old ding dong about this one.  I imagine the story will appear in the magazine on 23rd Oct.

See Yes Gliese 581g actually is a milestone

Millions Stand Behind Me

"The Meaning of the Hitler Salute:
Little man asks for big gifts.
Motto: Millions Stand Behind Me!"
The front cover of the Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (Workers Illustrated Newspaper), October 1932.

Montage by John Heartfield (1891–1968). 

From the website of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which offers the following commentary :

"Heartfield published his political photomontages, many of which savagely satirized the Nazi regime, in the Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung. In this widely disseminated workers' newspaper (500,000 readers in 1931), the often deceptively realistic montages appeared cheek-by-jowl with straight documentary photographs. In this montage, Heartfield specifically links Hitler's electoral success with his courting of wealthy industrialists from the Rhineland. More generally, he gives pictorial punch to the commonplace idea that money fuels political power by implying that the Nazi salute is in fact a plea for cash."

Is it accurate to characterise the Tea Party in the same way?  Amongst numerous exposés of Tea Party funding see Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham's recently released documentary, "(Astro) Turf Wars", on how corporate America is faking a grassroots revolution.  In Huffington Post.  NB I haven’t watched the film myself.

See also Is the Tea Party fascism?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chilean miners: What is it like to be trapped?

Tim McClement spent 35 years in the Royal Navy and was a submarine commander. He writes that he can imagine the Chilean miners' plight – living in a confined space with no hope of a quick exit. In The Guardian, Wednesday 13 October. Worth reading.

Yes Gliese 581g actually is a milestone

Here's a link to an article on the Nature website which I take as confirmation that the discovery of Gliese 581g really is a significant milestone in the search for extra terrestrial life. Until I see it’s being taken seriously by Nature I'm never quite sure!  See my earlier post on this.

A paper detailing the find by Steve Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, is to be published in the Astrophysical Journal. We'll see what comment follows that.

But I've yet to see anything about the work at NUI Maynooth on the first cell with a nucleus. Here's the Maynooth press release. It concerns the event approximately two billion years ago, when two single cell organisms (prokaryotes) neither of which had a true nucleus, fused together to create a new entity, a eukaryote which had a nucleus. The eukaryote is the basic building block which in turn gave rise to all multi-cell organisms we know today – insects, plants, animals. The press release calls this the ‘single most phenomenal event in the history of life on the planet’, a moment which amounts to Nature’s ‘Big Bang’.

I'm looking for independent comment to justify this hype.