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Make Us Be Brave, Make Us Play Nice

October 22, 2009

“Make” is the key word here because as a nation we are definitely not being brave or playing nice with anybody these days of our own volition. We rain down death from afar with predator drones and have become so fearful that we arrest the disaffected for nothing except thought crimes.

We do have more than enough sick and stupid to go around and if it keeps up most of us won’t have to worry about growing old at all as wars continue to rage, bankers continue to plunder, and the climate continues to warm threatening the lives of billions.

With our own culture so decadent, it’s a nice escape to read the novels of Iain M Banks about The Culture, a futuristic humanoid society where scarcity and money have been eliminated and nobody ever gets sick, old or stupid. Here’s a CNN interview with Banks where he explains more about his ideas and why he portrays The Culture as humanoid rather than human.

CNN: In the Culture’s post-scarcity society, where no one needs for anything, you’re removing a lot of the struggle around everyday life. Is that not removing the point of life itself?

Iain M. Banks: I think a lot of the struggle is kind of pointless and is in itself boring. The struggle for existence for most people most of the time, especially in a post-agricultural, industrial society, is a bit of a grind. People have to work very hard and awfully long hours for not a great deal of money: if you don’t, you get virtually nothing. Life’s not much fun, frankly, so I’d quite happily trade in that struggle.

CNN: One of the most compelling aspects of the Culture’s society is that it’s post-scarcity: no one wants for anything, people aren’t hungry, everyone is clothed. Do you think it’s within humanity’s nature to build a society like that?

Iain M. Banks: Arguably not. This is why the Culture isn’t us. I thought long and hard about this long before the books were published and decided, that the Culture wasn’t going to be us in the future, it would be humanoid, they could kind of pass for us, because I’m not sure that we are.

It’s a very pessimistic thing to say that we do seem to be wedded to war and destruction and torture and racism and sexism — all the horrible things, all the xenophobic things — we seem to have a xenophobic gene sequence. I think we should genetically modify ourselves, frankly — if we could identify the bit that causes all the horrible things we can knock it out and become nicer people.

What is so funny about peace love and understanding anyway? Maybe one day science will locate the Elvis Costello gene and turn it up while turning down our fearful little lizard brain, the amygdala. Until then, if we want to see a truly better world we may have to settle for reading about it in the novels of sci-fi dreamers like Banks.

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46 Comments leave one →
  1. cometman permalink*
    October 22, 2009 10:02 am

    For anyone interested, you can read more about Banks’ Culture here. Or just read one of his books.

    • Stemella permalink*
      October 22, 2009 10:26 am

      Uh oh. About reading one of his books. Yep, still by the bed. Shit!

      That article was great though and an inspiration to flip some more pages. I like that he says Crickey! and this:

      I think we should genetically modify ourselves, frankly — if we could identify the bit that causes all the horrible things we can knock it out and become nicer people.

      That is what I wanted scientists to invent when I was little, a way to turn off the war and greed impulse switch. That and a shot to keep cats kittens and dogs puppies.

      I also like his drug gland idea. Gimme! :-D

      • cometman permalink*
        October 22, 2009 11:49 am

        The one you have by the bed is actually not one of his Culture novels but it does talk about a lot of the same or similar ideas. I’m in the middle of reading “Matter” right now and it’s pretty good.

        The drug gland idea is pretty fun. Not only can you get altered just by thinking about it, you can also turn off the effects of inebriation the same way which would come in very handy on those occasions when you wind up like this guy. Aaaaaahhhhh. Good time good times :)

        • Stemella permalink*
          October 22, 2009 2:14 pm

          whoa. That guy had twirlies so bad it made me queasy just watching it. Holy shit, what a wastoid! haha

  2. Stemella permalink*
    October 22, 2009 10:36 am

    Nice vid and images.

    Here’s another Zevon with a theme well known to this site

    Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
    Hoist the mainsail – here I come
    Ain’t no room on board for the insincere
    You’re my witness
    I’m your mutineer
    I was born to rock the boat
    Some may sink but we will float
    Grab your coat – let’s get out of here
    You’re my witness
    I’m your mutineer
    Long ago we laughed at shadows
    Lightning flashed and thunder followed us
    It could never find us here
    You’re my witness
    I’m your mutineer
    Long ago we laughed at shadows
    Lightning flashed and thunder followed us
    It could never find us here
    You’re my witness
    I’m your mutineer
    I was born to rock the boat
    Some may sink but we will float
    Grab your coat – let’s get out of here
    You’re my witness
    I’m your mutineer
    You’re my witness
    I’m your mutineer
    I’m your mutineer……

    • cometman permalink*
      October 22, 2009 11:51 am

      That’s one of my favorites by him. “Lawyers Guns and Money” also has a very apropos theme for this site too.

  3. cometman permalink*
    October 22, 2009 12:01 pm

    There’s a ballot measure in Maine for the Nov election to try to repeal the law passed by the legislature allowing same sex marriage. Let’s see the knuckle draggers tell this guy why we can’t have gay marriage. Got a little choked up watching this Mainer:

    • Stemella permalink*
      October 22, 2009 2:22 pm

      What a wonderful person. I wish more Americans would share his sentiments. I wish people in general would realize that the right wing issues in the culture wars are a bunch of propaganda and distraction with negative consequences.

      I hope the Mainers do the right thing in the upcoming election.

  4. cometman permalink*
    October 22, 2009 12:33 pm

    Good op ed about Russia’s endorsement of the Goldstone report which accuses Israel and the Palestinians of war crimes. The author notes –

    Notwithstanding, the Russians disregarded the US and Israel’s overtures and stalwartly voted to endorse Goldstone’s report. They were joined by their three allies, China, India and Brazil, together representing the lion’s share of mankind’s human resources – of oil, of industry.

    – and thinks that the US’ unconditional support of Israel will contribute to the empire’s undoing.

    So many people in the US and France, in Egypt and Palestine are tired of Israeli intransigence, egotism, hypocrisy and impunity. That is why so much hope was invested in Barack Obama after his Cairo talk. Obama had promised to cut Israel down to size, but meanwhile Israel cut him down to smaller-than-life. That is why the US is going down just like the Titanic, undermined by a Lobby iceberg and fleeced by financial wizards. Now Russia is coming under tremendous pressure from the US and other Zionist-led groups and states. We should pray she will withstand it and maintain her and our dignity.

    Meanwhile Goldstone himself is challenging Obama and the US to be specific about the “flaws” in his report they have claimed were the reason they did not endorse it.

    Richard Goldstone, the jurist who authored a UN report accusing Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity during its war on Gaza, has challenged the US to justify its claims that his findings are flawed and biased. Goldstone told Al Jazeera on Thursday that he had not heard from the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, about the flaws Washington claims to have identified in the report.

    “I have yet to hear from the Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are. I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are,” Goldstone said.

    ~snip~

    Goldstone said the attacks on him had become personal and that he believed most critics had not even read the report.

    “I’ve no doubt, many of the critics – the overwhelmingly majority of critics – have not read the report,” he said.

  5. cometman permalink*
    October 22, 2009 12:36 pm

    Another good rundown from Paul Craig Roberts on our empire in decline – The US as Failed State.

    • Stemella permalink*
      October 22, 2009 3:15 pm

      That link didn’t work. Here’s a new one The US as Failed State

      Failed state, banana republic, devolution, empire crashing – On the bright side, our neighbors to the North and South are rising up and perhaps one day all of the Americas can equalize to a greater degree than it has been historically.

      I wish this transformation could have been made possible intentionally, carefully and without the extreme corruption and consequential hardship to the 95% have less and nots in this country. That black swan still swims out in space and could come down for a splash landing spinning everything into chaos and violence. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

  6. Stemella permalink*
    October 23, 2009 7:22 am

    You know, after all we’ve read and discussed about Goldie Sux here I thought I was somewhat hardened. This morning I’ve read a story that gobsmacks me. It’s just too much.

    New Jersey Pays Goldman Sachs for Swaps on Nonexistent Bonds

    New Jersey taxpayers are sending almost $1 million a month to a partnership run by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. for protection against rising interest costs on bonds that the state redeemed more than a year ago.

    The most-densely populated U.S. state is making the payments under an agreement made during the administration of former Governor James E. McGreevey in 2003, when New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund Authority sold $345 million in auction-rate bonds whose yields fluctuated with short-term interest costs. The agency finances road and rail projects.

    • cometman permalink*
      October 23, 2009 8:14 am

      You’d think a reasonable person might just tell Goldman to go screw and that the state wasn’t going to pay for protection on bonds it no longer had. But when that state is governed by another motherfucking Goldie Sux man I guess they’ll keep extracting their vig and the peasants be damned.

    • triv33 permalink
      October 23, 2009 9:38 am

      They need an AG like Jerry Brown to sue for them!

  7. cometman permalink*
    October 23, 2009 8:07 am

    While the US demonizes Venezuela for trying to create a more equitable society, Venezuela is trying to teach us a little peace love and understanding.

    The New England Conservatory is partnering with El Sistema to train young musicians using the very successful Venezuelan system begun by Jose Antonio Abreu and which produced the world renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

    It didn’t take Stanford Thompson long to realize that his fellowship at New England Conservatory was anything but normal. A five-member film crew follows every move of the Georgia native and his nine classmates, as does an author on contract from W.W. Norton & Company. Thompson has been staying up past midnight just to answer e-mails from well-wishers.

    This is because Thompson is a musical pioneer of sorts, one of 10 students chosen as the first wave in the United States of a revolutionary Venezuelan program called El Sistema.

    El Sistema – officially known as the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras in Venezuela – is unlike any other music education program in the world. Since its founding in 1975, the program has taken more than a million children between the ages of 2 and 18, many of them poor, and provided them with instruments and free lessons, creating a new class of young musicians.

    Wowed by the program’s success, music educators outside Venezuela have been trying in recent years to adapt parts of it to their countries. El Sistema USA is the first unified effort stateside. The plan is for the conservatory to train at least 50 people, starting with the first class of 10, over five years to open music educational centers, or “núcleos,’’ in parts of the United States where children couldn’t normally afford instruments.

    Here’s Abreu giving a TED talk about the program he created.

    And here’s Dudamel conducting the Venezuelan kids.

    If we are ever able to create a truly better world, it will be because of people like this.

    • Stemella permalink*
      October 23, 2009 9:19 am

      PBS showed Dudamel’s innaugural concert with the LA Philharmonic the other night. He’s now the Director. He is amazing to watch. He’s only 28 but has the sophistication of a true Maestro. They performed a piece especially written by composer of StarWars fame, John Williams and Mahler’s 1st. It was fantastic.

      Happily, there are indeed creative, energetic and dedicated people out there, young ones. They are the ones who give hope. Good on Venezuela for their initiative and dedication in steering that energy and abilty so well.

  8. Stemella permalink*
    October 23, 2009 8:20 am

    More thoughts on the end of our empire with some discussion of Niall Ferguson’s piece you linked to in the previous post among others discussing the same topic.

    Declining empire, banana republic or failed state

    It is nice to know that we aren’t insane, rather that we are in good company.

    Not long ago, it would have been seen as something of a joke or the product of a warped mind to ponder whether the United States is a declining empire, a banana republic, a failed state — or all three.

    But these days, there are plenty of serious and intelligent commentators, including historians, ex-public servants, and journalists, who are not raving lunatics, but who are nonetheless disturbed by what they see taking place in this country.

    • cometman permalink*
      October 23, 2009 8:52 am

      Like the name of that site. I would quibble with this assessment a little:

      As Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican and noted budget hawk, said recently, “We’re basically on the path to a banana-republic type of financial situation in this country … You can’t keep throwing debt on top of debt.”

      Gregg is a “budget hawk” when it suits the republican party, but I don’t remember him making too much of a stink when W racked up huge deficits to get his war on and cut taxes on rich people like, well, Judd Gregg. The fact that he won the damn lottery ought to make those who eschew Western religions for the more benevolent-seeming Eastern ones realize that karma isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either.

      • Stemella permalink*
        October 23, 2009 9:21 am

        I agree with your quibble.

  9. cometman permalink*
    October 23, 2009 9:33 am

    More good theatre – Grayson makes another dumb republican squirm. Loved the part where Broun tries to weasel out of answering by trying to yield to Sensenbrenner and is denied.

    Glenn Greenwald provides the context of what they were talking about here.

  10. cometman permalink*
    October 23, 2009 9:52 am

    Ha! Another excuse to post one of my favorite Zappa tunes!

    Hadn’t heard this earlier, but evidently the Catholic church is trying to lure back Anglicans who don’t like ‘the gay’.

    I don’t write about so-called matters of faith very much, preferring to leave that to people to whom those things matter more, but the recent announcement by the Vatican to disenchanted Anglicans and Episcopalians that the Roman Catholic Church would not only invite them into their flock but would even accommodate their entry by adopting some of their liturgical forms gave this religious cynic pause.

    The first thought I had upon reading of the Vatican’s decision was that it made sense. The Roman Church is catering to the homophobes in the Anglican formation. Ever since the appointment of an openly gay bishop to the head of the American wing, many Episcopalians have struggled with their faith and their allegiance to their church. In the meantime, the Roman Catholic Church has actively funded campaigns against gay equality and has stepped up their campaign against homosexuality.

    The second thought I had upon reading about the Vatican’s decision was that this was the religious version of a corporate takeover. Look, says the Vatican to those disaffected Anglicans and Episcopalians, your spiritual stock may be down because of the decisions of your church elders to accept all of god’s children into its flock as equals, but our church would never do such a thing. So, invest your soul with us. It’s a masterstroke of corporate raiding. Not only does the Vatican pick up some membership in North America, where its numbers have been declining for decades, but it also picks up the money those former members of the Anglican churches give to their churches. In fact, when one considers the cash, it is truly a masterstroke, since the Vatican’s most recent adherents come from the planet’s poorer continents, especially Africa. With the potential increase in relatively wealthy homophobic converts, the full coffers of the Catholic Church should increase even more.

    Hey Benny! While you’re fooling around with the ‘schism’, try not to get any onya!!!

    • Stemella permalink*
      October 23, 2009 9:58 am

      eww schism jism – that’s almost as bad as Santorum (Triv alert!!) :)

      • triv33 permalink
        October 23, 2009 10:30 am

        You do realize I have no choice, right?
        http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/1401941

  11. cometman permalink*
    October 23, 2009 10:40 am

    More religious nuttery. WTF? Are people really this credulous?

    It’s a miracle! Every Monday and Thursday, fresh quotations from the Quran ‘magically’ appear on his legs, belly, or arms when he’s home alone with his mommy and daddy, and then the pilgrims show up in the thousands to give the happy family lots and lots of attention. I simply can’t imagine how red marks might appear on the delicate skin of a young baby while under the care of doting, attentive parents, or why anyone might cheat and fake a miracle…can you?

    Been a while since I’d checked Pharyngula. Lot’s of funny stuff there to peruse.

    • cometman permalink*
      October 23, 2009 10:54 am

      Even more whackjobbery. Unlike the poor slob in Maine I mentioned a couple days ago who had to take a razor to Harry Potter books instead of using incineration as the preferred method of wanton destruction, these guys must have gotten their town to approve a permit because on Halloween the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in North Carolina is having a good ol’ fashioned book burning. But what sets this Kooks Konflagration apart is that among other things, they’ll be burning Bibles.

      Come to our Halloween book burning. We are burning Satan’s bibles like the NIV, RSV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, ect.

      These are perversions of God’s Word, the King James Bible.We will also be burning Satan’s music such as country , pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, contemporary Christian, jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc.

      We will also be burning Satan’s popular books written by heretics like Westcott & Hort, Bruce Metzger, Billy Graham Rick Warren Bill Hybels , John McArthur, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll John Piper, Chuck Colson, Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart, Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham , Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joyce Myers, Brian McLaren, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa, The Pope, Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, Brennan Manning, William Young, etc.

      Because everybody knows jeebus spoke the King’s English.

      • Stemella permalink*
        October 23, 2009 11:47 am

        Yeah and he had a nice Cockney accent too.

        And for the truly sacridelicious, the Passion of Zombie Jeebus

        • cometman permalink*
          October 23, 2009 1:08 pm

          Loved the zombie jeebus – Rome wasn’t eaten in a day!!!! Ha!

          For some reason that reminded me of a couple bands I used to play on the radio back in the day. Sacrilege BC with Too Cool to Pray and Gang Green with Older…Budweiser.

          Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for you since I know this genre isn’t your favorite ;) , this is about the first time I couldn’t find videos of the songs I wanted. The title track on the first was pretty good and “Church of Fun” from Gang Green was an awesome song. If any of our vast readership can find a youtube of either of them, feel free to post away!

          Having so much fun with the blasphemy today that I’m thinking maybe we should make it a regular feature. Maybe a “Sacrilege Saturday” would boost the slow readership on weekends :P

          • Stemella permalink*
            October 23, 2009 1:36 pm

            Yes, sacrilege sabbath with any recent news of dead popes and other religious attrocities. That is something well worthy to revive from the old pickle jar. ;-D

  12. Stemella permalink*
    October 23, 2009 11:56 am

    Speaking of Jeebus, check out this Jeebus Lizard who can walk on water.

    • cometman permalink*
      October 23, 2009 1:15 pm

      Get back to me when that jeebus lizard figures out how to turn it into wine. Late Friday afternoon and I’m about ready for a couple pops :P

  13. cometman permalink*
    October 23, 2009 1:13 pm

    Joe Bageant has another good post up.

    Their grandfathers who so hated FDR’s reforms must be chugging cognac in hell celebrating today’s America. America’s unions have been neutered and taught to beg. At long last we have established a permanent underclass and deindustrialized the country in favor of low wage service industries here and dirt cheap labor from abroad. We’ve managed to harden the education and income gap into something an American oligarch can take pride in. Hell, my bank card is issued by Prescott Bush’s Union Bank and my most recent mortgage was held by J. P. Morgan’s creation. My electricity is generated by Rockefeller’s coal and energy holdings and my Exxon gasoline credit card is issued by a successor to Standard oil. The breakfast I eat comes from Archer Daniels Midland. So did my dog’s breakfast. We are the very products and property of these people and their institutions.

    ~snip~

    …never under any conditions will we be allowed to touch the real money, or get anywhere near it, much less redistribute it. Because, as a bookie friend once told me, “You got your common man living on hope, lottery tickets, or the dogs or the ponies, and you got operators. People who can see the whole game in play. They set the rules. Because they hold the money. That ain’t never gonna change.”

    • Stemella permalink*
      October 23, 2009 2:07 pm

      Joe has become one of my faves, his style is so entertaining. Thanks for the heads up.

  14. Stemella permalink*
    October 23, 2009 2:05 pm

    Another good post from Washington’s Blog on the continued ridiculousness coming from Ben Dover Bernanke and round two of the stress tests.

    Stress Test Shenanigans: Round 2

    • cometman permalink*
      October 23, 2009 2:40 pm

      You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. More meaningless stress tests?!?!?!? The very first sentence –

      The Federal Reserve will expand its so-called stress tests of the banking system to ensure they have enough capital during difficult periods, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said Friday.

      – sounds like they getting ready to ask for another few trillion in bailout money. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

  15. cometman permalink*
    October 23, 2009 2:20 pm

    Good discussion of the sucre and how it will affect the ALBA nations here.

  16. Stemella permalink*
    October 23, 2009 2:21 pm

    The 100th bank to fail so far in 2009 is …..drum roll…..

    Partners Bank, Naples, FL

    Partners Bank, Naples, Florida, was closed today by the Office of Thrift Supervision, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with Stonegate Bank, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to assume all of the deposits of Partners Bank.

    The two branches of Partners Bank will reopen on Monday as branches of Stonegate Bank. Depositors of Partners Bank will automatically become depositors of Stonegate Bank. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers should continue to use their existing branch until they receive notice from Stonegate Bank that it has completed systems changes to allow other Stonegate Bank branches to process their accounts as well.

  17. cometman permalink*
    October 23, 2009 2:36 pm

    Some more from Counterpunch. Mike Whitney further clarifies his previous article about why the dollar isn’t going to collapse any time soon.

    … the majority of people believe that the real problem is the deficits, and not the economy. That’s just flat wrong, and it creates political opposition to more stimulus, which we need.

    Still wish he’d clarify this part a little more. Deficit spending can get you out of a economic bind and I think he’s right that the stimulus package wasn’t nearly large enough since most of it was not designed to get money to those who needed it most. A large portion of it was just more tax cuts and then some vague promises of stimulating new industries with little to nothing to help the millions who are hurting right now. But I really don’t think you can just keep printing money indefinitely and think nothing bad is going to happen. If not, why not just issue everyone their own printing press? There has to be a happy medium which I think Whitney is aware of, but he isn’t that specific about it.

    I’d argued earlier that what matters most isn’t how much money you pump into the economy, but who is able to capture that welath and Whitney does address that here:

    US policymakers should drop this nonsense about the dollar and deal with the underlying problem itself; lack of demand. That means the focus should be on wage growth and full employment. If that means printing up a couple more trillion; then get to it! Getting people back to work and paying them decently should be job one.

    Also Alexander Cockburn and some friends fire up a guillotine at a local political rally to protest the excesses of the corporate class. Right on. They ought to start a national tour with that thing. And I ought to reread Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee” which Cockburn mentions in his article. Haven’t read it since I was a teenager and I’m sure I’d get more out of it now.

  18. triv33 permalink
    October 24, 2009 6:30 am

    My best friends moved to Alabama about 10 years ago. The husband got offered a job running a really big meat packaging plant. Within a few years he wanted nothing more to do with it. He probably made the right decision.
    I read this on AlterNet today. A little story about how Billionaires plundered an Alabama town and all the fun that followed.

    • Stemella permalink*
      October 26, 2009 6:26 am

      That is fucked up.

      Shock and awe all the way.

      There is only one word appropriate for that scenario ….

      Guillotine

    • cometman permalink*
      October 26, 2009 6:52 am

      Wow, and I thought Urinetown, where everything is privatized and you have to pay to take a leak, was a work of fiction. Sounds like that Alabama town is just about there.

  19. Stemella permalink*
    October 26, 2009 6:22 am

    The Showdown in Chicago is revving up for the American Banksters Association Party over their bailouts and bonuses.

    The protesters are few but loud, so far. Check the source of the video below for further vids over the next couple of days.

    And here is their site again with a link to their newsroom page

    I’ll be scarce the next few days due to work stuff, damn that four letter word, but I’ll try to keep up on this one, just in case some bankster gets caught on tape getting punched in the nose! :)

  20. Stemella permalink*
    October 26, 2009 6:45 am

    Signs of the times:
    Russian Banks Count Pigs, Lingerie as Collateral
    *
    Detroit house auction flops for urban wasteland

    Let us go then, you and I,
    When the evening is spread out against the sky
    Like a patient etherized upon a table;
    Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
    The muttering retreats
    Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
    And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
    Streets that follow like a tedious argument
    Of insidious intent
    To lead you to an overwhelming question…

    Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
    Let us go and make our visit.

    In the room the women come and go
    Talking of Michelangelo.

    ~ TSE

    *

    Controversial study suggests vast magma pool under Washington state mmmmm, magma

    • cometman permalink*
      October 26, 2009 8:00 am

      Again life imitates art. Sort of. All I could think about when reading that article about the Russian banks was that Nikolai Gogol must be having a good laugh somewhere. Sounds like something out of Dead Souls.

      The story follows the exploits of Chichikov, a gentleman of middling social class and position. Chichikov arrives in a small town and quickly tries to make a good name for himself by impressing the many petty officials of the town. Despite his limited funds, he spends extravagantly on the premise that a great show of wealth and power at the start will gain him the connections he needs to live easily in the future. He also hopes to befriend the town so that he can more easily carry out his bizarre and mysterious plan to acquire “dead souls.”

      The government would tax the landowners on a regular basis, with the assessment based on how many serfs (or “souls”) the landowner had on their records at the time of the collection. These records were determined by census, but censuses in this period were infrequent, far more so than the tax collection, so landowners would often find themselves in the position of paying taxes on serfs that were no longer living, yet were registered on the census to them, thus they were paying on “dead souls.” It is these dead souls, manifested as property, that Chichikov seeks to purchase from people in the villages he visits; he merely tells the prospective sellers that he has a use for them, and that the sellers would be better off anyway, since selling them would relieve the present owners of a needless tax burden.

      ~snip~

      Chichikov’s macabre mission to acquire “dead souls” is actually just another complicated scheme to inflate his social standing (essentially a 19th century Russian version of the ever popular “get rich quick” scheme). He hopes to collect the legal ownership rights to dead serfs as a way of inflating his apparent wealth and power. Once he acquires enough dead souls, he will retire to a large farm and take out an enormous loan against them, finally acquiring the great wealth he desires.

      And speaking of dead folks and financial schemes, one of Bernie Madoff’s friends who benefited from his crimes was found taking a nap at the bottom of his pool.

      Palm Beach billionaire and philanthropist Jeffry Picower, described as the biggest beneficiary of Bernard Madoff’s fraud, died on Sunday after he was found lying at the bottom of the pool at his home, police said.

  21. cometman permalink*
    October 26, 2009 7:44 am

    Since common decency and appeals to reason don’t seem to be able to move many in Congress to pass some sort of national health care, Alan Grayson is using the shame approach. He has a new website up where you can tell the story of someone you know who died due to inadequate health care – Names of the Dead.

  22. cometman permalink*
    October 26, 2009 9:03 am

    The surge was a success!!!! Well,except for these 155 dead people, but who’s counting?

  23. cometman permalink*
    October 26, 2009 9:13 am

    Goldman Sux hates kittens.

    Since Goldman Sachs has been a big part of the Lower Manhattan fabric for almost a century and a half, we’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to the rest of the country on behalf of our neighbor, a financial giant personifying much of what is wrong on Wall St.

    Before we get to the multibillion-dollar stuff, we’d first like to apologize that the firm has not yet paid a few thousand dollars of vet bills for the five kittens born in its headquarters building nearing completion in Battery Park City. In August, after our sister publication Downtown Express reported the kittens’ discovery, Goldman offered to pay the bills and encourage its employees to adopt the “BlackBerries.”

    It may be just a matter of Goldman waiting to get the vet invoices — we can’t imagine they’d stiff kittens while writing out bonus checks worth $23 billion — but the cats still need adoptive homes. (Incidentally, anyone interested in one of these adorable kittens should e-mail their rescuer, the Brotmans, at rbrotpaw@aol.com.)

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