Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Layer 202 . . . More Shock Doctrine, Asset Sales, Seratonin, Alcohol, Drunken Monkeys, Stalk-Eyed Flies, Flying Fish, and a Choir.

It's been another kaleidoscopic week, starting with a dinner conversation at the weekend at which I was given the task of providing an instant summary of Naomi Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine' for a couple of people who let it be known where they stand on the political spectrum by saying they think we should bring back the death penalty.

It was quite amusing relating in some detail how the CIA carried out experiments back in the sixties on the most effective methods of torture, prior to training fascistic military types around the world on their application in real life situations, such as after a military coup (Chile, Argentina, Brazil, etc) or a war (Iraq) in order to gain information and  track down everyone who could be considered an opponent of the new regime.

My audience were enthralled by Klein's narrative as to how the Chicago School economists trained dictators and the would-be oligarchs on the need to privatise all State assets by selling them off at knock down prices on the basis that the national emergency and the national interest were best addressed by such blatant robbery.

And then blow me down but the very next day we see it plastered all over the news that New Labour have decided to sell off huge chunks of our national assets at knock-down prices because of the national economic emergency. That's right folks – the very same fat cats who crashed the economy, and who then received huge State bail-outs, are now to be handed valuable assets that belong to you and me at ridiculously low prices - assets that can only gain enormously in value as the years go by.

Steve Bell
Brown's asset sale: Selling out
Editorial - The Guardian, Tuesday 13 October 2009
"Some date the "anything goes" brand of capitalism back to the City's big bang in 1986. Others trace it back further, to the 1973 oil shock. Either way, the idea that the economy works best when markets allowed to let rip deserved to die with Lehmans. Yet it somehow limps on – not least because Labour lacks the energy to promote any alternative. Even before Gordon Brown was hit by a demand to repay £12,415 in expenses yesterday, his intellectual fatigue was evident in his plans for a fresh sale of state assets.

Flogging assets will not in itself make the exchequer solvent. Sell the Dartford crossing to pay down debt, for instance, and you pay less interest, but also lose a handy line in tolls. The gains outweigh the losses only where, first, private managers can run the assets better and, second, where the state can organise a smart sale. The first condition sometimes applies, but is mostly just assumed; history suggests that the second condition is more often missed than met. In the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher's attitude was "everything must go", and everything easy did. The public ended up shortchanged . . .

As for the recently nationalised banks, although they were not part of yesterday's plan, their share price could soon be at a level where their sale returns to the agenda. After all that has happened, though, there should be no question of any denationalisation without open and vigorous debate. "Private good, public bad" was never a good rule – but it looks plain absurd when it comes to banking after the crunch."

Cooked a big family roast on Sunday for people who really appreciate perfect crackling on their pork and perfect golden crunchy roast potatoes.

Had an interesting conversation with my son about the effects of alcohol when he came over for a pasta lunch yesterday, and that  very evening watched an interesting (Horizon) documentary on the Beeb about alcohol! It's a complex drug, which mother nature produces of its own accord by combining sugar and yeast. It releases seratonin, and is thus a relaxant, and is likely to allow its consumers to lose their inhibitions. It's also a stimulant, and thirdly it has an anesthetic effect.

The documentary showed some superb footage of monkeys rushing into a hotel garden in the Caribbean in order to steal cocktails – or drink them on the spot – after which they literally staggered back into the surrounding trees. An experiment in which alcoholic drinks were left in a large monkey compound was fascinating, in that it revealed that when a group of monkeys have access to alcoholic drinks 25% of the monkeys didn't touch them, 50% drank them in moderation, and 25% couldn't stay away from them – exactly the same proportion as humans, apparently.


More television treats last night.

1) Life – BBC4 – the new David Attenborough series, which has been 3 years in the making. This first episode included some amazing film of stalk-eyed flies – the most outrageous creatures ever, which have the ability to somehow pump their eyes out on enormous retractable stalks.

The programme also featured incredible shots of flying fish escaping predators, and killer whales that have learnt how to hunt stingrays and seals. One of their techniques is to turn the stingrays on to their backs, which induces immobility from an overdose of seratonin which immediately rushes to the brain.

2) Nature Shock (Channel 5)
“This intriguing documentary series examines freak occurrences in the natural world. Whether it's animals behaving oddly or even the planet that perplexes, each episode sees scientists studying baffling phenomena in a bid to understand what Mother Nature's really up to. The reasons behind incidents will vary, but there's one conclusion that we always reach: the world isn't as predictable as we'd like to think.”
This first episode showed evidence of killer whales that have learnt how to hunt great white sharks – by grabbing them and turning them over on to their backs so that they go into a coma that's brought on by an overdose of seratonin . . .
3) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Watch it every weekday at 8.30pm. The man is a genius.
4) The Choir Revisited – BBC2. I missed this series and thoroughly enjoyed this compilation of the best bits plus a reunion of the young choirmaster and the bunch of kids he taught to sing and took to China for the world choir championships. It was actually very moving, and yet another brilliant example of what music and singing can do for some very ordinary and fairly messed up teenagers when they're led to high levels of achievement by someone who's passionate about the power of music.
“What matters is that you do something well, you care about what you do, and you do it to the best of your ability.” The sense of collective joy in the kids and their parents was pure magic.
5) Black Wax: Gil Scott Heron (Sky Arts) A classic film from 1982, and “His political polemics still resonate today”. They sure do. “Outstanding profile of one of the key figures behind rap music. Gil Scott-Heron is the performance poet, jazzman and the recently-paroled mouthpiece for black America.” “With a seductive fusion of soul, funk, jazz, pop and Afro-ethnic roots, Gil Scott-Heron glows with passion and sincerity. Examine his long-standing influence on rap.”
Catch these on Spotify – Inner City Blues, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, We Beg Your Pardon, Whitey On The Moon, Is That Jazz?, Gun, B Movie, Storm Music, Washington DC, Johannesburg, Winter In America.

To think that with the exception of Sky Arts most of this brilliant stuff is available for free - or for just the cost of a TV license. Anyone who says there's nothing worth watching on TV is an idiot. To see the Attenborough on a big LCD screen is alone worth the investment in the HD TV.

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