Links of the Month: November 2020

image from Pikrepo, CC0

This poem is by the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, Louise Glück, written last month:


Leo Cruz makes the most beautiful white bowls;
I think I must get some to you
but how is the question
in these times

He is teaching me
the names of the desert grasses;
I have a book
since to see the grasses is impossible

Leo thinks the things man makes
are more beautiful
than what exists in nature

and I say no.
And Leo says
wait and see.

We make plans
to walk the trails together.
When, I ask him,
when? Never again:
that is what we do not say.

He is teaching me
to live in imagination:

a cold wind
blows as I cross the desert;
I can see his house in the distance;
smoke is coming from the chimney

That is the kiln, I think;
only Leo makes porcelain in the desert

Ah, he says, you are dreaming again

And I say then I’m glad I dream
the fire is still alive


Dr Love (Bacha Khoperia, ბაჩა ხოფერია), described by some as the Republic of Georgia’s Banksy, sums up modern civilization quite brilliantly. This work is in Bristol, UK. Street art has long been a popular art form in Georgia (Sakartvelo, საქართველო)

How do you know when civilization’s about to fall apart?: Joseph Tainter was recently interviewed, along with several other societal collapse theorists, on how close we are to collapse today. Excerpt:

In “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Tainter [writes] “The world today is full.” Complex societies occupy every inhabitable region of the planet. There is no escaping. This also means, he writes, that collapse, “if and when it comes again, will this time be global.” Our fates are interlinked. “No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

When I ask him about this, the usually sober-sounding Tainter sounds very sober indeed. If it happens, he says, it would be “the worst catastrophe in history.” The quest for efficiency, he wrote recently, has brought on unprecedented levels of complexity: “an elaborate global system of production, shipping, manufacturing and retailing” in which goods are manufactured in one part of the world to meet immediate demands in another, and delivered only when they’re needed. The system’s speed is dizzying, but so are its vulnerabilities. A more comprehensive failure of fragile supply chains could mean that fuel, food and other essentials would no longer flow to cities. “There would be billions of deaths within a very short period,” Tainter says. Even a short-term failure of the financial system, Tainter worries, might be enough to trip supply chains to a halt.


cartoon by Michael Leunig

The wisdom of nationalizing social (and other) media: Now that Facebook and Google are threatening to pull out of Australia unless the government backs down on rules requiring them to pay local media outlets for use of their content, people are asking how we can take back control of the media from rich private interests. While Zeynep Tüfekçi has suggested they be nationalized and run as networked national/local co-ops, the Guardian explores whether national public broadcast media couldn’t, and shouldn’t just take them over and run them as extensions of their own services, networked country-to-country. In the meantime, Zeynep argues, it’s essential to re-empower the regulatory authorities to actually regulate — break up monopolies and oligopolies, tell these companies what they can and can’t do and the penalties for not following the regulations — instead of trying to do the refereeing that these oligopolies have utterly failed to figure out how to do.

Smashing meeting privilege: Evelyn Arellano dissects the power dynamics implicit in many corporate meetings (even and especially virtual meetings) and suggests ways to confront them. And a new BYU study reveals how women are disempowered in the workplace and 7 steps that can elevate women’s voices. Thanks to Elise Keith for the links.

Portland creates THE working model for housing reform: The city has introduced radical changes to density laws, including setting maximum building sizes, to encourage greater density and affordability and reduce sprawl. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link, and the one that follows.

It’s time for reparations: Nikole Hannah-Jones explains why descendants of American slaves are owed reparations for the centuries-long deficit their oppression has left them in, and how they might be introduced.

New ways of working: In a scintillating new one-hour discussion, seven authors of books on creating self-managed organizations share their successes and challenges.

Create your own green job: continues its excellent non-profit services with a new guide for Canadians on how to start your own green enterprise.


From FB. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

The food industry is knowingly making us sick: Michael Greger explains why the food industry’s “model of systemic dishonesty” is profitable, and how it has knowingly caused the deaths and chronic diseases of most Americans. The article links to 22 videos, with transcripts, that explain in detail how and why, worldwide, the food we eat (and food industry regulatory inaction) directly causes most of our deaths and illnesses.

The right-wing judiciary’s rotten core: Masha Gessen describes how the right-wing ideologues who now dominate the US Supreme Court share an utter “contempt for the norms and processes of government”, and the execrable process that led to the latest, incompetent and unqualified, appointee. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse explained at the hearings exactly which right-wing billionaires’ money were bankrolling the nomination, but none of the Republican senators cared. A disgrace of Stalinesque proportions. Thanks to Raffi for the links.

How the Bush-Cheney regime sabotaged the OPCW: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was established to promote and verify adherence to the global ban on chemical weapons. But prior to the unwarranted and criminal invasion of Iraq, the US deliberately sabotaged the organization, orchestrated the ouster of its Director, who was successfully negotiating with Iraq to destroy its chemical weapons, bugged its offices, and strong-armed its allies to “neutralize” the OPCW to prevent it interfering with the Iraq invasion, and later to justify war on Syria based on disputed claims of that country’s chemical weaponry. Caitlin Johnstone has the story, which reads like an espionage thriller. She explains that this bullying is not limited to international organizations that get in its way, but is extended to countries like Australia (where they orchestrated the ouster of both Gough Whitlam and Kevin Rudd), Bolivia, and of course Venezuela. And it’s continued unabated during Democratic Party presidents. Now, she says, “America has no allies, only hostages”.

Women’s sovereignty over their own bodies again under assault: The newly unrepresentative US supreme court and the extreme abortion ban passed recently in Poland have again raised the spectre, even in Canada, that women will again be deprived of freedom of choice over abortion and even contraception. Here’s an interesting synopsis of the issue, which raises the obvious question about how any sane person can possibly defend forced-birth laws while simultaneously opposing humanitarian laws and programs to protect babies, children and adults after birth. But we’d better figure it out: Poland is our warning shot. And the next authoritarian right-wing populist likely won’t be as inept and appalling as the one Americans just, barely, got rid of.

When Murdoch soured on Trump: Interesting story in the centrist UK newspaper iNews about how Trump abused Murdoch’s support to the point the right-wing billionaire started to shift his publications away from supporting Trump.

Last rites for Canada’s MAID law: Trudeau has waffled again and introduced a bill that would provide only marginally better access to medically assisted death than the law that was struck down as unconstitutionally restrictive last year. If passed, it will continue to force many who want control over the own bodies and the right to die with dignity to live in pain, horror and shame. It will probably, and hopefully, again be ruled unconstitutionally restrictive by the courts. But in the meantime, religious right wingnuts are trying to force the government to tighten the law even further, claiming without evidence that it is “ableist” and will lead to people being coerced into dying against their will or proper judgement. There seems to be no limit to the sanctimonious and patronizing preaching by those screaming that we can’t be trusted to decide what to do with our own bodies. It’s the same argument that the anti-abortion forces use, and it’s bullshit. This editorial by an Anglican minister is the only analysis of the situation that I’ve read that’s sane, and sadly our government is too weak-willed to listen.


left chart from WorldoMeters; right charts from the Atlantic’s CoVid Tracking Project

We still don’t know: CoVid-19 hospitalizations in the US have three-peaked back to a record 60,000, and US daily deaths look on track to soon repeat the “second” peak of 1,100/day. But no one knows what comes after that. IHME, still sticking to its 0.68% IFR rate, is projecting a rise in hospitalizations by January to 130,000 and a rise in daily deaths to 2,300/day. My sense is that the actual IFR, at least in areas that have already been hard hit by the disease, is somewhat lower than that, thanks in no small part to the profession’s dedication and sharing of knowledge on how to best treat it. In some areas of North America that avoided the April peak, hospitalizations and deaths are at record levels and projected to reach the ghastly per capital levels that Italy and NYC saw in the spring, over the next month. Again, I’m cautiously optimistic that common sense will prevail in people’s behaviour in hard-hit areas and hospitals will be able to manage the current surge, though with difficulty in some areas. Global deaths have risen to more than 7,500/day, well above the 4-6k/day range it’s tracked for six months, with nearly half the daily deaths now occurring in a reinfected Europe/Russia. Whether they can flatten the curve better than last time remains to be seen. We just don’t know. Here’s the latest news:


New Yorker cartoon by Mike Twohy

ASL performers’ stunning music videos: The celebrated troupe Deaf West Theatre shines with moving, uplifting versions of Kelly Clarkson’s “I Dare You“, Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to Be Mine“, and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Hell No“. Just watch the faces, and how much more than mere words can be conveyed with one’s hands. Jaw-dropping. More please!

Two great classical composers you’ve never heard of: Mozart contemporary Joseph Bologne, born in Guadeloupe, created works of unparalleled skill and imagination, but racism kept his work in the shadow of that of more famous composers. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link. And just recently, Alma Deutscher, at the age of 12, premiered her own piano concerto with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, demonstrating at once her world-class compositional prowess and virtuoso performance skills.

And speaking of extraordinary musical talent…: Music teacher Paul Harvey, suffering from severe Alzheimers, was inspired by his son to try, as a therapy, repeating an improvisational exercise Paul had used in his youth (creating a piece of music based on four random musical notes, given in the moment), and the result was so remarkable it was recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

About those exit polls: Exit polls in the 2020 US election suggested again that most white women (not just white men) voted for Trump. But are exit polls even less reliable than the obviously dubious opinion polls? Pew research deconstructing the 2016 exit polls says: don’t believe it.

How to conduct an interview with a disinformation agent: NZ journalist Tova O’Brien masterfully demonstrates how to shut down disinformation perpetrators.


cartoon by the late, wonderful Charles Barsotti

The light in the trees: Paul Kingsnorth’s latest short story describes something that might be non-duality. Or perhaps not. Excerpt:

I mean you died, he said. Not your body. Your body is still in the driver’s seat. Snap your fingers and you’ll see the headlights and the wire again, just as it was. What died was your self, your will, and just for a moment. Your self gets in the way of reality, you see. Your small worlds, your little truths that are not truths, the temptations, the opinions, the striving. They have to die for you to see.

The girl stared at everything at once and it all seemed to stare back. So what is it? said the girl. The normal stuff, I mean. The everyday things. What’s happening?

My conclusion, said the man, is that everything you see every day, everyone you know, everything around you: all of it is made by your mind. None of it has any substance unless you believe it does. You created the mountain, the cave, your place of work. You created me. We create our own little worlds and we carry them on our backs like sacks of winter wood. Once they break and fall away, there is reality, waiting for you.

But what do I do with it? said the girl. What do I do now?

It’s not what you do with it, said the man’s voice. It’s what it does with you.

Best descriptions (IMO) of this, published this month:


Tribe of Assam Macaques. Photo by Khushboo Sharma. From the Frans de Waal FB page. Click on image for a larger version.

From Verta Maloney:

a white lady who voted for 45 told me i hurt her feelings because i chose to talk to her about her vote.
a white lady who voted for 45 said that my decision to no longer greet her everyday has “affected her well-being” & started to cry real tears. (🙄)
a white lady who voted for 45 said that she was not trying to keep any secrets BUT it was her business that she voted for 45 and she didn’t want anyone to know. (🤔)⠀⠀⠀
a white lady who voted for 45 told me that we would just have to agree to disagree and i told her NO we would not.
i told her that as a black woman i could get more than my feelings hurt because of the political decisions of mediocre white ladies like her.⠀⠀⠀⠀
i told her that we do not understand each other because she hadn’t said anything that made sense, actually she hadn’t said anything of substance at all.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i told her i wouldn’t be speaking to her in the future or waving and smiling at her as we drop our children off at school because i am done doing that. politics matter AND they are personal; my very existence as a black woman/mother is political.
white ladies who voted for 45 and the lot of you “liberal” white ladies who know and love white ladies who did and don’t challenge them or call them on their shit …⠀⠀
i am not here to convince you of my humanity.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i am not here to play nice when you are playing with lives and legacies.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i am not here for your white fragility and your fragile/exclusive versions of feminism.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i am not here for your denial, your guilt or your racism.
what i am here for is all of us (even you) getting and being free and i am on that quest with or without you.
stop crying. stop making this about you. stop lying. stop always talking. just stop and for a bit of time listen to, believe and follow black women.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
once you know better, before you leap to the “do better” phase how about you actually BE better! cause honestly if you can’t BE better at your core whatever you do will simply continue to cause more harm than good.

From the Beaverton (Canada’s version of the Onion): The latest headlines, explained:

Canada searches for new country to compare ourselves to now that U.S. is too sad 

COVID replaces racism as #1 thing Canadians think they handle better than the States

(a cultural study of Canadians actually determined that more than anything else, Canadian culture is defined by how we differentiate ourselves from Americans) 

Alberta removes education from curriculum 

(the right-wing extremist government of Alberta commissioned an overhaul of the province’s education system; the report recommended a curriculum that included bible verses, but excluded any mention of “Indian residential schools” or other atrocities committed against First Nations people)

From Daniel Schmachtenberger, in a recent interview with The Stoa (my paraphrasing for brevity):

If you want to solve a complex problem (like eg homelessness):

      • start by looking at places that don’t have it and find out what they did
      • look at places that have reduced it successfully and how they did that
      • then identify and connect with the major existing projects already working on this problem
      • don’t overlook how indigenous cultures have addressed it
      • engage the people dealing with it (both as problem-solvers and as those most affected by it)
      • understand the context — how did it get to be this way, and what’s been tried successfully, and unsuccessfully
      • look at the cost/benefits of straightforward alternative ways to address the underlying problems that could be easy wins
      • enable self-sufficiency among those facing the problem every day so that when interventions have been completed, those people are able to sustain the changes themselves
      • while radically reimagining possibilities from the bottom up is a useful process, it needs to look at the practicality (economic, cultural etc) of making the necessary changes, and not get caught up in idealism
      • in addressing any problem, there is a need to balance external work with internal self-awareness — your appreciation of the problem has to evolve with the understanding of how you might effectively address it
      • be patient and persevere — don’t forget that the masters in any space have failed more often than the laypeople have tried

From an anonymous FB poster on Nov 2:

When you say: “No matter who wins tomorrow, I’m going to go to work the next day, be happy, and love my neighbour”, what I hear is: “My privilege shields me from the potentially devastating effects of this election. My livelihood is secure. I am safe from racism and bigotry. I never have to question where my next meal is coming from. And no one has ever attempted to take away my bodily autonomy.” We do not all live in the same America.

From Clay Shirky in 2018 on why the arguments of progressives fall on deaf conservative ears:

We brought fact-checkers to a culture war.

From John Green on standing on the shoulders of giants and on immunity:

I think of art as being a big collaboration in which a few people get over-celebrated and the rest unacknowledged. The world’s biggest ball of paint (in Alexandria, Indiana) is a baseball painted with 40,000 layers of paint. It’s now 12-15′ in diameter circumference. Most of it has been painted by visitors to Alexandria. Your layer doesn’t much matter in affecting what the ball looks like, but the colour you choose affects the colour the next person chooses, which affects the colour the next person chooses, and so on. Your layer of paint will always be utterly invisible to the rest of the world, but it was absolutely essential to the ball of paint becoming what the ball of paint has become. And like a great coat of paint, some books and artworks are sometimes celebrated as extraordinary. And they are likely deservedly remembered (many others are undeservedly forgotten). But they’re just like the great coat of paint —still just one layer that will be painted over too. The way that it matters is that it shapes the people who come after it, the people to whom it matters. What makes King Lear so great is the conversations we’ve had around it and the responses we’ve all had to it over the last 500 years…

If a new vaccine is coming, let’s not build a statue to anyone. Let us instead build monuments to the sprawling cooperation of thousands of people who share their work openly and generously, so that together we can achieve what we cannot achieve alone: shared immunity.


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