Dec 242017
 
 December 24, 2017  Posted by at 5:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Walter Hege Caryatid overlooking the city of Athens 1930

 

Christmas is the time when the western world makes a doomed attempt to remember a story whose meaning it has long forgotten, and still claim the story as its own every single time, every single year, claim it as its foundation, the foundation of the principles that guide its societies, its politics and its religion.

Western countries, whether they’re predominantly Catholic or Protestant, label themselves Christian, after Jesus Christ, a man their holy scriptures say is/was the Son of their God, and after his teachings, his sermons and the example his own life is supposed to have been for all his followers. Turn the other cheek, help those in need, don’t judge.

But as we celebrate Jesus’ birth at the time of winter solstice, and we acknowledge that he and his parents, Joseph and Maria, were refugees driven into exile, and the only place the birth could take place was a manger far away from their home, we lose out on the connection to our savior from the very first moment.

Because we sit in our warm and cosy homes, surrounded by meals worthy of kings, and presents worthy of princes and princesses, while frail forms and emaciated children are fainting at our doors. While we are quite aware that whatever Jesus meant to say 2000 years ago, and some of that may have been lost over time, one thing we do know is that he didn’t mean this.

There’s no way he meant for us to, two millennia down the road, to look at present day refugees driven into exile far away from home, just like he and his parents were, and not lift a finger to help them. So when politicians like UK PM Theresa May say in their Christmas messages to their nations that they should “take pride in their Christian heritage”, that’s not just empty rhetoric, it’s hollow.

But as long as religion still sells, and there are many countries where it does, perhaps nowhere more than the US, politicians will quote Jesus and do the opposite of what he actually said according to the bible, and all without blinking once. The thirst for power over others does strange things to people, and our societies are still fully unprepared for that, and we still hear them say one thing and do another, and we still believe what they say. We’re suckers for snake oil.

 

Actual clergymen and other people of real faith may be somewhat different from politicians and their flocks, but as long as the Vatican remains opulently rich and clad in gold while Catholics and others around the world live in die in misery, perhaps we should question the link between Jesus and the church, the very link the latter base their entire authority on.

Perhaps, as well, we should question any and all claims of being ‘God’s own country’ made by any and all nations who send their best and bravest to go and kill the best and bravest of other nations for the sake of religion, resources or empire. Nothing of that has anything to do with Jesus.

And perhaps we should look for Jesus not in the people who talk about him, but in those who act like him, and like he told his contemporaries to act. And yeah, that takes me to Greece, and the Automatic Earth for Athens fund.

 

Not in any kind of presumptuous way, mind you, certainly not when it comes to me, but I have met quite a few people who seem to understand Jesus much better than most politicians and church leaders do, they just don’t talk about it, they do it. That much must have become clear through the past 2,5 years and 13-14 articles (for links, see bottom of this article) that I’ve written about them.

The reason I haven’t written much on the topic over the past 9 months or so comes down pretty much to growing pains, for lack of a better term. In my view, my friend Konstantinos and his social kitchen project, O Allos Anthropos (the Other Human), had become too dependent on Automatic Earth readers for donations, which is not a healthy situation for anyone involved.

I didn’t want to continually ask our readers for more money, and O Allos Anthropos needed to find other sources for fund-raising. The problem is that is easier said than done, for multiple reasons. If you have no experience when it comes to fund-raising, it’s hard to know where to start, and it’s hard to organize yourselves to do it. And then you end up broke, as O Allos Anthropos is right now.

Still, I think they could have tried a bit harder, but then, it’s not about me. It’s about the people we help, the refugees and homeless. If you follow my essays at the Automatic Earth a little, you will know that the situation for both groups (and sometimes they’re the same people) is still deteriorating at a rapid pace. And as much as the Greek people are willing to help, most of them are getting poorer fast as well.

Between ever more and higher taxes on the one hand, and ever more cuts to wages and pensions on the other, a recovery of the Greek economy slips further away and out of view by the day, taking people’s ability to take care of the very poorest out with it. And in this case, too, politicians are not going to lend a helping hand unless they see political gain in it.

 

Greek Minister for Migration Yiannis Mouzalas recently said he could not exclude the possibility that refugees would die on the Greek islands this winter. He’s had two years to do just that, though. That’s enough time to run out of excuses to blame the situation on anyone else. But he’s right: people will probably die there this winter.

There are thousands living in summer tents with no heating, surrounded by wet mud and sheer misery, and with sanitation facilities that provide no privacy and are dirtier than many a manger in a stable could be. If anything, they make one think of Joseph and Mary all over again; just worse, probably. The EU reportedly has spent $1.4 billion on the situation so far, and this is the result.

Mouzalas was nominated for the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, and it was no big surprise he didn’t get the job. Though with the example of Saudi Arabia chosen to head a key UN human rights panel, anything is possible.

 

There is no way that it’s impossible to build adequate facilities for some 20,000 refugees and migrants with $1.4 billion. If that doesn’t work, and it hasn’t, one can only conclude that various parties involved, the EU, the Greek government, and the alphabet soup of NGOs operating in Greece, don’t see these facilities as their no. 1 priority. Thing is, who’s going to call them on it, and what good would that do?

The only priority the EU has when it comes to refugees is to keep them out; the politicians in power in member states read the polls and see their voters don’t want refugees in their countries. So they fund armies and detention camps in Libya etc., where people are sold for $400 or so in open slave markets. And then they talk about Christian values.

Greece has been completely swamped and torn apart by the issue, granted, but that doesn’t mean Mouzalas and Tsipras et al couldn’t have done -and do- a lot more to guarantee at least minimal human dignity to those stuck, if not incarcerated, on the islands. There are hundreds if not thousands of underage children, women, sick people, elderly, stuck in conditions not even the ass and the oxen were in 2,000 years ago.

There’s no way that’s the best we can do. It’s an utter disgrace that shames any and all Christian values, and the man they were named after.

O Allos Anthropos cannot solve these issues, all it can so is help where it can. First, feed the homeless Greeks and refugees in the cities, especially Athens. Then, make life more bearable for those hardest hit by both their circumstances and the way the political classes and the humanitarian-industrial complex deal with them.

And in the end that’s perhaps the only thing we can do: not try and launch huge movements and sweep away a status quo, but work on a small scale, a human scale, human-to-human. Work on a Jesus scale, rather than a Church scale. I know, there are many churches that do help where they can, but that too is most effective where the scale is smallest.

 

 

Konstantinos has taken O Allos Anthropos to Bodrum in Turkey this summer, a place where many thousands of Syrians and other refugees are now held up instead of sailing to the Greek islands. These people have nowhere to go, Greece is largely off limits – though the numbers crossing are increasing again- while in the countries they fled, the west is fighting for prominence instead of helping them rebuild.

We will not solve this problem, or at least it will take many years, and the needs of the worst-off, both Greeks and refugees, are immediate. The only way we have to save the world, or make it a better place, is one person at a time. Everyone who tries to do anything on a larger scale fails miserably.

So that’s what we’ll do. Konstantinos and I, and all the other people involved. One person at a time. We can only do that with your help tough. So once again, please be generous this Christmas. Do that spirit honor. Let’s make 2018 a good year for everyone who needs help to make it one.

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s a matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

Mar 23 2017

The Automatic Earth Still Helps Greeks and Refugees

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 

 

Dec 242017
 
 December 24, 2017  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jules Bastien-LePage The annunciation to the shepherds 1875

 

Yes, Virginia, There Is A ‘Santa Rally’ (Roberts)
Homelessness In England Rises By 75% Among Vulnerable Groups Since 2010 (G.)
Ten Years In, Nobody Has Come Up With A Use For Blockchain (Hackernoon)
Varoufakis: Bitcoin is The Perfect Bubble, Blockchain A Great Solution (Wired)
Japan Births Plunge To Lowest Level Ever Recorded (ZH)
China Raging Against the Dying of the Light (Hamilton)
US Tax Cut and Rate Hikes Threaten China Currency (Schmid)
Italy’s Ruling PD Slides Further In Polls As Election Nears (R.)
How Sea Shepherd Lost Battle Against Japan’s Whale Hunters In Antarctic (G.)
Climate Change In The Land Of Santa Claus (Ind.)

 

 

Santa = faith in the good of mankind. As is Jesus. Still, hard to rhyme with copious dinners while others starve in the dark and cold, and $900 spent on gifts on average per American. That can’t be it.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A ‘Santa Rally’ (Roberts)

Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps

THE EDITORIAL
DEAR EDITOR:

I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible to their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus? It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Read more …

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Homelessness In England Rises By 75% Among Vulnerable Groups Since 2010 (G.)

Homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children who are classed as homeless. According to official figures collated by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the number of homeless households in England identified by councils as priority cases because they contain someone who is classed as vulnerable because of their mental illness, has risen from 3,200 in 2010 to 5,470 this year. Over the same period, the number of families with dependent children – another priority homeless group identified by councils – has increased from 22,950 to 40,130.

The number of homeless households with a family member who has a physical disability has increased from 2,480 to 4,370. After a week in which the prime minister has come under renewed attack over homelessness, housing charities have called on the government to urgently build more affordable housing and reverse a squeeze on benefits which has left vulnerable people unable to pay their rents. “With homelessness soaring, it is no surprise that the number of vulnerable groups – including families with children – who are having to turn to their council for help is on the rise,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter.

“As wages stagnate, rents continue to rise and welfare is cut, many people are struggling to keep a roof over their head. Eviction is now the number one cause of homelessness. “Our services across the country are seeing an increase in the number of people with multiple and complex needs, and we think this may be because other services are failing to provide the help that people need. The solution to our housing crisis must be to urgently build more affordable homes and, in the short term, end the freeze on housing benefit that is increasingly pushing people over the precipice into homelessness.”

Read more …

Shaking the tree.

Ten Years In, Nobody Has Come Up With A Use For Blockchain (Hackernoon)

Everyone says the blockchain, the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, is going to change EVERYTHING. And yet, after years of tireless effort and billions of dollars invested, nobody has actually come up with a use for the blockchain – besides currency speculation and illegal transactions. Each purported use case – from payments to legal documents, from escrow to voting systems – amounts to a set of contortions to add a distributed, encrypted, anonymous ledger where none was needed. What if there isn’t actually any use for a distributed ledger at all? What if, ten years after it was invented, the reason nobody has adopted a distributed ledger at scale is because nobody wants it?

The original intended use of the blockchain was to power currencies like bitcoin – a way to store and exchange value much like any other currency. Visa and MasterCard were dinosaurs, everyone proclaimed, because there was now a costless, instant way to exchange value without the middleman taking a cut. A revolution in banking was just the start& governments, unable to issue currency by fiat anymore, would take a back seat as individual citizens transacted freely outside any national system. It didn’t take long for that dream to fall apart. For one thing, there’s already a costless, instant way to exchange value without a middleman: cash. Bitcoins substitute for dollars, but Visa and MasterCard actually sit on top of dollar-based banking transactions, providing a set of value-added services like enabling banks to track fraud disputes, and verifying the identity of the buyer and seller.

It turns out that for the person paying for a product, the key feature of a new payment system – think of PayPal in its early days – is the confidence that if the goods aren’t as described you’ll get your money back. And for the person accepting payment, basically the key feature is that their customer has it, and is willing to use it. Add in points, credit lines, and a free checked bag on any United flight and you have something that consumers choose and merchants accept. Nobody actually wants to pay with bitcoin, which is why it hasn’t taken off.

Read more …

Crypto vs democracy: “To Varoufakis, money is inherently political. The decisions regarding whether money is produced or not, how it is distributed and who receives it, all have significant political consequences, benefiting certain social groups over others.”

Varoufakis: Bitcoin is The Perfect Bubble, Blockchain A Great Solution (Wired)

While acknowledging the limitations of bitcoin and other technical solutions to political problems, Varoufakis does see potential in blockchain technologies. For him, “the algorithm that operates behind bitcoin, caught my attention right from the beginning. I consider this to be a remarkable technology. As early as 2012, Varoufakis was toying with ideas for using blockchain to help solve Europe’s financial woes. By the time he was appointed Finance Minister of Greece in 2015, within days his anti-austerity programme was met with the direct threat from the Troika to close Greece’s banks. With no banking system, the country would grind to a halt. To counter this threat, Varoufakis devised an audacious plan to keep Greece’s financial system operating. Effectively Varoufakis proposed creating an alternative, peer-to-peer payments system based on the blockchain.

This would disintermediate the financing they were receiving from the Troika and from the money markets. But with no money coming from the Troika, Varoufakis would need to create a parallel payments system, that would leverage the tax that all citizens and companies of Greece need to pay, as a new form of money. This is what he would eventually brand, “fiscal money.” To understand how fiscal money works, imagine that a pharmaceutical company in Greece is owed money by the state. Due to the constraints of the crisis, it may take years to pay the company in normal central bank euros. However what if there was an alternative option? What if the Greek State created a reserve account for the company under its tax file number, in which it placed tax credits of one million euros? This IOU could then also be used by the company to pay other organisations and individuals within the country.

One of the most disruptive aspects of this unrealised plan, was to enable the state to borrow directly from citizens and vice versa. In effect, Varoufakis was attempting to use new digital technologies, such as blockchain, to cut out the European lending authorities and build new lending relationships between citizens, companies and the state. The risk this system faced was the threat of corruption and the subsequent decline in public trust of authorities, something that Varoufakis admits is “in very limited supply” in a country like Greece. For example, what if Greek authorities abused these tax credits and began to distribute this new fiscal money to close allies and friends? This is where Varoufakis saw blockchain’s potential. “If the payments system was based on the blockchain, this would allow the combination of anonymity but perfect transparency, regarding the total aggregate size of the transactions of the currency….blockchain would overcome the trust problem as we know it.”

Read more …

Japan and China suffer the same fate: aging populations.

Japan Births Plunge To Lowest Level Ever Recorded (ZH)

Back in 2013 we asked “Why Have Young People In Japan Stopped Having Sex?” And while that might sound like nothing more than a clever headline intended for The Onion, it was prompted by a very serious survey conducted by the Japan Family Planning Association which found that 45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 and 25% of men were “not interested in or despise sexual contact”…a growing trend that has revealed itself via the nation’s persistently declining birth rates. In fact, “celibacy syndrome” has become of such great concern for the Japanese government that it is considered a bit of a looming national catastrophe….a catastrophe that seems to be getting worse at an accelerating rate. According to data released today by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, child births in Japan will drop to just 941,000 in 2017, the lowest since data first started being recorded in 1899, and nearly 65% below the peak birth rate from the late 1940’s.

Read more …

China is building “..a housing bubble for a population that is never coming..”

China Raging Against the Dying of the Light (Hamilton)

China’s working age population is clearly defined as those aged 16 to 50 years old for females (55 for “white collar” females) and 16 to 60 years old for males. China mandates retirement at these outer age limits. Perhaps of some interest should be that this working age population peaked in 2011 and has been declining since. This decline will continue indefinitely as China has a collapsing childbearing population (detailed HERE), net emigration (outflow), and a still decidedly negative birthrate. There is no evidence to believe the working age declines will abate any decade soon. As the chart below shows, China’s potential workforce will be shrinking indefinitely…and by 2030 China’s potential workforce will be over 100 million fewer than the 2011 peak (an 11% decline)…and only further down from there..

China has one of the youngest average retirement ages in the developed world. On average, according to a recent study (HERE), Chinese leave the work force by age 55 compared to age 63 in the US (Norway has the latest average departure at age 67). So, perhaps China will be raising the retirement age to curb the ballooning 60+yr/old population entering retirement (chart below…chart shows retirement population, 55+ females and 60+ males)? More on that later..

Comparing the working age population versus the 60+yr/old population (chart below…again, showing the 55+ females, 60+ males). A shrinking potential workforce since peaking in 2011 and a rapidly growing elderly population.

[..] While China’s GDP and energy consumption have led the world, they have not responded in kind to China’s debt explosion and exponentially more will be necessary to continue to show “growth”. Over a third and perhaps half of all the debt has been mal-invested in a housing bubble for a population that is never coming. What comes next isn’t going to be good for China nor the rest of the world as China looks to flood a depopulating nation with new debt only creating more housing overcapacity…China will look to beat the Japanese at the debt game.

Read more …

Outflows are by no means over.

US Tax Cut and Rate Hikes Threaten China Currency (Schmid)

Seven was the line in the sand. But the Chinese yuan never crossed that line vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar. It only crept up to 6.96 yuan per dollar on Dec. 16, 2016, before starting an impressive comeback, down to 6.5 in the middle of this year. Last year was a bad one for the Chinese economy. Growth was slow, and the world was worried China would finally land the hard way, as many have been predicting for years. And more than GDP growth or any other metric, the Chinese currency was the barometer of whether China could keep things stable – stability is the mantra of the ruling communist regime – or suffer a crisis of debt deflation. If it declined in value, it meant citizens and companies were moving money out of the country in droves because they didn’t believe in the Chinese dream anymore. So another measure of how bad things had gotten in the second-largest economy of the world was capital outflows.

According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), a record $725 billion left China in 2016, putting pressure on the currency and the Chinese interbank market. All these factors have changed in favor of the dollar in the last quarter, and it’s going to be hard for China to compete. Trying to stem the tide, the central bank sold record amounts of foreign currency. Chinese foreign exchange reserves, $4 trillion at the peak in 2014, went down to $3 trillion, and analysts started to question whether this was enough to finance the world’s largest trading economy. Then, miraculously in time for the 2017 National Congress of the Communist Party, all of this stopped. The yuan never went above 7, the exchange reserves never went below 3 trillion, and capital outflows subsided thanks to draconian regulations making it harder for individuals and companies to move money out of the country.

Read more …

Beppe all the way.

Italy’s Ruling PD Slides Further In Polls As Election Nears (R.)

Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD), hit by internal divisions and a banking scandal, is continuing to slide in opinion polls, with a new survey on Saturday putting it more than six points behind the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. The survey by the Ixe agency, commissioned by Huffington Post Italia, comes just days before parliament is expected to be dissolved to make way for elections in March. It gives the center-left PD just 22.8% of voter support, down almost five points in the last two months, compared with 29.0% for 5-Star, which has gained almost two points in the same period. Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia (Go Italy!) is given 16.2%, with its right-wing allies the Northern League and Brothers of Italy on 12.1% and 5.0% respectively.

This bloc is expected to win most seats at the election but not enough for an absolute majority, resulting in a hung parliament. With the PD’s support eroding in virtually all opinion polls, several political commentators have speculated that its leader Matteo Renzi may choose or be forced to announce he will not be the party’s candidate for prime minister at the election. Renzi has given no indication so far he will take this step. The PD has split under his leadership, with critics complaining he has dragged the traditionally center-left party to the right. Breakaway groups united this month to form a new left-wing party called Free and Equal (LeU), which now has 7.3% of support, according to Ixe. The PD’s popularity seems to have also been hurt by a parliamentary commission looking into the collapse of 10 Italian banks in the past two years.

Read more …

What kills faith in mankind.

How Sea Shepherd Lost Battle Against Japan’s Whale Hunters In Antarctic (G.)

A fleet of Japanese ships is currently hunting minke whales in the Southern Ocean. It is a politically incendiary practice: the waters around Antarctica were long ago declared a whale sanctuary, but the designation has not halted Japan’s whalers, who are continuing a tradition of catching whales “for scientific research” in the region. In the past, conservation groups such as Sea Shepherd have mounted campaigns of harassment and successfully blocked Japan’s ships from killing whales. But not this year. Despite previous successes, Sea Shepherd says it can no longer frustrate Japan’s whalers because their boats now carry hardware supplied from military sources, making the fleet highly elusive and almost impossible to track. As a result the whalers are – for the first time – being given a free run to kill minke in the Southern Ocean.

“We have prevented thousands of whales from being killed in the past and we have helped ensure that the quota of minkes that Japan can take now is much lower than in the past,” said Peter Hammarstedt, a Sea Shepherd captain. “But they have put such resources into this year’s whaling that we cannot hope to find their fleet and stop them. It is simply a matter of us not wasting our own resources. We have other battles to fight.” Japan is not the only nation to hunt whales. Norway has a commercial operation in its own waters, for example. But what infuriates conservationists is that Japan is hunting and killing whales in a conservation zone, the Southern Ocean whaling sanctuary, that surrounds Antarctica. Japan claims that it does so only for scientific purposes.

“Essentially, they are exploiting a loophole in the rules – introduced in the 80s – that govern the banning of commercial whaling,” said Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd. Originally Japan set out to catch more than 900 minkes every year, as well as 50 humpbacks and 50 fin whales. However, its fleet was rarely able to reach these quotas because of actions by groups like Sea Shepherd. “We physically got in between the whalers and the whales and stopped the latter being killed,” said Hammarstedt. “One year we stopped Japan getting all but 10% of its quota. Their ships were nearly empty when they got back home.”

Read more …

The further north the larger the differences.

Climate Change In The Land Of Santa Claus (Ind.)

Lapland occupies a happy space in the popular imagination as a winter wonderland, occupied by reindeer, elves and Father Christmas. The real life Lapland, however, is increasingly facing up to the grim reality of global warming. Besides being the name of Swedish and Finnish provinces, Lapland is the English name for a region largely above the Arctic Circle that stretches across the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Research has revealed the disproportionate impact of climate change in the Arctic, where temperatures are currently rising at double the rate of the global average. The far north is bearing the brunt of global warming, and, as much of Lapland’s population relies on its polar climate for their livelihoods, the effects are starting to be felt.

Rovaniemi, the administrative capital of the Finnish province of Lapland, has done a good job of capitalising on the region’s Christmas-themed reputation. It is the self-proclaimed “Official Hometown of Santa Claus”, where the man himself can be visited 365 days a year. However, with his official residence there only constructed in 1950, Santa Claus is a relative newcomer to Lapland. The wider region is the ancient home of the indigenous Sami people, who refer to it as Sapmi. Owing to its remote location and freezing temperatures, much of Lapland remains relatively pristine wilderness, and it is this wilderness that provides the Sami with space to practise their ancient tradition of reindeer herding. As temperatures rise and begin to disrupt the unspoiled environment, the future prosperity of all Lapland’s inhabitants – from the Sami to Santa Claus – is at risk.

Dr Stephanie Lefrere first came to Finnish Lapland 18 years ago to study reindeer behaviour. Since then, she has observed dramatic changes in the region’s weather patterns, and subsequent effects on its wildlife. “In my very first fieldwork, 300km (186 miles) above the Arctic Circle, it was 20°C below zero on 31 October – really the Arctic feeling by the end of October,” she said. “We don’t have that any more. “Recently there have been ‘black Christmases’ with no snow at all in the southern part of Finland.” Decades of work in the region have cemented her view that climate change is having far-reaching effects on Lapland’s environment, affecting animal migratory routes, habitats and behaviour. “I became worried as a scientist, and also as an individual who is fascinated by the Arctic,” said Dr Lefrere.


Sami culture is based around reindeer, but only a fraction still keep their animals due to environmental change (Getty)

Read more …

Dec 252016
 
 December 25, 2016  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


William-Adolphe Bouguereau La naissance de Vénus 1879

Alec Baldwin Offers To Play Inauguration: ‘I Wanna Sing Highway To Hell’ (G.)
Terminally Ill Dutch Boy Raises £2 Million With Nail-Painting Challenge (G.)
Syrian Chef Serves Up Slice Of Home In Greek Camp (AFP)
An Illegal Hub For Paywalled Science Papers (Nature)
The Radical Jesus (Whitehead)

 

 

I was going to do a good news only Debt Rattle, but I’m afraid I’ve come up a tad short. Not a lot of good news around. I’m sure if I’d go looking for it, I’d find more, but I always want stories to come to me. I thought of just skipping the whole thing, but now that we’ve come this far….. Merry Christmas.

Baldwin’s offer is funnier than the impersonations.

Alec Baldwin Offers To Play Inauguration: ‘I Wanna Sing Highway To Hell’ (G.)

Alec Baldwin has made President-elect Donald Trump an offer to play at his inauguration on 20 January. His song of choice? AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. The actor who did a recurring impression of Trump on Saturday Night Live throughout 2016, made the tongue-in-cheek offer on Twitter, after a string of high profile names refused the gig. Elton John, Andrea Bocelli and Gene Simmons are among the performers who have reportedly turned Trump down. The only confirmed acts so far are the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, America’s Got Talent contestant Jackie Evancho, and the Rockettes, although the Beach Boys are rumoured to be considering playing.

Baldwin and Trump have clashed on social media after the actor began impersonating him on SNL. In November, Trump wrote: “I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?” Baldwin’s withering response, reminded Trump that after the election there is no equal time rule. “There is no more equal time. Now u try 2 b Pres + ppl respond. That’s pretty much it.”

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Heartbreaker.

Terminally Ill Dutch Boy Raises £2 Million With Nail-Painting Challenge (G.)

A terminally ill six-year-old Dutch boy, who hoped to raise a few hundred euros by daring people to paint their nails, has raised more than €2.5m. Tijn Kolsteren, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in May, launched the appeal just three days ago, but it fired the imagination of the Dutch public. The charity drive ended on Saturday. “With his nail-painting dare he wanted to help children suffering from pneumonia,” the Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported. “It was an enormous success – from DJ Armin van Buuren to prime minister Mark Rutte, and many other famous celebrities had their nails painted.” The donation page urged people: “Paint your nails, make a donation and then challenge three of your friends to do the same.” It invited participants to share their pictures on social media using the hashtag #lakaan (meaning “the polish is on”).

The appeal is part of a traditional event in the Netherlands where radio DJs lock themselves away for without food or drink to raise money. This year, proceeds are going to the Red Cross. Rutte joined the DJs late on Friday and opted for a deep blue for his own nails. Tijn’s family learned only last week that a course of chemotherapy had failed to reduce the size of his cancer. “Despite this bad news, we wanted to do something for children who won’t maybe even make it to six,” his father, Gerrit, told NOS. “We came up with the idea together: Tijn had already painted his nails with a friend and liked it. I wanted to do something similar to the ice bucket challenge and men painting their nails is a bit taboo,” he added, referring to the internet craze that raised money and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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A woman after my heart. Obviously. Konstantinos always tries, when possible, to give refugees the ingredients and let them cook their own food. They love that.

Syrian Chef Serves Up Slice Of Home In Greek Camp (AFP)

Before braving a ‘trip of death’ to escape Syria, Talal Rankoussi was a chef in a Damascus restaurant considered the largest in the world. Bawabet Al Dimashq – Damascus Gate – still holds that distinction in the Guinness Book of Records as it can seat over 6,000 people. So when 41-year-old Talal was asked by a US benefactor to spice up the meals for several hundred fellow Syrians at the Ritsona camp near Athens, the two-decade culinary veteran did not hesitate. The father of three, who crossed the Aegean in February in “a trip of death, riding a plastic tyre in an ocean under the rain”, says the food handed out in the camp “is undercooked…with no regard to improving the quality.”

Like most refugee camps in Greece, Ritsona receives daily meals from catering companies commissioned by the army. But in terms of quality and nutritional value, it “just covers survival needs,” says a camp operator who declined to be named. “It’s been a challenge just to get the caterers to send pitta bread instead of white bread,” the operator says, adding that “sometimes we have 200 meals left over that nobody wants to eat.” Then came Carolynn Rockafellow, an American former investment banker who moved to Greece last year after a 30-year career, including two decades at Credit Suisse. Rockafellow, originally from New York, has taken a personal interest in the well-being of Ritsona’s 700 refugees, nearly half of them children.

With personal funds and donations from friends, Rockafellow has created Cafe Rits, offering alternative cuisine out of one of the camp’s few brick-and-mortar buildings. “I feel this story is as much about helping the Greeks as it is about helping the refugees,” Rockafellow says over the sound of Talal furiously chopping vegetables. “This is a very tough situation for Greece and I think they’re doing a great job,” says the woman whose nickname around the camp is Madame Sharba, or Mrs Soup.

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Curious.

An Illegal Hub For Paywalled Science Papers (Nature)

It took Alexandra Elbakyan just a few years to go from information-technology student to famous fugitive. In 2009, when she was a graduate student working on her final-year research project in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Elbakyan became frustrated at being unable to read many scholarly papers because she couldn’t afford them. So she learnt how to circumvent publishers’ paywalls. Her skills were soon in demand. Elbakyan saw scientists on web forums asking for papers they couldn’t access – and she was happy to oblige. “I got thanked many times for sending paywalled papers,” she says. In 2011, she decided to automate the process and founded Sci-Hub, a pirate website that grabs copies of research papers from behind paywalls and serves them up to anyone who asks. This year, interest in Sci-Hub exploded as mainstream media cottoned on to it and usage soared.

According to Elbakyan’s figures, the site now hosts around 60 million papers and is likely to serve up more than 75 million downloads in 2016 – up from 42 million last year and, by one estimate, encompassing around 3% of all downloads from science publishers worldwide. It is copyright-breaking on a grand scale — and has brought Elbakyan praise, criticism and a lawsuit. Few people support the fact that she acted illegally, but many see Sci-Hub as advancing the cause of the open-access movement, which holds that papers should be made (legally) free to read and reuse. “What she did is nothing short of awesome,” says Michael Eisen, a biologist and open-access supporter at the University of California, Berkeley. “Lack of access to the scientific literature is a massive injustice, and she fixed it with one fell swoop.”

For the first few years of its existence, the site flew under the radar — but eventually it grew too big for subscription publishers to ignore. In 2015, the Dutch company Elsevier, supported by the wider publishing industry, brought a US lawsuit against Elbakyan on the basis of copyright infringement and hacking. If Elbakyan loses, she risks having to pay many millions of dollars in damages, and potentially spending time in jail. (For that reason, Elbakyan does not disclose her current location and she was interviewed for this article by encrypted e-mail and messaging.) In 2015, a US judge ordered Sci-Hub to be shut down, but the site popped up on other domains. It’s most popular in China, India and Iran, she says, but a good 5% or so of its users come from the United States. Elbakyan has found her name splashed across newspapers, and says she typically gets a hundred supportive messages a week, some with financial donations.

She says she feels a moral responsibility to keep her website afloat because of the users who need it to continue their work. “Is there anything wrong or shameful in running a research-access website such as Sci-Hub? I think no, therefore I can be open about my activities,” she says. Critics and supporters alike think that the site will have a lasting impact, even if it does not last. “The future is universal open access,” says Heather Piwowar, a co-founder of Impactstory, a non-profit firm incorporated in Carrboro, North Carolina, which helps scientists track the impact of their online output. “But we suspect and hope that Sci-Hub is currently filling toll-access publishers with roaring, existential panic. Because in many cases that’s the only thing that’s going to make them actually do the right thing and move to open-access models.”

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As funny as it is sad.

The Radical Jesus (Whitehead)

However, had Jesus been born in the year 2016… Rather than traveling to Bethlehem for a census, Jesus’ parents would have been mailed a 28-page American Community Survey, a mandatory government questionnaire documenting their habits, household inhabitants, work schedule, how many toilets are in your home, etc. The penalty for not responding to this invasive survey can go as high as $5,000. Instead of being born in a manger, Jesus might have been born at home. Rather than wise men and shepherds bringing gifts, however, the baby’s parents might have been forced to ward off visits from state social workers intent on prosecuting them for the home birth. One couple in Washington had all three of their children removed after social services objected to the two youngest being birthed in an unassisted home delivery.

Had Jesus been born in a hospital, his blood and DNA would have been taken without his parents’ knowledge or consent and entered into a government biobank. While most states require newborn screening, a growing number are holding onto that genetic material long-term for research, analysis and purposes yet to be disclosed. Then again, had his parents been undocumented immigrants, they and the newborn baby might have been shuffled to a profit-driven, private prison for illegals where they would have been turned into cheap, forced laborers for corporations such as Starbucks, Microsoft, Walmart, and Victoria’s Secret. There’s quite a lot of money to be made from imprisoning immigrants, especially when taxpayers are footing the bill.

From the time he was old enough to attend school, Jesus would have been drilled in lessons of compliance and obedience to government authorities, while learning little about his own rights. Had he been daring enough to speak out against injustice while still in school, he might have found himself tasered or beaten by a school resource officer, or at the very least suspended under a school zero tolerance policy that punishes minor infractions as harshly as more serious offenses. Had Jesus disappeared for a few hours let alone days as a 12-year-old, his parents would have been handcuffed, arrested and jailed for parental negligence. Parents across the country have been arrested for far less “offenses” such as allowing their children to walk to the park unaccompanied and play in their front yard alone.

Rather than disappearing from the history books from his early teenaged years to adulthood, Jesus’ movements and personal data—including his biometrics—would have been documented, tracked, monitored and filed by governmental agencies and corporations such as Google and Microsoft. Incredibly, 95% of school districts share their student records with outside companies that are contracted to manage data, which they then use to market products to us. From the moment Jesus made contact with an “extremist” such as John the Baptist, he would have been flagged for surveillance because of his association with a prominent activist, peaceful or otherwise. Since 9/11, the FBI has actively carried out surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations on a broad range of activist groups, from animal rights groups to poverty relief, anti-war groups and other such “extremist” organizations.

Jesus’ anti-government views would certainly have resulted in him being labeled a domestic extremist. Law enforcement agencies are being trained to recognize signs of anti-government extremism during interactions with potential extremists who share a “belief in the approaching collapse of government and the economy.” While traveling from community to community, Jesus might have been reported to government officials as “suspicious” under the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” programs. Many states, including New York, are providing individuals with phone apps that allow them to take photos of suspicious activity and report them to their state Intelligence Center, where they are reviewed and forwarded to law-enforcement agencies.

Rather than being permitted to live as an itinerant preacher, Jesus might have found himself threatened with arrest for daring to live off the grid or sleeping outside. In fact, the number of cities that have resorted to criminalizing homelessness by enacting bans on camping, sleeping in vehicles, loitering and begging in public has doubled. Viewed by the government as a dissident and potential threat to its power, Jesus might have had government spies planted among his followers to monitor his activities, report on his movements, and entrap him into breaking the law. Such Judases today—called informants—often receive hefty paychecks from the government for their treachery.

Had Jesus used the internet to spread his radical message of peace and love, he might have found his blog posts infiltrated by government spies attempting to undermine his integrity, discredit him or plant incriminating information online about him. At the very least, he would have had his website hacked and his email monitored. Had Jesus attempted to feed large crowds of people, he would have been threatened with arrest for violating various ordinances prohibiting the distribution of food without a permit. Florida officials arrested a 90-year-old man for feeding the homeless on a public beach.

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