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Sat Nov 29, 2014 at 05:20 PM PST

The Fierce Anger of the Math

by veritas curat

…the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
 For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation…

…for this, put on sackcloth, Lament and wail; For the fierce anger of the Lord Has not turned back from us. "It shall come about in that day," declares the Lord, "that the heart of the king and the heart of the princes will fail; and the priests will be appalled and the prophets will be astounded… (Jeremiah 4: 25-27, 8 – 9)

Let’s substitute “Math” for the “Lord:”
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Math, before its fierce anger.
the fierce anger of the Math has not turned back from us
For thus says the Math: The whole land shall be a desolation……
The Math is undeniable: it is impossible to sustain exponential growth in a limited system. We can no longer sustain all our carbon burning. Math and physics impose limits. We find ourselves in a predicament between our limitless desires and the hard limits of math and physics. A predicament that involves the unintended consequences of that burning, among other things. It is a multifaceted predicament:  a population soon to be nearing 10 billion; degraded land, water, air and oceans; vast inequities in resource use and wealth distribution; social upheaval; it goes on and on.
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Thu Nov 13, 2014 at 08:07 PM PST

neverending deluge of bilge-water

by veritas curat

Now that the dismal spectacle of our 4 billion dollar marketing extravaganza has ended I’m longing, desperately, that we might develop the same wisdom and benevolence that led the leadership of those Blessed Isles across the waters to mandate that elections shall only last 17 working days. Here in this parched desert of mindless banality and multi-billion dollar, multi-year popularity manufacturing campaigns I am forced to resign myself to an endless landscape of pure bullshit and little else. Every once in a while there springs up a green shoot of authenticity to whet my appetite, but it soon gets trampled by craven manipulators and wealthy criminals who should be in jail, not being greased by vain power-seekers.

I am sick of the lies; the hugely expensive, sophisticated Machiavellian manipulations that, to be fair, rise in sophistication far above your standard, run of the mill lies. They rise, so to speak, like the lagoon of a corporate pig farm rises above that which dots a rural pasture with a few porcine residents.

Now, I want to be clear (before I’m denounced as a dirty lazy hippie) that I vote regularly and have voted in every election available to me. I’ve even been known to volunteer occasionally for local Democrats - if they happen to be from the democratic wing of that party. In fact I may even be a little bit smug about my particular part of the country. Every office holder, from local county council up to my Congressional Representative, whom I helped send back to that CAFO lagoon of the other Washington, is a Democrat. Unfortunately, too many of these got my "lesser evil" vote while holding my nose; I vote for banal and mild over vile and crazy evil.

So, now, after that disclaimer, I return to my desert pasture where it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish, by sight, the piles produced for my perusal by the Democratic leadership from that of the Republicans. They are all tinged green by the amount of money going into their production. It is only when approached closely and examined with some diligence that the Republican piles are found to be more foul-smelling and misshapen than those left by the Democrats. But most of my fellow grazers in this barren pasture don’t wish to undertake the unpleasant task of getting close enough to distinguish these things. Who can blame them? Upon casual observation they are all the same false greenish color of money and have no nutritional value.

It is deeply embarrassing to realize that the whole world is watching these election spectacles of ours. I imagine it is also deeply disturbing as well that the most powerful democracy in the world (to avoid argument, let's just say that it what it is marketed as) should undertake such shameful exercises in gaudy lying. They probably imagine, with the tiny minority who actually participated in this last mudfest, that we’re too busy enjoying our freedoms to care about anything else. They probably don’t realize that a majority of us are not living an American Dream of freedom and plenty.

If there’s anything I’d like the world to realize about our miserable system of election money-marketing, is that we’re not lazy and apathetic; we’ve been beaten down by the constant propaganda. We no longer trust any words coming out of any mouths on the screens we watch. And, I’ll grant you, we do this screen-gazing far too much.

That’s pretty much all I wanted to say about this depressing situation. I’m hoping that maybe a few horrified observers in other parts of the world might take a minute to try and walk through two years of professional Machiavellian pigshit in our shoes before judging us.

Discuss
What we face is a continuation of the shift away from involving people in society as political citizens of nation states towards involving them as consumption units in a corporate world.
Philip Elliott (Intellectuals, the ‘information society,’ and the disappearance of the public sphere)
Welcome, consumption unit, to the corporate world! We have arrived at the pinnacle of civilization! We are now moving parts in a global capitalist machine of resource extraction, labor exploitation and ecological destruction that throws up, at the end of a long tortuous process, consumer products designed, packaged and marketed for the 10% of the world’s people who can afford to buy them. (The other 90% can go pound sand.)

Our corporate world provides us with everything we need. And not only this, but we are free to choose among a cornucopia of "goods" we might desire. Let us pause before the sodas and consider our choices! Let’s choose  between Coke and Pepsi. Douglas Atkin, in The Culting of Brands:  When Customers Become True Believers says

Today’s most successful brands don’t just provide marks of distinction (identity) for products. Cult brands are beliefs. They have morals – embody values. Cult brands stand up for things. They work hard; fight for what is right… Brands function as complete meaning systems
But there's something fishy about all this freedom. It is with great dismay that I must point out that our freedom to choose between two almost identical, harmful to both our bodies and the earth, differently labeled cans of flavored soda-water has evolved into something that can’t be honestly called freedom. And it doesn’t become freedom by being expanded to hundreds of varieties of the same basic flavored soda water. It is a choice between brands;  an empty caricature of freedom which denies the underlying sameness of the items on the menu.

I know that choosing an image is “choosing” something. But it is a choice with very little individual sovereignty in it, and it is a choice that comes with enormous hidden costs. If the choice were available to me I would choose not to waste the resources of the planet on cans of flavored sugar water. I would choose to nationalize this expensive infrastructure and turn it to providing adequate drinking water for the more than a billion on the planet who need it.

But this choice is not on the menu. The choice to use 60% of the earth’s resources in creating products to market to the 10% of the world’s population who can afford to buy them is not on the menu. Nevertheless, it is a pretty fancy menu with professional quality high production values. And I am told to stop bellyaching about the definition of freedom and focus, instead, upon this beautiful menu in front of me; I am told to grow up and not be so picky about what’s left out of what is an enormously varied list of choices I have been given. I am told that in this paradise of consumer choice, at the pinnacle of civilization, we have everything we need to be happy. We are free to be happy!

And, on top of that, being in that lucky 10% of the world's population that qualifies as good consumers (and to be in that select group you need about $73,000 in total assets - $4,118 to be in the top half by the way), puts one in a very select group. And 71% of Americans are in this group.

So us American consumers are pretty special. In fact our lifestyle is "non-negotiable." When President George H.W. Bush attended the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 that's what he said:

The American lifestyle is non-negotiable.
It was a powerful statement. Made more powerful by being backed up by the most powerful military force in the world. That powerful military had, the year before, forcefully ejected Saddam Hussein from the oifields of Kuwait and destroyed his army. It is clear that, since our non-negotiable lifestyle depends upon oil, we are going to use our military to protect our freedoms - many of which require burning lots of oil – even if that involves breaking things and killing people in other countries.

So we've got the world's most powerful and expensive military making sure nothing interferes with our consumption of the fancy items on our menus. Our freedoms are really, really well protected. Lucky us!  

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Fri Nov 29, 2013 at 10:24 PM PST

Glory to Thee! Almighty Shopper!

by veritas curat

Praise, Almighty Shopper, from Whom All Blessing Flow
Praise Thee, all creatures here below;
Praise Thee above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Thy Wallet, Thy Blessed Cart and Credit Card.

We praise Thee Shopper!

It is You, Shopper, and only You, whose power exceeds the massive predatory behemoths, the mighty Corporate Persons On High. The Blessed Job Creators shudder when they see indications that You might be withdrawing the Sacrament of Your Shopping from them. It is You, Shopper, who gives them the nourishment to continue the rampage of the Everlasting Free Market. They know this and they fear You.

Yes, they fear Thee, Mighty Shopper!

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Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 05:35 PM PST

The Price of that Last Tree

by veritas curat

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate… The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it…

One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly upon economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. Wildflowers and songbirds are examples. Of the 22,000 higher plants and animals native to Wisconsin, it is doubtful whether more than 5 per cent can be sold, fed, eaten, or otherwise put to economic use. Yet these creatures are members of the biotic community, and if (as I believe) its stability depends on its integrity, they are entitled to continuance…

A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal… It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense.

Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land. Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen, and by innumerable physical gadgets. He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities where crops grow…

The ‘key-log’ which must be removed to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem… A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise… (Aldo Leopold)

So how is the land ethic doing these days? Holding its own in the face of “economic motives?” How are the 95% of the members of the planet’s biotic community that have no economic value to us faring?
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In ancient forests all over the globe, from the Amazon to West Africa to New Guinea, traditional cultures are under attack:  

Anybody can see that wherever we Van Gujjars live in the forest, the wildlife thrives. In this way we live in complete harmony with the forests and their wildlife and that is the only reason that our way of life has survived through the centuries. Also, we believe in the Ghandian principle that the 'Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not enough for even one man's greed' and we own only so many possessions that we can carry with us. We see the outside world today in a vice-like grip of consumerism and we have consciously kept away from this.
This eloquent (and possibly idealized) statement by a forest dwelling tribe in the foothills of the Himalayas, whose members would have preferred to have no need for making such statements, is one of many examples of the numerous collisions between expanding consumer capitalism and older ways of life. The Van Gujjars could have happily continued their forest existence for many more centuries were it not for the rise and encroachment of the "vice-like grip of consumerism" which continues to gather far corners of the world within its grasp.

In the life of the Van Gujjars there are many things missing: hot and cold running water, television, private automobiles, personal computers, well stocked supermarkets, large comfortable houses, electricity, public education, advanced medical care - all of the benefits of industrial capitalism which we enjoy and take for granted. And, in the face of our overwhelming technological prowess, the Van Gujjars are doomed - as were the native Americans, the aboriginal Tasmanians and many other indigenous tribes that have stood in the way of the "manifest destiny" of modern civilization. I wonder, however, if the victory of consumer capitalism may not be the mother of all Pyrrhic victories.

Jacques Ellul gave notice that all was not well in his book "The Technological Society"(1954). His analysis cast doubt upon the nature of our "victory",

The human race is beginning confusedly to understand at last that it is living in a new and unfamiliar universe. The new order was meant to be a buffer between man and nature. Unfortunately, it has evolved autonomously in such a way that man has lost all contact with his natural framework and has to do only with the organized technical intermediary which sustains relations both with the world of life and with the world of brute matter. Enclosed within his artificial creation, man finds that there is 'no exit'; that he cannot pierce the shell of technology to find again the ancient milieu to which he was adapted for hundreds of thousands of years.
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Wed Sep 25, 2013 at 05:43 PM PDT

A Chancy Kind of Order

by veritas curat

Morowitz has presented the case, in thermodynamic terms, for the hypothesis that a steady flow of energy from the inexhaustible source of the sun to the unfillable sink of outer space, by way of the earth, is mathematically destined to cause the organization of matter into an increasingly ordered state. The resulting balancing act involves a ceaseless clustering of bonded atoms into molecules of higher and higher complexity, and the emergence of cycles for the storage and release of energy. In a nonequilibrium steady state, which is postulated, the solar energy would not just flow to the earth and radiate away; it is thermodynamically inevitable that it must rearrange matter into symmetry, away from probability, against entropy, lifting it, so to speak, into a constantly changing condition of rearrangement and molecular ornamentation. In such a system, the outcome is a chancy kind of order, always on the verge of descending into chaos, held taut against probability by the unremitting, constant surge of energy from the sun.  
- Lewis Thomas "The Lives of a Cell"
The fragility of the complex and beautiful structures we have built “away from probability, against entropy” is often lost in the day to day rushing through our hyper-consumptive industrial civilization. Absorbed in our daily tasks and annoyances we forget how utterly and completely we are dependent upon that “unremitting, constant surge of energy from the sun.” We do live in a “chancy kind of order.”

But not just that. The energy from the sun is diffuse. Plant photosynthesis, a most miraculous phenomenon of “rearrangement and molecular ornamentation,” is, at best, able to capture about 6% of the diffuse solar radiation that flows from “the inexhaustible source of the sun to the unfillable sink of outer space.” And this inefficient molecular ornamentation is the foundation of our entire fragile existence.

This inefficient ornamentation stored that diffuse energy of the sun in the partially decomposed remains of primeval swamps and forests and, over hundreds of millions of years, geological processing concentrated those remains into the energy-dense sources of fire that are the foundations of our modern way of life - our “non-negotiable lifestyle.” It is the burning of these energy dense deposits that has enabled us to move very, very far away from probability into highly ordered states; burning ever more intensely to hold back the thermodynamic forces of entropy, like the Red Queen running as fast as we can to stay in one place. And the farther away we get from probability, the harder we push against entropy, the more dependent we become on that burning as we attempt the impossible task of supporting constant and continuing growth of population and resource use within a complex and limited planetary system.

In mutual parasitism, our non-negotiable lifestyles, as they become ever more highly ordered, have enabled the rise of massive joint-stock corporations, those subsidized hothouse flowers, those high maintenance welfare queens, which we support by socializing their depradations upon our land, water, air and communities so that they may shower their executives and stockholders with material riches. These delicate, high maintenance, freeloaders have now become the Masters of our modern civilization. We the people are completely enmeshed within the products and conveniences provided by these profit generating dandies – from the toothpaste we use in the morning, the toilets we flush, the automobiles we ride in, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, … and the jobs from which we get the money to buy all the products that give us life and support our lifestyle.

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Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 08:17 PM PDT

Goodbye my beloved friend

by veritas curat

He was “just a dog.” It was, some would say, an uneven love. He demanded nothing of me, it was easy. He was my dog and he loved me and he was content. And he was able to extend that unconditional love to our family, he was our dog and he loved us and he was content.

I am “just a human.” And I didn’t come close to his pure, undistracted uncomplicated love. I was his human and I loved him but my signal, unlike his, was distorted by noise. I have spent countless hours in meditation seeking to get to where he was; where the verbal chattering of my mind ceased and I was able to experience the fundamentals of the present moment. I’m getting better, but he left before I learned what I needed to from him. As hard as it will be, I think, when his sister (from their mother’s womb) has passed on I may need take on new teachers.

And in the final balance, when weighed against the Feather of Ma’at, whose hearts will be found more worthy in their support of the holiness and unity of the universe? The humans, so absorbed in their wordy disputations and struggles for power, wealth, resources and status or our beloved friends, our dogs? Wouldn’t things be in much better shape if we were more like them? Making our one purpose in life to be good humans filled with love?

Constantly - through all the cycles of betrayal and validation, gain and loss, pain and joy in my life – he never stopped loving me. Not for an instant, no moody grumpy harsh words, no cold shoulder, nothing held it back. Not to say he never did anything bad. He could be a very bad dog: like when he chewed up my fancy, hand-made paper journal, or my key card for the security gate, or his territorial ownership of the bathroom where I peed and no other males should really have a right to pee. But these were done because he loved me; he didn’t get all the human distinctions about possessions and proper behavior.

I get absorbed in the intricacies and issues of  mature human relationships – those suckers are really, really hard to get right because we’re so goddam sophisticated, we have “needs” and we must “communicate” in healthy ways. There are so many complexities to this big-brained verbal way of relating that it takes a lifetime to attain even an adequate level of mutual non-suffering. Many never get there and die sad and lonely. We seem to be a particularly unhappy species compared to our canine friends.

He ate his food without ever thinking about where it came from and how the money to buy it was obtained. His food was simply evidence of my love for him. As it was. And the trips to the vet, baths, scratching, hugs, walks. He rested secure in my love for him, whether I deserved this or not. His security in my love made it very easy to take for granted and I made a constant effort not to do that. I needed no rhetorical flourishes, no flowers on valentines day – he would have been confused by this, what the hell was this inedible plant I was giving him?

And, goddammit, he had the nerve to refuse to live forever. He had the nerve to get cancer in his twelfth year. And now he’s left me. We live longer than they do, it’s a fact. If it hadn’t been cancer, it would have been something else in the next few years. His sister will surely not live much longer than a few more years. It will be something. It’s always something… death comes to us all. No exceptions.

He takes a big chunk of my heart with him. The emptiness will be there; I won’t turn and see him looking back at me, laying there contentedly. Calling his name won’t result in a happy scuffling of paws hurrying to find out what’s happening. I can’t look down right now, this very instant, and see him resting contentedly by my side. (He was a great napper. He was my guru of naps – Napananda. My teacher in the art of doing nothing.)

It was worth it, though. The pain is worth it. I am grateful for his presence in my life and will always be so. This pain and these tears will fade over time. I worry about his sister and how she will handle his absence, but we can deal with that together. It’s foolish to never love just because one’s beloved will depart from you. This is a fact of life. There is no protection. Even a refusal to love will not protect one from pain and suffering.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Goodbye Tobe. My beloved friend.

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Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 12:21 PM PDT

The Tar Sludge Deadzone

by veritas curat

Managing the outrage is more important than managing the hazard.
- Tom Buckmaster, (former chairman of Hill & Knowlton)
We live in a society in which nearly every moment of human attention is exposed to the game plans of spin doctors, image managers, pitchmen, communications consultants, public information officers and public relations specialists...
 - Stuart Ewen
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Dam my rivers and I’ll salt your crops;
Cut my trees and I’ll flood your plains.
Kill ‘pests’ and, by God, you’ll get a silent spring!
Go ahead — save every last baby’s life!
I’ll starve the lot of them later,
When they can savor to the full
The exquisite justice of truth’s retribution.

(From Garrett Hardin  “Carrying Capacity as an Ethical Concept”  (spring 1976))

No matter how hard we try we can't change the Laws of Nature. Even all the lobbying money in the world from all the major corporations in the world would have no effect. Imagine a humanitarian effort to reduce gravitational acceleration to a half meter per second/per second. This would save thousands of lives from falls and being struck by falling objects. And saving lives is a noble, humanitarian undertaking. But then, if the Laws of Nature were like the laws of human society - which we earnestly hope “bend towards justice” - and our humanitarian effort succeeded, a Law which we ignore at great peril would come into play – the Law of Unintended Consequences. Turning the arc of gravitational acceleration towards this kind of justice would cause the universe and all life within it to fly apart into nothingness.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is that Law which, time and time again, shoves our faces into the reality that we live within a complex web of interrelations that interact in a closed system. Changing one thing affects everything else. As our technology becomes ever more reductionistic and our scientific research ever more specialized we seem to be losing sight of this Law at the very time we should be paying vastly more attention to it.

We hold up human dignity as the shining goal of our civilization. We seek to maximize it. We seek to protect the weak and vulnerable and punish those who would do them harm. This sets up an opposition between the Laws of Humans and the Laws of Nature. The Law of Gravity doesn’t “care” if it’s a rock or a baby that is falling off a cliff – they will both accelerate at 9.8 meters per second/per second until they hit the ground.

Setting up a conflict between human, and humane, values and the amoral machinery of natural selection faces the peril of painting the natural world as a hostile, brutish environment emptied of any divinity. I don't see it this way; some of my most profound experience of the divine have taken place in the wilderness.That makes the workings of the Laws of Nature even more miraculous in their grand mathematical elegance. And, anyway, all of our humanitarian achievements require the energy and resources provided us by the Laws of Nature. We don’t create a separate, more humane world away from these Laws; we use these laws to create things like antibiotics and solar panels. Amoral is not the same as immoral. The Laws of Nature exist; we can use them to create justice or we can use them to create great injustice.

Over and over again we have declared great victories when we believe we have harnessed the Laws of Nature to our advantage. It isn't long after that that the Law of Unintended Consequences comes calling and we discover that our victory has failed to consider the planet we reside upon as a whole system - a whole, complex, finite  system. This failure explains why so many of our manipulations of the Laws of Nature are short term successes with disastrous long-term consequences.

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Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:19 PM PST

Seventeen Trillion Dollars

by veritas curat

Seventeen trillion dollars. That’s more than a million times the amount of money capitalist big-shots on the golf course finagle, bullshit and haw-haw about in their most abject studied manners trying to manipulate the success of their passionate desire for their ship to finally come in. It’s a million lottery winners who can finally quit their shit jobs and buy an RV and tour the Southwest as they’ve always dreamed of.

That’s how much money we’re talking about in the Athabascan Tar Sands - sitting there under all that beautiful boreal forest in the traditional hunting and fishing range of the Dene Nations. Queen Victoria made a treaty with them – Treaty Number 8 – in the interest of protecting the Yukon gold rushers from their ire. It was about money then and it’s about money now.  

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Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 04:21 PM PST

A Sustainable Economic Retreat

by veritas curat

It is obvious, the Laws of Physics say, that growth of our population, economy and energy use cannot continue without limit. This should be non-controversial. But it's not.

These facts do not reside comfortably within the political spectrum. In fact, the problems posed by physics and chemistry regarding our effect upon the planet tell us that our political and economic systems, as currently constituted, are unable to respond in any kind of timely or sufficient manner. In fact, proposing timely and effective solutions is considered electoral suicide

Like, for example, that number "350" - as in 350.org - which C02 concentrations can't exceed if, as James Hansen says, "humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted." Since we are at 392 right now it is clear that no more Carbon can be burned by us any more. Period. And, even then, we might still be stuck with a radically altered planet.

So stop burning coal, oil, natural gas. Stop our obsession with economic growth. These ideas are deeply unpopular. Pessimistic. Chicken Little.

When the first President, George Washington, placed his hand upon the Bible, he stood less than a single day's journey by horseback from raw, untamed wilderness. There were 4 million Americans in a union of 13 States. Today we are 60 times as many in a union of 50 States. We have lighted the world with our inventions, gone to the aid of mankind wherever in the world there was a cry for help, journeyed to the Moon and safely returned… we, the present-day Americans, are not given to looking backward. In this blessed land, there is always a better tomorrow… we believed then and now there are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.  (From St. Ronald’s 2nd Inaugural Address)
This grand, optimistic vision is, I’m afraid, the preferred political opiate. We take this drug at our own peril. And we do take it. In vast, saccharine quantities. It turns us into bloated consumption units in a corporate world.
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