Sunday, October 29, 2006

Human Beings Are Ingrate Variables

I’ve said this several times probably (say, about a million times), but journalists saying it in major US newspapers like The Washington Post is sufficiently rare for me to feel like underlining it.

Human beings make poor variables in all the wise men’s economical equations. They just won’t behave the way they’re supposed to, well not for long anyway. They don’t understand that as long as mean values are okay, they should feel okay. They don’t get it that having ups and downs, peaks and pits is just part of the economical process, and that all that matters is that it just evens out in the end, or shows a global rise.

In his editorial today, Mr Hacker bravely decided to deconstruct the myths and fables economical gurus feed themselves everyday. Economics is well and good. Clean, cool. Cold.


It’s laws and equations and theory. All well and good when you think in terms of physics, mechanics, chemistry and astrophysics or quantum mechanics, but completely invalid when you apply it to life, to human life and reality. Why? Because people are sentient, because people live, because people need to pay their bills on time, need to buy food, clothing, housing, need to pay for their kids’ education, need to pay hospital bills, and so on.

People are not the equivalent of money left dormant on a banking account. They cannot just be left there when the economical conjecture is bad, to be reinvested in this or that venture when the time is right again. People cannot stop paying their bills when they’re in a “bad year”, and put off paying them for whenever a “good year” will happen again (that is, if it happens at all).

People just cannot put their lives on hold during “bad years” and revive when “good years” come again.

Economy is about management, flexibility and the ability to put things on hold, to make them move in whatever direction you feel the market hints at, and fast.

Human life is about building stability, about having homes, friends, family, about enjoying oneself, about realizing oneself. Human life cannot be equated, or put in a parallel with economy. People need stability to build something. Exactly the opposite of what the holy laws of economy force upon us.

And yet, the wise men of economy, those blessed priests of the holy doctrine do not understand this. They write books and whine about humanity’s ingratitude. I could almost weep for their plight. Poor men, we’re such stupid creatures, we people. An example? Why certainly:

(…)Some analysts have described current voter angst as a hangover of economic success. "Americans have developed perfectionist standards," economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson has argued. "We expect total prosperity and are disappointed by anything less." And conservative pundit George Will recently decried the nation's "economic hypochondria" -- an entitlement mentality characterized by a low threshold for economic pain.

Nice, isn’t it? I’m sure Mr Will never found himself fired on the spot one week from having to pay his rent, and the interests on the new car he had bought. I’m sure Mr Will didn’t have to worry about renewing the wardrobe of his kids, and sending the eldest to a good university.

I hate people who lord it over the rest of us like that, so detached from a normal person’s everyday life that the “judgment” they make would be laughable if only opinions like these weren’t taken seriously by the powers-that-be and those who decide how countries are run, and who refuse to put barriers and rules to hold the hydra called economy in check.

Fortunately some people are slowly starting to get their heads out of their asses, and to take a good, long look at reality:

(…)In a path-breaking recent paper, "The Evolution of Top Incomes: A Historical and International Perspective," Thomas Piketty of Écoles Normales Supérieure in Paris and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley have shown that the share of national income held by the richest 1 percent of Americans -- stable at about 32 percent throughout the middle decades of the 20th century -- began to rise sharply in the late 1970s and by 2002 had surpassed 40 percent. In the past few years, most income gains have gone to people at the very top of the income ladder, with middle-class Americans seeing only a small boost in their economic standing.

(…)Princeton economist Henry Farber, in his article "What Do We Know About Job Loss in the United States?" has found that the likelihood that a worker will lose a job over a three-year period has been rising -- and is now about as high as it was in the early 1980s, which saw the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with this bit of wisdom from Mr Hacker. Read it to the end, it’s very instructive, and it says a lot on how disconnected from reality economy gurus are. And thus, how dangerous they are when heeded by those in power:
(…)In my own research using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics -- a survey that has traced a large sample of Americans over time -- I've found that family incomes have become much more unstable since the 1970s; the gap between our income in a good year and our income in a bad year has expanded. Increasingly, it seems, Americans are living on a financial roller coaster.
Of course, roller coasters go up as well as down, so it's tempting to think that the net effect of economic instability is a wash. But instability causes hardship even when the "average" experience stays constant. In their seminal 1979 article "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decisions Under Risk," psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky showed that people dislike losing things they already have much more than they like gaining things they don't have -- a phenomenon known as "loss aversion." As a result, losses in income are psychologically difficult even when followed by equal or even larger gains. And, of course, it's on those downward trips that people lose their houses, their jobs, their retirement savings and other staples of middle-class life.

Thank you, Mr Hacker, for stating what is obvious to anyone with a life and not millions of dollars or Euros stored safely somewhere to parry the “bad years”.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Because sometimes, courage is rewarded, and hope is justified.

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of one of the most courageous political decisions ever made.

The 25th anniversary of a profoundly moving speech by a great man, a lawyer, speaking out in the great French Senate.

The 25th anniversary of Robert Badinter’s hard-won victory after a lifelong war against the barbarity also known as the death penalty.

25 years, and despite charming rumors spread by loving friends of France and Europe such as Fox News (fair and balanced, remember?), France is a place of order. And Europe, where the great principle of the interdiction to ever condemn anyone to the death penalty or execute any criminal is written in the funding charter...

Well, Europe, much to the chagrin of all the fervent defenders of the death penalty, is a place of peace.

No, the abolition of this barbaric practice doesn’t invite chaos. It doesn’t invite criminals to multiply and commit even more atrocious crimes, feeling invincible and unafraid of the judicial system. Only fools believe that the death penalty is a solution. Only fools believe it has the effect of lessening the crime rates—fools, and all those who refuse to think, to have anything other than simplistic answers to problems--simplistic answers but no true solutions.

The death penalty doesn’t help contain crime. It’s the opposite. Violence calls for more violence. Blood calls out for blood. Death calls out for death.

And even of you don’t believe that, if you refuse to bow to the numbers and conclusions of many studies on the subject, then consider this: how many innocents were in extremis rescued from the death row on the eve of their scheduled executions? How “perfect” is this joke of a judicial system the US boasts as the best in the world? How perfect is it, when it will spare those with wealth and condemn those who neither have the means, nor the right looks, regardless of whether they’re actually guilty of the crime they’re accused of?

Ah, I see you’re pissed at me now, dear reader from the US. Please, be angry. Then, once the red veil of anger has lifted from your eyes, ask yourself why a Republican governor, in favour of the death penalty, has declared a memorandum on the death penalty in his state, thus forbidding this sentence to be passed?

Why, it is because that Republican governor is a brave man who dared look at the ghosts haunting the antechamber of death, because he dared turn his gaze toward the guests of his prisons’ death rows. And the number of innocent people waiting there to be butchered like animals unsettled him so much that he had to take a stand.

When you have a judicial system as unreliable as the one prevailing in the US, how can you even consider applying the death penalty?

Ah, because you think it works. Wrong answer. It doesn’t.

Because feeding inmates and housing them costs way too much taxpayer money. Hmmmm, well, that may be true. So, why not be coherent, and kill anyone found guilty of anything? Waste of good people’s money, the whole lot! Oh, and the old people, such a strain on the social system! Should be dead by 70 anyway, so why keep them? And the physically or mentally handicapped? No use to society either, and also a big, big financial expense for the poor tax payer. Away with them all, mate!

Disgusted yet? Good.

No matter how you try to rationalize it, there is no argument that will hold in favour of the death penalty. Try all you want, they will not resist solid argumentation. Of course, as a crowd, people like to see blood, people like vengeance, people love slowing down and causing gigantic traffic jams on the freeway just so they can have a chance of catching sight of dead or, better, agonizing people in a car accident just in the other lane...does that mean we should all go back to Circus Maximus, get ourselves some lions, and good scapegoats, or criminals to be thrown in and fed to the beasts for our own animal pleasure (prime time required, Fox News already has a slot ready for the moment it’ll be reinstated)?

There is no justification for society deciding to kill someone. Guilt is never whole, never absolute and perfect. And to kill is to put oneself at the same level as the killer. No matter how you want to sugarcoat it, taking a life is taking a life. There is no rationalizing over this, no looking for clever words and witty phrases.

When society kills, it debases itself. It becomes no better than the one it passes judgement upon. And in effect, it becomes unfit to pass judgement. It loses any moral high ground it might have had.

The abolition of the death penalty in France was voted against popular opinion. 66% of the French population was for the death penalty. Today, 25 years and a full generation later, only 30% are still in favour of it. As always, the truth speaks for itself.

Europe can be proud of having written the interdiction of the death penalty in its funding charter. The far-right, religious extremists of Poland be damned! They can leave Europe, if they want to revel in obscurantism and barbarity. Good riddance.

Europe can be proud. As can France. As can Mr Robert Badinter. Courage and persistence prevailed, 25 years ago. Of all the things the left’s victory in 1981 brought to France, this one is certainly the most beautiful.

Now, dear US politicians, dear US citizens, who among you will have the courage to bring the issue forward?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Today is Whatever’s Day

I hate days. Not days as in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc, mind you. I hate the ludicrous things they call “Peace day”, “Fair Trade day”, “Fight against Cancer day”, “Women’s day”, “Mothers’ day”, “Father’s day”, “Grandparents’ day”, you name them.

There are days for everything. They put on the same level insignificant things and fundamental things.

Women’s place in the world? Why, same as Valentine’s day! Maybe same as Cabbage day, once they come up with it.

Death penalty? Why, same as Grandparents’ day! Besides, why make such a fuss about a thing as humane as the death penalty? Really, why make such a fuss with lethal injections delivered not by medical personnel but by prison wardens? Is it because who don’t have the knowledge? Because they can’t inject enough anaesthetic, a fact which allows the prisoner, turned torture victim for the occasion, to acutely feel his guts turn to jelly, his lungs and his heart explode, while being paralyzed and unable to express the excruciating (and lasting) pain, all for the greatest pleasure of the victim’s families, who’ve come to gloat and rejoice?

I really can’t see why. After all, torture is such a nice thing, and not inhumane at all. Proof, you ask? Well, Mr Bush himself, the saint of our times, the man who does the Christian god’s will, is lobbying with all his might to have torture legalized in the beloved USA, the one nation superior to all others in all domains (past, present, or future, batteries not included). In a country enlightened enough to have the death penalty, it’s very coherent.

Still, this is taking me away from the initial subject.

Please, someone, do us a favour and annihilate, erase this absurd, stupid, moronic custom of having days dedicated to whatever lost cause or stupidity humanity hypocritically plays at caring about for a day in the year.

Do us all a favour, and give us a break.

Women’s place in the world, Women’s Rights are an everyday concern.

The death penalty’s barbarity is an everyday concern.

So is peace, the fight against cancer, or AIDS, etc.

You can’t make a problem disappear by pretending to care for a day. You just mock the causes you hypocritically “underline” during that day. You belittle them.

You insult them.

So I say, down with whatevers’ day!

Monday, October 09, 2006

In the Loving Hands of Fear

Fear isn’t a word people like. To the masculinity-challenged, it has the sound of cowardice, an unforgivable flaw for any True (and oafish and boring) Male ™. To many people, it’s something to put in the background, and forget once it’s behind closed doors.

Or so they think.

We never forget about fear. It’s always with us, always present, always whispering in our ear little words and trickling clod down our spines. It’s fear that makes us consider voting for the likes of Nicolas Sarkozy, or Philip de Winter, or Jean-Marie Le Pen, or Georges W Bush. We would of course never admit that’s fear that drives us, no. It’s pride, national or cultural or historical or whatever nonsense we can spew out to justify ourselves to our guilty consciences. If we stopped and thought for a bit, if we analyzed what we’re dumped in terms of information, we would realize that all those men base everything on it, on our beloved fear, our faithful companion. Everything will do: terrorist threats, immigration threats, fake humiliation sensations, you name it. All these people spend their nights and their days reminding us of our fears, feeding our fears. They organize grand operations (military, police, or other things), with the outward and false aim to show the population that they’re taking care of problems and dealing with them.

The truth is, they’re not. They’re just spreading images of violence which work on our minds, which do not assuage our fears but help our fears to dig their claws deeper in our hearts. It’s a very well known process in psychology: showing police or military, and violence will always make the viewers’ sentiment of insecurity grow, no matter what the police or military forces are doing. The more we see police people in the streets, geared for riot-combat, the more we will feel threatened, even if there is no real root to that sensation. Of course, all these politicians know this, and abuse it. It’s so easy (the more so when one is minister of Interior, isn’t that true, Mr Sarkozy?), so why shy away from it? Certainly not because it would be manipulating people or because those people want to get to power through fair means, through positive propositions and projects!

It’s also fear which makes people turn to faith in the hour of death, when they are in pain, or shattered by grief. The reason there, is even easier to understand: because the Catholic religion (well, all monotheistic religions) dangles before the eyes of the suffering or bereaved an extraordinary promise: nothing ends, it continues forever, and once you die, if you've been good and obedient, you are reunited with all those you love. They will all be there for you, waiting for you. They will know you, you will know them. And you will be happy. Forever.

Nice, isn’t it?

I don’t think anyone has come up with a more alluring answer to the problem of our fear of death (or maybe Islam has, provided you’re a man, who ends up in Paradise with a good number of beautiful virgins—or gorgeous young men, in death things not allowed in life are allowed of course—you can rape^H^H^H^H oops, I meant “fuck” over and over again while they remain pure virgins—please note that if the Islam’s idea of a paradise for women is to end up as virgins to be fucked by men for all eternity, I think all women will always prefer ending up in Hell, thank you very much).

We’ve been buying it for 2000 years, but we’re starting to get better, fortunately. There’s still quite a bit to do, because deconstructing isn’t sufficient (well, if you ask the high and mighty who dominate the global finance it is, of course), you have to build something over the ruins of what was. Some argue that nothing of the old can be used to build something else. I say they’re fools, and that laziness is the best guide: if some things were good, they should be reused. Perhaps rephrased, placed in a better context, but reused anyway.

But that’s work for another day.

Today, I just wished to celebrate the defeat of Fear in Anvers, aka Antwerp. The far-right was defeated, it was pushed back from its postion of 1st party in the city, a position won by the socalists of Patrick Janssens.

Even though everyone predicted a black Sunday, it was not. It was a bright, blue and sunny Sunday. The minions of Fear were defeated. Of course they do not recognize the fact, after all, why should worshippers of such a ferocious deity bow to mere numbers? Still, It doesn’t matter. Fear was defeated.

And the sun shines in a sky free of clouds.

(PS: as usual holidays meant writing, so a fic will be forthcoming in the next few weeks, time for me to retype and proof read everything, so watch out for a new title on My Fic page, to be released soon! ^^)