Recommended Reading 19

This week’s recommended links and readings include: a mainstream university economist’s take on why America is economically (and societally) screwed; a classic article/essay about the Rolling Stones and the Altamont tragedy and its defining impact on a generation; a former television writer’s account of what happened when his meeting with Al Franken for a prospective job was interrupted by a phone call informing Franken that his friend and fellow SNL castmate Phil Hartman had been murdered; a simply wonderful and in-depth interview with former Monty Python member-cum-author/actor/documentarian Michael Palin; and a report on new research into how lucid dreaming sheds light on the neurology of human self-awareness.



Why We’re Screwed
L. Randall Wray, MyFDL, July 24, 2012

[NOTE: Wray is an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.]

Financiers are forcing schools, parks, pools, fire departments, senior citizen centers, and libraries to shut down. They are forcing national governments to auction off their cultural heritage to the highest bidder. Everything must go in firesales at prices rigged by twenty-something traders at the biggest and most corrupt institutions the world has ever known. And since they’ve bought the politicians, the policy-makers, and the courts, no one will stop it. Few will even discuss it, since most university administrations have similarly been bought off — in many cases, the universities are even headed by corporate “leaders” — and their professors are on Wall Street’s payrolls. We’re screwed … The fraud cannot be reduced much less eliminated. First, there are no regulators to stop it, and no prosecutors to punish it. But, far more importantly, fraud is the business model. Further, even if a financial institution tried to buck the trend it would fail. As Bill says, fraud is always the most profitable game in town. So Gresham’s Law dynamics ensure that fraud is the only game in town. As Sherrill said, without regulation, capitalism is thievery. We stopped regulating the financial system, so thieves took over … [M]odern finance has replaced religion as the supreme capitalistic undertaking … Food? Financialized. Energy? Financialized. Healthcare? Financialized. Homes? Financialized. Government? Financialized. Death? Financialized. There no longer is a separation of the FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) and the nonFIRE sectors of the economy. It is all FIRE … I see two scenarios playing out. In the first, we allow Wall Street to carry on its merry way, as the foreclosure crisis continues and Wall Street steals all homes, packaging them into bundles to be sold for pennies on the dollar to hedge funds. All wealth will be redistributed to the top 1% who will become modern day feudal lords with the other 99% living at their pleasure on huge feudal estates. You can imagine for yourselves just what you’re going to have to do to pleasure the lords … In the second, the 99% occupy, shut down, and obliterate Wall Street. Honestly, I have no idea how that can happen. I am waiting for suggestions.



Aquarius Wept
Ralph J. Gleason, Esquire, August 1970

Teaser: And flights of Angels sang Meredith Hunter to his rest. After Woodstock and love came Altamont and disaster, and after Altamont came its definitive history in the pages of Esquire (now available for the first time online).

It was the largest gathering of people in modern California history. As many as 300,00 may have been in attendance. And what happened was that a man was killed there, knifed and beaten to death within twenty feet of Mick Jagger as he was singing Under My Thumb. The victim was Meredith Hunter, an eighteen-year-old black man, and his attackers were Hell’s Angels, the outlaw motorcycle gang. The murder took place within the bright circle of light illuminating the performance area and before the cameras of the Maysles brothers, who were making a documentary film … Altamont has become the most significant act ever to be associated with rock music. Its repercussions have resulted in at least four California county ordinances banning large gatherings unless special and prohibitive measures are taken, and there are two bills in the California legislature proposing the same thing … Jagger, who was visibly shaken when he left Altamont, was reached later that evening at the Huntington Hotel. “I know San Francisco by reputation. It was supposed to be lovely here — not uptight. What happened? What’s gone wrong? If Jesus had been there, He would have been crucified” … The aftermath of Altamont is still evolving, after months. “Altamont socked it to a lot of people,” Rock Scully said. And Bill Thompson, the Airplane’s manager, remarked that “a lot of personal relationships were burned behind Altamont.” The event challenged the basic “do-your-own-thing” ethic on which the whole of San Francisco music and hip culture had been based. “It wasn’t just the Angels. It was everybody,” one young lady said later. “There was no love, no joy. In twenty-four hours we created all the problem of our society in one place: congestion, violence, dehumanization. Is this what we want?”



Me, Al Franken and the worst meeting in show business history: a true story
Bill Barol, boingboing, July 27, 2012

In the late ’90s I was working as a sitcom writer, and in the spring of 1998 I was between jobs and needed one. My agent lined up a meeting for me with Al Franken, who was then running a show called “Lateline,” a behind-the-scenes comedy about a TV news program. Franken wanted to meet me, my agent told me, because I had a news background, having been a writer for Newsweek before I moved to Los Angeles … I arrived a little early and found Franken in the hotel restaurant, where he was meeting with another writer. He asked me if I’d mind waiting for a few minutes, so I took a seat in the lobby. After a few moments the telephone rang at the host’s station, which sat in the lobby, a few feet outside the dining room entrance, and about 20 feet from where I was sitting. The host answered the call, listened for a moment, then went inside and came back with Franken. The writer with whom Franken had just met, their meeting now concluded, continued through the lobby and left. Franken picked up the phone. Here’s what I heard him say: “Hi, honey… No, still having meetings. What? CNN? No, why?” He listened for a long moment, and then I saw all the color drain from his face. And I heard him say: “He’s DEAD? He’s DEAD? Oh my God, Phil—Phil’s DEAD? What hap— He was murdered? Shot? What about Brynn? Is she… Brynn shot him? Brynn shot Phil? And she’s dead? They’re both DEAD???” This went on for a few more minutes, and at some point—I don’t remember exactly how; there may have been a radio on somewhere—I learned that that morning, out in Encino, Franken’s friend and colleague Phil Hartman had been shot and killed by his wife Brynn, who then killed herself. Franken eventually hung up the phone and stood there, silent and distraught.



The dark knight rises: Perhaps Michael Palin isn’t the nicest chap in Britain after all…
Robert Chalmers, The Independent, July 29, 2012

[NOTE: A big thank you to Teeming Brain columnist Stu Young for suggesting this wonderful interview with and profile of one of England’s most deservedly beloved celebrities.]

If England ever requires one figure to rally all of its citizens, that man, I suggest, might be Michael Palin. He has somehow come to embody our notions of fairness and decency; and these are the two attributes that the English — whether they sympathise with Billy Bragg or Nick Griffin — would most like to claim as their own … Palin is famously the only Monty Python member who has constantly remained on speaking terms with all the others. Yet, equable as he may be, the youngest Python is not immune to the occasional rush of blood. Terry Jones recalled his friend losing his temper when was asked to do a sixth retake of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which required him to get down on his knees and eat mud. (“I just exploded,” Palin says, “and started to rant. The whole cast applauded.”) … The 69-year-old, who has just published his second novel, The Truth, lives quietly, as he has for the past four-and-a-half decades, with his wife Helen, in a side-street in north London, close to Hampstead Heath … Some might question whether publishing houses’ insatiable appetite for celebrity authors has enhanced the quality of contemporary British fiction, but Michael Palin, like Hugh Laurie, is one of those who really can write. His first novel, Hemingway’s Chair, published in 1995, was, among other things, a prescient critique of large corporate retailers, and of their devastating effect on local communities … “Fame really is a trap,” Palin tells me. “When I start complaining about this, Helen quite rightly says: ‘Well, here’s an idea: don’t make another 10-part television series.’ But fame would cut anybody off from the kind of things that I like to do.” “Such as?” “Oh, quite ordinary things. Observing the world. Learning about trains. Discovering new music. You also find yourself bearing other people’s expectations. I don’t want to bear anybody’s expectations. I just want to do… what I can do. And to be judged on that. All of this comes back to what Ernest Hemingway said: ‘Don’t talk about writing; just write.’ And I sometimes tend to think: ‘Don’t talk about living; just live.'”



Lucid Dreamers Help Scientists Locate the Seat of Meta-Consciousness in the Brain
ScienceDaily, July 27, 2012

Which areas of the brain help us to perceive our world in a self-reflective manner is difficult to measure. During wakefulness, we are always conscious of ourselves. In sleep, however, we are not. But there are people, known as lucid dreamers, who can become aware of dreaming during sleep. Studies employing magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) have now been able to demonstrate that a specific cortical network consisting of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the frontopolar regions and the precuneus is activated when this lucid consciousness is attained. All of these regions are associated with self-reflective functions. This research into lucid dreaming gives the authors of the latest study insight into the neural basis of human consciousness … Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes of Psychiatry in Munich and for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and from Charité in Berlin have now studied people who are aware that they are dreaming while being in a dream state, and are also able to deliberately control their dreams. Those so-called lucid dreamers have access to their memories during lucid dreaming, can perform actions and are aware of themselves — although remaining unmistakably in a dream state and not waking up. By comparing the activity of the brain during one of these lucid periods with the activity measured immediately before in a normal dream, the scientists were able to identify the characteristic brain activities of lucid awareness.

About Matt Cardin


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