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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Passion, moldy browser tabs, and infographics that make the world more real

I'm one of those people who lets tabs build up in my web browser. I open pages that I promise myself I'll return to when I have a few minutes to squeeze in some reading. They stay open, sometimes, for months.

The number of things I'm keen to read so dwarfs the number of minutes set aside for reading them, I occasionally have to go on a browser-tag-killing rampage. No telling what extraordinary pieces of prose and video I have zapped into oblivion, never to touch my mind, my heart, my life.

Oh, well. It's just a part of being in the flowing river of content that is the privilege of our times.

But sometimes I'll hang on to a piece for no good reason I know of, its browser tab opening every time Firefox fires up, for months on end. And then, eventually, in some interstitial moment, I'll start reading. ...and I'll be grabbed by my chest hair and pulled toward the screen.

I was just about to delete this piece, from Rolling Stone, way back in mid March. But decided I should scan the opening sentence or two before obliterating this piece of months-old ancient history.

Scanning those first words compelled me to the end of the first paragraph, and I was super-glued until the closing full-stop.

Topic: Financial crisis and the US bailout of the banks. Not exciting, and we all think we've heard e-freakin'-nuff about it, by now. I know the facts. I can explain what a credit default swap is. I'm already angry. So, I was pretty sure I didn't really need to read this. Well, screw it. I needed to read it. Highly recommended.

The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses).

So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream.

And if that ain't enough to get you there, have a look at this masterpiece of inforgraphics on the same topic. I am awed by great infographics -- the art of representing data/information in a visual mode so that the clarity and impact of the data is increased. This is a great infographic. Not 3d. Not in colour. Just monochromatic boxes. And yet...

Simple task: compare the "total outlay for all the bailouts to date" with "every major one time expenditure of the USA, including ... the moon shot, the New Deal, Iraq, Viet Nam and Korean wars. (Omitted from the graphic are WW1&2 and the total of all NASA budgets, but when included the bailout is still bigger.) All historical figures are inflation adjusted.

The article from which this comes is here.

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