Everyone is interesting. If you’re ever bored in a conversation, the problem is with you — not with the other person. It’s all about figuring out what somebody’s really into — what they’re passionate about.
Fascinating stuff from David E. Hoffmann’s stellar book on the rise of Russian oligarchs:
The Soviet system also had another kind of funds, known as non-cash, or ‘beznalichnye’. This was not banknotes or coins, but a kind of virtual money that was widely distributed as government subsidies to factories. The beznalichnye, or noncash, existed only as an accounting unit. A factory would be transferred subsidies in beznalichnye, which it would record on its books and might use to pay another enterprise—but it was not something you could put in your wallet.
The key dilemma for a factory manager was that the system was rigid: mixing the two kinds of money was prohibited. The factory manager was not allowed to take the beznalichnye and turn it into real cash. Both kinds of money were controlled by Gosbank, the official state bank, and by the central planners.
However, factory managers almost always needed more cash than they could get out of the system. The supply of cash was tight, but the supply of beznalichnye was very plentiful — maybe because there was not much use for it. The result was an imbalance in the value of the two kinds of money. Cash was much more valuable and sought after. By some estimates, a cash ruble was worth ten times a noncash ruble.
This imbalance was an invitation to huge profits. Someone who figured out how to turn the beznalichnye into cash would make a fortune. The planners’ greatest nightmare was that someone would do this and pump the relatively worthless state subsidies into real cash rubles.
Guess who figured it out: Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Lawrence Wright’s epic account on L. Ron Hubbard and the rise of Church of Scientology was so engaging I simply couldn’t put it down.
The organization is clearly schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder LRH. The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background, and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile. At the same time it appears that he is charismatic and highly capable of motivating, organizing, controlling, manipulating , and inspiring his adherents. …Obviously, he is and has been a very complex person, and that complexity is further reflected in his alter ego, the Church of Scientology.
…the purpose of a lawsuit is “to harass and discourage rather than win.” Hubbard also wrote: “If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organization, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace… Don’t ever defend. Always attack.” He added: “NEVER agree to an investigation of Scientology. ONLY agree to an investigation of the attackers.”
Thoroughly researched and so completely bananas, this is investigative reporting at it’s finest.
The thing about one drink — a glass of liquor we’re talking about, hopefully a stiff pour — is that it doesn’t involve enough alcohol to make anything stop working. Your eyesight, your natural grace, your moral compass — they’re all left intact. Because one drink doesn’t compromise anything. It enhances. You have one drink and your world becomes slightly better. The bar is a slightly better bar. Your dog is a slightly better dog. Your work is slightly more brilliant. And for that, you pay no price. Your outward appearance is unchanged — to your drinking partner, to your boss, to your kid, to a cop. You haven’t wrecked anything. You haven’t said anything stupid. You were a gentleman when you started drinking and you are a gentleman — a slightly more interesting one, which is nice — when you finish drinking. For a good thirty minutes (it doesn’t work if you don’t sip the drink and make it last), everything about the universe is slightly less intolerable. One drink is a free ride.
Although the global economic environment has remained challenging, total global wealth has grown to a new record, rising by USD $20.1 trillion between mid-2013 and mid-2014, an increase of 8.3%, to reach USD $263 trillion – more than twice the USD $117 trillion recorded for the year 2000.
Our estimates for mid-2014 indicate that once debts have been subtracted, a person needs only USD $3,650 to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than USD $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and USD $798,000 to belong to the top 1%. Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets.
The USA has by far the greatest number of members of the top 1% global wealth group, and accounts for 41% of the world’s millionaires.
Global wealth is expected to grow by 40%, reaching USD $369 trillion by 2019. Emerging markets will account for 26% of the additional wealth, compared to 11.4% of the extra wealth in the period from 2000 to 2014. The number of millionaires worldwide is projected to rise from 35 million to 53 million, an increase of more than 50%.
There is very little doubt, in my mind, that what the next monumental achievement of humanity will be the first landing by an Earthling, a human being, on the planet Mars. And I expect that within 2 decades of the 5th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, that within 2 decades America will lead an international presence on Planet Mars. Some people may be rooting for Elon [Musk, SpaceX & Tesla Motors founder & CEO] – I think he could, with his SpaceX, contribute considerably, enormously, to an international activity not only at the moon but also on Mars. I have considered whether a landing on Mars could be done by the private sector. It conflicts with my very strong idea, concept, conviction, that the first human beings to land on Mars should not come back to Earth. They should be the beginning of a build-up of a colony / settlement, I call it a “permanence.” A settlement you can visit once or twice, come back, and then decide you want to settle. Same with a colony. But you want it to be permanent from the get-go, from the very first. I know that many people don’t feel that that should be done. Some people even consider it distinctly a suicide mission. Not me! Not at all. Because we will plan, we will construct from the moon of Mars, over a period of 6-7 years, the landing of different objects at the landing site that will be brought together to form a complete Mars habitat and laboratory, similar to what has been done at the Moon. Tourism trips to Mars and back are just not the appropriate way for human beings from Earth – to have an individual company, no matter how smart, send people to mars and bring them back, it is VERY very expensive. It delays the obtaining of permanence, internationally. Your question referred to a monumental achievement by humanity – that should not be one private company at all, it should be a collection of the best from all the countries on Earth, and the leader of the nation or the groups who makes a commitment to do that in 2 decades will be remembered throughout history, hundreds and thousands of years in the future of the history of humanity, beginning, commencing, a human occupation of the solar system.
Inequality Begins at Birth [NYRB]
Inequality in America begins at birth, or, for those born to women who are ill during pregnancy or do not have adequate prenatal care, even before. Through no fault of their own, up to one quarter of American children start off well behind, and another quarter live in families that earn only twice the poverty line—about $48,000 a year for a family of four. Armed with the unambiguous findings of twenty-first-century neuroscience, we can no longer just tell children raised poor to study harder and find jobs as they grow up.
This Jeff Madrick essay on inequality is profound. I urge you to read it (and re-read) twice.
The upshot is that in the twenty-first century, our species will be subjected to global water torture: alternately raising unaffordable dikes to hold it back, then desperately trying to coax it from any possible source. But like topsoil, there is no practical way to create more fresh water. Removing salt from seawater – the result of millions of years of rain and runoff dissolving rocks en route to the sea—is undercut by the cost of the energy required, and defeated by the distance that separates most arable land from the oceans. Desalination may be the most literal example of how the technological species that we’ve become stands in defiance of nature: As University of California–Santa Cruz Director of Integrated Water Research Brent Haddad told the Santa Cruz Sentinel after a seven-year study of the economic and ecological effects of desalination, “We are reversing the water cycle that has flowed in one direction since the beginning of Earth.”
Here’s a passage from an essay called “The War God’s Face Has Become Indistinct,” written in 1999 by Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and quoted in the excellent James Rickards book, Currency Wars:
Financial warfare has now officially come to war’s center stage – a stage that for thousands of years has been occupied only by soldiers and weapons. We believe that before long, “financial warfare” will undoubtedly be an entry in the dictionaries of official military jargon. Moreover, when people revise the history books on twentieth-century warfare the section on financial warfare will command the reader’s utmost attention. Today, when nuclear weapons have already become frightening mantelpiece decorations that are losing their real operational value financial war has become a “hyperstrategic” weapon that is attracting the attention of the world. This is because financial war is easily manipulated and allows for concealed actions, and is also highly destructive.