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Cedar Foundation pub quiz on February 18

PubQuiz pic

The Cedar Foundation is organising another pub quiz to be held on Thursday, February 18 at JJ Murphy?s pub in Sofia (6 Karnigradska Street), starting at 7.30pm.

Proceeds from the event are going to The Cedar Foundation, which aims to give disadvantaged people in Bulgaria a better quality of life.

Participants should field teams of up to six people and the participation fee is 100 leva for each team.

As on previous occasions, a raffle will be held during the pub quiz with prizes provided by Cedar Foundation?s donors. The grand prize is a voucher for The Brick Cafe Bar & Diner worth 300 leva.

To book, visit the event?s Facebook page or use the sign-up form here.



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Mass squid mortality in Chile leaves lingering stench

Mystery mongering sites are saying that mass deaths of animals are a sign of the apocalypse. But animal mass deaths happen naturally (or sort of naturally, sometimes our carelessness helps it along). In this case, last week in Chile, there is a reasonable explanations, but end of the earth ISN?T it.

The beaching of the thousands of squid began almost a week ago in the South Island harbor, Santa Maria de Coronel. This link calls them ?cuttlefish? but they appear to be Humboldt squid. This species, Dosidicus gigas, or jumbo squid, has previously been identified in other mass die-offs related to toxic algae blooms.

Reuters reports that locals are concerned about possible health hazards as the animals decompose. Rodrigo Valencia of the National Fishing and Agriculture Service says it?s weather-related, caused by nutrient rich water rising to the surface and causing a drop in oxygen levels. An investigation will take place. While the phenomena is common here, this is more than the typical number of the mollusks that will beach at any time. Heavy equipment has been brought in to remove the remains.


squid carcasses chile

For those of us who think squid are pretty cool, this is a sad picture. For happy cuttlefish, follow @blackmudpuppy on Twitter.

Please note: Do not get your news from or, they are both ridiculous.

part 4

US LNG Exports: A longer term perspective

February 12th, 2016 10:40am Posted In: Energy Security & Supply, LNG, Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) , Russia, Azerbaijan, United States, Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP) , East Med, External Analysts

While numerous headlines have been portraying the global market outlook for LNG as ?very grim?, positive trends remain, according to Atlantic Council senior fellow Bud Coote. He says: ?Even though gas growth demand has slowed down, it is still relevant.?

A retired CIA energy analyst with 42 years under his belt at the organisation, Coote recently authored a report entitled ?Surging Liquefied Natural Gas Trade ? how US Exports will Benefit European and Global Gas Supply, Diversity, Competition, and Security?.

While he concedes the LNG market grew progressively worse during the drafting of the paper, he says his main objective was to give a long-term perspective.

?Investing in LNG facilities is a long-term venture. It’s going to go through several cycles, and right now the cycle is a very low one,? he says.

One source he used was the International Energy Agency’s outlook report from last summer, which takes a medium-term look at the prospects: 2014-2020. ?They still forecast respectable growth of overall import demand, in particular for both Europe and China.? He adds that US LNG export goals match up very well with European Union goals, which include furthering diversification, competition, and enhancing security.

?When you look around the world there are not going to be that many resources of gas that are going to be available to Europe in the next 4-5 years; most production growth is going to be in the United States and Australia. 

According to the report, Australia will have a lot of LNG coming online in the next two years, but most of that will likely stay in the Asian market. Meanwhile, Norway’s exports will likely to stay at a stable level, while the Netherlands will have declining production owing to regulatory constraints on production at the Groningen field; meanwhile, Algeria, Nigeria and Libya are having difficulty attracting investment owing to the market environment and unattractive terms and conditions, he says.

?That leaves Russia, which has a surplus of production and export capacity for natural gas, but it’s certainly not going to do anything to diversify European gas markets. While I don’t think there will be any reductions in Russian exports to Europe, the IEA is projecting relatively stable volumes of Russian gas as well, and, along with that, is projecting that Europe will need as much as 45bn m³/yr of additional LNG imports by 2020, although some of that may not occur until later because of the current glut. 

Coote says the surge in US LNG exports is not likely to appear until 2018 ? there’s only one project, Sabine Pass, which is scheduled to start up this year. ?They’ll gradually build capacity through next year and beyond. We?re talking relatively small volumes that may not be more than 10-12bn m³ available to Europe by the end of 2017 from that project, and then in 2018 the surge really begins, amounting to a capacity that will probably approach 90bn m³/yr by the end of 2020.?

By the time the US surge begins in 2018, he adds, Australia’s capacities should be online. ?So there appears to be a window there for US LNG.?

Other projects, says Coote, which are likely to compete include gas from the Southern Corridor project, and from the eastern Mediterranean or from east Africa, projects which are not likely to hit the market before 2020.

In connection with the report, Bud Coote also fielded some questions from Natural Gas Europe.

We’ve heard about the contracted volumes from, say, Cheniere Energy, but within this milieu of rock-bottom oil prices, could you speak a bit about where these volumes might end up, if not in Europe?

The first shipment was supposed to go to Lithuania, but two of the major buyers from Cheniere ? Engie and EDF ? are both French companies with large portfolios and the fact that they’re buying the LNG doesn’t mean that it will go to Europe, because they also have customers in the Middle East and Asia.

As noted in my paper, there’s about 30bn m³/yr that have already been contracted to European companies, but those volumes could end up anywhere. The contracts under which they are sold are variable ? each one has a lot more flexibility than traditional contracts, and they vary from project to project. Cheniere has marketed some very short-term LNG and glued it to the price of hubs in Europe. That is likely to go to Europe.

Also some of the US product is sold under contracts with tolling fees, by which the purchaser has to pay a fee upfront and that becomes a sunk cost to the company, which means they can negotiate the time, the amount and the price of the sale. That makes it more attractive to the buyers, say if the price goes all the way down to $4.50/mn Btu and you’ve already paid $3 with the tolling fee you’re much more likely to pay the other $1.50 going through with the sale instead of paying $4/mn Btu for Russian pipeline gas.

The European Commission has recognised that there is some premium that they may have to pay for LNG to have access. Contracts with US exporters helps buyers competitively with Russia and other suppliers in negotiating and renegotiating contracts. You don’t need large amounts of LNG to obtain that benefit, as evidenced by the cases of Poland and Lithuania, who used to pay among the highest prices in Europe for Russian pipeline gas. Lithuania has an LNG terminal that they are barely using; Poland is still in the process of commissioning its LNG terminal, but already Lithuania has renegotiated the price of pipeline gas, which went down by 23%.

How much of a threat do you think Gazprom sees US LNG, and is there a possibility they might try to render it uneconomic?

I think there’s a chance, but it would be a tough choice for them because they would be the big loser in terms of revenue because they have so much more volume than the US.

US LNG is just going to be coming out of the US in the next 2 years in small allotments, and it will be 2018 before the real surge. We don’t know what the market conditions are going to be in 3 years, but that might be a more advantageous time to try it. With 10-12bn m³/yr of LNG coming to Europe from the US in the next two years and the Russians providing 160bn m³/yr, there’s no question that the Russians could underprice US LNG, but it would be expensive for them considering the small amount of LNG that they’re competing with.

In the next 2 years, the amount of US LNG will be equivalent to the amount of gas from the Southern Corridor pipeline, which is scheduled to deliver 10bn m³/yr of gas to southern Europe by 2020. I think Gazprom would call that ?just enough for a barbecue.? So it’s hard to see them robbing themselves of so much revenue.

It sounds like they’ll be hit by a ?double whammy? with both Southern Corridor gas and US LNG.

Yes, but import demand will still be growing in Europe. Europe’s overall demand for gas is growing very slowly, but at the same time they’re losing some of their domestic sources. The IEA projections for import demand growth for Europe is 70bn m³ by 2020. In other words, the demand will be 70bn m³/yr higher than in 2014. That’s a pretty healthy forecast.

If more gas is coming to Europe, how do you see the prospects of spurring more of a gas economy in Europe?

Those chances probably depend on whether Europe embraces gas as part of a climate change policy. Natural gas, globally, will get a boost from the Paris climate conference, the verbal commitments to reduce carbon emissions. If government policies are actually implemented to fulfil those commitments I think that will spur gas demand, but it’s going to take efforts at the national level to switch from coal-fired power to gas to produce electricity, which has largely been done in the US.

In terms of trade, how would you describe the benefits of countries without indigenous gas resources being able to purchase US LNG volumes?

It’s a very positive development for such countries. It’s a reliable source and, most importantly, provides leverage when you’re dealing commercially with other suppliers. Politically, it’s also attractive ? the geopolitics are changing greatly because of it.

Domestically, how settled is the debate over whether or not the US should export its hydrocarbon resources rather than retaining them for itself?

Reports commissioned by the US Department of Energy (DOE) in 2012 and 2014 look at the economic impact on the US of exporting LNG. It was done by independent experts and concluded that exports would be overall beneficial if the US exported up to a level of about 120bn m³/y and that it could help spur US growth. This is important in influencing the DOE to approve the export projects, all of which they must approve that are intended to export to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the US. In the case of LNG, that’s almost every major importer except South Korea.

In December, the DOE announced that another more recent report concludes that there would be further beneficial effects by extending exports up to 200bn m³/yr. They said the study would inform DOE policy, which means they will be inclined to continue to approve applications to reach that level. Beyond that, there’s a lot of uncertainty, because all of the proposals in North America approach 400bn m³/y. A lot of those projects will have to be postponed, reconsidered or dropped with this much uncertainty in the market. But the first five have already been approved, are under construction, have their final investment decisions, and most of their output is contracted to customers. Overall, those customers have been driving the investments into LNG terminals.

Drew Leifheit

Natural Gas Europe welcomes all viewpoints. Should you wish to provide an alternative perspective on the above article, please contact [email protected]  

Kindly note that we only lightly edit content for grammar and do not edit externally contributed content.

( Full article )

Why the iPad Is Going Extinct

What happened to the tablet? When the iPad arrived in 2010, it was hailed as the herald of a new tech category; it was to occupy every kitchen table, and nooks at coffee shops across the globe. But this week, when Apple announced its results for the quarter ending in December, iPad sales were down again: this time 25 percent year-over-year, following a pattern of decline that began in 2013. Overall tablet sales are no better; they fell over 12 percent in 2015. 

This is almost certainly because large smartphones are killing tablets. If the purpose of a tablet is to have a larger screen to consume media with?to watch video, to read, to play games?big screen phones make the prospect of dropping a few hundred dollars on a tablet far less compelling. 

Smartphones have evolved into a device far more useful and important than anyone thought they could be. Tablets, on the other hand, were meant to be the technological equivalent of paper. As the comedian Stephen Fry said of the iPad at its launch: ?It is basically a highly responsive capacitive piece of glass … Just as a book is basically paper bound together in a portable form factor.? Books, newspapers, and magazines, even things like grocery flyers?and, importantly, the industries behind them?were all going to find a new home on the device. The tablet economy would be a key node in a new media infrastructure; businesses would be saved, the great media bleed would be stanched, and we?d still sit down at home with our tablets propped up on our laps, watching them like TVs or reading them like newspapers.

The reality is: The future turned out differently. Tablet editions of newspapers have been shuttered because everyone wants news on their phones; showcase tablet apps like Flipboard switched to focus on the smartphone; and the tablet?s cultural significance has begun to evaporate?even Apple couldn?t make a splash with its new iPad Pro, which is about the size of a small laptop.

The belief that the tablet would replace paper but not change anything else was based on wishful thinking: the misguided idea that technological change replaces parts of the systems in our lives rather than changing systems themselves.

Consider publishing. As has been eloquently argued by John Herrman at The Awl, Facebook and other social media are now, essentially, the only places where news is delivered and found. The whole network of how media is distributed and delivered has changed?mostly in response to the smartphone. And other systemic changes are on the horizon. Self-driving cars, for example, could transform the idea of car ownership and how cities are organized. It?s not that a new kind of technology replaces a similar one. It?s that the entire relation changes.

It wasn?t a lack of vision that made the tablet a failure, so much as it was a consequence of the fact that it can be difficult to predict, here in the present, how flippant ideas can reshuffle entire industries. It would nonetheless be a mistake to say, as so many in the tech press are inclined to, that ?the tablet is dead.? They?re still useful, and they birthed the emerging hybrid tablet market?those devices like Microsoft?s Surface, which function as both tablets and laptops, and will in all likelihood replace for the laptop for many. When that happens, or when it doesn?t and something else takes its place, we?ll again engage in a new network of relations. What happened to the tablet is what always happens in history. The tablet may not be dead, but the dreams that accompanied its arrival probably are.

»Read more

The Clintons? War on Drugs: When Black Lives Didn?t Matter

In August 2015, an uncomfortable encounter between Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors and Hillary Clinton finally broke the silence of many mainstream press outlets on the Clintons? shared responsibility for the disastrous policies of mass incarceration, and its catalyst, the War on Drugs. Although a number of prominent academics have written on the subject, little popular discussion of the racial impact of the Clintons? crime and punishment policies emerged until the opening volleys of the 2016 presidential race.

A grainy cell phone video of the incident showed a handful of young BLM protestors confronting Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. After expressing her ardent feminism and pride in meeting a female presidential candidate, BLM?s Daunasia Yancey forcefully confronted Clinton about her shared culpability in America?s destructive War on Drugs: ?You and your family have been personally and politically responsible for policies that have caused health and human services disasters in impoverished communities of color through the domestic and international War on Drugs that you championed as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State.? Yancey continued, ?And so I just want to know how you feel about your role in that violence, and how you plan to reverse it??

Yancey?s question deftly turned Hillary?s use of her husband?s presidency as political qualification on its head: If her deep involvement in policy issues during her term as First Lady qualifies her for the presidency, then she could be held responsible for policies made during those years. The Clintons had used the concept of personal responsibility to shame poor blacks for their economic predicament. Indeed, Bill Clinton titled his notorious welfare to work legislation ?The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.? Yancey?s question forced the Democratic front-runner to accept personal responsibility for mass incarceration policies passed under Bill Clinton?s administration.

Hillary Clinton?s response to the activists was telling. She attributed the policies of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs to ?the very real concerns? of communities of color and poor people, who faced a crime wave in the 1980s and 1990s. Echoing an argument that is gaining greater purchase in certain elite circles as the movement against racialized state violence and incarceration sweeps across the US, Clinton deflected the charge of anti-black animus back onto African Americans themselves. It is hard to interpret her explanation as anything more than self-serving revisionism. As I demonstrate in this essay, the rush to incarcerate was fueled by much less generous motives than the ones Clinton presents. With the Clintons at the helm of the ?New Democrats,? their strident anti-crime policies, like their assault on welfare, reflected a cynical attempt to win back centrist white voters, especially those from Dixie and the South Central United States.

A true paradox lies at the heart of the Clinton legacy. Both Hillary and Bill continue to enjoy enormous popularity among African Americans despite the devastating legacy of a presidency that resulted in the impoverishment and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of poor and working-class black people. Most shockingly, the total numbers of state and federal inmates grew more rapidly under Bill Clinton than under any other president, including the notorious Republican drug warriors Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. This fact alone should at least make one pause before granting unquestioning fealty to Hillary, but of course there are many others, including her entry into electoral politics through the 1964 Goldwater campaign, resolute support for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, race-baiting tactics in the 2008 election, and close ties to lobbyists for the private prison industry. Nevertheless, until the encounter with BLM protestors in August 2015, few publicly called out the Clintons? shared culpability for our contemporary prison nation that subjects a third of African American men to a form of correctional control in their lifetime.

The United States?s historically unprecedented carceral edifice of policing and prisons has been long in the making. However, in the 1990s the Clintons and their allies, as the quintessential ?New Democrats,? played a crucial role in its expansion. Like their Republican predecessors, punishing America?s most vulnerable populations became an important means to repudiate the democratic upheaval of the postwar years that toppled statutory Jim Crow laws and challenged some of the most enduring social inequities of the U.S. In the three decades that followed the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the drug war and its companion legislation of welfare reform criminalized poor and working-class populations of color in huge numbers, subjecting many not only to the ?carceral consequences? of voter disfranchisement but also to permanent exclusion from the legal economy.

While this is often understood as the quotidian cruelty of a brave neoliberal world, very specific political motives underlay policies of extreme cruelty and state sanctioned murder in the late twentieth century.

Although they are rarely mentioned in the same breath, the escalation of America?s drug war in the 1990s and the rise of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and its benighted son Bill Clinton are all intimately linked. Understanding why tough on crime policies and welfare reform became so foundational to the vision of the New Democrats requires a look at the sensibilities that undergirded their strategy for regaining the White House and national power. As the Democratic Party reinvented itself in the aftermath of Ronald Reagan?s sweeping electoral victory in 1984, Al From, an aide of Louisiana Representative Gilles Long with abiding ties to big business, Governors Bruce Babbitt (Arizona) and Charles Robb (Virginia) came together with Florida Senator Lawton Chiles and congressional representatives Richard Gephardt (Missouri), Sam Nunn (Georgia), and James R. Jones (Oklahoma) to launch the DLC in February 1985. The DLC?s coterie of conservative and centrist politicians, who hailed overwhelmingly from citadels of white discontent in the Sunbelt and Midwest, sought to wrest the party away from its alleged liberal dominance.

In terms of structural changes, they targeted the 1968 reforms implemented to the Democratic Party?s nomination process establishing interest group-based organization. By 1982 the Democratic National Committee (DNC) recognized seven different intraparty caucuses modeled on specific demographics, including ?women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, liberals and business/professionals.? The DLC founders wanted to abandon this pluralistic party base, elevate the power of national elected officials, and pursue stronger ties with wealthy corporate donors.

To diagnose the precise causes behind the Democrats? catastrophic loss of every state in the Union to Ronald Reagan in 1984, with the exception of Walter Mondale?s home state of Minnesota, the DNC sponsored several research surveys, including one that has been estimated, at that time, to be the most expensive study commissioned in its history. Chair Paul Kirk paid survey researchers Milton Kotler and Nelson Rosenbaum a quarter of a million dollars to conduct a massive survey of 5,000 voters. In focus groups, whites from the south and northern ethnic enclaves described the Democratic Party as the ?give away party, giving white tax money to blacks and poor people.? As political scientist Robert Smith has argued, the explicit racist content of Kotler and Rosenbaum?s report proved so embarrassing to Kirk that he suppressed its release and had nearly all of the existing copies destroyed. Nevertheless, the findings made their way into DLC party policy as New Democrat fellow travelers like Thomas and Mary Edsall and Harry McPherson made similar, if more carefully veiled, arguments. McPherson, a former member of the Johnson administration, published a November 1988 op-ed essay in The New York Times entitled simply ?How Race Destroyed the Democrat?s Coalition.?

At the core of this anger about the shift in the Democratic Party was not just ?race? as an abstraction, which too often functioned as a polite euphemism, but rather black people themselves. Another DNC commissioned study by Stanley Greenberg, who subsequently became a pollster for Clinton in 1992, cited data from Macomb County, a suburb of Detroit, to make this point even more explicitly. ?These white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics,? explained Greenberg. ?Blacks constitute the explanation for their [white defectors] vulnerability and or almost everything that has gone wrong in their lives, not being black is what constitutes being middle class, not being black is what makes a neighborhood a decent place to live.?

Bolstered with polling data and the crisis of the Reagan landslide, the New Democrats searched for ways to aggressively distance themselves from ?blacks? and to entice resentful white swing voters back into the fold. To do this, the New Democrats appropriated hot button issues from the Republican Party, later deemed ?dog whistle politics,? that invoked the specter of blackness without directly naming it. While the turn from welfare to work and personal responsibility is often discussed in this respect, equally important is the extensive role played by Bill Clinton and his allies in vastly expanding carceral policies, including the War on Drugs, the federal death penalty, and national funding for policing and prisons in the years after the Reagan and Bush presidencies.

Associated with the DLC?s early stirrings, Bill Clinton did not become integrally involved until after Michael Dukakis?s presidential defeat in 1988. In a notorious ad campaign that drew on enduring racist imagery, George H. W. Bush won the election by blaming the Massachusetts governor for the brutal rape of a white woman by Willie Horton, a black prisoner participating in a prison furlough program. Bush advisor Lee Atwater created a vicious media blitz that featured a voice-over description of the assault paired with a menacing black and white mugshot of Horton. After contrasting Dukakis?s opposition to the death penalty with Bush?s ardent support for it, the television spot closed with the words ?Weekend Prison Passes?Dukakis on Crime.? Atwater?s race-baiting appeal proved wildly successful. As legal scholar Jonathan Simon has argued, George H. W. Bush?s election ?marked the emergence, for the first time, of the war on crime as the primary basis for choosing a president.?

Chastened by Dukakis?s defeat, Bill Clinton emerged as the southern golden boy of the New Democrats by 1990. While serving as governor of Arkansas, he became the DLC?s first chair outside the beltway. Clinton traveled nonstop and worked tirelessly to build a national infrastructure that encompassed over two-dozen state level chapters. Two years later, his rousing speech at the DLC?s national conference in Cleveland, Ohio earned him a direct line to the nomination. New Democrat stalwart Sam Nunn?s early endorsement played a key role, as did that of lesser known members of the DLC fold, among them African American Representatives John Lewis (GA), Mike Espy (MI), William Jefferson (LA), and Floyd Flake (NY). In a depressingly familiar pattern from the Reagan administration, the support of an elite sector of the black political class helped to legitimize hard-line anti-crime policies that proved devastating for low-income populations of color.

Prior to his entrée onto the national stage, Clinton?s governorship of Arkansas demonstrated how embracing the death penalty paved the Democrats? road back to power. After a comparatively liberal first term in which he granted over 70 separate sentencing commutations, Clinton radically reversed his earlier stance after his Republican opponent won largely by smearing him in the eyes of the electorate as considerate of criminals. Upon returning to the governor?s mansion in 1982, Clinton parsed out a meager seven additional commutations over a ten-year span, and none for the death penalty. Indeed, in 1992 amid massive press coverage, Bill flew back to Arkansas days before the New Hampshire primary to preside over the execution of Rickey Ray Rector, a black man convicted of killing a white police officer. Rector had shot himself through the temple, forcing surgeons to remove over three inches of the frontal lobe of his brain. He was so cognitively impacted as a result of the surgery that he set aside the dessert from his last meal to eat after his lethal injection. Rickey even told a reporter that he planned to vote for Bill Clinton in the fall.

As the governor of a southern state, Clinton?s execution of Rector was a powerful symbolic act that refuted incumbent President George Bush Sr.?s attempt to cast Bill Clinton and his running mate Al Gore as soft on crime. In the words of political kingmaker David Garth, Clinton ?had someone put to death who had only part of a brain. You can?t find them any tougher than that.? Far from gratuitous cruelty, Rector?s execution and the virulent and racially discriminatory polices that followed it were the ultimate expression that the post-civil rights Democratic Party had repudiated its marginal commitment not only to black equality, but to black life itself. Between 1994 and 1999, nearly two-thirds of the people sentenced to the federal death penalty were black?a rate nearly seven times that of their representation in the American population.

Today, the death penalty haunts the edges of American politics, but at the height of the country?s rush to mass incarcerate, executions became central to the rightward drift of the Democratic Party. Once in office, Bill Clinton made 60 new crimes eligible for the death penalty and fellow Democrats bragged about their specific additions to the list. Joe Biden mused ?someone asleep for the last 20 years might wake up to think that Republicans were represented by Abbie Hoffman? and the Democrats by J. Edgar Hoover. 

As president, Bill Clinton and his allies embarked on a draconian punishment campaign to outflank the Republicans. ?I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say that I?m soft on crime,? he bragged. Roughly a year and a half after the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion?the largest civil disturbance in U.S. history in which demonstrators took to the streets for six straight days to protest the acquittal of the officers involved in the Rodney King beating?Clinton passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. At its core, this legislation was a federal ?three strikes? bill that established a $30.2 billion Crime Trust Fund to allocate monies for state and municipal police and prison expansion. Like its predecessors, starting with Johnson?s Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, the federal government provided funding to accelerate punitive policies at all levels of governance. Specific provisions included monies for placing 100,000 new police on the streets, the expansion of death penalty eligible crimes, lifetime imprisonment for people who committed a third violent federal felony offense with two prior state or federal felony convictions, gang ?enhancements? in sentencing for federal defendants, allowing children as young as 13 to be prosecuted as adults in special cases, and the Violence Against Women Act.

Hillary strongly supported this legislation and stood resolutely behind her husband?s punishment campaign. ?We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders,? Hillary declared in 1994. ?The ?three strikes and you?re out? for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets,? she added. Elsewhere, she remarked, ?We will finally be able to say, loudly and clearly, that for repeat, violent, criminal offenders: three strikes and you?re out.?

Like his notorious Republican predecessors, Clinton imposed a toxic mix of punishment and withdrawal of social welfare, but with a difference. The Democratic president actually implemented these policies on a much larger scale than the Republican New Right. According to New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, ?Far from resisting the emergence of the new caste system? that Ronald Reagan had codified into law through the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, ?Clinton escalated the drug war beyond what conservatives had imagined possible a decade earlier.?

In the 1980s and 1990s, incarceration became de facto urban policy for impoverished communities of color in America?s cities. Legislation was passed to impose mandatory minimums, deny public housing to entire families if any member was even suspected of a drug crime, expand federal death penalty-eligible crimes, and impose draconian restrictions of parole. Ultimately, multiple generations of America?s most vulnerable populations, including drug users, African Americans, Latinos, and the very poor found themselves confined to long-term prison sentences and lifelong social and economic marginality. The carceral effects of the New Democrats? competition with the Republicans vastly increased the ranks of the incarcerated. State and federal prisons imprisoned more people under Clinton?s watch than under any previous administration. During his two terms, the inmate population grew from roughly 1.3 million to 2 million, and the number ofexecutions to 98 by 1999. Significantly, the Democratic president even refused to support the Congressional Black Caucus?s proposed Racial Justice Act, which would have prevented discriminatory application of the death penalty.

Despite this terrible record of racialized punishment for political gain, the Clintons? peculiar ability to reinvent themselves has erased memory of many of their past misdeeds. This is nowhere more true than within the African American community, in which a combination of Bill Clinton?s high-profile black political appointments, his obvious comfort in the presence of black people, and the cultural symbolism of his saxophone performance on Arsenio Hall has severely distorted the New Democrats? true legacy for the black majority. After all, Toni Morrison, African American Nobel Laureate for literature, embraced Bill Clinton as America?s ?first black president,? even if only in jest.

At a deeper structural level, the constraints of the two-party system have resulted in the political capture of black Americans inside the Democratic Party, in which no viable electoral alternative exists. Frederick Douglass said of the party of Lincoln during Reconstruction, ?The Republican Party is the ship, all else is the sea.? And so it is, with Democrats in the era of mass incarceration. Equally important is the sharp class polarization inside the African American community in which a select group of black elites understands their fate as wholly bound up with the leadership of the Democratic Party. The Clinton presidency is a cautionary tale in this respect. The couple?s close relationships with Vernon Jordan and other black insiders offered an illusion of access that superseded any real concern for how hard-line anti-crime, drug war, and welfare policies affected poor and working class African Americans. As the movement against state sanctioned violence and for black lives grows, it is important to remember that proximity to power rarely equals real power. 

In American politics we so often live in an eternal present. Forgotten are the days of the DLC, which was recently dismantled in 2011 at the close of President Barack Obama?s first term. In many respects, the DLC had become archaic, precisely because contemporary Democrats have so fully incorporated, and even expanded, the bitter fruit of the Reagan revolution. Former Federal Reserve Chairman and Ayn Rand enthusiast Alan Greenspan once described Bill Clinton as ?the best Republican president we?ve had in a while.? More recently, Barack Obama praised Ronald Reagan for correcting ?the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s.?

As both parties have engaged in a steady march to the right over the past three decades, it is not surprising that the Clintons have done little more than offer half-hearted mea culpas about their role in the drug war and mass incarceration. In July 2015, Bill Clinton went before the National Association for the Advancement of Color People?s 106th annual convention to admit that his federal drug and anti-crime policy made the problem of mass incarceration worse, especially at the state level. Many journalists interpreted his candor cynically as advance preparation for his wife?s presidential campaign of 2016. As in so many things the Clintons have done, even their disavowals appear to be self-serving. Hillary?s explanation that a crime wave inside low income communities and communities of color motivated her husband?s escalation of domestic wars on drugs and crime hides the Clintons? shared role in capitulating to racist rhetoric and policy in the 1990s. Indeed, they used the drug war, and mass incarceration more broadly, as a powerful political tool to rebuild conservative white support for the Democratic Party. It is only because the experiences of the incarcerated and the poor have been so profoundly erased that the Clintons can be thought of as liberals (racial or otherwise) in any respect.

As we approach the 2016 election, it would be good to remember the human consequences of the Clintons? ?tough on crime? stance, and how Hillary has tried to replicate this strategy of ?strength and experience? again and again to prove both her appropriateness as a female presidential contender and blue dog Democrat. Candidate Clinton has embraced hardness as political qualification, as evidenced by her proclamation ?We came, we saw, he died,? about the killing of Muammar Gaddafi; her threat to obliterate Iran; or her embellished Bosnian sniper story. As a mainstream feminist icon, Hillary has more in common with Britain?s Irony Lady Margaret Thatcher, or the European Union?s austerity champion Angela Merkel, than her beloved Eleanor Roosevelt. If the history of the War on Drugs is any indicator, however, outstripping Republican belligerence from the Right will not end well for the rest of us.

This essay originally appears in Verso Books?s False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton, forthcoming June 14

more entertainment

Bulgaria?s state energy holding to replace CEO

electricity photo CLS

Bulgaria?s Energy Ministry said on February 9 that it would ask the board of directors at the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), the umbrella corporation for state-owned assets in the energy sector, to appoint a new chief executive officer.

The ministry statement said that incumbent CEO Jacklen Cohen was being replaced as a board member by Petyo Ivanov, who is currently chief executive of Bulgargaz, the state gas-trading company, which is a subsidiary of BEH.

Ivanov is also the ministry?s nomination to take over as BEH CEO. The ministry put forth Nikolai Pavlov, the former chief financial officer at state-owned electricity utility NEK, as the nominee to replace Ivanov at the helm of Bulgargaz.

The ministry did not say whether Cohen has been sacked already, nor did it give a date for the BEH board meeting. It also gave no reason for Cohen?s departure, saying that the changes were meant to ?optimise the operations of the Bulgarian Energy Holding.?

Cohen was appointed in July 2014, just weeks before the formal resignation of the deeply-unpopular Plamen Oresharski administration, keeping the job after the formation of a new government in November 2014 following snap elections.

The management reshuffle comes at a time when BEH is seeking to borrow up to 650 million euro. Talks with nine banks began in December 2015, following failed attempts to issue a corporate bond and arrange a syndicated loan.

The bulk of the money would be used to pay the debt accumulated by NEK to two coal-powered thermal plants owned by US private investors ? AES Maritsa Iztok 1 and ContourGlobal Maritsa Iztok 3. Full repayment of NEK?s debts is the main condition to reduce electricity purchase prices from the two plants, agreed in April 2015, with the current deadline (having been postponed twice already) being the end of February.




Saved by the Bell

Reading, like religion, can boast of this: If it gets you young it?s got you good. But both, as you know, have been singed by flashier pursuits: religion by celebrity, books by screens. ?Book culture? indeed sounds more and more like a contradiction these days, a contradiction that kisses paradox, since there have never been so many books; in 2013, Forbesreported that between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year in the U.S. alone. The eyes, however, are elsewhere. Our current crop of high school students has never been without an illuminated gadget in their hands. Love of literature might be helped if we could choose our parents, or if our parents had better choices with our teachers.

Those of us fortunate to have been snagged early by reading know that teachers are a basal part of maintaining that fortune. High school might be the last chance to turn a low-level reader of pop into a lifelong reader of art: A sophomore in high school is in search of a selfhood; a sophomore in college is in search of a career. In Lit Up, David Denby delivers his bulletin from the messy trenches of high school English classes. He?s been hereabouts before: In 1996 he published Great Books: My Adventures With Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World, his chronicle of returning to Columbia to gauge how first-year students were faring with the same classics he?d studied there 30 years earlier. Only so-so, it turned out. A vitalizing defense of the canon, with volleys of literary passion directed by a keen critical eye, Great Books appeared when we needed it most, during the nonsensical crescendo of the academic left?s confusion of literature for politics. Since the 1980s, the apostles of Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Michel Foucault and their ilk had been busy costuming literature in the Mardi Gras beads and boas of theory. Denby?s return serve was to stress the ?body and flavor? involved in the act of reading, its ?stresses and pleasures? and ?occasional euphoria.?

To point out that the world was an immeasurably different place in 1996 is to emphasize the obvious, but for Denby the fight remains the same: ?To argue that reading is good seems as silly as arguing that sex, nature, and music are good. Who could disagree?? Hordes, apparently. Americans disagree every beeping, buzzing, dinging moment of our lives. Gore Vidal said it back in 1965, long before the online coup d?état of our culture: ?Americans have never liked reading.? That hurts. Denby?s questions are urgent then: ?How do you establish reading pleasure in busy, screen-loving teenagers?and in particular, pleasure in reading serious work? Is it still possible to raise teenagers who can?t live without reading something good?? He doesn?t spend any ink defining ?serious? or ?good? because he knows there?s no argument there: Time has been mercilessly exact in elevating the serious and good while discarding the frivolous and bad, the merely fashionable. Literature, I?m not sorry to say, isn?t a democracy. Literature is a tyranny?a tyranny of the talented. Here?s the thesis driving Lit Up (please type it out and hand it to your teen):

The liberal arts in general, and especially reading seriously, offer an opening to a wider life, the powers of active citizenship (including the willingness to vote); reading strengthens perception, judgment, and character; it creates understanding of other people and oneself, maybe kindliness and wit, and certainly the ability to endure solitude, both in the common sense of empty-room loneliness and the cosmic sense of empty-universe loneliness. Reading fiction carries you further into imagination and invention than you would be capable of on your own, takes you into other people?s lives, and often, by reflection, deeper into your own.

LIT UP by David DenbyHenry Holt and Co., 288 pp., $30

And here?s the clincher: ?If literature matters less to young people than it once did, we are all in trouble.? There?s really no ?if? about it, and so yes, we are all in trouble. The question is: How pernicious, how permanent is that trouble? Lit Up is no alarmist screed but a steadfast appeal by a writer who understands that without a devotion to literature, we?re a hamstrung bunch.

Denby sets up watch in tenth-grade classes at three high schools: the Beacon School in Manhattan, a middle-class dream where, according to its web page, students receive ?a rigorous well-rounded liberal arts education based on the principle of shared exploration and problem solving?; Mamaroneck High School in Mamaroneck, New York, a Rockwellian suburb in Westchester County, where in 2013 the average property tax was $13,842, the highest in any county in the nation; and James Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Connecticut, where predominantly black students try to learn literature while being brutalized by their socioeconomic realities. Of Denby?s 15 chapters, two are given to Mamaroneck and only one to Hillhouse. It?s Beacon?s book, in other words.

What?s so special about Beacon? His name is Sean Leon, ?a dynamo? teacher by way of Ireland and Louisiana, late thirties, highly caffeinated, it seems. He has unwaveringly good taste in writers: Hawthorne and Dostoyevsky, Beckett and Sartre, Faulkner and Plath, Huxley, Orwell, Vonnegut. Often it?s hard to tell if he?s hamming it up for the journalist in the room or if he?s constitutionally given to pronouncements such as: ?When I come in, I will never not be here. I will bring it every day. ? I?ll stay in this damn building until seven if I have to. I will never fail you.? Leon, says Denby, ?had intense spiritual and moral preoccupations,? was ?out to save lives,? was ?building and saving souls.? So here we have the high-school English teacher as guru and shrink, prelate and christos. How Denby manages to get through this book without once mentioning the film Dead Poets Society is something to ponder, rather like being nabbed by silent cops in Prague without mentioning Kafka.

For his purposes, Denby couldn?t have designed Sean Leon any better. Both subscribe to an essentially Arnoldian ethos. In his 1880 essay ?The Study of Poetry,? Matthew Arnold saddled poetry, and by implication all of literature, with some hefty responsibilities:

We should conceive of poetry worthily, and more highly than it has been the custom to conceive of it. We should conceive of it as capable of higher uses, and called to higher destinies, than those which in general men have assigned to it hitherto. More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry.

?The best poetry,? Arnold contends, ?will be found to have a power of forming, sustaining, and delighting us, as nothing else can.? There are moments in Arnold?s essay, as there are throughout most of his late-period work, when you almost suspect that his brassy idealism, his vision of literary utopia, must be something of a sham. But no, he means it; the supple gaiety of his style is never not sincere. In the memorable last lines of his essay, Arnold speaks of the ?currency and supremacy? that are ?insured? to poetry, ?not indeed by the world?s deliberate and conscious choice, but by something far deeper?by the instinct of self-preservation in humanity.? That humanity-wide instinct of self-preservation has been a bit rusty these last 100 years, I have to say.

Literature cares nothing for the validation of identity, only for the upending of it.

Enamored of Arnold though I am, let me suggest that we pause before assigning literature as a social corrective. Literature is communion, pleasure, and intimations of wisdom, but it doesn?t actually do anything. It can?t delete despair, mend damage, cure dread. It?s pivotal to have the proper words to attach to life?s headlining events, and it?s nice to know you?re not alone, but literature, contra Arnold and Sean Leon, doesn?t save societies or souls. Literature, to summon Wilde?s typically jaunty assertion, is perfectly useless. Or here?s Chekhov?s counsel: ?Only what is useless is pleasurable.? Literature?s efficacy remains contingent upon its lack of utility. The minute literature is for something, yoked to an ideology or cause, hijacked for moralizing or indoctrination, is the minute it renounces all claims to autonomy, relevance, and aesthetic potency. That is what Poe meant by ?the heresy of the didactic.?

Literature, though, feels useful, and it is, but for you alone. The plea to read is really a plea to selfishness, to your own prudence, since you can?t improve anyone else with your bookishness. (That should be a simple chore, should it not, getting teens to be selfish?) About Leon and his students, Denby writes: ?Literature is his obsession, and he wants it to be their obsession.? But obsession, idiosyncratic and bulletproofed against reason, remains stubbornly nontransferable. (Saul Bellow: ?Other people?s obsessions don?t turn me on.?) For Leon?s vigor to work, students have to show up already in possession of the impulse for literary love, the urge to an ardent interiority, the requisite ache to comprehend their own confusion, or else no amount of cajoling, however passionate, will succeed. You can?t be coaxed into loving literature any more than you can be coaxed into loving your date from last night, and so literature is for those who are already inclined to need it. It?s a gift from the self to the self?reading done right is a form of romance with the self. In his essay ?Eng. Lit. As She Is Taught,? the critic Clifton Fadiman, who taught high school English in the Bronx in the mid-1920s, writes this about literature: ?In a very real sense you can?t ?learn? it. The teacher who does not cheerfully admit this at once is handicapping both himself and the student.? Fadiman means: Make no promises. Impart your passion, yes. Nudge the nudgeable. But don?t offer anybody redemption with literature.

The supposition, underlying or overt, of any effective high school English teacher is that literature can help kids. Class becomes a rehearsal out loud for what happens inside, suggestions in public for sureness in private. But let?s forget about ?identifying with? or ?relating to? a book. See yourself too keenly in de Sade or Poe and you?ll soon be seeing yourself in therapy. And with what, I wonder, could you possibly ?identify? in The Iliad or The Aeneid? ?Educate,? from the Latin educere: ?to lead forth.? Literature leads us forth from ourselves, from our own preciously guarded identities. It cares nothing for the validation of identity, only for the upending of it. Great books are not echo chambers for our own personalities. We go to them precisely because in their most sublime moments they bestow on us an alien condition, both lesser and greater than human. We go to them for their aesthetic armature, the stab of their humanity, and the beauty, always the unkillable beauty, of sentences that croon of our rescue from the pat and patently false.

As Denby renders it, each experience at Beacon has the identical structure: At the beginning of a given book students are baffled, a teacher then dazzles them with a grave frisson??the room was buzzing with excitement??and then the kids not only abruptly comprehend the book but their lives are abruptly enlarged by it, too. Denby?s exclamations outpace his evidence: ?Hawthorne?s defining strength cleared away their adolescent vagueness?; ?Mr. Leon woke students up from sloth, and he woke me up from sloth, too?; Leon injected Dostoyevsky?s essence ?into their souls?; in a different classroom, ?the conversation caught fire? and then ?the class was alive? and then ?they were close to happiness.? I don?t mean that necessary awakenings didn?t occur in those classrooms, only that Denby?s depiction of them is much too easy, and, it should be said, a bit too bathetic. The chapters end mostly in twitches of maudlin sophistry, with tolls of uplift unearned on the page: By golly they?re getting it, they really are! And some of them surely are, but, as Fadiman remarks in a different essay, ?all true education is a delayed-action bomb, assembled in the classroom for explosion at a later date.? If the literary trek from indifference to deliverance were as immediate and efficient as Denby makes it seem, we might no longer have a reading crisis in this country.

Lit Up is no alarmist screed but a steadfast appeal by a writer who understands that without a devotion to literature, we?re a hamstrung bunch.

Denby?s prose only fitfully breaks from the bad pull of journalese or the Oprahesque jargon of empowerment and self-improvement. I could use up my entire word count here just typing his automatic responses, and I stopped circling them halfway in. His critical skills, too, have atrophied in the 20 years since Great Books. Beckett?s play Waiting for Godot, he thinks, is ?a statement of the human condition,? except that the play doesn?t come close to the real condition of most humans. One memoir has ?fascinating pages.? About a Vonnegut story: ?The students were fascinated.? Dostoyevsky?s Underground Man? ?They found him fascinating.? Denby?s cascade of cliché, like all cliché, is telling, and what it tells of is this: his mechanical relation to the task he undertakes. Lit Up has little of the industrious depth and earnest intensity of its predecessor.

At one point, during his class-as-therapy shtick, Leon asks his Beacon students: ?Do you feel consumed by anger and hatred?? If they weren?t angry before that leading query they were no doubt angry after it. It?s demonstrative of her dignity that the tenth-grade teacher at Hillhouse, Jessica Zelenski?a single mother with Augean challenges all day long?doesn?t put that question to her students, kids in the crime-ripped warrens of New Haven who should be seething from the multiform injustices of that environment. You get the feeling that Denby wasn?t quite up for the tremendous demands of Hillhouse. Beacon was convenient, after all?Denby lives in Manhattan?and, let?s be honest, Beacon was safer, in more ways than one.

Continuously cheated in their lives, the kids of Hillhouse are cheated anew in Lit Up. Denby?s isolated chapter offers only a glance into their ordeal, and that?s a shame both for them and the book, because the underdog?s story is almost always worthier and more compelling than the champ?s. His brief time at Hillhouse underlines the limits of literature: Those students most in need of great books are by and large too strafed by their environments to invest the necessary force of mind. Sean Leon?s students aren?t lucky because he is an effective teacher?Sean Leon is an effective teacher because his students are lucky. Let?s leave the honorable last word for Hillhouse?s Zelenski: ?Maybe they?ll enjoy life more, if I can get them reading. I would like to nurture in them the idea that there are other worlds. You don?t have to experience things the way you do now.?

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Romanian skier dies in accident at Bulgaria?s Bansko resort

Bansko Amorphisman

A Romanian died in an accident in the ski zone above the Bulgarian winter mountain resort of Bansko on February 7.

The man, 45, died on his way down from Todorka after reportedly losing control while skiing at high speed, skidding off the piste and hitting a rock.

A team of rescuers and doctors went to the scene immediately but in spite of their efforts the man could not be resuscitated.

Bulgarian National Radio said that mountain rescuers had reported an increase in the number of injuries and appealed to everyone to be extremely careful and not to underestimate the conditions on the slopes.

Local media quoted the ski centre as saying that the fatal accident was regrettable. However, the slopes were in perfect condition and free of stones.

Police are investigating and the results of a post-mortem are expected.

(Archive photo: Amorphisman)



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Henry David Thoreau?s Magical Thinking

Strange things happen in Thoreau: sand starts moving like water, stones vibrate with life; extinct species return; pine trees cry; fish become trees; men grow grass out of their brains; men, not gods, walk on water; like animals and with them, men also walk on four legs; they talk to fish and birds; birds migrate back to life after they have been seen dead; humans migrate into birds; birds migrate into other birds; humans migrate into other humans; two persons come to inhabit one body; two bodies come to be inhabited by one person. 

How are we to understand such strangeness? We can?t treat it as fiction for, strictly speaking, Thoreau is not a fiction writer. The generic characteristics of all of his writings?A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is a memoir, Walden is autobiography, the Journal is a record of perceptions and thoughts, while the natural history essays are structured according to the logic of scientific writing of the day?require that we treat their content not as fiction but as truth, and their utterances not figuratively but declaratively, as testimonies. Yet, his declarations are sometimes so eccentric, they so radically blur the distinction between what is possible and what is not, between miraculous and natural, that one must raise the question of whether to take them seriously.

Reported in newspapers as events observed by reliable witnesses, examples of the miraculous?vibrant and nebulous matter observed in the moment of creating new life, toads raining down from populated clouds?assume the status of the factual. More generally, the articles demonstrate that to an antebellum American the divide between fantastic and real was less distinct that it is to us postmoderns, which imposes the requirement that the faithful historian of ideas respect this blur. More specifically, to Thoreau, who collected them systematically, these reports were perhaps proof of his lifelong belief that far from being something surreal, which could at best function as a metaphor of something real, the fictional or even irrational is part and parcel of the real.

But if the fantastic is so embedded in the common as to constitute it, how is it that we, so many ordinary people, can?t see what Thoreau sees? What have we done to alter the real into what is coherent, explicable, and knowable, expelling the wondrous into an elsewhere that is only imagined?

Thoreau is less an ecologist than a thinker obsessed with the problem of life in a properly ontological sense. By this I mean not only that everything in his world?from stones to humans?is alive, but also that in his philosophy life is afforded the status of a force that precedes and generates all individuations and into which individual forms dissolve. Consequently, death is considered a process of deformation but not of cessation. Differently put, in Thoreau?s world death does not have the power to interrupt life but instead functions as the force of its transformation, enabling us to experience finitude while ushering us into what remains animated.

Vitalism emerged as a central issue for Thoreau in the wake of his brother John?s death from tetanus in 1842. The intense grief that remained following John?s departure prompted Thoreau to ask sometimes disconcerting questions about what, and even whether, death was, leading him ultimately toward a stunning theory of grief as well as a novel epistemology and the outlines of a science of life.

Birds fly throughout Thoreau?s work. They fly through A Week, most notably in the discussion regarding the green bittern staring at two brothers as they are ?rolling up? the Concord River; they fly through Walden, where a turtle dove embodies a loss taking its leave of Thoreau, and where the loon is summoned to emblematize capacity that all life has for metamorphosis. They also fly through Thoreau?s Walden Pond cabin: ?I sat in my sunny doorway ? while the birds ? flitted noiseless through the house.? They are everywhere in his Journal and his walks, because they are always on his mind as he learns their different languages, caught in a genuine bird-becoming process. In the words of Frederick L. H. Willis, who visited him in his cabin in July 1847:

[Thoreau] said: ?Keep very still and I will show you my family.? Stepping quickly outside the cabin door, he gave a low curious whistle; immediately a woodchuck came running towards him ? With still another note several birds, including two crows, flew towards him, one of the crows nestling upon his shoulder ? He fed them all from his hand ? and then dismissed them by a different whistling, always strange and low and short, each little wild thing departing instantly at hearing its special signal.

If birds assume such a central role in Thoreau, it is because they are for him undying repositories of memory. Some readers have noted that his writing employs birds as metaphors of elegiac recollection, as when he addresses John in ?Brother where dost do well???a poem probably written in 1842 and sent to Sophia Hawthorne in 1843?asking ?what bird wilt thou employ / To bring me word of thee?? In that question, birds are employed in the same way as nature in John Donne?s ?Lycidas,? a poem whose parts Thoreau copied in one of his very early commonplace books. 

Nature sympathetically records the poet?s personal grief yet remains ?barren and silent,? failing to offer consolation. During the decades when Thoreau was writing, paleontology?itself a relatively novel science, the word paléontologie being coined by George Cuvier?s student Henry Marie Ducrotay de Blainville only in 1822?still hadn?t discovered bird fossils as distinct from the widespread marine and reptile fossils that became the basis for Agassiz?s work and his more general theory of the history of life. It was only in 1861 that German paleontologist Herman von Meyer discovered ?the first remnant of a bird from pre-Tertiarty times,? which he famously named Archaeopteryx lithographica.

This discovery immediately generated the discussion that would enable Richard Owen, and later Thomas Huxley, to speculate about the bird?s ?reptilian nature? and to suggest that birds flew from one period of earth?s life to another, thereby maintaining its continuity while they themselves slowly underwent actual transformations. Contemporary paleontologists know that the rarity of bird fossils is due to their small and fragile hollow-boned skeletons, which frustrate fossilization.

But their absence from the paleontological archives in the 1830s and 1840s was understood by Thoreau as a lack of traces of death, which enabled him to imagine birds as an undying form of life capable of literal metamorphosis; hence his somewhat bizarre juxtaposition in A Week of human and avian bones prompted by the sight of reed-birds flying over ?some graves of the aborigines.? Both are metamorphosing; but while human bones are ?mouldering elements preparing for ? metamorphosis? into the plants they are going to feed, the reed-birds? bones undergo a different metamorphosis, rustling into new birds that render ?the ? race of reed-birds ? undying.? In the philosophical imagination of Thoreau?s ornithology birds really are a form of life that cancels death by self-change, promising the fabulous renewals that Thoreau will extend to the whole of nature.

Adapted from Bird Relics: Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau by Branka Arsic. Copyright © 2016 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.

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Lukoil sells filling stations in Poland, Central Europe

(Photo: sociate/

Russia?s privately-owned fuel giant Lukoil agreed to sell more than 230 filling stations located in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to Austrian group AMIC Energy Management and expects to close the deal in Q2 2016, Lukoil said in a statement.

Lukoil operated 116 filling stations in Poland at end-Q3 2015, according to data from fuel lobby the Polish Organization for Oil Industry and Trade (POPiHN).

For the full story, please visit The Warsaw Voice.

(Photo: sociate/



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