The (Brief) History Of A Dangerous Idea

by on September 10, 2015

BlythFind yourself a comfy chair and strap in tight. The g-force may be a little unpleasant as you reach escape velocity, but it’s worth the initial struggle to get up to speed with a man who speaks with the force and spittle of a Glasgow gale. Mark Blyth has been doing the rounds on the interview circuit promoting his book Austerity: the history of a dangerous idea. He recently gave an excellent interview with Sam Seder. But here he speaks freely for a full hour and seven (including intro and question period) enough time to give his short, damning history of the policy of austerity and his short, dense history of the bad idea that is the European common currency.

This lecture is brilliant. I include a few choice quotes below to entice you into listening to the whole of it. He is an engaging speaker with an impressive mastery of political economy, economic theory, and political history proper. Give it a listen, it is most thought-provoking.

Why did I write this book? I wrote this book for the following reason; I got really really pissed off with people with lots and lots of money telling people without any money they need to pay shit back.

Greece has lost 30% of GDP in four years, the German army didn’t manage that between 41 an 45, that’s how much damage has been done by this.

The markets aren’t craving an extra 30,000 civil servants being thrown out of work in Greece, they are worried about the Euro breaking up…

Any single country that has undergone an austerity program now has more debt than when it started. Any country that hasn’t cut, like the United States, now has proportionally less. The evidence is in. And the tragedy is it was all avoidable, and we knew this already.

Democracy is asset insurance for the rich. Don’t skimp on the payments – that’s what’s happening today.

Austerity is anorexia for the economy. That was learned by 1940. Oh, how we forget.

…And we’re gonna shut down every goddamn tax haven on the planet, because you know how much is sitting there? 27 trillion dollars in untaxed wealth – estimate. It’s sitting in five tax havens. How many divisions does the Cayman Islands have? None. Let’s go get it, so much easier than slashing the fire brigade.

..the greatest bait-n-switch in history because what’s actually happening is basically all that private debt that was created by the banking system through over-lending is now on the public balance sheet, and to go full circle, all the way back, that means that people like me who grew up on the welfare state have to pay for the mistakes of historically irresponsible bankers because you can’t tax them themselves because they are too politically powerful. That’s why this is fundamentally a problem of politics and not a problem of economics.

Lecture after the break
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Our Laurence Miall ~ Blind Spot

by on September 26, 2014


We are delighted to announce that regular Paltry contributor, Laurence Miall has produced his first novel, Blind Spot which came out on Newest Press last month. In Edmonton to launch the book, he stopped by CJSR FM88 for a chat on the Ipso Factory. The interview begins at the 0:05:18 mark but I recommend letting Robbie Fulks’ Night Accident provide the introduction. The song hits the right mood and, like Blind Spot, it turns on infidelity and a train crash. We talked for just shy of half an hour.

Listen to the interview

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IMG_0087 When his parents’ car is hit by a train, Luke, a failed actor, returns to his Edmonton hometown to attend their funeral, wrap up their affairs, and prepare their house to be sold off. But while others around him grieve, Luke remains detached, striking up a relationship with a woman in a neighbouring house… and stumbling across evidence that his mother may have engaged in a longstanding extramarital affair herself.

In Luke, Laurence Miall has crafted an unforgettable literary anti-hero, a man disconnected from the pain of those around him, yet blind to his own faults. With clean, forceful language and a familiarity with the darker corners of the male psyche, Blind Spot is a gripping literary debut.

You can enjoy the entire program here. Song selections are peppered with bookish themes and even more smartass literary references than usual. Enjoy the show, then curl up with a copy of Blind Spot and a big glass of Writer’s Tears.

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Dangerous Blather: Frida Ghitlis at CNN on Ukraine

by on March 20, 2014

Crossposted from my “Russia and the World Blog” at

Some of the US mainstream press coverage of the Ukrainian crisis has been relatively good, such as Fareed Zakaria’s commentary.  A lot more is garbage.  Today’s “most ignorant blather” award goes to Frida Ghitis, who has a front page headline on CNN right now.   Ghitis presents the crisis as the beginning of “a new Cold War,” opines that Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons when the USSR collapsed, mocks peace activists, and suggests that “nobody fears America any more” and that that is a bad thing.

First, let’s discuss something that seems to be entirely missing in the US press coverage of Ukraine this month — in 1990, as the western powers and the Soviet Union negotiated the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Germany, German Foreign Minister Genscher and US Secretary of State James Baker both assured Soviets that NATO would not be expanded beyond the eastern frontier of Germany.  This was to balance the fact that eastern Germany was about to fall into the NATO orbit with German reunification, and that Hungary and other former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe were about to hold free elections. Western diplomats wanted to forestall Soviet fears of NATO expansion into that area, and prevent a reaction like the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.  While there has been debate about whether such reassurance was actually given, this article from Der Spiegel, pretty much ices it …

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Philosophy, In Other Words

by on February 5, 2014

Go ahead and admit it. It takes a special kind of person (a philosopher?) to enjoy reading philosophical texts. They’re always blabbing about what it means to be and the different ways and kinds of knowing, and lots of times they’re doing it in foreign languages, but even when they are, technically, speaking English, they’re not. Does it have to be this way? You certainly don’t think so. So go ahead, just say it right out loud: It takes a special kind of person to read philosophy, and I am not that kind of person.  There, see? You feel better already.

But wait – what if I were to tell you that you’re completely right, it doesn’t have to be that way? What if I told you that there is a person for whom philosophy makes sense and that this person wants to make it make sense for you, too?

Two words: Philosophy Bro. Okay, more than two words – the blog is a little on the newish side and also quite, shall we say, of a sort with its summaries, so if you’ve got a paper due tomorrow on What Is It Like To Be A Bat?, my most heartfelt suggestion to you is that you get thee to a library. But Philosophy Bro can most definitely lend a hand to any civilian who’s just kind of wondering what the hell a dude like Descartes was getting at, or for someone who is Rand Curious but can’t realistically imagine slogging through 1000+ pages of Atlas Shrugged in the original Tedious Crapese, he’s done some really exceptional work with his translation of “This is John Galt Speaking”:

You make life hardest for the greatest bros, the ones who make your life easiest; the more we make, the more you take. Calling it ‘taxes’ doesn’t make it right; it’s theft. We’ve stood by and let it happen, unable to believe that anyone could really be that dumb. Well, Fuck. That. Noise. That ends right now. We are done being made to feel guilty, being blamed and hated, because we make shit happen. We’re done being sacrificed. When you make criminals out of the men who build you houses, don’t complain when you have to live in caves, bro. There’s a guy who built a thing that lets you fly through the sky in an air conditioned room. Of course he’s rich, because flying is fucking awesome and people will pay him to do it. If your world says he’s evil, I don’t want to live in it.  

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What Were The Earliest Vibrators Like?

by on February 3, 2014

They were steam-powered, coal-fired, belt-driven and studded with vibratodes as Rachel Maines, technology historian and author of The Technology of Orgasm explains. I thank her for introducing me to the term “vibratode,” and to the phrase “hedonizing technology.” She gives an eye-opening account of the social, medical and technological history of self-pleasure, replete with self-deceptions, hypocrisies and rooftop Chattanoogas.

But in any case, there’s the connection with hydrotherapy and then you wonder why Saratoga was so popular in the 19th century, especially with women? The men would go off and gamble and the women would go for the water cure. And some times it was very respectable and, you know, they just bathed at the water and everything was cool but there was also a thing called the douche, the Scotch douche, that was, I’ve seen pictures of it, it was pretty startling. Anyway…

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Geoff Berner ~ Festival Man

by on January 30, 2014


Travel in the entertaining company of a man made of equal parts bullshit and inspiration, in what is ultimately a twisted panegyric to the power of strange music to change people from the inside out.

At turns funny and strangely sobering, this “found memoir” is a picaresque tale of inspired, heroic deceit, incompetence, and – just possibly – triumph. Follow the flailing escapades of maverick music manager Campbell Ouiniette at the Calgary Folk Festival, as he leaves a trail of empty liquor bottles, cigarette butts, bruised egos, and obliterated relationships behind him. His top headlining act has abandoned him for the Big Time. In a fit of self-delusion or pure genius (or perhaps a bit of both), Ouiniette devises an intricate scam, a last hurrah in an attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of his girlfriend, the music industry, and the rest of the world. He reveals his path of destruction in his own transparently self-justifying, expulsive, profane words, with digressions into the Edmonton hardcore punk rock scene, the Yugoslavian Civil War, and other epicentres of chaos.

Colonel Kurtz of Klezmer and friend of the site, Geoff Berner is off on a 7-stop dead-of-Winter tour of western Canada. He is promoting his new novel, Festival Man out on Dundurn press, but fear not, music fans, he’s still bringing the accordion and the bad attitude. Here in Edmonton, he’ll be playing the Wunderbar Friday and Saturday. We got him on the horn during this week’s Ipso Factory on CJSR 88.5 FM, discussing such matters as the agony of letters, the ecstasy of Punk, and the many moods of Stephen Harper.

Check out the interview below, or listen to the entire show here.

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ps. The Saturday show was superb. If not Dionysus, certainly Bacchus descended. Opener and accompanist, Kris Demeanor provided ample proof that he deserves his awards and accolades (Poet Laureate of Calgary, Alberta).

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The Tall Tale Of An Alternative Burn’s Supper

by on January 24, 2014

Haggis: live and prepared

There were none but Scotsmen present at the event in question so we cannot claim to have a reliable account of what went on, but, according to at least one scurvy Caledonian, it began with a general malaise that settled on the city of Glasgow. A restless dissatisfaction held the entire population in its grip. Blandly and blindly, the people went through their daily routines, stopping at the chip shop for breakfast, lunch, tea, and after-last-call snacks. They ordered haddock, cod, blood sausage, haggii, scotch pies, pork pies, and pizza slices, all of them rolled in batter, deep fried, and served with thick, jaundiced, fat-soaked chips. And though their bellies were filled as usual and their unkempt Highland whiskers well-oiled in the process, something was missing. Scottish eating habits remained as disgusting as ever, but the thrill, for the Scots, was gone. Even visitors, strangers to local custom, had ceased to gape in horror and amazement when catching sight of the natives choking down their oleaginous dinners, and the Department of Tourism recorded a decrease in revenue as a result. From the lowliest benighted blue-faced Pict to the faculty of the Department of Bellicose Nationalism at the University of Strathclyde, the entire nation felt a slight but demoralizing affront to its pride. Once word made its way north of Hadrian’s Wall that Cockneys had taken to eating curry-sauce sundaes for dessert, it was clear to all that something had to be done.

Scottish cuisine was in crisis. Rancorous debate in the newly convened Scottish House of Parliament led to the resignation of Hamish McHamish, Honourable Minister for Mince and Tatties. But hopelessly divided as it was along religious and clan lines, the House could take no decisive steps. The MPs eventually agreed to disagree–and of course to continue throwing large rocks at one another.

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The Genius Of Jersey Shore Declared

by on January 17, 2014

Santino Fontana and David Furr of the Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest deliver some Jersey Shore witticisms in Wilde character. Whilst ever Jersey Shore can be satirized, hope yet remains.

Many more after the jump.

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10.2 x 10: Interview with comedian, author, activist Charles Demers

by on January 17, 2014

I am delighted to bring you the second edition of our Paltry Sapien interview series, 10×10, this time with the multi-talented Charles Demers.

When I was about 18 I got a tattoo of Charlie Chaplin down the length of my right bicep. There’s probably no ‘meeting-of-worlds’ that I’ve spent more time thinking about than I have the space where politics meets comedy.

1)    You wear three distinct hats as comedian, author, and activist; at the same time, your comedic sensibilities infuse your writing, your activism colors your comedic material, etc. Are there differing drives and motivations underlying your pursuit of these outlets, or is it all of a piece?

That’s a really good question.  My friend Max Fawcett has, written in his ‘something about yourself’ box on Facebook, a variation on Whitman: “I contain multitudes, but they’re all pretty much the same.”  While the work often feels very different, and certainly lets me change up the emphasis – here trying primarily to be funny, there being primarily political or historical, here being very personal – it does, for me, seem to be coming from mostly the same wellspring.  What I’m sort of working on is trying to make the disparate works make sense to people, the audience, as part of a whole.  But at the beginning, it was hard to get people interested in both the books and the comedy.

The worlds of literary writing and stand-up comedy exist in almost complete isolation from each other, which to me is insane, given the overlap – attention to language, ideas, observation.

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Jerry Jerry ~ Mayor of Smart City

by on January 14, 2014


My ongoing efforts to broaden the Youtubular footprint of Mr. Jerry Jerry have yielded further strange fruit in the form of this video for Smart (I’m Smart) from the stripped-down solo effort The Sound and the Jerry (1997). I had thought to go with the Marx Brothers, or maybe mad scientists (saving the immortal Herbert West for when I tackle Wierd), but for reasons that surpass my own understanding, I settled on a mishmash of Daniel Day-Lewis characters. If Jerry ever releases an extended dance remix, I’ll cut the video again with some ripe footage from Nine spliced in.

Jerry Jerry ~ Smart (I’m Smart)

Intelligence is force, insight is violence, wit is aggressive display.

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You Are Here, and Now

by on December 31, 2013

The Orloj Astrolabe

More than just your average timepiece, the Old Town Clock of Prague, or Orloj, can tell you what time it is and what date. It also tells you what the heavens should look like from where it stands. It tells you what time to expect sun rise and set, what lunar phase the moon should appear in, and even which Zodiacal sign is in ascendence. Elsewhere on the tower, there is an Apostle Walk. In the way it combines Christian characters, knowledge of astronomy, and elements of the mystic, all powered by, then, state of the art engineering, the Orloj offers a fascinating window on the Renaissance mind.

Orloj Schema

The 600th anniversary of the tower’s founding was celebrated this year in suitably exceptional fashion as the whole of its history (and the history of Prague) as well as it’s construction and workings was depicted against it in light and sound. The tower itself serves in the show as canvas, setting, recurrent theme, anatomy subject, main character and witness.

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Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Resolutions (1942)

by on December 31, 2013

Change socks… Don’t get lonesome… Dream good… Wake up and fight. (Yes, these are his doodles, too)

Originally posted, Dec. 31, 2011

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