Thursday, 30 August 2012

Kerry Packer's War

I was a teenage cricket fan in 1977 when World Series Cricket split the cricketing world down the middle.  Kerry Packer, having recently taken over from his father as head of Channel 9, was rebuffed in his attempts to buy the broadcast rights to Australian cricket despite offering vastly more money than the ABC.  Not being one to take no for an answer, he set up his own rival cricket competition, recruiting virtually the entire Australian and West Indies teams (the two strongest in world cricket at the time) and a host of other elite players from around the world.  Rival international competitions were staged for two years, the cricket authorities filling their teams with second string players, before peace was finally made in 1979.

I remember it well. So I watched Howzat! Kerry Packer's War on Channel 9.  I was pretty underwhelmed. 

For a start, it's just a poor piece of story-telling.  The cricketers, even those with central roles in the saga like Ian Chappell and Tony Grieg, are barely even cardboard cutouts, played with suitable ineptness by no-name actors.  Only David Hookes' character is given any depth, and he is portrayed as a nervous, gormless young man - hardly the way the brash, overconfident Hookes would want to be remembered.

Nor do the business people fare any better.  John Cornell is shown as a very bland if slightly cowboyish business-man, while his partner Delvine Delaney, Australian TV's glamour queen of the 70s, is merely eye candy and the other executives, whose names I never gathered, are just targets for Kerry Packer's volcanic temper.  Only Kerry himself is portrayed with any depth, his sneering and bullying offset by a tenderness and vulnerability which slides out at unexpected moments. 

Packer is long gone and his son James has scaled back his interest in Channel 9, yet the story is still shamelessly propagandistic.  Despite Packer's bullying, Channel 9 and World Series Cricket are obviously the good guys.  Occasional glimpses into the boardrooms of the Australian Cricket Board and the International Cricket Conference portray short-sighted, inflexible, reactionary men in suits who care nothing for their players, easy prey for Packer's superior sense of strategy.  As for the official Australian team or the travails of its players, these are totally invisible - it is as if World Series Cricket is the only cricket being played.  Yet for all this, we are offered little insight into Packer's motivation.  What was he hoping to get for the vast sums of money he spent on WSC?

Of course it's not hard to understand his strategy, and it was breathtakingly successful.  Packer knew that cricket had the potential to be a huge money-spinner on commercial TV, providing hours of content and capturing viewers of all ages from across the country for whom cricket is synonymous with the Australian summer.  Yet for this to be successful, the game had to change in significant ways.  He needed to have a lot more control of the grounds than previous broadcasters so that he could place cameras and mikes wherever he chose.  He needed the game to be more aggressive, more compact.  To make serious money, he needed games to be played in the evening, in prime time.

In the end he got everything he wanted.  As part of the peace deal, he got broadcast rights in exchange for handing back control of the game itself to the cricket boards.  He also got the changes he was looking for - an extended international program, lots of one day cricket played at night in coloured clothes, cameras at every corner of the ground, pitch mikes, stump cameras.  He paid through the nose but it was worth every cent as the advertising revenue rolled in.  Financially, everyone was a winner.  Channel 9 became entrenched as the most-watched station on Australian TV, the Australian Cricket Board shared the riches and the top tier of players became absurdly wealthy.

Yet there is a lot more to be said for the ICC and the Australian Cricket Board than the producers of Howzat!  would like you to think.  They understood very clearly what they would lose if they accepted Packer's money.  The ABC was a very undemanding partner - as a public broadcaster it didn't need to sell advertising or worry about viewer numbers, so it was happy to broadcast whatever cricket the authorities served up.  Gaps in the international season were filled with domestic matches - the Sheffield Shield featured regularly as did the domestic one-day competitions.  The Australian Cricket Board was free to focus on the grand traditions of the game.

All this had to change in order to bring in the money for Packer.  The audience for domestic cricket was too small, so it rapidly disappeared from our screens and hence from public consciousness.  The program had to be filled with international cricket for the whole summer, so extended triangular one-day series took the place of domestic cricket in the TV schedule and in the lives of international cricketers, who now rarely played for their states.  Nor was the effect confined to Australia - the business model pioneered by Packer quickly spread around the globe.  Soon international cricketers were on a treadmill, playing year round in increasingly forgettable one day and 20-20 tournaments to satisfy the insatiable demands of global television networks.  Like so much male elite sport in the last two decades, cricket was transformed from a game into a product, from contest to content.

Ultimately, the Australian Cricket Board lost their fight against this trend because they misjudged their players.  The board refused to be bought by Packer.  The players, on the other hand, were eager to sell.  Ian Chappell, in so many ways the leader amongst his generation of cricketers, was tired of fighting the board for a fair deal, tired of having to choose between playing international cricket and earning a living.  Howzat! captures it well, portraying Dennis Lillee, the greatest fast bowler of his and perhaps of any generation, complaining that he was paid less than the sight screen attendant.  When Kerry waved the chequebook, their eyes lit up.

You could hardly blame them, but my sympathies are still with the Board.  Packer's success is just one small part of the commodification of everything.  In my childhood, cricket unfolded ad free on my television at the pace of a lazy summer day.  My friends and I would hit the ball in the backyard for a while and then, hot and sweaty, would make ourselves ice-cold cordial and watch the players we had been imitating.  Now there is an advert every three minutes, the commentators clumsily spruik Channel 9's latest prime time reality TV show, every person, word and action is branded with the logo of some sponsor.  Money is king.  The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Second Order Change

I spent most of my time at University not studying, and besides it was thirty years ago, so it's not surprising I don't remember much.  However, one thing that has stayed with me is the idea of first and second order change.

We were introduced to the idea by Mal McCouat, a long-standing social work lecturer at the University of Queensland, and a 1974 book by Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, and Richard Fisch which went by the rather unpromising title of Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Resolution. 

The idea of first and second order change is simple in the way that so many brilliant ideas are.  Most of the changes we make in our lives, or in our society, are first order changes.  These are changes made within the established order or the normal pattern of relationships.  One of Watzlawick et al's examples was in the field of illicit drug supply.  In response to concerns about drug use, authorities bring in new laws which increase the penalties for supply of certain drugs and introduce new strategies to catch smugglers.  In response, the smugglers get cleverer and more ruthless.  Illicit drug use continues and even increases, so the authorities increase the penalties again.  The cycle continues.  This is first order change or, as they say, "more of the same".

Another way of illustrating this is by imagining two sailors aboard a small sailing dinghy.  The boat begins to lean to one side, so to prevent it from capsizing one of the sailors leans out over the opposite side of the boat.  Unfortunately he leans a little too far, and so to correct the problem his companion leans out over the other side.  In response, the boat begins to lean in her direction, and the first sailor has to lean a little further to compensate.  This process could continue indefinitely, with each sailor progressively leaning further.  Each extra lean is an act of first order change.  The boat remains on a roughly even keel, but the effort of keeping it there becomes less and less sustainable.

You can see what needs to happen next.  The sailors need to change their behaviour completely, and stand up.  To do this without capsizing the boat, they need to communicate clearly about what they are doing, and both haul themselves up at the same rate.  After some nervous moments, if all goes well they will soon be sitting back in the boat and enjoying their sail together.  This is second order change.

As social psychologists, Watzlawick and his colleagues applied this approach primarily to psychotherapy but they also ranged widely over other fields.  For instance, in the drug use field they used it to argue for legalisation of marijuana, which they said had led to reduced use on the odd occasions it had been tried.  Drug experts continue to make this argument today, and it continues to fall on deaf ears.

I've been thinking about something else, though.  Prior to the Great Depression, governments largely operated on the "household model" of budgeting.  In good economic times, their tax revenues went up so they could spend more.  In bad times, their revenues went down so they cut their spending so as not to go into deficit.  In the Depression they were forced to cut, then cut again as the world economy plunged.  Classic first order change.

British economist John Maynard Keynes was at the forefront of efforts to change this after the Depression, and his arguments were largely successful.  He argued for the economists' version of second order change.  Governments should do precisely the opposite of what seemed intuitively correct.  If they cut their spending in a recession, he argued, they made it worse as they added to the slowdown, and risked lengthening and deepening it. 

Instead, they should increase their spending, as well as lowering interest rates, to make up for the decline in activity in other sectors of the economy.  This would counteract the recession, increasing economic activity and confidence, and quicken the recovery.  It would mean that in the short term governments would go into deficit, but this would literally pay for itself over time as the economic recovery pushed their income back up while reducing the need for expenditure (for instance, by lowering the number of people on unemployment benefits).

While Keynes has been criticised on a number of different grounds, these aspects of his policy have become the common currency of government response to economic recessions, as seen most recently in the response to the 2007 Global Financial Crisis. 

However, something has happened.  I'm not a good enough economist to understand quite what.  Governments have become very nervous about the deficits they are running, believing them to be unsustainable.  Ratings agencies have agreed and have drastically downgraded countries we generally regard as quite wealthy.  As rated by Standard and Poors, Greece is currently at CCC which is a signal for investors to avoid lending them money, while Spain is at BBB+, which suggests you could still invest there but be wary. 

The European Union and international financial agencies, led by Germany and other stronger nations, have responded by offering financial bailouts on condition that the countries drastically reduce their spending to get their deficits down.  This sounds remarkably like a Depression-era approach and protests have broken out in countries threatened with austerity measures as people see their jobs disappearing.

Interestingly, here in Australia the same thing is going on, even though the same credit rating agencies rate our governments much more highly.  Our national government has a AAA rating, while here in Queensland the government is panicking about its debt level and talking about us becoming the "Spain of Australia" even though S&P rates us at AA+.  Jobs are being cut, funding programs axed, asset sales are in the wind.

I think there are two ways of viewing this.  It is possible to just see it as evidence that the conservatives have got the upper hand.  Conservative economists and politicians have never liked the Keynesian approach because it is highly redistributive.  Its focus on maintaining jobs and wage levels for ordinary workers reduces the effectiveness of unemployment as the "reserve army of capital", reducing downward pressure on wages and keeping taxes relatively high.  Good for the poor in a modest way, not so good for the rich.

However, another perspective is that Keynesian economics has proved insufficient for the intensively globalised economy we now live in.  Its focus on the actions of national governments has become increasingly ineffective in an economy dominated by global financial and commodity trading.  The power of national governments to counter global cycles is greatly reduced, particularly when these global cycles have winners as well as losers.  If the reserve army of capital now includes China's and India's teeming millions, how can struggling Western nations spend their way out of such massive trouble?

Perhaps in this context, Keynesian counter-cyclical spending becomes a new form of first order change.  Governments borrow and spend to boost their economies, but capital continues to fly to locations where labour and resources are cheap.  Government spending continues to increase, capital continues to fly.  The boat stays afloat, but the sailors are leaning way out.

The question is, what to do?  Our current approaches aren't working.  But the prevous approach - cut and wait for things to right themselves - led to untold suffering and will again.  Even here in Queensland, our 20,000 newly-unemployed public servants will no longer eat out at city coffee shops in their lunch-hour, or be able to afford holidays to Queensland's already struggling tourist destinations.  The cycle will continue downwards.

What is the second-order change for this situation?  How can we sustain our globalised economy without selling out our poorest people, or indeed those in China or India or even worse, Africa?  Is there a way of combining Lord Keynes' desire to maintain the livelihoods of ordinary working people with the global reach of 21st century internationalism?  It's beyond me to answer that question, but I sure hope someone can.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Boat Race to the Bottom

So, after months of deadlock and confusion, the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers has provided Julia Gillard and Chris Evans with the fig-leaf they need to adopt large parts of the Coalition's policy on unauthorised boat arrivals.

Of course the answer you get from an expert panel will depend very much on the question you ask.  This one was asked a number of questions, but the two pertinent ones were as follows.

" best to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives by travelling to Australia by boat;" and

"...the development of an inter-related set of proposals in support of asylum seeker issues, given Australia’s right to maintain its borders;"  (with my italics)

Their answer is that if you want to stop people coming to Australia by boat, you need to ensure that they get no benefit from doing so.  To acheive this the panel has made 22 recommendations.  The key ones for immediate implementation are:
  • re-opening the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and diverting boart arrivals there, rather than allowing them to be processed in Australia
  • continuing to pursue the deal with Malaysia on the same basis
  • once they are sent to these third countries, ensuring that their application for asylum is not processed any faster than it would have been in the country they left and removing their rights of appeal in the Australian court system
  • if they are eventually allowed into Australia, denying them any access to family reunion provisions.
These recommendations provide the next step in the ratchetting up of the cycle of deterrence which has been going on in asylum seeker policy for the past 15 years.  Each surge of boats leads to calls for tougher treatment of boat arrivals, to which governments eventually accede in the face of burgeoning numbers in detention centres.  Arrivals may slow for a while, before picking up again and leading to calls for still tougher responses.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the recent comments by Alexander Downer, who as Foreign Minister in the Howard Government was one of the key architects and defenders of the first edition of the Pacific Solution.  Downer diplomatically expresses his "discomfort" with the idea that people will be detained for long periods on Nauru or Manus. 

"Why would they want to keep them there for years on end? We processed offshore but there was no deliberate attempt to slow the process down.  I can't see why it would take years on end....I have some worries about that. I feel uncomfortable about that."

The Gillard government, following "expert" recommendations, is going further than the Howard government ever did.  It is proposing to detain people for longer, reduce their rights further, and in general make their lives worse.  Maybe it will work, maybe it won't.  The secret to success is to make seeking asylum in Australia no better, and perhaps a little worse, than life in their first places of refuge.  We are making countries that provide no legal recognition of asylum seekers our benchmark, and ensuring our policies mirror theirs.  We are racing towards the bottom at an alarming rate.

What I think is wrong here is the definition of "success" - success equals stopping boat arrivals.  This will be convenient for Australian immigration authorities.  Instead of having to deal with chaotic, unplanned demands for processing of asylum seekers, they will be able to delegate this chaos to other countries and maintain an orderly, regular system of arrivals into Australia.  Our immigration system will be nice and tidy. 

The lives of the asylum seekers, on the other hand, will continue to be chaotic and dangerous.  They will be stuck in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, which have not signed the UN Refugee Convention (unlike Australia which has signed it and is now trying to find a way to circumvent it), where they will either be imprisoned indefinitely, or eke out a meagre living in the grey economy while they wait for a nice tidy convention signatory like Australia to accept them.  In the meantime we will forlornly continue to negotiate with these countries for some as yet undefined regional solution to the problem. 

Eventually they will get desperate, and our orderly shores will once again look attractive.  When that happens, what will be the next step in the cycle of deterrence?  Housing them on desert islands, or flotillas in the open ocean?  Forcing them to break rocks in the tropical sun in exchange for food? 

There is a small silver lining in this looming cloud.  The number of "orderly" arrivals is to be increased - from the current 14,000 to 20,000 immediately and up to 27,000 within five years.  At least the panel found room for one humanitarian initiative amidst the deterrence. 

It's a drop in the ocean of 10 million offically recognised refugees worldwide.  On this evening's news I heard that two million Congolese are now displaced in Rwanda as a result of the latest rounds of civil war there.  Is our definition of success that we should be free to pretend these things are not happening?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Magnussen, Seebohm, Newman and the Bloke in the "T"

With the London Olympics winding to their close, it's hard to think anyone can have missed hearing about the woes of Aussie 100m freestyle swimmer James Magnussen and his team-mates, or missed out on seeing the Commonwealth Bank advertisement featuring his hopeful smiling face. 

For those who forgot, the ad (which interestingly is now unavailable on the internet) features Magnussen out for a training run, followed by guys wearing the letters "C", "A" and "N".  They start talking him up:

"Not long till you bring home gold for Australia."

"Hope so," says Magnussen.

"Know so!"

Then a guy in a "T" joins them and starts to cast doubt on the expected gold medal.  "After all, it's not like you haven't been beaten before."  The ad ends with the "T" bloke tripping over the edge of a cliff and landing in the ocean below.

Fortunately for our sometimes tenuous link with reality, Magnussen helped us out by coming second as well as making a major contribution to the "failure" of the 4X100m relay team, which finished fourth.  Magnussen can't have helped his quest for future sponsors by being sullen and withdrawn in his poolside interview, and he was pilloried by the Australian media.

Perhaps he would have been treated more kindly if he had acted like his team-mate Emily Seebohm.  After finishing second in her 100m backstroke final, Seebohm burst into tears poolside, sobbing that she had let down her coach, parents, team and the Australian people.

It tells you something about the cruelty of our culture that we can see coming second at the Olympics as failure.  We often hear successful young Australians talk about how they see themselves as role models, giving the message to young people that they can do and be anything they set themselves to, provided they work hard and believe in themselves. 

Of course they can't.  Even Magnussen and Seebohm, hugely talented, fiercely competitive and expertly coached, could only come second.  It wouldn't matter how hard I trained or what I believed, I would never even make it to the Olympic trials.

But for the Commonweath Bank this is not about sport, it's about money.  They want you to absorb the analogy between sport and banking, to hear the suggestion that none of your financial dreams are beyond you.  The "T" has been tipped off the cliff and we can all become rich.

If you think this is true, you have obviously been living in a cave for the past five years.  The global financial crisis of 2007, the US debt crisis of 2011, the current European debt crisis, the slowdown of Chinese growth - all evidence that money is not unlimited.  Riches are precarious, and wealthy people can quickly become poor.

If you needed the message driven home, our new State Government here in Queensland can provide you with a quick lesson.  Our new premier, Campbell Newman, has long rejoiced in the nickname "Can-do" and spent the election campaign talking about his "can-do team". 

Yet ever since their election victory the "T" has been firmly in place.  Riding a self-generated air of financial crisis, the watchcry is "we can't afford it".  No matter that the crisis is greatly exaggerated, we now can't afford 20,000 of our public servants, nor advocacy services for tenants, AIDS prevention for gay men, support for women prisoners, extra support for unemployed people, a trial of the National Disability Insurance Scheme or any sensible approach to public policy. 

Perhaps the Commonwealth Bank might consider keeping the bloke in the "T" on the payroll.  He could come in handy for explaining the facts to those people whose mortgages the bank will be forced to foreclose over the coming year.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Miracles Part 4 - The Kingdom

I have suggested that Jesus' miracles are not so much displays of power as teaching events coded to the worldview of first century Palestine.  If this is the case, what is Jesus teaching through them?

In one sense it is not really possible to answer this question, at least not in a blog post although perhaps in a hefty tome.  Each incident has its own meaning, its own message.  Jesus spoke on many subjects and responded to many different people.  Yet much of his message is organised around the central theme of the Kingdom of God or as Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven. Right from the the beginning Matthew has him saying "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near".  Jesus is not a systematic theologian, and he never defines or describes in an orderly way what he means by this term.  Instead he illustrates it in multiple parables, and enacts it in various deeds miraculous and otherwise.

So here are some key things I think Jesus' deeds show us about the Kingdom of God.

1. Abundant
For poor farmers, labourers and fisherman in Galilee, hunger was never far away.  Yet Jesus shows them a kingdom where they will never go short.  He helps them catch so many fish they nearly sink the boats.  He feeds 5,000 people from a little boy's lunch.  This seems to encode a promise that in the Kingdom they will never have to go hungry.

Yet these incidents also have a deeper meaning, in tune with the harvest metaphor Jesus uses to describe the kingdom.  As with fish and bread, so with people.  After he fills their nets with fish Jesus asks his disciples to to come and catch people.  Following tales in which he successively feeds 5,000 and 4,000 people in Matthew, he makes it clear to his disciples that he is interested in more than bread.  The Kingdom will overflow with people, they will flock in.  Which brings me to the next thing.

2. Inclusive
The Gospels show Jesus performing a large number of healings.  What distinguishes them is that so many of them are healings of people whose suffering also excluded them from the mainstream of Jewish faith.  He healed people suffering from leprosy, paralysis, blindness, physical deformity and continual haemorrhage - people who the Pharisaic law saw as "unclean".  His healings invite them into the community just as surely as his preference for an immoral woman over a Pharisee in Luke 7.  While it is much harder for the religious leaders and wealthy Israelites to enter the kingdom, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea and the rich women who supply the disciples with food are evidence that they too can enter if they choose.

Yet it is not enough for them to be included - they are also healed.  The distinctions between people are not simply ignored, they are eliminated.  The Kingdom is a place where their sufferings and their exclusion will both be over, and the people of God will be truly whole in both senses of the world.  And so...

3. Safe
For first century Jews, as for us today, the world was a dangerous place.  Sickness, madness, the weather all presented risks.  They saw these things in terms of the action of malevolent spirits, for us they are "forces of nature", but the message is the same - you can get ill, be washed away in a flood, be wrecked at sea (or crippled in a car crash), succumb to a mental illness.

Jesus shows that in the Kingdom we need not fear these forces.  The demons which drive people mad or make them ill are driven out.  Those which animate the storm are commanded to stop.  Even the Roman centurion recognises his command over the spirits of illness and suffering.

There is much more that could be said about the Kingdom, but this is enough to give you the flavour.  Of course these things are contrary to our everyday experience. We live in a dangerous world, a world defined by scarcity where the rich prosper and the poor suffer.  Jesus presents us with an alternative. 

It's hard to believe in the miracles.  In many cases, it's virtually impossible.  But as per Crossan and Reed, I don't think that's the question.  The question is, what do we think of this kingdom?  Is it something we would like to help build?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Ian McDonald

I'm not sure how I've managed to get through more than 250 posts on this blog without raving about Ian McDonald.  McDonald is a British science fiction writer based in Belfast in Northern Ireland, but his writing reveals a true world citizen.

I've previously commented how much better current speculative fiction writers are than their counterparts in the 1960s and 1970s.  Of course there's still plenty of trash, but the sprawling space operas of Iain M Banks and the taut, adventurous cyberpunk of William Gibson are as good as any literary writing you will read. 
McDonald is the equal of these and perhaps even superior to them.  He has a lot more in common with Gibson than Banks, his writing set in the near future, and his settings defined by where our current technologies might take us within our own lifetimes.  Yet where Gibson's novels are almost claustrophobic with their small casts of characters, secret rooms and secretive plots, McDonald's palette is as broad as Banks', with his diverse casts of characters and complex tapestry of plots and sub-plots.  He also goes way beyond the cyberpunks in his technological imagination.

What really sets McDonald apart, though, is his cross-cultural focus and his global outlook.  2004's River of Gods is set primarily in India, broken into rival nations and beset by a failed monsoon and the danger of water wars.  Regulators fight a losing battle against advanced artificial intelligences, surgery and hormones have created a new gender, and CGI actors acquire ther own personalities, contract virtual marriages and give interviews.  Meanwhile a mysterious entity in orbit around the earth generates pictures of two American scientists, who travel to India to find out why.

2007's Brasyl traverses three different periods in Brazil's history and an infinite number of universes. Reality TV comes up against genuine criminal reality, faith battles rogue imperialism, and ordinary people struggle for day to day survival.  His most recent, The Dervish House, published in 2009, is set in Instanbul, in the grip of a heatwave.  It features cowboy gas traders, a hunt for a mythical historical artefact, a deaf boy hunting terrorists with his toy robots, street shariat, a retired economics professor and a man who sees djinn.  The artificial intelligences that are front and centre in River of Gods are taken for granted here while the possibilities of nanotechnology loom large.  What if all human knowledge could be encoded in your DNA for future reference, nanotech could enable telepathic communication.  What would it cost and who would profit?

His combination of cultures we barely know, with their own deep religious and political histories, and futures we can barely imagine produces a dizzying imaginative landscape.   Yet as in any fiction, you only keep reading if you care about the characters.  It's hard when there's so much going on to keep the focus on characterisation, but he manages to create real people with real problems, and you want to see them solved.  Sometimes they are not, sometimes they are in surprising ways.  Like the best novels, he always leaves you wanting more.

Just to give you a taster, here's my favourite quote from The Dervish House.  Economist Georgios Ferentinou is discussing crows with an expert in bird behaviour during a break in a high-level think tank they both sit on.

Georgios Ferentinou cocks his head, intrigued, an unconscious mirror of the stalking jackdaw outside.

"You seem disenamoured with the objects of your study."

"You don't love crows, you admire them.  They exploit our capacity for chaos.  Forget polar bears or whatever kind of tuna we're supposed to care about this month; crows are the bellwethers of what we're doing to the planet.  The bigger the mess we make, the better they like it.  New behaviours are spreading through crow populations like wildfire.  Ten years ago Japanese crows learned to drop hard nuts at road intersections for cars to crack with their tyres.  And not just that, they'd wait for a red light before picking them up again.  Now crows in London are doing that.  Ten years to cross Eurasia.  There's an evolutionary pressure, and if it's working on crows, it's working on us, we just haven't seen it yet.  Now those same Japanese crow populations are showing behaviours that simply could not have had time to evolve.  They can count up to ten.  They're making marks in mud on roosts.  Rows of mud dots.  Now if that doesn't scare you...Do you want to hear the theory?  It scares the shit out of me: they're picking up waste nano from the environment and it's rewiring their brains."

"God save us," says Georgios Ferentinou and in the coffee queue he feels the clutch of intellectual excitement and fear that comes from the realization that the universe needs nothing from humans.