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From The New York Times:

Friendship in an Age of Economics

To preserve our most cherished human bonds, we must push back against the idea of investment and return.

When I was 17 years old, I had the honor of being the youngest person in the history of New York Hospital to undergo surgery for a herniated disc. This was at a time in which operations like this kept people in the hospital for over a week. The day after my surgery, I awoke to find a friend of mine sitting in a chair across from my bed. I don’t remember much about his visit. I am sure I was too sedated to say much. But I will not forget that he visited me on that day, and sat there for I know not how long, while my humanity was in the care of a morphine drip.

The official discourses of our relations with one another do not have much to say about the afternoon my friend spent with me. Our age, what we might call the age of economics, is in thrall to two types of relationships which reflect the lives we are encouraged to lead. There are consumer relationships, those that we participate in for the pleasure they bring us. And there are entrepreneurial relationships, those that we invest in hoping they will bring us some return. In a time in which the discourse of economics seeks to hold us in its grip, this should come as no surprise.

The encouragement toward relationships of consumption is nowhere more prominently on display than in reality television. Jon and Kate, the cast of “Real World,” the Kardashians, and their kin across the spectrum conduct their lives for our entertainment. It is available to us in turn to respond in a minor key by displaying our own relationships on YouTube. Or, barring that, we can collect friends like shoes or baseball cards on Facebook.

Entrepreneurial relationships have, in some sense, always been with us. Using people for one’s ends is not a novel practice. It has gained momentum, however, as the reduction of governmental support has diminished social solidarity and the rise of finance capitalism has stressed investment over production. The economic fruits of the latter have lately been with us, but the interpersonal ones, while more persistent, remain veiled. Where nothing is produced except personal gain, relationships come loose from their social moorings.

Aristotle thought that there were three types of friendship: those of pleasure, those of usefulness, and true friendship. In friendships of pleasure, “it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.” In the latter, “those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other.” For him, the first is characteristic of the young, who are focused on momentary enjoyment, while the second is often the province of the old, who need assistance to cope with their frailty. What the rise of recent public rhetoric and practice has accomplished is to cast the first two in economic terms while forgetting about the third.

In our lives, however, few of us have entirely forgotten about the third – true friendship. We may not define it as Aristotle did – friendship among the already virtuous – but we live it in our own way nonetheless. Our close friendships stand as a challenge to the tenor of our times.

Conversely, our times challenge those friendships. This is why we must reflect on friendship; so that it doesn’t slip away from us under the pressure of a dominant economic discourse. We are all, and always, creatures of our time. In the case of friendship, we must push back against that time if we are to sustain what, for many of us, are among the most important elements of our lives. It is those elements that allow us to sit by the bedside of a friend: not because we know it is worth it, but because the question of worth does not even arise.

There is much that might be said about friendships. They allow us to see ourselves from the perspective of another. They open up new interests or deepen current ones. They offer us support during difficult periods in our lives. The aspect of friendship that I would like to focus on is its non-economic character. Although we benefit from our close friendships, these friendships are not a matter of calculable gain and loss. While we draw pleasure from them, they are not a matter solely of consuming pleasure. And while the time we spend with our friends and the favors we do for them are often reciprocated in an informal way, we do not spend that time or offer those favors in view of the reciprocation that might ensue.

Friendships follow a rhythm that is distinct from that of either consumer or entrepreneurial relationships. This is at once their deepest and most fragile characteristic. Consumer pleasures are transient. They engulf us for a short period and then they fade, like a drug. That is why they often need to be renewed periodically. Entrepreneurship, when successful, leads to the victory of personal gain. We cultivate a colleague in the field or a contact outside of it in the hope that it will advance our career or enhance our status. When it does, we feel a sense of personal success. In both cases, there is the enjoyment of what comes to us through the medium of other human beings.

Friendships worthy of the name are different. Their rhythm lies not in what they bring to us, but rather in what we immerse ourselves in. To be a friend is to step into the stream of another’s life. It is, while not neglecting my own life, to take pleasure in another’s pleasure, and to share their pain as partly my own. The borders of my life, while not entirely erased, become less clear than they might be. Rather than the rhythm of pleasure followed by emptiness, or that of investment and then profit, friendships follow a rhythm that is at once subtler and more persistent. This rhythm is subtler because it often (although not always) lacks the mark of a consumed pleasure or a successful investment. But even so, it remains there, part of the ground of our lives that lies both within us and without.

To be this ground, friendships have a relation to time that is foreign to an economic orientation. Consumer relationships are focused on the momentary present. It is what brings immediate pleasure that matters. Entrepreneurial relationships have more to do with the future. How I act toward others is determined by what they might do for me down the road. Friendships, although lived in the present and assumed to continue into the future, also have a deeper tie to the past than either of these. Past time is sedimented in a friendship. It accretes over the hours and days friends spend together, forming the foundation upon which the character of a relationship is built. This sedimentation need not be a happy one. Shared experience, not just common amusement or advancement, is the ground of friendship.

Of course, to have friendships like this, one must be prepared to take up the past as a ground for friendship. This ground does not come to us, ready-made. We must make it our own. And this, perhaps, is the contemporary lesson we can draw from Aristotle’s view that true friendship requires virtuous partners, that “perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good.” If we are to have friends, then we must be willing to approach some among our relationships as offering an invitation to build something outside the scope of our own desires. We must be willing to forgo pleasure or usefulness for something that emerges not within but between one of us and another.

We might say of friendships that they are a matter not of diversion or of return but of meaning. They render us vulnerable, and in doing so they add dimensions of significance to our lives that can only arise from being, in each case, friends with this or that particular individual, a party to this or that particular life.

It is precisely this non-economic character that is threatened in a society in which each of us is thrown upon his or her resources and offered only the bywords of ownership, shopping, competition, and growth. It is threatened when we are encouraged to look upon those around us as the stuff of our current enjoyment or our future advantage. It is threatened when we are led to believe that friendships without a recognizable gain are, in the economic sense, irrational. Friendships are not without why, perhaps, but they are certainly without that particular why.

In turn, however, it is friendship that allows us to see that there is more than what the prevalent neoliberal discourse places before us as our possibilities. In a world often ruled by the dollar and what it can buy, friendship, like love, opens other vistas. The critic John Berger once said of one of his friendships, “We were not somewhere between success and failure; we were elsewhere.” To be able to sit by the bed of another, watching him sleep, waiting for nothing else, is to understand where else we might be.

Todd May is a professor of philosophy at Clemson University. He is the author 10 books, including “The Philosophy of Foucault” and “Death,” and is at work on a book about friendship in the contemporary period.

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Tantalum: Congo Conflict Mineral
February 12, 2010 @ 10:43 am In Feature ArticlesTantalum Articles


By Melissa Pistilli—Exclusive to Tantalum Investing News [2]

Most people today are familiar with the term “blood diamond [3]” and the gruesome reality the name invokes. Global pushback against the trade in conflict diamonds from regions steeped in brutal slavery and guerrilla warfare led to the adoption of the Kimberley Process [4]by those in the industry and in the global community actively trying to block sales of diamonds used to finance war.
Blood diamonds are just one story in a long history of violence linked with the exploitation of people and resources that has plagued humankind for millenniums.
Another example of this shameful side of human nature is taking place today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). The minerals involved include gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, which are used to fund murderous militias caught up in a war between two peoples that has spilled over the borders from Congo’s neighbours.
Congo Conflict Background
The 1994 Rwandan genocide [5] was the catalyst that pushed Zaire, later to be renamed DR Congo, into the deadliest conflict since WWII. After the overthrow of the Hutu regime in neigbouring Rwanda, over two million Hutus, including many of the militiamen who committed numerous atrocities, flooded over the borders of eastern Zaire to escape possible retribution from the Tutsi.
The fleeing Hutu militia members found allies with Mobutu’s government and soon began violently persecuting the Zaire’s Tutsi population. Of course, Rwanda’s new Tutsi government provided support for Tutsi militias in Zaire fighting the Hutu and Mobutu’s troops. The Tutsi also formed alliance with other Ugandan-backed groups and managed to overthrow Mobutu. It was then that Zaire became DR Congo.
However, the newly installed president Laurent Kabila was soon ousted by Rwanda after he failed to throw out the Hutu militia. Kabila sought the aid of Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe and the region fell into a bloody five-year war known as the Second Congo War [6] in which over five million Africans perished.
The war supposedly ended in 2003, however the region of eastern DR Congo is still under its shadow. General Laurent Nkunda, a Tutsi warlord believed to have the backing of Rwanda had been set on eradicating the area of any Hutu members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who he claimed the DR Congo government was supporting.
In late 2008, Rwanda and DR Congo forces came together to fight the FDLR in North and South Kivu provinces and General Nkunda was exiled to Rwanda [7] where he lives under house arrest. Unfortunately, the move did not pay off and gruesome large-scale murders and rapes are still occurring at the hands of both rebels and government troops even with the area supposedly under UN peacekeeping operations.
Conflict Minerals in the Global Marketplace
Natural resources like tin, tungsten and tantalum have been branded with the moniker “conflict minerals [8]” because the militias enslave locals to mine the metals and then use the funds garnered from their sale to help finance their bloody operations.
Sadly, it’s become apparent that even the Congolese army is taking part in the exploitation. Several thousand of the army soldiers are actually former rebels once under the command of General Nkunda and are seeking to establish their control over the region’s mineral resources.
“They didn’t integrate into the army, they took it over and now control huge parts of [the region],” says an anonymous former diplomat [9].
Once extracted, the conflict minerals are then taken to trading houses where they are prepared for sale in the global market and purchased by companies willing to ignore the illegal and inhumane way the ore was procured. Eventually, the processed ore makes its way into everyday items we Westerners often take for granted like cell phones, handheld gaming devices, and laptop computers.
Rising Backlash and Organizations Taking Action
According to Global Witness [9], “the illicit exploitation of natural resources in [Congo], and the accompanying serious human rights abuses, would not have taken place on such a large scale if there had not been customers willing to trade in these resources.”
Concerned organizations like the Enough Project [10], created by the Center for American Progress [11], and Global Witness [12], who helped bring the blood diamond controversy to global attention, along with the United Nations and other governmental agencies are bringing increasing pressure on those in the tantalum industry to ensure consumer products become conflict mineral free.
In later commentaries we’ll discuss the specific efforts these organizations are making towards creating a global marketplace free of conflict minerals, what these efforts mean for the future of the tantalum industry and what ethical investing opportunities exist in this sector of the mineral resource market.

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 The MasterBlog

PDVSA could drop Curacao refinery lease – report

Sat, Feb 27 2010
CARACAS, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Venezuelan oil company PDVSA may withdraw from the 320,000 barrel-per-day Isla refinery it operates in Curacao to protest U.S. military operations on the Caribbean island, Ultimas Noticias newspaper reported on Saturday, citing an interview with Venezuela’s oil minister.
Venezuela may order state-run PDVSA to abandon its lease of the Isla refinery because the U.S. military has been staging “provocations” on Venezuela from Curacao, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez was quoted as saying.
PDVSA has operated the Isla refinery since 1985 under a long-term lease with the government of Curacao, a Dutch island 40 miles (65 km) north of the Venezuelan coast.
A PDVSA spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has said the United States is plotting to invade his country, in December accused Curacao of allowing the Unites States to launch spy flights over Venezuelan territory from the island.
Dutch officials rejected the accusations, and the U.S. government has denied any plans for military incursion into Venezuela.
The Isla refinery processes mostly Venezuelan crude oil, and PDVSA has in recent years tried to negotiate a purchase of the plant from Curacao’s government.
Gasoline and other refined products from Isla are shipped to the United States, South America and other fuel markets.
PDVSA has faced a series of operational and emissions issues at Isla. Refinery units were shut for months last year due to power supply problems.
A Curacao judge ruled last May that PDVSA would have to carry out investments worth $100 million at the plant to reduce sulfur and other particulate pollution, or eventually face multimillion dollar fines.
PDVSA has complained that tougher emissions standards in Curacao would cost up to $1.5 billion to comply with. (Reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Joshua Schneyer in Caracas; Editing by Xavier Briand)
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Fifty Ugliest Cars of the Past 50 YearsA Half-Century of Automotive Eyesores

A Half-Century of Automotive Eyesores

A Half-Century of Automotive Eyesores

By Damian Joseph

Considering how many new cars are rolled out every year, it’s no surprise that a few might be just plain homely. There’s a chance that certain styles might become fashionable with a dash of retro hip. (Well, maybe not from the 1970s.) But for the most part, the following 50 cars will never be anything but design duds.

Fifty Ugliest Cars of the Past 50 Years: A Half-Century of Automotive Eyesores – BusinessWeek


La pesadilla no para… 

Elides J. Rojas L. // Como en Cuba

Ya viene la estatua de Fidel, verdadero amo del petróleo, de las cárceles, de la soberanía

Si algo tiene esta revolución digno de reconocimiento es su inmensa capacidad para crear e inventar nombres, estampar eslogan, rebautizar instituciones y hacer ver como nuevo algo que tiene muchos años de construido y funcionando.

Lo malo es que el engendro socialista naciente será irremediablemente un fracaso, como lo demuestra la historia reciente. A la cubana.

La estrategia chavista de dinamitar las formas prerevolucionarias y penetrar las instituciones para aprovecharlas en beneficio propio y de todo los que rodean al jefe, el cogollo del golpe de 1992 y los civiles asimilados.

TSJ, CNE, AN, CICPC, SIAME, República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Saime o Sebin son apenas algunos ejemplos. Pero ¿qué diferencia puede haber entre la vieja Onidex y esta tal Saime o la antigua DIM y esta Sebin? nada. Logo nuevo, apenas. Y esa retahíla de ministerios MinPopo… ¿acaso han significado algo en términos de resultados? Diosdado Cabello, que se ha paseado por varios popos de esos, ha sido vicepresidente y gobernador, es un ejemplo ambulante de cómo la incapacidad no es disimulable con un cambio de nombre ministerial. ¿Cuántas casas de más ha construido Chávez o Diosdado Cabello a cuenta de MinPoPo? ¿Cuánto ha disminuido la criminalidad y el delito a cuenta de Policía Nacional o CICPC? ¿Cuántas más vacas andan en plan lechero a cuenta de MinPopo agrario? Nada. Lo de los nombres es otra cubanada y la estrategia también. Ya es imposible ocultar la mano de Cuba en el manejo del país. Y, además de la ridícula e inútil cambiadera de nombres, con Cuba viene pegada la línea antiestadounidense y toda la pavosería del discurso castrista, ahora chavista, de los años 50 y 60. Incluido el tonito. ¡Eeeehhhh!

En breve los estados pasarán a ser provincias, como en Cuba. Muy poco para que sector privado termine de morir, como en Cuba. Los consejos comunales muestran su nariz, como en Cuba. Los presos políticos no ven una con la justicia, como en Cuba. El Banco Central es del líder, como en Cuba. Todo lo decide una persona, líder eterno e insustituible, como en Cuba. Todo es verde oliva y militar, como en Cuba. Los medios de comunicación privado sobran, como en Cuba. La palabra expropiación o nacionalización está a tiro de micrófono, como en Cuba. El insulto y la amenaza es parte del guión oficial, como en Cuba. El narcisismo y el personalísimo son la esencia del régimen, como en Cuba. La adulación pierde la pena, como en Cuba. Afiches, vallas y mucha propaganda exaltan el caudillo, como en Cuba. En poco tiempo vendrán las estatuas y los bustos, como en Cuba. Y nuevos ricos revolucionarios.

Sí. Como en Cuba.



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