EU Turmoil

A bit of a swirling day of turmoil in the EU. But some things have stuck in memory. From yesterday:

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, … earlier called for the elected Syriza government to be replaced by “technocrat” rule until stability is restored.

It speaks volumes about the attitude of the imperial EU aristocracy to democracy that they can openly call for governments to be overthrown. The same message comes from this today:

Greece’s referendum was not “legally correct”, the European Commission has declared.

i.e. we don’t care what the Greek people may or may not want. They’re irrelevant.

The message that people are going to take away from all this is that the EU aristocracy is completely indifferent to what ordinary people may think. And not just in Greece, but everywhere else too.

It’s all top down control. And top down control not just of the peoples of the EU, but of all its governments as well. There can be no negotiation. Everyone must do exactly what they’re told. And if they don’t, they’ll be bankrupted, and ousted from government.

Tsipras has thrown Varoufakis under a bus, as a sop to EU aristocrats who didn’t like his lectures, because he still seems to think he can get a deal. But all the EU leaders want to do is throw him under a bus too. And maybe they’ll succeed.

At this rate, I’m beginning to think that UK public support for remaining in the EU is going to collapse. Seriously, who wants to remain in this dystopic union? And not just in the UK.

But maybe what ordinary people on the street think simply doesn’t matter.

Beyond that, EU leaders are all increasingly looking like a bunch of political midgets, who somehow managed to get elected to offices they’re too small-minded to fit, and now meander from crisis to crisis.

Best thing would be to revert to the older, looser EEC. That actually seemed to work pretty well. But reversion would mean abandoning the imperial EU dream of “ever closer union”. And the aristos don’t want to abandon dream.

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Greece Votes No

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Athens:

Greek voters have rejected the austerity demands of Europe’s creditor powers by a stunning margin, sweeping aside warnings that this could lead to the collapse of the banking system and a return to the drachma.

Early returns in the historic referendum showed the No side -Oxi in Greek =- running at 61pc versus 39pc for the Yes side as the Greek people turned out en masse to vent their anger over six years of economic depression and national humiliation. A volcanic revolt appeared to have swept through Greek islands.

Earlier in the day:

Greece risks a collapse of the medical system, power black-outs, and an import blockade, if the Greek people reject creditor demands in a make-or-break referendum tomorrow, the EU’s highest elected official has warned.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said the EU authorities may have to prepare emergency loans to keep basic public services functioning and to prevent the debt-stricken country spinning out of control next week.

“Without new money, salaries won’t be paid, the health system will stop functioning, the power network and public transport will break down, and they won’t be able to import vital goods because nobody can pay,” he said.

Mr Schulz earlier called for the elected Syriza government to be replaced by “technocrat” rule until stability is restored.

The alarmist warnings are part of an escalating pressure campaign by European leaders as Greeks decide their destiny in what has become – despite attempts by Syriza to present it otherwise – an in-out vote on euro membership after five years of economic depression and mass unemployment.

Some early reactions. Marine Le Pen:

Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front party, said in a statement that the anticipated result was a victory against “the oligarchy of the European Union”.

ZeroHedge:

there is now a high likelihood of Greek exit from the euro, and possibly under chaotic circumstances.

Guardian:

Greece delivered a landslide no vote to the eurozone’s terms for the country remaining in the single currency on Sunday night, unleashing a seismic political shift that could derail the European project. The verdict confronts the EU’s leadership with one of its most severe ­crises of confidence and leaves Greece facing potential financial collapse and exit from the euro.

Paul Krugman:

..the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.

What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work…

What happens next isn’t clear. But nothing ever is in this crisis.

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Slavery

I’ve been thinking about slavery recently. Smokers are often described as ‘slaves’ to their ‘addiction’. And Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom could have easily been The Road to Slavery ( a slave, it seems, was owned by somebody, while a serf was tied to a location).

But also I came across a piece by the economist Paul Krugman, Slavery’s Long Shadow. which ended with the words:

Every once in a while you hear a chorus of voices declaring that race is no longer a problem in America. That’s wishful thinking; we are still haunted by our nation’s original sin.

This seemed to suggest that slavery was a sin, and that it was uniquely America’s ‘original sin’. As if Americans had invented it, just like they invented atomic bombs (presumably another original sin).

But quite obviously Americans didn’t invent slavery. Slavery had been around for thousands of years. Ancient Greece and Rome were dependent upon it.

No. If anything America was a country that woke up to the sinfulness of slavery (about the same time as Britain did). Because the ancient world had a very different attitude to it:

slavery

Slavery was ‘completely accepted’ as ‘an inevitable and unavertable condition’! And nobody could even conceive of the possibility of its abolition!

So how come Americans didn’t regard slavery as inevitable and unavertable? Or, why did the ancients regard slavery as inevitable and unavertable? Did Americans have uniquely high moral standards? Or did the ancients have almost universally low moral standards?

My proposed solution to this puzzle is to suggest that the ancients needed slaves, and 19th century Americans didn’t need them. And to explain why, I’d like to discuss horses instead of slaves.

Horses may be regarded as slave animals. They are usually owned by somebody, and they are used, among other things, as a means of transportation. Yet it seems that in the early 20th century, there was an emancipation of horses which took place without there being a accompanying moral crusade for their liberation. And this happened because horses and horse-drawn transport were largely replaced by cars and trains and buses, which were much faster and could carry more, over a period of a few decades. They were simply no longer needed. Technological innovation had rendered them redundant.

Returning to human slavery, I’d like to suggest that the same thing was happening as with horses, except that the emancipation of slaves was accompanied by a vociferous moral campaign. On one side of the argument was the newly industrialised American North, where slavery had largely been rendered redundant. And on the other side was the rural South, where slavery had yet to become redundant – because farm tractors and combine harvesters had yet to be invented. Cotton and sugar and tobacco farms were labour-intensive, and they needed the cheap labour that slavery provided.

If the emancipation of slaves had followed the same course as the emancipation of horses, slavery would have died out in the South a few decades after it had died out in the North, with no great fuss being made about it. Instead, after a bloody civil war it was forced on the South by the newly moralistic North, which could happily oppose slavery precisely because it no longer had any need of it.

And if we want to understand the ancients’ attitudes to slavery, we can find it in our attitudes to food. We kill and eat plants and animals because we have no option but to do so. But should we ever become able to manufacture proteins and carbohydrates independently of, and more cheaply than, the plants and animals that now provide them, then there will follow the emancipation of wheat and oats and cattle and sheep. And you can bet your bottom dollar that, as soon as they’ve switched over to the new artificial foodstuffs, their consumers will be wagging moralistic fingers at people who still eat traditional farm-produced plants and animals. They’ll be calling them ‘mass murderers’. In fact, you can bet they’ll force them to stop eating traditional food, quite possibly after another bloody civil war.

Returning to tobacco, and smoking bans, antismoking zealots quite often compare the introduction of smoking bans to the emancipation of slaves. And they do indeed see smokers as slaves who need to be emancipated. But where is the technological innovation which rendered smoking redundant? It can’t have been the e-cigarette, because the zealots want to ban that too.

Holier-than-thou moralists always see themselves as hastening the forward march of history, speeding what would inevitably happen. But there is no law of nature which demands steady progress in one direction. The natural world is cyclical, and demonstrates both ebb and flow. So the march of progress, in the form of technological innovation, might well first be stopped, and then reversed. It is not inconceivable that our modern technological society could go into reverse, and that we start to need to use horses and oxen to draw ploughs again.

And the reviled institution of slavery might re-appear.

And, of course, smoking as well.

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Prison Smoking Bans

H/T Rose and Harley. BBC:

Australian experts are split over whether smoking bans are a crucial advance in prison health or “a bridge too far” that can only spark unrest.

On Tuesday, hundreds of prisoners lit fires, broke walls and smashed windows in a 15-hour riot at a Melbourne prison in what authorities believe may have been a reaction to a smoking ban at the remand facility.

It was one of the worst prison riots in recent memory and authorities and commentators moved quickly to either condemn or support the state-wide prison smoking ban.

Western Australian Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis says his state won’t be following the Victorian model yet.

He says the riot affirmed his decision to reject calls from prison officers for a full ban on smoking in his state’s prisons, where inmates are still permitted to smoke in designated outdoor areas.

“As a former smoker, I can tell you it’s a bloody difficult habit to kick,” he told a Perth radio station.

He says many prisoners are already going “cold turkey” on drug or alcohol addictions, are separated from their family and often suffering mental health issues.

His prison officers are “bitterly divided” on the issue and have warned him a ban could lead to prisoner riots.

“My gut instinct is that banning smoking in prisons is a bridge too far for many people,” he says.

“Prisoners are sent to prison as punishment not for punishment.”

Smoking bans are punishment for smokers,  and extra punishment for prisoners. At a second prison:

Tensions are still running high in Victoria’s prison system over the new smoking bans.

Convicted mass murderer Julian Knight has told a Melbourne court that Port Phillip prison is on the verge of a riot similar to the rampage by inmates in the Metropolitan Remand Centre in Ravenhall late on Tuesday.

“I’m currently sitting in a 1,200-bed prison which is in lockdown and on the verge of kicking off here as it did with the MRC,” he told supreme court justice Rita Zammit on Friday.

Knight was in court for a judgment in a case against Port Phillip prison manager Ian Thomas.

He said nicotine patches had not been provided to inmates even though that had been planned as part of Corrections Victoria’s phasing in of a complete smoking ban in all Victorian prisons from 1 July.

Knight said he had been telling the courts for years what would happen if a smoking ban was introduced but had been ignored.

“I think Ravenhall says it all,” he said.

Victorian prisons have been in lockdown since Tuesday’s riots, the worst in Victoria’s history, where inmates smashed doors, windows and fences, started fires and damaged staff areas over the ban.

Why smoking bans in prison are not the answer:

It’s a lesson in economics 101. In prisons where cigarettes are banned, they sell for up to $20 each, and whole packs of cigarettes can sell for up to $200. This creates a major profit opportunity for gangs, who already have networks for smuggling other things, but cigarettes take it to another level in terms of the profit potential.

And this is also a source of corruption amongst prison employees. If you think from the perspective of a prison guard, they may never be willing to smuggle heroin or cocaine, because of the moral opprobrium associated with those. But when it comes to smuggling cigarettes, you’re violating the same laws of contraband, yet you can see how a lot of guards could say, “Well, what’s so terrible about selling a cigarette? I know I’m breaking the rules, but here I can make a little money. I smoke, he smokes, what’s the big deal?”

…There’s a real paucity of any serious research examining these prohibitions. Does it increase corruption and black markets? Do tobacco bans enrich prison gangs? Are there growing levels of violence associated with this? We don’t have solid answers on any of this stuff, and I think it’s a tragedy that there isn’t any good information.

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The Absolute Mess of the Eurozone

Whatever the outcome of the Greek crisis, the image of the EU has been very badly damaged. Breitbart:

What an absolute mess the Eurozone has become. Does David Cameron really think he can mount a persuasive argument for the UK to stay in a minute longer or will he be the only rat swimming towards that sinking ship?

The Week:

Greece must be cudgeled into cringing subordination — or if it leaves the euro, it must be as brutal an experience as possible, so as to put fear into the hearts of anyone else who would question elite hegemony.

That seems to be the ultimate endpoint of European post-democracy. Eurozone elites were too stupid or insane to avoid crushing Spain and Greece (and every member of the eurozone to some extent, even Germany) with austerity and tight money. Now that the worst-hit country has tried to wriggle out of the iron maiden, it will either be forced to submit or scourged out of the euro. If Spain tries the same trick — it has seen the rise of a similar leftist party — it will surely get the same treatment. God only knows who might be next, when the next financial crisis comes.

Unity, prosperity, and democracy have been struck off the European monument. In its place are division, economic collapse, and an aristocracy of well-credentialed idiots.

Zero Hedge:

Europe has moved, at a very rapid clip, from a union of 28 different sovereign states, each with their own governments and political views and directions, to one where a top heavy bureaucratic structure, hand-puppeted on by a mere handful member states and systemic banks, dictate what each member state, both its politicians and its citizens, may do or not do. Or think. Electing a left wing government, for instance, equals asking for trouble.

There is no democracy left in Europe, people have no direct say anymore, there’s just a two-pronged dictatorship: there’s Merkel and Hollande, who in the Greek crisis have proven themselves to be mere tools to vested interests

And H/T Rene van Geffen (why he commented in About, I do not know) for this:

From Ukraine to Uruguay, Moldova to the Philippines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its foreign affiliates have become the hammer for the tobacco industry, engaging in a worldwide effort to fight antismoking laws of all kinds, according to interviews with government ministers, lobbyists, lawmakers and public health groups in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

The U.S. Chamber’s work in support of the tobacco industry in recent years has emerged as a priority at the same time the industry has faced one of the most serious threats in its history. A global treaty, negotiated through the World Health Organization, mandates anti-smoking measures and also seeks to curb the influence of the tobacco industry in policy making. The treaty, which took effect in 2005, has been ratified by 179 countries; holdouts include Cuba, Haiti and the United States.

Facing a wave of new legislation around the world, the tobacco lobby has turned for help to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with the weight of American business behind it. While the chamber’s global tobacco lobbying has been largely hidden from public view, its influence has been widely felt.

Letters, emails and other documents from foreign governments, the chamber’s affiliates and antismoking groups, which were reviewed by The New York Times, show how the chamber has embraced the challenge, undertaking a three-pronged strategy in its global campaign to advance the interests of the tobacco industry.

In the capitals of far-flung nations, the chamber lobbies alongside its foreign affiliates to beat back antismoking laws.

The treaty mentioned is undoubtedly the FCTC, about which Chris Snowdon had this to say today:

The ‘Treaty’ has never been enshrined in law in Britain or the EU, so this is wibble from the outset. There are no ‘legal obligations’. From a legal perspective, the FCTC is nothing more than a bunch of aspirations, but even if Article 5.3 was the law, it clearly refers to health policy, not trade policy, smuggling or waste disposal.

I’d always understood that once the UK had ratified the FCTC (which it has), it was bound by it, and that’s one of the main reasons why smoking bans have been rolled out by signatory countries all around the world. This needs further investigation (see comments here).

Anyway, I didn’t know the US Chamber of Commerce had taken the side of tobacco companies. I’m so used to big organisations being fully-paid-up antismoking shills that it came as a bit of a shock to find one that wasn’t. I guess that is because it’s probably not a government agency.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions. Our members range from mom-and-pop shops and local chambers to leading industry associations and large corporations. They all share one thing–they count on the Chamber to be their voice in Washington, D.C.

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The End of Truth

I’ve been reading Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, the chapter called The End of Truth, and as I was reading it seemed to be as relevant today as it was when it was first written.

To make a totalitarian system function efficiently it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the same ends. It is essential that the people should come to regard them as their own ends. Although the beliefs must be chosen for the people and imposed upon them, they must become their beliefs, a generally accepted creed which makes the individuals as far as possible act spontaneously in the way the planner wants.

A propaganda-imposed belief that is now generally accepted: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer.

This is brought about by various forms of propaganda. Its technique is now so familiar that we need say little about it. The only point that needs to be stressed is that neither propaganda in itself, nor the techniques employed, are peculiar to totalitarianism, and that what so completely changes its nature and effect in a totalitarian state is that all propaganda serves the same goal, that all the instruments of propaganda are co-ordinated to influence the individual in the same direction and to produce the characteristic Gleichschaltung of all minds… If all the sources of current information are effectively under one single control, it is no longer a question of merely persuading the people of this or that. The skilful propagandist then has power to mould their minds in any direction he chooses and even the most intelligent and independent people cannot entirely escape that influence if they are long isolated from all other sources of information.

The internet is a new source of information that is not under one single control. It breaks the monopoly.

Although the planning authority will constantly have to decide issues on merits about which there exist no definite moral rules, it will have to justify its decisions to the people – or, at least, have somehow to make the people believe that they are the right decisions. Although those responsible for a decision may have been guided by no more than prejudice, some guiding principle will have to be stated publicly if the community is not merely passively to submit but actively to support the measure. The need to rationalise the likes and dislikes which, for lack of anything else, must guide the planner in many of his decisions, and the necessity of stating his reasons in a form in which they will appeal to as many people as possible, will force him to construct theories, i.e. assertions about the connections between facts, which then become an integral part of the governing doctrine. This process of creating a “myth” to justify his action may not be conscious. The totalitarian leader may be guided merely by an instinctive dislike of the state of things he has found and a desire to create a new hierarchical order which conforms better to his conception of merit… So he will readily embrace theories theories which seem to provide a rational justification for the prejudices which he shares with many of his fellows. Thus a pseudo-scientific theory becomes part of the official creed. which to a greater of lesser degree directs everybody’s action…

The totalitarian antismoker ‘instinctively dislikes’ smoking, and will readily embrace the idea that Smoking Kills or Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and this pseudoscience becomes the official creed.

The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognised before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretence that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed.

e.g. ‘gay’, ‘liberal’, etc.

The worst sufferer in this respect is, of course, the word liberty. It is a word used as freely in totalitarian states as elewhere. Indeed it could almost be said – and it should serve as a warning to us to be on our guard against all the tempters who promise New Liberties for Old – that whatever liberty as we understand it has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people.

e.g. the lost freedom to smoke in pubs has been replaced by the new ‘freedom’ of making them smoke-free.

The situation in a totalitarian state is permanently and in all fields the same as it is elsewhere in some fields in wartime. Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent must be kept from the people… There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practised and uniformity of views not enforced.

This applies even to fields apparently most remote from any political interests, and particularly to all the sciences, even the most abstract. That in disciplines… such as history, law, or economics, the disinterested search for truth cannot be allowed in a totalitarian system… is easily seen. It is not surprising that in these spheres even the pretence that they search for truth is abandoned and that the authorities decide what doctrines ought to be taught and published…. they all seem to have in common an intense dislike of of the more abstract forms of thought – a dislike characteristically also shown by many of the collectivists among our scientists.

e.g. antismoking pseudoscience with its foregone conclusions.

It is entirely in keeping with the whole spirit of totalitarianism that it condemns any activity done for its own sake and without ulterior motive. Science for science’ sake, art for art’s sake, are equally abhorrent to the Nazis, our socialist intellectuals, and the communists. Every activity must derive its justification from a conscious social purpose. There must be no spontaneous, unguided activity, because it might produce results which cannot be foreseen and for which the plan does not provide… The principle extends even to games and amusements.

e.g. sitting in pubs, drinking and smoking

The word truth itself ceases to have its old meaning… It becomes something to be laid down by authority…

or ‘experts’.

The desire to force upon the people a creed which is regarded as salutary for them is, of course, not a thing that is new or peculiar to our time. New, however, is the argument by which many of our intellectuals try to justify such attempts. There is no real freedom of thought in our society, so it is said, because the opinions and tastes of the masses are shaped by propaganda, by advertising, by the example of the upper classes, and by other environmental factors which inevitably force the thinking of the people into well-worn grooves. From this it is concluded that if the ideals and tastes of the great majority are always fashioned by circumstances which we can control, we ought to use this power deliberately to turn the thoughts of the people in what we think is a desirable direction.

The desirable direction of stopping smoking  It brings to mind something written by ASH’s totalitarian-in-chief, Deborah Arnott:

…being a smoker is not a matter of free choice; they’re gripped by an addiction fuelled by the tobacco industry and they need support to give up.

A new advertising campaign currently being aired on TV illustrates the truth – that smokers are literally “hooked” on tobacco. The sickening images of smokers being dragged along by giant fish hooks illustrates the strength of nicotineaddiction which can be as difficult to break as heroin or crack cocaine. These advertisements and others telling you about the many poisonous substances in cigarettes, such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde or how fags make you impotent, smell bad and look old are all designed to shock people into giving up.

The evidence is that these advertisements work. Research in Britain, the US and Australia all showed that young people in particular responded most to advertisements with graphic, visceral, negative or strong testimonial elements.

Anyway, what Hayek wrote is all as true today as it was when he wrote it back in 1944. It only needed some of the current uses of propaganda to be added.

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Asteroid Day

Two Nobel prize-winning economists on Greece. Joseph Stiglitz:

It is hard to advise Greeks how to vote on 5 July. Neither alternative – approval or rejection of the troika’s terms – will be easy, and both carry huge risks. A yes vote would mean depression almost without end. Perhaps a depleted country – one that has sold off all of its assets, and whose bright young people have emigrated – might finally get debt forgiveness; perhaps, having shrivelled into a middle-income economy, Greece might finally be able to get assistance from the World Bank. All of this might happen in the next decade, or perhaps in the decade after that.

By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.

I know how I would vote.

Paul Krugman:

I would vote no, for two reasons. First, much as the prospect of euro exit frightens everyone — me included — the troika is now effectively demanding that the policy regime of the past five years be continued indefinitely. Where is the hope in that? Maybe, just maybe, the willingness to leave will inspire a rethink, although probably not. But even so, devaluation couldn’t create that much more chaos than already exists, and would pave the way for eventual recovery, just as it has in many other times and places. Greece is not that different.

Second, the political implications of a yes vote would be deeply troubling. The troika clearly did a reverse Corleone — they made Tsipras an offer he can’t accept, and presumably did this knowingly. So the ultimatum was, in effect, a move to replace the Greek government. And even if you don’t like Syriza, that has to be disturbing for anyone who believes in European ideals.

And June 30 is Asteroid Day, and about a real threat rather than an imaginary one.

The End. Finis. Kaput. We grapple with peril, but the threats that frighten us – terrorism, epidemics, earthquakes – are not existential; none are capable of killing everyone, everywhere. An asteroid impact, on the other hand, could render us extinct.

Sixty-six million years ago, the Chicxulub asteroid killed off the dinosaurs. The Tunguska asteroid, which struck Siberia in 1908, destroyed 800 square miles. Estimates suggest that a Tunguska-sized asteroid will strike every 500 years; a one-kilometre object, capable of global catastrophe, every 700,000 years.

The possibility of avoiding cataclysm has inspired the people behind Asteroid Day, supported by an array of scientists, astronauts and media personalities, including the astrophysicist and Queen guitarist Brian May, the Astronomer Royal Lord Rees and Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

They are campaigning for a rapid hundred-fold increase in the tracking of Near Earth Objects (NEOs). “The more we learn about asteroid impacts,” argues May, “the clearer it becomes that the human race has been living on borrowed time. We are currently aware of less than one per cent of objects comparable to Tunguska, and nobody knows when the next big one will hit. It takes just ONE.”

P.S. It’s perhaps highly appropriate to post an asteroid impact story on the day that Greece defaults, and sends shock waves through the EU.

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