Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Notes from the US, February 2007

A few random thoughts and reflections as I near the end of my visit to the US, country of my birth...

Watching, listening to and reading the US media, especially after having enjoyed the benefit of the higher (i.e., non-Murdoch, non-tabloid) end of the British broadcast and print media for the past 12 years, within just a couple of days of being here it felt as if my IQ had slipped by 10-15 points.

The big story getting non-stop, blanket coverage on my arrival in this, the world's self-proclaimed greatest nation on earth was the tawdry and largely self-inflicted demise of Anna-Nicole Smith. The big story getting non-stop, blanket coverage in the days leading up to my departure from said hyperpower is the tawdry and largely self-inflicted self-destruction of Britney Spears. Meanwhile, in other, far-off lands, the US-initiated war in Iraq continues to spiral even more out of control, if that's actually possible; the Bush administration along with other beacons of liberty and progress such as China and Russia refuses to attend an international meeting in Oslo called to discuss a worldwide ban on the production and use of cluster bombs; and we may or may not be about to initiate an even more perilous and foolhardy military adventure against Iran. Closer to home, there are tens of millions of citizens without any kind of health coverage in the event of illness or injury; homelessness and poverty remain endemic on the streets of all large and many medium-sized cities; and other troubling economic issues persist that few, if any, mainstream commentators seem all that eager to try to address.

But no, a former stripper's disputed billions and Britney's new Sinead O'Connor-style hairdo are far more important and worthy of discussion than the death and destruction that we, through our militarism (and the military-industrial complex which drives it ever onwards), continue to inflict upon the developing world, as well as the misery and gross inequality that persist at home.


Having had a chance to re-immerse myself in the mainstream of US political culture, dominated as it is by right-wing forces and their interests, I have concluded that there are effectively two basic kinds of American conservatives: (1) those who live their lives in a sad-yet-frightening state of pig ignorance (apologies to our porcine friends in the animal world!) and (2) those who want everybody else to live in pig ignorance so that they can systematically fleece them of their wealth, their labour, their so-called "inalienable" rights and even their very lives.

In all of this, the mainstream US media is not just compliant: it is complicit. Its corporate proprietors and, by extension, their paid employees, have a nakedly-obvious vested interest in both misinforming and dumbing-down the populace. How anyone could continue to assert with a straight face that there is any such phenomenon as a "liberal media" conspiracy and not win some kind of acting award for dramatic achievement is a serious miscarriage of justice. Where are the Screen Actors' Guild and Equity when you really need them?

Another notable aspect of life in the United $tate$ of America is the historical and ongoing commodification of everything. The unfortunate collective experience of the African-American community, from slavery through Katrina and beyond, provides one of the most glaring and shameful examples. Freed from the plantation and the whip, subsequent generations have lived in poverty, humiliation and dependence as a result of having a diminished economic value to those of the class of elites who once transported, bought and sold their ancestors. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. The echoes of history continue to ring loudly today.

Also commodified, ironically enough, is the iconography of the left. The forces of rebellion against unfettered capitalism are constantly being neutralized or re-channeled into some non-threatening manifestation: a Ramones t-shirt for every other 8-year old! Hugo Chavez t-shirts on sale at the Virgin Megastore on (taste the irony!) Market Street in San Francisco! Nearly the entire body of work of Shepard Fairey! And, the granddaddy of them all, the Che Guevara t-shirt, as modelled by Kate Moss and countless 15-year old fashion victims on shopping trips to the local mall.

At best, some of this is intentionally ironic. At worst, it is intentionally counter-subversive in a hugely-effective way. The right has learned to neutralize the most powerful symbols of resistance by embracing them (though usually only after having killed them in the first place). Create a martyr one day, then derive a profit from him the next. Sometimes, death isn't even a necessary precursor to this macabre process, as the example of one-time rebel without a pause Muhammad Ali so potently illustrates.

Finally, sign of the week, if not the year thus far, as spotted in my former hometown, spray-painted onto a sheet and hung onto a chain-link fence on a hill overlooking the main freeway, Highway 101: "Victery [sic] in Iraq!"

Proving that the world can be both sad and wonderful at the same time!

Monday, February 12, 2007

"It's a shame stupidity isn't painful..."

Do you ever get tired of reading opinion pieces by supposedly informed commentators that are so mind-numbingly idiotic that you want to slam your own head in a door because you don't have the actual offender close to hand? (Rheotrical question - if that doesn't happen to you every so often you probably wouldn't be reading this).

My current frustration is around the massive media hyping of Nick Cohen's new book What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way. I can't bring myself to get worked up about the book itself, because its central premise, that those on the anti-war march were all basically supporting Islamic fascism, is the same tired, unoriginal and unpersuasive stuff that you get if you peruse the hawkish section of the American blogosphere for more than thirty seconds. What upsets me is that people who are paid to know about current affairs get so incredibly excited when this drivel is presented in book form, presumably for no other reason than because Cohen has delusions of being a bit left-wing himself. I've noticed the Times, the Observer and the FT falling into line on this (can't speak for any of the others, except for the New Statesman, which tore the thing to shreds pretty effortlessly).

John Lloyd at the FT really deserves a special mention for the brilliance with which he constructed an article apparently designed to make himself look like an idiot, though. It starts with a quick review of how he went to see a remake of the musical version of Candide (By the way, who the hell goes to see that anyway? What's next, The Social Contract on Ice?) which "satirised not, as Voltaire did, the view that life was always destined to turn out well... Instead, this was a satire on the US." Lloyd goes on to explain how those silly arty types on the left think anything's satire if it takes a knock at authority figures, and it's this sort of degenerate thinking and refusal to shoulder responsibility that characterises the left more and more. This, of course, is why he likes Cohen's book so much: "It is an essay of wide reference and great brilliance, which flays every kind of foot-shuffling excuse for not facing up to the nature of the regime which that most evil (and now, mercifully, dead) tyrant, Saddam Hussein, inflicted on his country and planned for his region."

Now I can't be the only person who recognises that, in the current context, that is a truly stupid statement. No WMD, a vicious civil war that looks like it might spread across the region and thousands of civilian casulaties. It seems to me that to think that the current situation in Iraq was anything like a vindication of the pro-war position, you'd have to be a quite serious believer in the idea that "All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” Someone should really do a satire. Oh, hang on...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

San Francisco Days, San Francisco Nights

Mr. Steve is off to visit The Great Satan for a few weeks, so in the meantime the rest of the Information Landmine massive/posse/crew (delete as applicable) - namely Uncle Petie, Pete Irving, Drummer Dave and possibly Mr. Alan and Heinous Johnny, too, if they can get off their virtual arses and write something - will be here to entertain and inform or, indeed, vice-versa. I may check in between stages of the Tour Of California and gin & juice-sodden evenings but won't make any guarantees.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Acceptable Face of Terrorism?

An extraordinary statement from Nigel Humphries, the head of an organization of militant petrol-heads called the Association of British Drivers, while responding to this week's series of letter bombings against speed camera operators and associated companies:

"In fact, it makes us feel a bit guilty that we haven't campaigned hard enough on the legitimate front against the things that we oppose, to do with criminalising and bullying motorists and because of our failure to campaign hard enough, somebody's had to resort to this."

The poor old British motorist! Forced to take up arms in their quest for "justice"! Perhaps motorists' organizations are now forming armed wings, a la the Provisional wing of the IRA, in order to obtain their political objectives.

Jeremy Clarkson has a lot to answer for.


... call for the relaxation of the use of anti-copying software from Apple's Steve Jobs seems like an astonishingly sensible approach to the whole music piracy issue.

It remains to be seen whether the record companies, determined to fight a "War on Piracy" that's been about as (in)effective as the "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs", will listen.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Re-awakening of Hope?

Drummer Dave, in his debut post here at Information Landmine, may well be (read: is absolutely) correct about our present times being a Golden Age of Greed (tm), but certainly there are signs that the times, they are a-changin'.

Progressive values and ideas are suddenly not just dismissed as the ramblings of a so-called "loony left" ((c) The Sun, 1984) but, increasingly, are being taken seriously and embraced at least in word if not in deed. David Cameron's new tree-hugging Tories, anyone?

When even Francis Fukuyama is scurrying rat-like from the sinking hulk of an "unsinkable" ideological vessel that has just rammed full-steam into the iceberg of reality, all but the most self-deluded of the self-deluded on the right hand side of the aisle must know in their stone cold hearts that the gig is almost up for another 40 years, until we move into another conservative political cycle again.

Provided, of course, we haven't all drowned, starved or been killed off by war or pandemic disease before then. Now there's a cheery thought!

On that note...

The other gentlemen make a lot of sense, and certainly lay their issues out with cold precision. I am not them.

The truth is we're mired in the Golden Age of Greed (tm). As noted below, companies like Exxon are raking in the cash at a record breaking rate. But then we've got companies like Ford.

If I were an executive of Ford (and, yes, I know they make lots of money, but we all know the executives at Exxon made a lot more than the executives at Ford this year), I would be pretty pissed. Here we have the Unholy Alliance of American Automotives (tm): The car companies build cars with terrible MPGs, the oil companies charge $3.56 a gallon - everyone makes money.

Except that Americans are tired of cars with shitty gas mileage (again) so we're buying more Japanese cars (again), leaving companies like Ford (who conspire to keep MPGs low) out in the rain. Am I the only one here who remembers the 70s?

The oil companies will continue to extort our dollar at a momentus profit for only so long as we buy cars with shitty MPG. While I'm not even sure if the hybrid-thing is worth it, I know that owning a car with less than 20 MPG is not.

Of course, I'm not a Ford executive. And I'm glad of that. Truth be told, I would rather no one got to drive cars and we all had to walk or take the tram.

First post concluded.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Why We're All Going To Fry (Part I)

Derek Wall, Male Principal Speaker for the Green Party of England and Wales, speaking after the release of the IPCC report on the potential environmental catastrophe facing the planet:

"We need an end to road building and new airports; a moratorium on all new fossil fuels extraction; the rapid phase-out of coal for energy; cancellation of airport expansion plans, a tax on aviation fuel and plane tickets, and an end to short haul flights; abandonment of fossil fuel-intensive industrial agriculture in favour of decentralised, locally-grown, sustainable food sources; drastic increases in energy conservation; and the immediate transition to clean energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power.

Hair-shirtism is no option. We must make the move to an ecologically sustainable society as enjoyable as possible. Local production for local need, a huge expansion of public transport and renewables, zero waste and all the rest are possible. Ecologically sensitive and diverse forms of economics that meet the needs of those most in need must be preserved and extended.

"The most important part of change will be the demand that policy is governed not by the needs of more economic growth but on the basis of what is good for humanity and the rest of nature."

Of course, he is exactly right. But can anyone really see any of these measures being adopted with so many vested interests opposed to them?

As Black Francis of the Pixies once sang in the group's prescient 1989 hit "Monkey Gone To Heaven" from the Doolittle album: "Everything is gonna burn/we'll all take turns/I'll get mine, too."

Setting a Fine Example

Once again, the Bush/Blair axis leads the way for the rest of the world in respecting international protocols. Or perhaps not.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Catching Up With The News, Item #2: From The Same People Who Brought You The Iraq War...

Yes, your correspondent is back once again, digesting the information and stories that matter before regurgitating them back up for your intellectual nourishment, like some kind of mother news owl lovingly nurturing its young.

Hate them or, well, hate them, you've got to hand it to those vile henchmen of capitalism at the American Enterprise Institute, as well as their paymasters at ExxonMobil, for the sheer audacity and shamelessness with which they pursue their naked self-interest at the expense of the collective future of literally everyone and everything else on the planet. Presumably they'll be tucked up safely in Aspen with a year's supply of caviar and Dom Perignon while everyone else breaks out the sandbags and the bailing buckets, because they've just offered a series of US$10,000 awards - plus travel expenses and the possibility of further funding - for those maverick scientists and economists (read: unscrupulous quacks) willing to publicly refute the scientific conclusions behind this week's landmark (or should that soon be seamark?) report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

At a time when even Wal-Mart appears ready to take action to help fight a problem considered to be a bigger threat than international terrorism, such a blatant attempt to foster public doubt about the reality of global climate change would merely be tragi-comic were it not for the fact that the oil gangsters in the Bush Administration are busy trying to achieve much the same objective, only via censorship of environmental research by US government scientists rather than through straight-up cash bribes.

The AEI and the Bush Administration are, of course, the same people who are still insisting that the "path to victory" in Iraq is there for all to see if only all those liberal defeatists and, er, bipartisan commissions and career military men would just shut up and watch the side of said path for possible IED's.

All of which goes to show just how delusional and out of touch the right has become at the end of a four-decade cycle of power. Still, if they succeed with this latest cynical and dangerous scheme, it will be best to book those swimming lessons soon!

Catching Up With The News, Item #1: DPP Tellin' It Like It Is

So, Mr. Steve has been busy lately - very busy - preparing for a disastrous interview for a position as an international currencies dealer with a major UK bank. More on that some other time, as it was an interesting experience if a highly unsuccessful and inherently unsatisfying one.

In the meantime, there is plenty of recent news to catch up with, including the UK's Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, tellin' it like it is to the scare-mongering, war-mongering, freedom-hating New Labour government and, by extension, its masters in Washington.

To quote possibly the best bit:

"London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs'.

"The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement."

As the Woodpecker cider ads used to say (and possibly still do, for all I know about the cider industry's current marketing campaigns): "What a refreshing change!"

History is likely to expose in full the absolute folly of the Bush/Blair axis' military approach to what have essentially been criminal acts of mass murder on 11 September 2001, 11 March 2004 and 7 July 2005, and attempted mass murder on 21 July 2005. While a military response to the 9/11 atrocities was probably appropriate in the case of Afghanistan under the Muslim Taleban, the Christian Taleban who run the White House and exert a more subtle but no less alarming influence within Downing Street - creationism in PFI-financed state schools, anyone? - have since upped the ante considerably, with the Iraq War being the foremost, but by no means sole, example of just how "successfully" our Dear Leaders have turned a tragedy into a farce and back into a tragedy again.

So, here's to Sir Ken Macdonald for speaking truth to power, even though, as long-time activist, disgraced academic and faux-Native American Ward Churchill points out, power already knows what it's doing. If Sir Ken's words can remove the wool from the eyes of even a few sleepy politicians and media commentators, he will have done more in the interests of the public good than pretty much the rest of Whitehall combined.

Sir Ken: Information Landmine salutes you!

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