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.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Must See TV

I know I am hardly a regular contributor here (stupid real life keeps getting in the way), but I must post this link today, now, as I feel it is truly important for everyone to see:

Bill Moyers, who I respect greatly and love even more for spending time with Joseph Campbell, has released this Must See TV as part of his Journal program.

It clearly details the failings of the fourth estate in the lead-up to and during the Iraq war. Click now. Go watch.

End post.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Private security...

In a bold new approach to finding "market solutions" for public problems, the International Olympic Committee has decided that only big sponsors of the event can do the security.

Insert your Halliburton-related joke about this not being all that new here...

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Give Bono's war criminal friend the heave-ho!

Sign the petition to sack Paul Wolfowitz.

You know it makes sense!

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Winning the battle, losing the war?

Scientists, the media and politicians, by and large, have come to accept that climate change is now a reality. But while, a few significant exceptions aside, that battle appears to have been won, the fate of the war on climate change is a wholly different matter. The general public, it seems, either don't know, don't want to know or know but thus far refuse to change, as this article from the latest New Statesman makes all-too-clear.

Another by-product of the culture of individual greed cultivated by the right, largely during the 1980s, with catastrophic results for humanity and the planet. Information Landmine is, sadly, not surprised.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Republicans: A Warning From History

Make no mistake about it: if you are a US citizen who votes for Republican candidates, or a citizen of any country who supports, aids, abets or otherwise casts an alliance with the Bush administration or the US Republican Party, this is what you are buying into.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weaknesses of typical right and left worldviews

Mick LaSalle of the SF Chronicle gets it.

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For those with short memories

While not a Democrat myself, I thought this e-mail from the Progressive Democrats of America would be worth reprinting for the benefit of those with short (perhaps conveniently short) memories:

In 2000, Team Bush took over the Republican Party and laid out its promises to the American people. The following pledges and claims are taken directly from the 2000 GOP Platform. Should we laugh or cry at promises made by an administration that has ruled through deception, endless war, politicization of intelligence and the Justice Dept., outing CIA officers, and the like?

Honest Government
“Trust, pride, and respect: we pledge to restore these qualities to the way Americans view their government.”

Keeping Intelligence Free of Politics
"Nor should the intelligence community be made the scapegoat for political misjudgments. A Republican administration working with the Congress will respect the needs and quiet sacrifices of these public servants as it strengthens America's intelligence and counter-intelligence capabilities…”

Diplomacy and Maintaining Allies
“The arrogance, inconsistency, and unreliability of the [Clinton] administration's diplomacy have undermined American alliances, alienated friends, and emboldened our adversaries."

Endless Military Missions, Exit Strategies and Troop Readiness
"The current administration has casually sent American armed forces on dozens of missions without clear goals, realizable objectives, favorable rules of engagement, or defined exit strategies.”

"Sending our military on vague, aimless, and endless missions rapidly saps morale. Even the highest morale is eventually undermined by back-to-back deployments, poor pay, shortages of spare parts and equipment, inadequate training, and rapidly declining readiness. When it comes to military health, the administration is not providing an adequate military health care system…"

Restoring the Rule of Law and the Justice Department
The rule of law, the very foundation for a free society, has been under assault, not only by criminals from the ground up, but also from the top down. An administration that lives by evasion, coverup, stonewalling, and duplicity has given us a totally discredited Department of Justice. The credibility of those who now manage the nation’s top law enforcement agency is tragically eroded. We are fortunate to have its dedicated career workforce, especially its criminal prosecutors, who have faced the unprecedented politicization of decisions regarding both personnel and investigations.”

Gas Prices (then $1.55 per gallon)
“Today, gas prices have skyrocketed, and oil imports are at all-time highs....By any reasonable standard, the Department of Energy has utterly failed in its mission to safeguard America’s energy security. “

Suffice it to say, no further comment seems necessary.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

More chickens coming home to roost for Bush allies

Staff at the World Bank have now taken to wearing blue ribbons in a show of solidarity against the continued "leadership" of corrupt war criminal and hypocrite Paul Wolfowitz over the organization.

Wolfowitz, of course, made a great song and dance about the need to drive out corruption from Third World countries receiving development funds from the World Bank under his leadership. While the battle against corruption is a noble and worthy one, the irony of what Wolfowitz appears to have been up to behind the scenes is certainly a delicious one. But perhaps not all that surprising considering the role that he and his Republican cohorts have played in turning the once-proud United States of America into a kind of banana republic of its own over the past six-and-a-half years.

Information Landmine says: it couldn't happen to a nicer fella!

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Rollins on politics

The always-entertaining and astute Henry Rollins answered readers' e-mails on the subject of politics for The Onion AV Club this week. His answers, as ever, make good reading (possibly unless you're a Republican or other right-winger). Check it out.

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Some home truths about going green

I don't always agree completely with the San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, but this is spot on.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sign O' The Times

Does anyone else get the impression that the Earth is telling us our time is almost up?

As Joe Strummer once said, "If you're after getting the honey, then you don't go killing all the bees." A very wise man, that Strummer!

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is dead.

So, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died on Wednesday. Even the circumstances of his death, much like the man himself, has a touch of the comical and absurd about it. At the age of 84, the spritely and still razor-witted Vonnegut apparently suffered irreparable brain injuries from a fall. At least the cigarettes didn't get him. A committed and enthusiastic smoker, who once described the deadly habit as revolving around "a fire at one end and a fool at the other", Vonnegut is said to have often expressed his surprise that he had not been claimed by lung cancer.

I was first introduced to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut when I started my A-Levels way back in 1989. The lecturer of my Psychology class handed out a reading list at the start of the first term. Alongside the standard dry, academic textbooks that were required reading, he had included a number of literary works that either directly or indirectly shed some light on a number of psychological conditions or models. I might well have passed up the chance to dive into some of this "wider reading" had it not been for a smart piece of psychology deployed by the aforementioned educator. He'd written that Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions" vividly, and wittily, illustrated the damage that an unhealthy thought could wreak when it entered a healthy mind. Intrigued, but not sold, I remember reading his next line: "Please, if your parents ask you who recommended this book to you, don't tell them it was me." What better recommendation could a young man chafing at parental authority need? "Breakfast of Champions" was duly borrowed from the college library, read, re-read, returned, bought, read, and so on.

Vonnegut's was the first authoritative voice I'd read that not only had a weight to it, but at the same time seemed to relish playfulness. Having read many of his books, essays, and interviews in the intervening years, I often think of the man and his writing as childlike. Not in a perjorative sense: his was a voice that was often simple, yet rarely simplistic. His sentences have the simple, direct, declarative immediacy of a child's, yet he wrote of "adult" concerns. (I should note here that I'm having trouble parsing my tenses, with the effect that Vonnegut seems dead and not dead at the same time. I think that the Tralfamadorean in him would have liked that.) There was an unadorned sense of clarity to his writing and train of thought, whilst also encompassing the many shades of grey that are always present when writing concerns itself with humanity. Like the child who has yet to learn that it is more politic to hide their thoughts and feelings with diplomacy and obfuscation, the better to get by in this world, Vonnegut effortlessly cut through the bullshit that we deploy to distance ourselves from the horrors we unleash upon ourselves and our planet. Love and laughter are the best parts of human existence. As the man himself said, "Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different!"

Although my first exposure to Vonnegut was with "Breakfast of Champions" (did Boards of Canada consciously echo that book's title, I wonder?), I suppose that it can safely be said that his first brush with wider recognition came with his WWII/sci-fi "mash-up" novel, "Slaughterhouse Five". Drawing on his own experience as a prisoner of war held in Dresden, Germany, Vonnegut wrote about the terrible devastation of that city in a firestorm of British and American design. He was among the first writers from the victorious Allied countries to question the morality of the tactics used by the RAF/USAF on what was largely a civilian population. Displaying an empathy for his fellow humans that rises lightly above notions of good and evil, of what can and cannot be justified, whether in war or against the actions of our enemies, he essentially asks: This is what we do to each other? As far as we've come, finding more barbaric ways to slaughter others is what we do?

Yet there is/was no nihilistic, Kurtzian "the horror, the horror" element to Vonnegut, even when imagining the hellfire unleashed in the skies above Dresden. Whether he is writing of suffering or joy, what we cannot help but take from away from Vonnegut is the sense that this is our suffering, this is our joy. The injury I do you is an injury I do to myself. The man and his work illustrated what it is that disturbs the more excitable and agitated of our Christian and Muslim friends, what causes them to raise their voices to ever more shrill levels. It is that the fact of our existence in the universe; our fragility; our capacities to think, to feel, to create, and share; these things are reason enough for us to be compassionate to our fellow man and woman. There is no need for gods, or for judgements in the "next life" to force charitable compliance in this one. It is that morality, kindness, and compassion are not, and never were, solely the preserve of the religious.

What is it that I'm trying to say here? That Kurt Vonnegut was a great writer? He certainly produced many passages of inspired writing. I've deliberately refrained from quoting from his books and essays, from liberally sprinkling this "appreciation" of him with "So it goes", and the like. It's because I hope that anyone who reads this goes out and buys or borrows "Breakfast", "Slaughterhouse Five" or "Cat's Cradle" and finds out for themselves; I don't want to be the equivalent of a trailer that throws away the best scenes in a movie. I hope that you'll discover Vonnegut for yourself (or rediscover, if you've already read him).

Am I trying to tell you that I think that Kurt Vonnegut was a great man? Yes and no. He could often be profound, penetrating in his ability to see the important kernel in issues that we often over-complicate. As I said earlier, he was simple yet rarely, if ever, simplistic. Some of his writings and exhortations to action are almost zen-like in their distilled clarity (Raymond Carver is the only other writer I've read that could strip his characters and their relationships down to their bare essences, leaving only what was necessary behind, whilst retaining a sense of weight and depth; the literary equivalent of the singularity of a star gone supernova.)

But it would be a mistake to deify Vonnegut, a fate which seems to befall every person who ever said or did anything half-interesting in these times. He doesn't need it (obviously, being dead), and wouldn't want it, being famed for his secular humanism (he gave the eulogy at Isaac Asimov's funeral, opening with "Isaac is in heaven now". Asimov, like Vonnegut, was a humanist.) Kurt Vonnegut was just a man, who told it like he saw it. He had a clear mind, and a clear eye (which, in every interview I ever saw him give, always seemed to have a twinkle in it), a fabulous sense of humour, and he created one of the most satisfying insults known to man (which will be attested to by anyone for whom the terms "rolling donut" and "moon" are familiar). Just a man, but one who showed exactly how full, how rich, how promising, and how worthwhile "just a man" can be.

What am I trying to say? Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., writer, husband, father, socialist, humanist, failed Saab dealership-owner, died yesterday. Thinking about him now makes me sad, and happy. Which reminds me I'm human, I suppose. Thanks for that, Mr. Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Born 1922, died 2007.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Globalisation books...

I've been having a go at Martin Wolf's Why Globalisation Works (you have to try these things) and while I agree with parts of it (he thinks TRIPS is just one big exercise in protectionism), I'm constantly annoyed by other bits where he seems to want to prove his point by just asserting it and saying the other side's stupid rather than actually having a serious debate.

This is particularly clear in his outright dismissal of Naomi Klein's ideas about corporate censorship in No Logo. Now while it's fair to say that the woman's no economist, it seems to me that she had something important to say, which is that in a world of cheap manufacturing and high value-added, business will do two things: slash production costs to a minimum (often at the expense of the sort of quality of workmanship you get from people who work shifts of less than 12 hours a day), and expand in whatever area the value-added is.

This means that the business world manages to enclose all sorts of things that might have previously been thought of as public. Interestingly, Wolf seems to understand this:

"Intellectual Property protection requires striking a delicate balance. It is essential, but can easily go too far. There will be strong pressure from powerful and self-interested producer lobbies to make intellectual property protection too tight. Intellectual property protection must also not be granted too freely. In the United States, that now seems to be happening, with protection granted to genes with unknown use and trivial business methods - such as "one-click" purchasing on the internet. Over-liberal granting of intellectual property rights is a restraint on trade and should be viewed as such."

This seems wholly consistent with much of what Klein's saying - substitute in "trademarks" for "patents", "advertising investment" in the place of "business methods", and "free speech" for "trade" and we have the same argument:

"Many alleged violators... are not trying to sell a comparable good or pass themselves off as the real thing. As branding becomes more expansionist, however, a competitor is anyone doing anything remotely related..."

Klein's got bags of examples of this sort of thing. Parents getting sued for wearing a Barney the Dinosaur costume to their kids' birthday parties is my personal favourite, if only for the official comments: "They can have a dinosaur costume. It's when it's a purple dinosaur that it's illegal, and it doesn't matter which shade of purple either."

[Or take one I saw the other day: Coke have apparently threatened an Italian film company with a lawsuit if they don't remove a scene in which Jesus drinks a can of coke in the desert (don't ask me, I haven't seen it). Apparently they feel it isn't a favourable depiction. More worryingly, the studio's agreed to do this, in spite of the fact that there seems to be no legal basis for Coke's claim.]

The interesting thing is that, on this point at least, Wolf and Klein seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. It's on this exact point, however, that he starts calling her a godless communist who subscribes to some sort of theory of total corporate mind control: "Corporations, goes the argument, do not compete, but control; they are not subservient to customers, but coerce them. This charge - that corporations own customers - is another example of the lie that freedom is slavery."

This seems odd. There are weaker points in No Logo he could be attacking, and his equal and opposite "everyone's completely free to choose exactly as they would wish" stance seems equally thin - I mean obviously corporations must think their brands have some sort of influence, otherwise they wouldn't be throwing so much money at advertisers and litigators. If these consumers were all simply choosing what suited them best, surely the smart thing to do would be to just make the best and cheapest possible products. So what's got Martin so upset?

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The smell of victory is now accompanied by the sound of freedom

Col. Kilgore is alive and well and is apparently serving onboard the USS Eisenhower these days. Or at least that's the first thought that came to mind when I read the final two paragraphs of this article.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Another chink of light in a time of darkness

The position on global climate change taken by the erstwhile regulatory authorities of the Bush administration's EPA has heretofore always been akin to something like, "Climate change is merely an unproven theory (read: liberal conspiracy), but even if it does exist there's nothing we can do about it. And nor should we."

But yesterday, the US Supreme Court, in a knife-edge decision split between its conservative and ultra-conservative wings, called bullshit on that nonsense.

Of course, it is nevertheless hard to take seriously the idea of the US ever being anything but a laggard when it comes to global efforts to stem the flow of greenhouse gasses and thus save the planet from burning. The sad truth is that we Americans probably love our gas-guzzling luxury cars and energy-sapping big appliances too much to change in time to make a difference.

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