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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A long way for a short break

I can't decide what I find funnier. Tony Blair taking a two day trip to Sierra Leone to promote tourism in the country, or that the trip coincided with Independence Day.

Personally, I think his travel agent and his PR gave him bum advice.
Two days in Salone is barely enough to get to the airport and back.
And picking independence day to flaunt your power and 'heroic' status might not be the most appropriate moment.

For the record, I should add that without Tony Blair's encouragement of the intervention in Sierra Leone, I dread to think where that country would be. But I do wish he wouldn't dress up his little jaunts as something they're not.

Also, if anyone does fancy a trip, I would encourage it completely and I can recommend some great places to go. But I'd advise taking a little longer than two days, it really isn't worth the airfare (or the carbon footprint) just to get your feet dirty. And you probably won't get the Blair treatment.

Also, please don't misguidedly believe that this brief post is any indication of a future flurry of activity on this site. We're all being a bit rubbish at the moment. We'll get it sorted soon... hopefully...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Revisiting one of the key questions of our age...

It's a little late to the party, but of all the crazy "politics of the Dark Knight" posts I've read, Martha Poon's is surely the greatest:

Chapter 5. After Wayne Enterprises and Lau Securities Investment meeting. Reese (accountant) to Lucius Fox: “Sir, I know that Mr. Wayne is curious about how his trust fund gets replenished. But frankly, this is embarrassing…”

Bruce Wayne is a trust fund orphan. He invests in capital growing activities through Wayne Enterprises, whose successful operation is so secure that he sleeps through business meetings. Wayne’s nighttime vigilante project as ‘Batman’ follows the classic model of 19th C philanthropy which diverts funds from capitalist production to the betterment of society. He stands up the urban underbelly (organized crime, terrorism and corruption) and for the reinstatement of civic ideals (democratic politics and civil order). The twist is that he does not build social institutes or charitable societies. He channels funds into the development of a personal arsenal of crime fighting technologies.

Chapter 15. Reese to Fox: “Applied science, a whole division of Wayne Enterprises just disappeared. Overnight. […] Now you’ve got the entire R&D department burning through cash, claiming it’s related to cell phones for the army. What-er ya buldin’ for him now? Ahhh rocketship?”

Batman is a story about a man who deploys his fortune on disposable technologies, hand made Armani suits (see credits), and political campaigns, for the protection of a particular form of society. In Gotham City illegitimate wealth is acquired by larceny and drug trafficking. Legitimate ways of making money include the perpetual streams of investment revenue of the rich, whom Wayne is able to convene in an instant, to rally behind a politician of his choosing.

Chapter 12. Fund raising party for Harvey Dent. Rachel Dawes to Dent: “Harvey Dent, scourge of the underworld, scared stiff by the trust fund brigade!”

In a world where the lines between right and wrong as a clear as the black boxes in a comic strip, the civic virtue of the rich remains totally untested. The working middle class bridge & tunnel crowd, on the other hand, must prove its moral metal in the Joker’s highly simplified orchestration of a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. Working people are shown to have weaknesses caused by economic pressures that can hinder the fight against evil by making a police officer in fear for his wife shoot a man in protective custody, or betray the Assistant District Attorney.

Chapter 33. Ramirez confronted by Two-Face (Dent) about the betrayal leading to Rachel’s death: “They got me early on. My mother’s hospital bills and I just…”

As Batman takes responsibility for the death of five men to save Dent’s spotless reputation, the moral of the story is that sometimes people deserve not to know the truth so that they can maintain hope: hope, that a system whose fundamental wealth production / distribution mechanisms never go unchallenged, will one day bring them a better future…

‘The Dark Knight’ is a Warner Brothers Picture.

Surely she means "that a system whose fundamental wealth production / distribution mechanisms remain unchallenged", though.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Calling bullshit libertarianism

Will Wilkinson points out that libertarianism can quickly become an excuse for defending the status quo. Bashing your foes is easy, but I'm always impressed with folks who're prepared to shine a light on the ideological blind spots within their own movements.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Everyone's a super-hero...

One of the interesting things about the financial crisis is that it functions as a sort of economic Rorschach blot: everyone thinks that this proves that they were right all along, that everyone should now listen to them, and that we will all then be delivered to their particular version of the promised land.

So for example, democratic socialists think that this is an example of what happens if you have too much deregulation, and that now we'll regulate properly and get capitalism back on the leash, serving the public where it belongs. Libertarians take exactly the opposite view, and think that banks got too big and too risky because of too much government involvement, and if everyone would only listen to them, we'd have a free world of small-business-owning Rand-bots.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb has an opinion piece in the FT about how this proves everyone should have been reading his books, and that we should get rid of all those so-called experts:

The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organisations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean.
[By which I assume he means him.]

Similarly, Simon Johnson of the IMF thinks the problem is that America's bankers won't let the IMF have their way, whilst Dani Rodrik thinks that this is a vindication for the idea of moving away from big institutions like the IMF and letting national governments have more say over their own finances.

What with all these folks getting stuck in, I was thinking I'd have a go myself. Until recently I was actually working on a way to blame this all on Jade Goody. I was hazy on the details - something to do with the credit crunch being a result of our sense of entitlement to stuff we've done nothing obvious to deserve. Guess it's back to the drawing board...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Nokia to the rescue

Robert Reiner says that even though we're having a civil liberties meltdown and police are beating folks down in the street, at least we've got cameras to hold them accountable with. He even throws a bit of Foucault in so that we know he's dead brainy:

Against the main Orwellian narrative, however, there are two counter-trends, encapsulated in the Tomlinson case. The Independent Police Complaints Commission now has the power to investigate serious cases such as this one. Perhaps even more significantly, the spread of video and other recording equipment has created an informal means of opening police malpractice to public scrutiny. New surveillance technology has prompted fears of the realisation of the Benthamite dream/Foucauldian nightmare of the ever-seeing Panopticon policing the population. But the spread of video and digital cameras provides a small counter-trend, the recording of official wrongdoing by citizens, dubbed "Synopticon" by the Norwegian radical criminologist Thomas Mathiesen.

As we see the bitter fruits of the neo-liberal consensus signified by New Labour's acceptance of Thatcherite economics, and we face several likely summers and winters of discontent, the police will become increasingly embroiled in controversial political and social control tactics. Synopticon offers a fragile check on Panopticon.

Trouble is, he's a bit behind the times on the civil liberties meltdown - pointing cameras at police is illegal, Rob. At least it is if it's "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism". Which I have no doubt the police will interpret really narrowly when deciding whether or not to rip cameras with incriminating evidence off people.

Update: Since Alan refuses to post anything here, I've taken to nicking stuff off his facebook page: the Department of Transport had CCTV shut down in the City of London over the G20 protests. Which was helpful, no?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

We can't ignore this

I am slightly lost for words as I write this, I find it difficult to believe that this footage is actually something that happened in the UK. In broad daylight.

It looks very much as though the Police may have been responsible for this man's death and then lied about it afterwards.

Ian Tomlinson was, as we understand, not a protester. He was just walking home from work. From this footage, it appears that he was just minding his own business. Today's story from the Guardian website is here and it looks like there will be more tomorrow.

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