Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Creationism: The Real Story
Creationism: 20,000 years ago God created the universe. He did Earth in 7 days---first he did the frame; then the water; then the dirt; then the air; then the trees and plants (the landscaping); then the animals, fishies and birdies; and then the guy and the girl, Adam and Eve, He named them.
He gave Adam a pee pee to make him a man. Adam got lonely, for obvious reasons; started to fall into a deep depression.
God took a rib from Adam. He ripped it right out of Adams chest; no anesthesia or nothing. God put it in some water with some Miracle Grow or something and he created Eve. This means that God Himself cloned Eve from Adam’s rib. God also liked to do “stem cell research” in His spare time. And to Eve, He gave a wee wee to make her a woman. He made them to be about 30 years old according to the most recently available photographs of them of which there are numerous reprints in most Christian schools.
The pee pee, in combination with the wee wee worked out good (or well, depending on the proper use of English). Adam could now be a man; and Eve was given the right to be a woman, if she behaved and didn’t get out of hand, or start to have hot flashes and freak out once a month.
God created the menstrual cycle for Eve. He gave her cramps. It was a mess. And sometimes Eve could be a real bitch. Adam could never understand it.
The menstrual cycle was one of God’s master achievements. The only way Eve could get rid of her damn menstrual cycle was to let Adam and his pee pee come in direct contact with her wee wee which resulted in her menstrual cycle shutting down for 9 months. However, the alternative of giving birth was hardly a welcome trade off.
The menstrual cycle was one of God’s crowning glories of mis-design----a true engineering disaster. It is responsible for more lost human productivity, lost wages, lost work, and spontaneous outbursts of rage and violence than any other of God’s mistakes. It does accomplish one very important thing----it keeps men “in check”. It is the one thing that makes a man “back off”-----a woman who can flip out for no reason. God was going to give Man a menstrual cycle also but when He drew up the plans, at the last minute, being that this was the time of Creationism, he decided to give Adam some testicles instead. God can do anything He wants. He’s God. So God just said, “Let there be a menstrual cycle” and it just happened. And then He said, “Let there be testicles” and it just happened. This is Creationism at its most basic. All Christians should be taught this.
Note: The human spine was God’s second biggest design failure. Some say that the real reason that God has not come back to Earth is because He would have a multi-trillion dollar, class action lawsuit slapped against Him for the almost criminally incompetent design of the human spine. Anyone who has taken Electricity 101 knows that you don’t snake a million little electrical wires (with no color codes) through a liquid medium where they come in contact with each other and with sharp objects like bones. I mean, what was God thinking ! Oh well, let’s get back to Adam and Eve.
Anyway, they lived near a big apple tree and a snake came by that was really the Devil but he spoke good English. The snake spoke to Eve and said, "Eat the apple if you want to be happy". The Devil was some kind of local fresh fruit salesman so Eve did not suspect that this was a trick to see if she could be lured into the mortal sin of eating an apple. She had also been told to eat lots of fruits and vegetables all her life (ever since she was Created at the age of 30), and to eat a balanced diet so she just did not know the snake was the Devil in disguise.. She thought it was just some ordinary snake giving her a hard time about not eating apples.
Eve tried to resist but how can you NOT eat an apple when a snake speaks real good English and tells you not to eat the apple. It's like telling a woman to NOT eat the chocolates on St. Valentines Day. Adam just stood around looking suspicious. So Eve went and took a bite out of the nice red apple.
At that point God got really mad because this was all just a "set up" to see if Eve, the one with the wee wee, could resist the commands of the Devil who was disguised as a snake. So God yelled out from up in Heaven, "Eve, you have sinned, you ate the feakin' apple".
Adam said, "Holy Shit, Eve, look what you've done now. Christ, our goose is cooked". God made Adam an accomplice of Eve's and He cast them out of the Garden of Eden which was a pretty nice garden back in those days (which is where the term "garden apartments comes from).
From there it was all down hill for the two of them. All of a sudden they had to start wearing clothes and stuff. Eve had two sons named Cain and Able (they didn't have last names because they were the first people on Earth and God didn't give them a birth certificate or anything; not even a Social Security number).
Eve never had any girls with wee wee's; just the two boys with the pee pee things. Figure that one out?
Cain got in a big fight with Able one day and Cain killed Able which enabled Jeffrey Archer, a British novelist, to write a best selling book and call it Cain and Able. I read the book. It was one of my favorite and it had nothing to do with Adam and Eve; just a story of two brothers.
Oh yeah, by this time Adam had been laid off from his job as "first human being on Earth, CEO"; God revoked his pension and cancelled his health care insurance (and they didn't have COBRA back in those days). He eventually got injured real bad when Eve clobbered him in a domestic dispute involving the two boys who were older now and still hadn't moved out of the house but were allegedly on drugs, using up what little money Adam had saved when he was employed as "first human being on Earth, CEO". Eventually, it is believed Adam and Eve got divorced. No one really knows how we evolved since that time since Evolution doesn’t exist, only Creationism, and God wasn't in the business of creating one person after another, after another, after another. It’s tiring. So God gave us two choices: we could use the wee wee and the pee pee to reproduce if we didn’t mind dealing with the whole menstrual cycle mess; or we could clone each other and keep it nice and clean and simple.
As humans we failed to discover cloning for thousands of years and so stuck with the old fashion routine of actual physical contact between pee pee and wee wee.
About 18,000 years later Jesus Christ was born. Jesus didn't have a father because his mother was a Virgin. The neighborhood decided to call her the Blessed Virgin Mary. No one could hardly believe it, so they started to make statues of Mary with little water plates on them so birds could come down and get a drink of water on the Mary statutes. Most of the Blessed Virgin Mary statutes are in the front yards of Italians living mainly on Long Island, New York today. No one knows why?
Oh yeah, Mary married a much older guy named Saint Joseph. He became a saint because he was old and Mary was pretty good looking and young. And Saint Joseph never had sex with Mary, even though she got pregnant. Saint Joseph was quiet. He never said much. No one knows where he worked. But one night he and Mary took off on a donkey to make a thousand mile trip through the desert. It was considered normal behavior back in those days. There was no "slow speed car chase" to head off Saint Joseph before he reached the Sinai/Egypt border.
Everyone just said, "Oh, there goes the older man with the pregnant teenage girl; off on a nice 1000 mile vacation on a donkey. Isn't that nice" The Blessed Virgin Mary tried to cover it all up because she knew she would be stoned to death if her folks ever found out she was pregnant. Rumors had it that Joe didn't even really do it. It was some teenager next door who was the real father of Jesus, but he took off like a "bat out of Hell" when Mary told him she had missed her period.
Then of course, the whole story got out of hand, which is where we are today.
And that's where the story ends of how God created the world. It's called Creationism.
Matthew: Psalm IV: Verse 24 from the Book of Creationism.
Luke: Psalm VXI: Verse 63 from the Book of Ludicrous.
Footnote: In the Bible, the word used for the pee pee was originally “the doodle” however, through the centuries “doodle” came to represent a word of vulgarity, hence, “doodle” is never, ever allowed---not in any version of the Bible and not even on TV during prime time hours.
Conclusion: Evolution can be proven because in the year 2000 we have electrical sockets and plugs called "the male plug" and "the female socket". These two items which can be purchased in any local Ace Hardware Store, evolved from Adam and Eve themselves. It is direct proof that the wee wee and the pee pee that God Himself designed and created at the time of Creationism eventually evolved through the process of Evolution into the modern day electrical apparatus. So, the next time you are in at Home Depot ask the clerk "can you tell my where I would find the pee pee and the wee wee" and they will know exactly what you are talking about. So help me God !
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Not Enough Fish in the Sea
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 20th June 2006.
The more it is tested, the more compelling the hypothesis becomes. Dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurological problems seem to be associated with a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, especially in the womb(1,2,3,4). The evidence of a link with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and dementia is less clear, but still suggestive(5,6,7). None of these conditions are caused exclusively by a lack of these chemicals, or can be entirely remedied by their application, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that some of our most persistent modern diseases are, at least in part, diseases of deficiency.
The more it is tested, the more compelling the hypothesis becomes. Dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurological problems seem to be associated with a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, especially in the womb(1,2,3,4). The evidence of a link with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and dementia is less clear, but still suggestive(5,6,7). None of these conditions are caused exclusively by a lack of these chemicals, or can be entirely remedied by their application, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that some of our most persistent modern diseases are, at least in part, diseases of deficiency.Last year, for example, researchers at Oxford published a study of 117 children suffering from dyspraxia(8). Dyspraxia causes learning difficulties, disruptive behaviour and social problems. It affects about 5% of children. Some of the children were given supplements of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, others were given placebos. The results were extraordinary. In three months the reading age of the experimental group rose by an average of 9.5 months, while the control group’s rose by 3.3. Other studies have shown major improvements in attention, behaviour and IQ(9).
This shouldn’t surprise us. During the Palaeolithic, human beings ate roughly the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids as omega-6s(10). Today we eat 17 times as much omega-6 as omega-3. Omega-6s are found in vegetable oils, while most of the omega-3s we eat come from fish. John Stein, a professor of physiology at Oxford who specialises in dyslexia, believes that fish oils permitted humans to make their great cognitive leap forwards(11). The concentration of omega-3s in the brain, he says, could provide more evidence that human beings were, for a while, semi-aquatic(12).
Stein believes that when the cells which are partly responsible for visual perception – the magnocellular neurones – are deficient in omega-3s, they don’t form as many connections with other cells, and don’t pass on information as efficiently. Their impaired development explains, for example, why many dyslexic children find that letters appear to jump around on the page.
So at first sight the government’s investigation into the idea of giving fish oil capsules to schoolchildren seems sensible. The food standards agency is conducting a review of the effects of omega-3s on childrens’ behaviour and performance in school. Alan Johnson, the secretary of state for education, is taking an interest(13). Given the accumulating weight of evidence, it would surprising if he does not decide to go ahead. Already, companies such as St Ivel and Marks and Spencer are selling foods laced with omega-3s.
There is only one problem: there are not enough fish. In March an article in the British Medical Journal observed that “we are faced with a paradox. Health recommendations advise increased consumption of oily fish and fish oils within limits, on the grounds that intake is generally low. However … we probably do not have a sustainable supply of long chain omega 3 fats.”(14) Our brain food is disappearing.
If you want to know why, read Charles Clover’s beautifully-written book The End of the Line(15). Clover travelled all over the world, showing how the grotesque mismanagement of fish stocks has spread like an infectious disease. Governments help their fishermen to wipe out local shoals, then pay them to build bigger and more powerful boats so they can go further afield. When they have cleaned up their own continental shelves, they are paid by taxpayers to destroy other people’s stocks. The European Union, for example, has bought our pampered fishermen the right to steal protein from the malnourished people of Senegal and Angola. West African stocks are now going the same way as North Sea cod and Mediterranean tuna.
I first realised just how mad our fishing policies have become when playing a game of ultimate frisbee in my local park. Taking a long dive, I landed with my nose in the grass. It smelt of fish. To the astonishment of passers-by, I crawled across the lawns, sniffing them. The whole park had been fertilised with fishmeal. Fish are used to feed cattle, pigs, poultry and other fish – in the farms now proliferating all over the world. Those rearing salmon, cod and tuna, for example, produce about half as much fish as they consume. Until 1996, when public outrage brought the practice to halt, a power station in Denmark was running on fish oil(16,17). Now I have discovered that the US Department of Energy is subsidising the conversion of fish oil into biodiesel, through its “regional biomass energy program”. It hopes that fish will be used to provide electricity and heating to homes in Alaska. It describes them as “a sustainable energy supply”(18).
Three years after Ransom Myers and Boris Worm published their seminal study in Nature, showing that global stocks of predatory fish have declined by 90%(19), nothing has changed. The fish stall in my local market still sells steaks from the ocean’s charismatic megafauna: swordfish, sharks and tuna, despite the fact that their conservation status is now, in many cases, similar to that of the Siberian tiger. Even the Guardian’s Weekend magazine publishes recipes for endangered species. Yesterday, the European Fisheries Council reversed the only sensible policy it has ever introduced. Having dropped them in 2002, it has decided to reinstate subsidies for new boat engines(20). Once again we will be paying billions to support over-fishing. Franco rose to power with the help of the whalers and industrial fishermen of his native Galicia. Somehow the old fascists in Vigo – the centre of the European industry’s power – still seem to exercise an extraordinary degree of control.
If fish stocks were allowed to recover and fishing policies reflected scientific advice, there might just about be enough to go round. To introduce mass medication with fish oil under current circumstances could be a recipe for the complete collapse of global stocks. Yet somehow we have to prevent many thousands of lives from being ruined by what appears to be a growing problem of malnutrition.
Some plants – such as flax and hemp – contain omega-3 oils, but not of the long-chain varieties our cell membranes need. Only some people can convert them, and even then slowly and inefficiently(21,22,23, 24). But a few weeks ago, a Swiss company called eau+ published a press release claiming that it has been farming “a secret strain of algae called V-Pure” which produces the right kind of fatty acids. It says it’s on the verge of commercialising a supplement(25). As the claims and the terrible names put me in mind of the slushiest kind of New Age therapy, I was, at first, suspicious. So I went to see Professor Stein to ask him whether it was likely to be true. He could be said to have a countervailing interest: his brother is the celebrity fish chef Rick Stein. But he happened to have met the company’s founder the day before, and he was impressed. The oils produced by some species of algae, he told me, are chemically identical to those found in fish: in fact this is where the fish get from them from. “I think they’re fairly optimistic about the timescale. But there is no theoretical impediment. I haven’t yet seen his evidence, but I formed a very strong impression that he is an honest man.”
He had better be, and his project had better work. Otherwise the human race is destined to take a great cognitive leap backwards.
Monday, June 19, 2006
18 years on...
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Why it's over for America
By Noam Chomsky
05/30/06 "The Independent" -- -- The selection of issues that should rank high on the agenda of concern for human welfare and rights is, naturally, a subjective matter. But there are a few choices that seem unavoidable, because they bear so directly on the prospects for decent survival. Among them are at least these three: nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government of the world's leading power is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of these catastrophes. It is important to stress the government, because the population, not surprisingly, does not agree.
That brings up a fourth issue that should deeply concern Americans, and the world: the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the reasons for the fear, which cannot casually be put aside, that, as Gar Alperowitz puts it in America Beyond Capitalism, "the American 'system' as a whole is in real trouble - that it is heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values [of] equality, liberty, and meaningful democracy".
The "system" is coming to have some of the features of failed states, to adopt a currently fashionable notion that is conventionally applied to states regarded as potential threats to our security (like Iraq) or as needing our intervention to rescue the population from severe internal threats (like Haiti). Though the concept is recognised to be, according to the journal Foreign Affairs, "frustratingly imprecise", some of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified. One is their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance.
Among the hardest tasks that anyone can undertake, and one of the most important, is to look honestly in the mirror. If we allow ourselves to do so, we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of "failed states" right at home.
No one familiar with history should be surprised that the growing democratic deficit in the United States is accompanied by declaration of messianic missions to bring democracy to a suffering world. Declarations of noble intent by systems of power are rarely complete fabrication, and the same is true in this case. Under some conditions, forms of democracy are indeed acceptable. Abroad, as the leading scholar-advocate of "democracy promotion" concludes, we find a "strong line of continuity": democracy is acceptable if and only if it is consistent with strategic and economic interests (Thomas Carothers). In modified form, the doctrine holds at home as well.
The basic dilemma facing policymakers is sometimes candidly recognised at the dovish liberal extreme of the spectrum, for example, by Robert Pastor, President Carter's national security adviser for Latin America. He explained why the administration had to support the murderous and corrupt Somoza regime in Nicaragua, and, when that proved impossible, to try at least to maintain the US-trained National Guard even as it was massacring the population "with a brutality a nation usually reserves for its enemy", killing some 40,000 people. The reason was the familiar one: "The United States did not want to control Nicaragua or the other nations of the region, but it also did not want developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect US interests adversely."
Similar dilemmas faced Bush administration planners after their invasion of Iraq. They want Iraqis "to act independently, except when doing so would affect US interests adversely". Iraq must therefore be sovereign and democratic, but within limits. It must somehow be constructed as an obedient client state, much in the manner of the traditional order in Central America. At a general level, the pattern is familiar, reaching to the opposite extreme of institutional structures. The Kremlin was able to maintain satellites that were run by domestic political and military forces, with the iron fist poised. Germany was able to do much the same in occupied Europe even while it was at war, as did fascist Japan in Man-churia (its Manchukuo). Fascist Italy achieved similar results in North Africa while carrying out virtual genocide that in no way harmed its favourable image in the West and possibly inspired Hitler. Traditional imperial and neocolonial systems illustrate many variations on similar themes.
To achieve the traditional goals in Iraq has proven to be surprisingly difficult, despite unusually favourable circumstances. The dilemma of combining a measure of independence with firm control arose in a stark form not long after the invasion, as mass non-violent resistance compelled the invaders to accept far more Iraqi initiative than they had anticipated. The outcome even evoked the nightmarish prospect of a more or less democratic and sovereign Iraq taking its place in a loose Shiite alliance comprising Iran, Shiite Iraq, and possibly the nearby Shiite-dominated regions of Saudi Arabia, controlling most of the world's oil and independent of Washington.
The situation could get worse. Iran might give up on hopes that Europe could become independent of the United States, and turn eastward. Highly relevant background is discussed by Selig Harrison, a leading specialist on these topics. "The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the European Union were based on a bargain that the EU, held back by the US, has failed to honour," Harrison observes.
"The bargain was that Iran would suspend uranium enrichment, and the EU would undertake security guarantees. The language of the joint declaration was "unambiguous. 'A mutually acceptable agreement,' it said, would not only provide 'objective guarantees' that Iran's nuclear programme is 'exclusively for peaceful purposes' but would 'equally provide firm commitments on security issues.'"
The phrase "security issues" is a thinly veiled reference to the threats by the United States and Israel to bomb Iran, and preparations to do so. The model regularly adduced is Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, which appears to have initiated Saddam's nuclear weapons programs, another demonstration that violence tends to elicit violence. Any attempt to execute similar plans against Iran could lead to immediate violence, as is surely understood in Washington. During a visit to Tehran, the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr warned that his militia would defend Iran in the case of any attack, "one of the strongest signs yet", the Washington Post reported, "that Iraq could become a battleground in any Western conflict with Iran, raising the spectre of Iraqi Shiite militias - or perhaps even the US-trained Shiite-dominated military - taking on American troops here in sympathy with Iran." The Sadrist bloc, which registered substantial gains in the December 2005 elections, may soon become the most powerful single political force in Iraq. It is consciously pursuing the model of other successful Islamist groups, such as Hamas in Palestine, combining strong resistance to military occupation with grassroots social organising and service to the poor.
Washington's unwillingness to allow regional security issues to be considered is nothing new. It has also arisen repeatedly in the confrontation with Iraq. In the background is the matter of Israeli nuclear weapons, a topic that Washington bars from international consideration. Beyond that lurks what Harrison rightly describes as "the central problem facing the global non-proliferation regime": the failure of the nuclear states to live up to their nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligation "to phase out their own nuclear weapons" - and, in Washington's case, formal rejection of the obligation.
Unlike Europe, China refuses to be intimidated by Washington, a primary reason for the growing fear of China on the part of US planners. Much of Iran's oil already goes to China, and China is providing Iran with weapons, presumably considered a deterrent to US threats. Still more uncomfortable for Washington is the fact that, according to the Financial Times, "the Sino-Saudi relationship has developed dramatically", including Chinese military aid to Saudi Arabia and gas exploration rights for China. By 2005, Saudi Arabia provided about 17 per cent of China's oil imports. Chinese and Saudi oil companies have signed deals for drilling and construction of a huge refinery (with Exxon Mobil as a partner). A January 2006 visit by Saudi king Abdullah to Beijing was expected to lead to a Sino-Saudi memorandum of understanding calling for "increased cooperation and investment between the two countries in oil, natural gas, and minerals".
Indian analyst Aijaz Ahmad observes that Iran could "emerge as the virtual linchpin in the making, over the next decade or so, of what China and Russia have come to regard as an absolutely indispensable Asian Energy Security Grid, for breaking Western control of the world's energy supplies and securing the great industrial revolution of Asia". South Korea and southeast Asian countries are likely to join, possibly Japan as well. A crucial question is how India will react. It rejected US pressures to withdraw from an oil pipeline deal with Iran. On the other hand, India joined the United States and the EU in voting for an anti-Iranian resolution at the IAEA, joining also in their hypocrisy, since India rejects the NPT regime to which Iran, so far, appears to be largely conforming. Ahmad reports that India may have secretly reversed its stand under Iranian threats to terminate a $20bn gas deal. Washington later warned India that its "nuclear deal with the US could be ditched" if India did not go along with US demands, eliciting a sharp rejoinder from the Indian foreign ministry and an evasive tempering of the warning by the US embassy.
The prospect that Europe and Asia might move toward greater independence has seriously troubled US planners since World War II, and concerns have significantly increased as the tripolar order has continued to evolve, along with new south-south interactions and rapidly growing EU engagement with China.
US intelligence has projected that the United States, while controlling Middle East oil for the traditional reasons, will itself rely mainly on more stable Atlantic Basin resources (West Africa, western hemisphere). Control of Middle East oil is now far from a sure thing, and these expectations are also threatened by developments in the western hemisphere, accelerated by Bush administration policies that have left the United States remarkably isolated in the global arena. The Bush administration has even succeeded in alienating Canada, an impressive feat.
Canada's minister of natural resources said that within a few years one quarter of the oil that Canada now sends to the United States may go to China instead. In a further blow to Washington's energy policies, the leading oil exporter in the hemisphere, Venezuela, has forged probably the closest relations with China of any Latin American country, and is planning to sell increasing amounts of oil to China as part of its effort to reduce dependence on the openly hostile US government. Latin America as a whole is increasing trade and other relations with China, with some setbacks, but likely expansion, in particular for raw materials exporters like Brazil and Chile.
Meanwhile, Cuba-Venezuela relations are becoming very close, each relying on its comparative advantage. Venezuela is providing low-cost oil while in return Cuba organises literacy and health programs, sending thousands of highly skilled professionals, teachers, and doctors, who work in the poorest and most neglected areas, as they do elsewhere in the Third World. Cuba-Venezuela projects are extending to the Caribbean countries, where Cuban doctors are providing healthcare to thousands of people with Venezuelan funding. Operation Miracle, as it is called, is described by Jamaica's ambassador to Cuba as "an example of integration and south-south cooperation", and is generating great enthusiasm among the poor majority. Cuban medical assistance is also being welcomed elsewhere. One of the most horrendous tragedies of recent years was the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. In addition to the huge toll, unknown numbers of survivors have to face brutal winter weather with little shelter, food, or medical assistance. One has to turn to the South Asian press to read that "Cuba has provided the largest contingent of doctors and paramedics to Pakistan", paying all the costs (perhaps with Venezuelan funding), and that President Musharraf expressed his "deep gratitude" for the "spirit and compassion" of the Cuban medical teams.
Some analysts have suggested that Cuba and Venezuela might even unite, a step towards further integration of Latin America in a bloc that is more independent from the United States. Venezuela has joined Mercosur, the South American customs union, a move described by Argentine president Nestor Kirchner as "a milestone" in the development of this trading bloc, and welcomed as opening "a new chapter in our integration" by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Independent experts say that "adding Venezuela to the bloc furthers its geopolitical vision of eventually spreading Mercosur to the rest of the region".
At a meeting to mark Venezuela's entry into Mercosur, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said, "We cannot allow this to be purely an economic project, one for the elites and for the transnational companies," a not very oblique reference to the US-sponsored "Free Trade Agreement for the Americas", which has aroused strong public opposition. Venezuela also supplied Argentina with fuel oil to help stave off an energy crisis, and bought almost a third of Argentine debt issued in 2005, one element of a region-wide effort to free the countries from the control of the US-dominated IMF after two decades of disastrous effects of conformity to its rules. The IMF has "acted towards our country as a promoter and a vehicle of policies that caused poverty and pain among the Argentine people", President Kirchner said in announcing his decision to pay almost $1 trillion to rid itself of the IMF forever. Radically violating IMF rules, Argentina enjoyed a substantial recovery from the disaster left by IMF policies.
Steps toward independent regional integration advanced further with the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia in December 2005, the first president from the indigenous majority. Morales moved quickly to reach energy accords with Venezuela.
Though Central America was largely disciplined by Reaganite violence and terror, the rest of the hemisphere is falling out of control, particularly from Venezuela to Argentina, which was the poster child of the IMF and the Treasury Department until its economy collapsed under the policies they imposed. Much of the region has left-centre governments. The indigenous populations have become much more active and influential, particularly in Bolivia and Ecuador, both major energy producers, where they either want oil and gas to be domestically controlled or, in some cases, oppose production altogether. Many indigenous people apparently do not see any reason why their lives, societies, and cultures should be disrupted or destroyed so that New Yorkers can sit in SUVs in traffic gridlock. Some are even calling for an "Indian nation" in South America. Meanwhile the economic integration that is under way is reversing patterns that trace back to the Spanish conquests, with Latin American elites and economies linked to the imperial powers but not to one another. Along with growing south-south interaction on a broader scale, these developments are strongly influenced by popular organisations that are coming together in the unprecedented international global justice movements, ludicrously called "anti-globalisation" because they favour globalisation that privileges the interests of people, not investors and financial institutions. For many reasons, the system of US global dominance is fragile, even apart from the damage inflicted by Bush planners.
One consequence is that the Bush administration's pursuit of the traditional policies of deterring democracy faces new obstacles. It is no longer as easy as before to resort to military coups and international terrorism to overthrow democratically elected governments, as Bush planners learnt ruefully in 2002 in Venezuela. The "strong line of continuity" must be pursued in other ways, for the most part. In Iraq, as we have seen, mass nonviolent resistance compelled Washington and London to permit the elections they had sought to evade. The subsequent effort to subvert the elections by providing substantial advantages to the administration's favourite candidate, and expelling the independent media, also failed. Washington faces further problems. The Iraqi labor movement is making considerable progress despite the opposition of the occupation authorities. The situation is rather like Europe and Japan after World War II, when a primary goal of the United States and United Kingdom was to undermine independent labour movements - as at home, for similar reasons: organised labour contributes in essential ways to functioning democracy with popular engagement. Many of the measures adopted at that time - withholding food, supporting fascist police - are no longer available. Nor is it possible today to rely on the labour bureaucracy of the American Institute for Free Labor Development to help undermine unions. Today, some American unions are supporting Iraqi workers, just as they do in Colombia, where more union activists are murdered than anywhere in the world. At least the unions now receive support from the United Steelworkers of America and others, while Washington continues to provide enormous funding for the government, which bears a large part of the responsibility.
The problem of elections arose in Palestine much in the way it did in Iraq. As already discussed, the Bush administration refused to permit elections until the death of Yasser Arafat, aware that the wrong man would win. After his death, the administration agreed to permit elections, expecting the victory of its favoured Palestinian Authority candidates. To promote this outcome, Washington resorted to much the same modes of subversion as in Iraq, and often before. Washington used the US Agency for International Development as an "invisible conduit" in an effort to "increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic group Hamas" (Washington Post), spending almost $2m "on dozens of quick projects before elections this week to bolster the governing Fatah faction's image with voters" (New York Times). In the United States, or any Western country, even a hint of such foreign interference would destroy a candidate, but deeply rooted imperial mentality legitimates such routine measures elsewhere. However, the attempt to subvert the elections again resoundingly failed.
The US and Israeli governments now have to adjust to dealing somehow with a radical Islamic party that approaches their traditional rejectionist stance, though not entirely, at least if Hamas really does mean to agree to an indefinite truce on the international border as its leaders state. The US and Israel, in contrast, insist that Israel must take over substantial parts of the West Bank (and the forgotten Golan Heights). Hamas's refusal to accept Israel's "right to exist" mirrors the refusal of Washington and Jerusalem to accept Palestine's "right to exist" - a concept unknown in international affairs; Mexico accepts the existence of the United States but not its abstract "right to exist" on almost half of Mexico, acquired by conquest. Hamas's formal commitment to "destroy Israel" places it on a par with the United States and Israel, which vowed formally that there could be no "additional Palestinian state" (in addition to Jordan) until they relaxed their extreme rejectionist stand partially in the past few years, in the manner already reviewed. Although Hamas has not said so, it would come as no great surprise if Hamas were to agree that Jews may remain in scattered areas in the present Israel, while Palestine constructs huge settlement and infrastructure projects to take over the valuable land and resources, effectively breaking Israel up into unviable cantons, virtually separated from one another and from some small part of Jerusalem where Jews would also be allowed to remain. And they might agree to call the fragments "a state". If such proposals were made, we would - rightly - regard them as virtually a reversion to Nazism, a fact that might elicit some thoughts. If such proposals were made, Hamas's position would be essentially like that of the United States and Israel for the past five years, after they came to tolerate some impoverished form of "statehood". It is fair to describe Hamas as radical, extremist, and violent, and as a serious threat to peace and a just political settlement. But the organisation is hardly alone in this stance.
Elsewhere traditional means of undermining democracy have succeeded. In Haiti, the Bush administration's favourite "democracy-building group, the International Republican Institute", worked assiduously to promote the opposition to President Aristide, helped by the withholding of desperately needed aid on grounds that were dubious at best. When it seemed that Aristide would probably win any genuine election, Washington and the opposition chose to withdraw, a standard device to discredit elections that are going to come out the wrong way: Nicaragua in 1984 and Venezuela in December 2005 are examples that should be familiar. Then followed a military coup, expulsion of the president, and a reign of terror and violence vastly exceeding anything under the elected government.
The persistence of the strong line of continuity to the present again reveals that the United States is very much like other powerful states. It pursues the strategic and economic interests of dominant sectors of the domestic population, to the accompaniment of rhetorical flourishes about its dedication to the highest values. That is practically a historical universal, and the reason why sensible people pay scant attention to declarations of noble intent by leaders, or accolades by their followers.
One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: "They present solutions, but I don't like them." In addition to the proposals that should be familiar about dealing with the crises that reach to the level of survival, a few simple suggestions for the United States have already been mentioned: 1) accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; 2) sign and carry forward the Kyoto protocols; 3) let the UN take the lead in international crises; 4) rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror; 5) keep to the traditional interpretation of the UN Charter; 6) give up the Security Council veto and have "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind," as the Declaration of Independence advises, even if power centres disagree; 7) cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase social spending. For people who believe in democracy, these are very conservative suggestions: they appear to be the opinions of the majority of the US population, in most cases the overwhelming majority. They are in radical opposition to public policy. To be sure, we cannot be very confident about the state of public opinion on such matters because of another feature of the democratic deficit: the topics scarcely enter into public discussion and the basic facts are little known. In a highly atomised society, the public is therefore largely deprived of the opportunity to form considered opinions.
Another conservative suggestion is that facts, logic, and elementary moral principles should matter. Those who take the trouble to adhere to that suggestion will soon be led to abandon a good part of familiar doctrine, though it is surely much easier to repeat self-serving mantras. Such simple truths carry us some distance toward developing more specific and detailed answers. More important, they open the way to implement them, opportun- ities that are readily within our grasp if we can free ourselves from the shackles of doctrine and imposed illusion.
Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to seek to induce pessimism, hopelessness, and despair, reality is different. There has been substantial progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent years, leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than before. Opportunities for education and organising abound. As in the past, rights are not likely to be granted by benevolent authorities, or won by intermittent actions - attending a few demonstrations or pushing a lever in the personalised quadrennial extravaganzas that are depicted as "democratic politics". As always in the past, the tasks require dedicated day-by-day engagement to create - in part recreate - the basis for a functioning democratic culture in which the public plays some role in determining policies, not only in the political arena, from which it is largely excluded, but also in the crucial economic arena, from which it is excluded in principle. There are many ways to promote democracy at home, carrying it to new dimensions. Opportunities are ample, and failure to grasp them is likely to have ominous repercussions: for the country, for the world, and for future generations.
This is an edited extract from Failed States by Noam Chomsky (Hamish Hamilton)
Chomsky & Paxman
There's such a gulf between their perceived realities it's incredible.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
Get Out of Jail
Will any of them admit it? Not likely, the prisoner helping to run the library thinks to himself. An admission like that takes more trust than most of these guys have experienced in their whole lives. As assistant librarian, he’s an avid reader now, but he remembers how he used to practice when he was in segregation, away from anyone else’s eyes. He’d look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary and make himself use those words in a sentence. He wants these other guys to have a chance at loving books too, but he figures it’s going to take a new kind of thinking to get them there.
“We need to get some easy books,” he says to the prison’s staff librarian. “Books a guy who can’t really read can still figure out. And we need to put them on the low shelves so they’re easy to steal.” The librarian wants to help the guys who can’t read, too. It’s one of the reasons she likes working in a prison library rather than, say, a graduate research center: the chance to help the unlikeliest readers discover new joys and capacities. But the need to make it possible to steal the books – library books, which are free to patrons in prison just as they are to library patrons anywhere – requires a leap of imagination she can’t immediately make.
“Why do they need to steal them?” she asks, “Why can’t they just check them out?”
He tries to explain it to her: how people cling to pride when they have so little else to hold on to. How these guys would rather stare blankly at the newsprint than admit anything to anybody. How stealing is what they know how to do, and how much easier it is than asking for something, than believing they have the right. “Don’t make them strip naked for you,” is what he wants to say to the librarian. “Give them some cover, some way to slip those books back to their cells without letting anyone else see how easy the words are and how much they want to read them. You’ll see. They’ll do it.”
The librarian gets it. She knows this is something he understands better than she can ever hope to. She realizes her best shot at serving these prisoners well is to take advice from someone who is capable of opening the door to their particular reality, allowing her a glimpse inside.
They order easy readers and set them out on the low shelves without making any kind of big announcement about it. Soon enough, the books start to disappear. One day a prisoner comes up to the desk with one of them in his hand. A really easy book, a really big, tough guy.
“Is this the first book you ever read yourself?” the librarian asks, taking a chance.
“Yeah,” the prisoner replies, and neither of them can keep from smiling.
Susannah Sheffer edited Growing Without Schooling magazine for many years and is the co-author of In a Dark Time: A Prisoner’s Struggle for Healing and Change.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Rubbishing Ken Loach
June 6, 2006 - From Monbiot.com
That they have not seen his film is no impediment. That it has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes only quickens their desire for reprisals. Ken Loach has been placed in preventive detention and is having his fingernails pulled out.
In the Times, Tim Luckhurst compares him – unfavourably – to Leni Riefenstahl. His new film is a “poisonously anti-British corruption of the history of the war of Irish independence … The Wind That Shakes the Barley is not just wrong. It infantilises its subject matter and reawakens ancient feuds.” I checked with the production company. The film has not yet been released. They can find no record that Luckhurst has attended a screening – and last night he refused to discuss the matter.
At least Simon Heffer, writing in the Telegraph, admits he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Loach, he says, “hates this country, yet leeches off it, using public funds to make his repulsive films. And no, I haven’t seen it, any more than I need to read Mein Kampf to know what a louse Hitler was.” The Sun says it’s “a brutally anti-British film … designed to drag the reputation of our nation through the mud”. Ruth Dudley Edwards in the Daily Mail pronounced it “old-fashioned propaganda” and “a melange of half-truths”. She hasn’t seen the film either. Nor, it seems, has Michael Gove, who told his readers in the Times that it helps to “legitimise the actions of gangsters”.
Are these people claiming that events of the kind Loach portrays did not happen? Reprisals by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Auxiliary division are documented by historians of all political stripes. During the period the film covers (1920-21), policemen visited homes in places such as Thurles, Cork, Upperchurch and Galway and shot or bayoneted their unarmed inhabitants. Nor does any historian deny that they fired into crowds or threw grenades or beat people up in the streets or set fire to homes and businesses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Bantry, Kilmallock, Balbriggan, Miltown Malbay, Lahinch, Ennistymon, Trim and other towns. Nor can the fact that the constabulary tortured and killed some of its prisoners be seriously disputed.
It is also clear that some of these attacks were sanctioned by senior officers and politicians. In June 1920, in the presence of the commander of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the force’s divisional commissioner in Munster (Colonel GB Smyth) told his men: “You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent people may be shot but that cannot be helped … The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get in trouble for shooting any man.” He advised that “when civilians are seen approaching, shout “Hands up!” Should the order be not immediately obeyed, shoot and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching carry their hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious looking, shoot them down.” Sir Henry Wilson, the director of operations in the War Office, complained that he had warned his minister – Winston Churchill – that “indiscriminate reprisals will play the devil in Ireland, but he won’t listen or agree”. There was even a policy of “official reprisals”: the homes of people who lived close to the scene of an ambush and had failed to warn the authorities could be legally destroyed.
Loach’s hero, Damien, as many Irishmen were, is radicalised by a raid by the Black and Tans, who were members of the constabulary recruited from outside Ireland. As the film shows, they were responsible for much of the police brutality. The historian Robert Kee, who is a fierce critic of the IRA, remarks that while the police were at first slow to retaliate, their vengeance – exercised against innocent people – “further consolidated national feeling in Ireland. It made the Irish people feel more and more in sympathy with fighting men of their own.” The fighter Edward MacLysaght recorded that “what probably drove a peacefully inclined man like myself into rebellion was the British attitude towards us: the assumption that the whole lot of us were a pack of murdering corner boys”.
There is no question that the IRA also killed ruthlessly – not just police and soldiers but also people they deemed to be informers and collaborators. But Loach shows this too. (I have seen the film.) The press hates him because he admits that the people who committed these acts were not evil automata, but human beings capable of grief, anger, love and pity. So too, of course, were the British forces, whose humanity is always emphasised by the newspapers. Ken’s crime is to have told the other side of the story.
The other side – whether it concerns Ireland, India, Kenya or Malaya – is always inadmissable. The torture and killing of the colonised is ignored or excused, while their violent responses to occupation are never forgotten. The only aggressors permitted to exist are those who fight back.
Does it matter what people say about a conflict that took place 85 years ago? It does. For the same one-sided story is being told about the occupation of Iraq. The execution of 24 civilians in Haditha allegedly carried out by US marines in November is being discussed as a disgraceful anomaly: the work of a few “bad apples” or “rogue elements”. Donald Rumsfeld claims “we know that 99.9% of our forces conduct themselves in an exemplary manner”, and most of the press seems to agree. But if it chose to look, it would find evidence of scores of such massacres.
In March Jody Casey, a US veteran of the war in Iraq, told Newsnight that when insurgents have let off a bomb, “you just zap any farmer that is close to you … when we first got down there, you could basically kill whoever you wanted, it was that easy”. On Sunday another veteran told the Observer that cold-blooded killings by US forces “are widespread. This is the norm. These are not the exceptions.” There is powerful evidence to suggest that US soldiers tied up and executed 11 people – again including small children – in Ishaqi in March. Iraqi officers say that US troops executed two women and a mentally handicapped man in a house in Samarra last month. In 2004, US forces are alleged to have bombed a wedding party at Makr al-Deeb and then shot the survivors, killing 42 people. No one has any idea what happened in Falluja, as the destruction of the city and its remaining inhabitants was so thorough.
Even the Iraqi prime minister, who depends on coalition troops for his protection, complained last week that their attacks on civilians are a “regular occurrence … They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion.” But like the Black and Tans the US troops have little fear of investigation or punishment.
Why should we be surprised by these events? This is what happens when one country occupies another. When troops are far away from home, exercising power over people that they don’t understand, knowing that the population harbours those who would kill them if they could, their anger and fear and frustration turns into a hatred of all “micks” or “gooks” or “hajjis”. Occupations brutalise both the occupiers and the occupied. It is our refusal to learn that lesson which allows new colonial adventures to take place. If we knew more about Ireland, the invasion of Iraq might never have happened.
Al Gore's Medium is His Message
Some have said that Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is just what it appears to be - an urgent wake-up call to the world about the dangers of global warming by the man who "used to be the next president of the United States," as Gore himself ruefully puts it. Others have wondered whether it isn't a highly unusual opening salvo in what would be a very interesting addition to the 2008 presidential campaign. But when I saw the film the other day, I came out of the theater (into a global-warming inspired deluge) convinced that An Inconvenient Truth was a stunning, subtle, and perhaps intentional argument for the necessity of reinvigorating American democracy.
The film isn't, after all, "merely" about human-caused global warming and its terrifying potential to transform the world in ways that could mean the end of civilization as we almost knew it. It's also about the man American voters elected to run the world's most powerful nation in the year 2000 who then never became our 43rd president.
This combination of message and messenger is what makes the film such a powerful commentary on the American moral condition.
As Gore pointed out in the film, we used to live rather lightly on the earth. Puny human governments and their forms, however despotic and evil our leaders, however repressive their regimes, however vast the suffering of people living under them at the time, didn't much matter to our planet's well-being. Mother Earth would go on as before.
Now that has changed. As Gore cutely pointed out in his presentation, our "shovels" are now motorized and several stories high and can shear the top off of mountains in no time at all. So now the decisions made by those who control those "shovels" and the other tools of our wonderful and terrible technology can not only make the human lives they rule over horrific or honorable. They can also chart a course to planetary destruction or ensure our world's well-being for future generations.
Of course, we've had this awesome power since the Manhattan Project unleashed its unholy invention on the world. The bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though, in the very intensity of their previously unimagined and unimaginable destruction seared into our collective imagination the price of wielding that power. And we've managed to choose not to do so again for sixty years.
But global warming is not so dramatic. With his animated version of the inundation of Bangladesh, the Netherlands, large parts of China, Manhattan and* Florida, Gore convincingly demonstrates that global warming too brings with it Mutually Assured Destruction. This time though, there is no balance of Cold War powers, missiles armed and pointed, to keep those who lust for power in check. In the Warm War, America alone gets to decide the fate of the Earth for everyone.
If only the neocons who started the Iraq war to demonstrate American worldwide hegemony had gone to Al's slide show instead, we could have saved ourselves so much terribly wasted blood and treasure.
We already have the power to control the future of everywhere on Earth.
For we are the single biggest cause of global warming and our choices alone could bring global warming under control or send the whole world spiraling toward radical climate change.
The inescapable conclusion is that the only thing that stands between us and self-inflicted world-wide destruction is politics, and not anyone else's but ours, America's. It is we who must act for the good of the globe as citizens of Earth, empowered by our greatest gift to our planet, American democracy. We must save the world by deciding to choose a different path. And we must do so soon and together or it will never work.
It is following the logic to this place that makes the messenger so poignant, and so ironic, for he is the very emblem of our imperiled democracy.
We once had a system, however imperfect, as Al also pointed out in his slide show, which allowed us to do great and noble things - forge a Constitution to live by that inspired the world, end slavery, allow citizenship for women, go to the moon and back, start a movement and pass effective legislation to save the environment. American democracy, whatever its flaws, was a living, breathing thing that reminded us that we were all in this together and that we must forge our future as one people.
That all unraveled in the 36 days following the 2000 presidential election when the will of the people was undermined, first by Republican shenanigans, then by our Supreme Court. Now no less a person than Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Bobby's son, John's nephew- remember them?) has published a meticulously researched article frighteningly entitled, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" Kennedy's exhaustive review of all available evidence is convincing.
It turned out to be a remarkably fragile thing, this democracy upon which now the whole world's future may well depend. American democracy, after all, is just an idea, one that hinges on citizen participation and respect for our institutions, especially by those who would lead us, to make it work. It's clear with a man in the White House who has little regard for democratic practice and continues to dispute the worldwide scientific consensus on the reality and impact of global warming that America will not act to save the world unless we first act to save American democracy.
But in this new millennium we the people don't seem to play much of a role in what our government does or doesn't do in our name. The American people have become "inactionary" -- a term sociologist C.W. Mills coined during the McCarthy era, another time in our history when domestic repression mingled with international fear.
"Political will," Al said optimistically at the end of his film, "is a renewable resource." But political will is dependent on having feelings of efficacy. And we've become so anxious, afraid and complacent in the years since we failed to make him President Gore. It wasn't just 9-11 that did us in. It was bearing witness to the undermining of our political process by those who lusted for power more than they respected our precious if imperfect political system.
If we're to save the world this time - not from fascism as we did in World War II but from our own excesses - we have got to find our political will again. We must start by making sure our votes count and that we elect the visionary leaders we need at this time of climate crisis. We must act together as a nation in the interest of the Earth and its people to confront the passivity and the gluttony that got us here.
It's an inconvenient truth.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
A must read...
Melting icecaps, flooded communities, heat-waves, hurricanes and general freak weather: yes, climate change is here, and it’s only going to get worse. We are currently on course for a 3C degree rise in temperature, which could mean the deaths of 400 million of the world’s poorest people, and the extinction of 50 million species with which we share the planet. At the moment the richer western countries can use their wealth to compensate for the effects of climate change, by storing food or building sea and flood defences. But our whole civilisation rests on a increasingly fragile web of ecosystems and climate change threatens this life-support system in ways that we as yet cannot understand let alone foresee. European crop failures, the disappearance of the Gulf Stream which warms Western Europe – either of these would have massive consequences for us in the UK alone.
After years of corporate-sponsored scientists creating the illusion that climate change was merely a theory, it is now a fact acknowledged across the board. Government public information is now putting across messages that would have been considered fringe scaremongering a decade ago. Despite this, the government is promising that they do have the solutions: “Action now can help avert the worst effects of climate change – with foresight such action can be taken without disturbing our way of life,” claims Tony Bliar – i.e. keep driving, flying and working for yer pension because we can have ‘sustainable’ economic growth. A capitalism without limits on a planet with finite resources.
Solutions proposed such as nuclear power, a farcical European carbon-trading scheme or a pitiful tax on the heavy polluters will in reality do little to offset the impending disaster.
These market-driven techno-fixes peddled by the corporations and the governments they sponsor are all designed to keep the economy growing, growing, growing. This is to avoid the one thing they can’t face, the one thing that can actually start to deal with climate change – a massive reduction in energy consumption. Ironically the certainty of climate change comes at the same time as the concept of ‘Peak Oil’ becomes mainstream (see SchNEWS 499). The current system simply has no answers. Regardless of whether we put things off for a few years by using nuclear power (see SchNEWS 522), cuts are going to have to come across the board – and that will require a massive restructuring of the way we live our lives and how we organise our society. Our economic systems will have to be transformed beyond recognition. The question is in whose interests will they be remade?
That’s why this desperately needed energy ‘descent’ is going to need a hell of a lot of energy ‘dissent’. It’s time for us to open our eyes to our collective denial, pull our heads out of the sand, stick out our necks, get over our divisions and start working together to build grassroots solutions to climate change. We all bear responsibility for climate change and need to make changes in our own lives. But we also need to act collectively. To undertake the urgent work of energy descent/dissent, we need to work out what needs to be done, what others are already doing, what we should be stopping – and what we should be starting. Reading about how bad things could be is obviously not motivating many of us to change, we need to get together and do it!
The Camp for Climate Action will bring thousands of people together for 10 days of action, education, and living the alternative world we hope to build. It will be a hub for everything from solar energy workshops and campaign updates to direct action against some of the worst offenders of the fossil fuel economy. It will be a climate-friendly gathering, powered by alternative energy, and will demonstrate practical solutions in action. It will be a chance for the diverse people and projects working on all aspects of climate change to get together and make change happen. Although it’s crucial that existing campaigners and activists take part, we want the camp to be an event that reaches out to the huge web of people who are deeply concerned but have no idea how or where to begin making changes.
There will be debates and info on various parts of the science and politics of climate – we recognise that we are entering new territory and no-one has all the answers. What level of carbon emissions is too high, what future for the hydrogen economy, how are we going to deal with peak oil? There’ll be practical skills to learn and ideas and practice for campaigning – from setting up an allotment to setting up tripods, from how to deal with the press to how to mount a legal challenge against your favourite climate criminal. And we want to do more than disaster-mongering; we’ll have plenty of entertainment and lots of activities for younger people – with an energy-use focus.
The camp will also be a base for direct action against the fossil fuel economy. Dealing with climate change is about more than personal action. Changing light bulbs and stopping flying to Spain for the weekend is one small part of the solution, but so is getting in the way of the juggernaut with our bodies, our minds and our hearts. Some might call this idealism or madness. We say madness lies in the passive grey expansion of the suburbs, the packed motorways rumbling towards oil depletion, the climate horror headlines next to an offer for Christmas-shopping flights to New York. Madness is factories that produce rubbish that people have to be brainwashed into buying – sanity is pulling them down. In these times taking direct action against the climate criminals is as real, as reasonable, as necessary as it gets. Direct action, of all the forms of action to take, gets closest to the heart of the problem as well as closest to the beating heart of a truly sustainable, socially just, fossil fuel-free future.
We only have a short time to act and we’re going to need radical ideas and massive action if we’re to make something good come out of this mess. Climate change will not go away, and we need to understand that the longer we leave the process of starting our ‘energy descent’, the more difficult and painful it will be. Ultimately, our whole “first world” way of life is in question here.The way we travel, the way we eat, the way we farm, the way we work. It all needs to be re-examined and adjusted (or done away with) as required. The notion of infinite industrial growth on a finite planet must be discarded for the greedy fantasy it is and always has been.
Climate change and fossil fuel depletion has and will create savage conflicts over vital resources. If we don’t act now, the dark history of the twentieth century will pale by comparison with the Mad Max horrors of the 21st.
Other relevant events before the camp:
* June 10th – Road Block national conference. Fighting one of the big causes of climate change – cars.Workshops and guest speakers, central Birmingham. For details see http://www.roadblock.org.uk
* June 11 – July 1 – Art Not Oil, London. Exhibition and campaign of political/ecological art, and ending oil sponsorship of the arts – a project of London Rising Tide. For info call 07708 794665 For full list of events see http://www.artnotoil.org.uk http://www.nationalpetroleumgallery.org.uk
Biofuels - Cure or Threat?
April 26, 2006
With oil prices above $70 a barrel, could biofuels help to solve our energy crisis and reduce climate change at the same time? From George Bush to the European Union (EU), governments around the world seem to think so – and are beginning to subsidise the new biofuel revolution.
As millions of acres worldwide are converted to corn, oilseed rape, palm oil, soybean and jatropha, news is coming in that we could be making climate change worse, driving more species into extinction and threatening food supplies in poor countries.
The most competitive of all biofuel crops are palm oil – grown mainly in South East Asia – and sugar cane from Brazil.
They are competitive not just because of low wages and poor workers’ rights, but also because they provide more energy per acre than other biofuel crops.
Yet palm oil plantations, together with illegal logging in Borneo, may already be responsible for as many carbon dioxide emissions as those of the US, at least in a few years.
This astonishing figure was calculated by a group of scientists that found the amount of carbon released by peat fires on Borneo in 1997-8 was the equivalent of up to 40 percent of all global emissions from burning fossil fuel.
In the mid-1990s, Indonesian dictator Suharto ordered the draining of millions of acres of peat swamp forests for his Mega Rice Project.
Protests from environmentalists and the local Dayak population were brutally suppressed.
No rice could ever grow on the acid soils.
Instead, palm oil plantations spread over vast tracts of what had been ancient rainforests. In 1997-8, the worst drought on record struck the region. The drained peat went up in smoke as palm oil plantation owners set fires to clear more of the forest.
Similar fires have burnt every year since.
Many scientists believe that those peat fires are partly responsible for the increased rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the past few years, which will mean even faster global warming in future.
Over the next few decades, all of the billions of tons of carbon contained in Borneo’s peat are expected to go up in smoke, putting “climate stabilisation” further out of reach.
Yet it would be perfectly possible to reflood the peat swamps and keep the carbon safely locked up. Such an international effort might have the same effect as four Kyoto agreements – but there is little money and even less political will.
Instead, Indonesia and Malaysia are keen to drain more peat swamps and log much of their remaining forests in order to expand palm oil plantations.
This, then, is likely to become the main source of our future biodiesel.
A similar disaster is looming in the Amazon, with president Lula announcing plans for Brazil to become a major exporter of soy biodiesel. The Amazon contains even more carbon than Indonesia’s forests, and its loss would lead to global warming truly spiralling out of control.
So how can the EU claim that tropical biofuel crops will reduce our emissions? Easy—peat burning emissions are counted as those of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil, while Europe has to burn less diesel or petrol.
There are some positive examples of biofuels.
Millions of tons of organic waste, from agriculture, forestry and households are wasted every year when they could yield valuable energy.
Poor countries like Malawi could benefit from using their biofuels more efficiently – without having to destroy their own forests while women and girls walk miles every day to gather firewood.
This year the EU biofuel directive will be reviewed and finalised. Right now it sets extremely high targets which will be mainly met by imports, with no control over where or how biofuels are produced. The stakes are high.
What we need is a mandatory certification scheme. It should be based on an objective scientific assessment, which looks at impacts on local communities, climate, food supplies, soils, water and wildlife.
No target should be set until it is known whether it can be met without harming the planet and poor people.
All of us must act now to stop the disaster of an unregulated, free market biofuel revolution.
Almuth Ernsting is a member of Campaign Against Climate Change, but this is her personal view. There is a full discussion of this issue on http://www.campaigncc.org Go to the activists’ portal and read the posts in the biofuel section.
Ridiculing Chavez - Part One
Thus we find that Western leaders are typically reported without adjectives preceding their names. George Bush is simply “US president George Bush”. Condoleeza Rice is “the American secretary of state Condoleeza Rice”. Tony Blair is just “the British prime minister”.
The leader of Venezuela, by contrast, is “controversial left-wing president Hugo Chavez” for the main BBC TV news. (12:00, May 14, 2006). He is as an “extreme left-winger,” while Bolivian president Evo Morales is “a radical socialist”, according to Jonathan Charles on BBC Radio 4. (6 O’Clock News, May 12, 2006)
Imagine the BBC introducing the US leader as “controversial right-wing president George Bush”, or as an “extreme right-winger”. Is Bush – the man who illegally invaded Iraq on utterly fraudulent pretexts – less controversial than Chavez? Is Bush less far to the right of the political spectrum than Chavez is to the left?
For the Independent on Sunday, Chavez is “Venezuela’s outspoken President”. (Stephen Castle and Raymond Whitaker, ‘Heralding the end of US imperialism,’ May 14, 2006) For the Mirror, he is a “controversial leader” called ”’the Crackers from Caracas’ by his own supporters”. (Rosa Prince, ‘He calls Bush “Hitler” and Blair “the pawn”,’ May 16, 2006) He is an “aggressively populist left-wing leader”, the Times writes. (Richard Owen, ‘Pope tells Chavez to mend his ways,’ May 12, 2006) He is a “left-wing firebrand,” the Independent reports. (Guy Adams, ‘Pandora: ‘Chavez stirs up a degree of controversy at Oxford,’ May 15, 2006) He is a “Left wing firebrand” according to the Evening Standard. (Pippa Crerar, ‘Chavez to meet the Mayor,’ May 12, 2006) He is an “international revolutionary firebrand”, according to the Observer. (Peter Beaumont, ‘The new kid in the barrio,’ May 7, 2006)
A Guardian news report describes Chavez as nothing less than “the scourge of the United States”. (Duncan Campbell and Jonathan Steele,’ The Guardian, May 15, 2006) Although this was a news report, not a comment piece, the title featured the required tone of mockery: “Revolution in the Camden air as Chavez – with amigo Ken – gets a hero’s welcome”.
An Independent report declared of Chavez:
“He has been described as a fearless champion of the oppressed poor against the corrupt rich and their American sponsors. But also as a dangerous demagogue subsidising totalitarian regimes with his country’s oil wells.” (Kim Sengupta, ‘Britain’s left-wing “aristocracy” greet their hero Chavez,’ The Independent, May 15, 2006)
Imagine an Independent news report providing a similarly ‘balanced’ description of Bush or Blair using language of the kind employed in the second sentence. Again, mockery was a central theme: “And yesterday in the People’s Republic of Camden the villains remained very much President George W Bush, his acolyte Tony Blair, big business and the forces of reaction.”
Younger readers may have missed the BBC’s prime time TV series Citizen Smith (1977-80), which lampooned a fictional organisation called The Tooting Popular Front, consisting of six die-hard Marxist losers, and its deluded dreams of achieving radical change. This is a favourite media theme – pouring scorn on popular movements is an absolute must for mainstream journalism. Thus Richard Beeston reported in The Times this week:
“Hugo Chavez’s Latin American bandwagon descended on London yesterday, briefly enlivening a dull Sunday in Camden with the sound of drums, the cries of revolution and the waving of banners.
“At the start of his controversial two-day visit to London, the Venezuelan President succeeded in attracting an eclectic group of supporters ranging from elderly CND activists to young anti-globalisation campaigners, members of the Socialist Workers’ Party and even the odd Palestinian protester.” (Beeston, ‘Chavez fails to paint the town red in Camden,’ The Times, May 15, 2006)
This recalled the Observer’s September 2002 account of what, at the time, had been London’s greatest anti-war march in a generation. Euan Ferguson wrote:
“It was back to the old days, too, in terms of types. All the oldies and goodies were there. The Socialist Workers’ Party, leafleting outside Temple Tube station by 11 am. (‘In this edition: Noam Chomsky in Socialist Worker!’). CND, and ex-Services CND. The Scottish Socialist Party. ‘Scarborough Against War and Globalisation’, which has a lovely ring of optimism to it, recalling the famous Irish provincial leader column in 1939: ‘Let Herr Hitler be warned, the eyes of the Skibereen Eagle are upon him.’ Many, many Muslim groups, and most containing women and children, although some uneasy thoughts pass through your mind when you see a line of pretty six-year-old black-clad Muslim toddlers walking ahead of the megaphone chanting ‘George Bush, we know you/Daddy was a killer too,’ and singing about Sharon and Hitler.” (Ferguson, ‘A big day out in Leftistan,’ The Observer, September 29, 2002)
The emphasis, again, was on the absurdity of a ragtag army of Citizen Smith-style oddballs who imagined they could somehow make a difference to a real world run by ‘serious’ people. The idea is that the public should roll their eyes and shake their heads in embarrassment at such delusions – and turn away.
Hidden far out of sight are the life and death issues motivating such protests – in 2002 the marchers were, after all, attempting to prevent a war that has since killed and mutilated hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. It is not inconceivable that if British and American journalists like Ferguson had emphasised the desperate importance and urgency of the anti-war protests, rather than sneering at them, those civilians might still be alive today.
Similarly, the press has barely hinted at the unimaginable horror and desperate hopes buried beneath the mocking of Chavez – namely, the suffering of Latin American people under very real Western economic and military violence. The Independent on Sunday managed this vague mention:
“Mr Morales was, the Venezuelan President said, a direct descendant of an indigenous Latin American people, adding: ‘These are oppressed people who are rising. They are rising with peace, not weapons. Europe should listen to that.’” (Stephen Castle and Raymond Whitaker, ‘Chavez on tour,’ Independent on Sunday, May 14, 2006)
The tragedy out of which these people are arising, and how their hopes of a better life have been systematically crushed by Western force in the past, was of course not explored. The Guardian also managed a tiny reference to the reality:
“His [Chavez’s] unabashed opposition to US foreign policy, and the pressure it has produced from Washington, tap into the deep vein of suspicion and resentment that two centuries of US invasions, coups, and economic domination have aroused in Latin America and the Caribbean.” (Jonathan Steele and Duncan Campbell, ‘The world according to Chavez,’ The Guardian, May 16, 2006)
But that was it. As the Guardian writers know full well, these comments appear in a context of almost complete public ignorance of just what the United States has done to Latin America – a subject to which we will return in Part 2.
In 2004, the American media watch site, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported that a search of major US newspapers turned up the phrase “death squad” just five times in connection with former US president Ronald Reagan in the days following his death in June 2004 – twice in commentaries and twice in letters to the editor. Remarkably, only one news article mentioned death squads as part of Reagan’s legacy. (Media Advisory: ‘Reagan: Media Myth and Reality,’ June 9, 2004, http://www.fair.org) As we have discussed elsewhere, US-backed death squads brought hell to Latin America under Reagan. (see our Media Alerts: ‘Reagan – Visions Of The Damned’: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/04/040610_Reagan_Visions_1.HTM and http://www.medialens.org/alerts/04/040615_Reagan_Visions_2.HTM.)
Quite simply the British and American press do not cover the West’s mass killing of Latin Americans.
Radical, Maverick, Firebrands – The Subliminal Smears
A Daily Telegraph comment piece continued the pan-media smearing of Chavez:
“Now the anticipation is over, and today, flush with six trillion dollars worth of oil reserves, Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, flies in to fill the despot-of-the-month slot at London mayor Ken Livingstone’s lunch table.” (William Langley, ‘Welcome to the El Presidente show,’ The Daily Telegraph, May 14, 2006)
The Independent on Sunday (IoS) wrote:
“An icon of the anti-globalisation movement, Mr Chavez’s brand of aggressive socialism is taken seriously because of his country’s vast oil resources.” (Stephen Castle and Raymond Whitaker, ‘Chavez on tour,’ Independent on Sunday, May 14, 2006)
We wait in vain for an IoS news report referring to Bush and Blair’s “brand” of “aggressive” and in fact “militant” capitalism – this would be biased news reporting, after all. Likewise, the suggestion that Bush and Blair’s aggressive support for “democracy” is taken seriously only because of their economic and military power.
The Observer noted that Chavez has a “growing regional profile”, which is “built on a mix of populist rhetoric and his country’s oil wealth”. The report added that Chavez “has been publicly feuding with Bush, whom he has likened to Adolf Hitler – with Tony Blair dismissed as ‘the main ally of Hitler.’” (‘Chavez offers oil to Europe’s poor,’ The Observer, May 14, 2006)
In responding to similar comments in the Times, Julia Buxton of the University of Bradford has been all but alone in providing some background:
“To place this statement in context, Chavez was compared to Adolf Hitler by the US Secretary of State for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, during a visit to Paraguay. President Chavez rejected the comparison and countered that if any individual were comparable to Hitler, it would be President Bush.” (See Buxton’s excellent analysis here: http://www.vicuk.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=85&Itemid=29)
The Times’ ‘Pandora’ diary column wrote:
“Ken Livingstone has invited the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, to lunch at City Hall. Even by the London Mayor’s standards, it’s a provocative gesture – Chavez has a controversial record on human rights – and several guests have refused to attend.” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2171200,00.html)
Channel 4 News asked of Chavez: “Is he a hero of the left or a villain in disguise?”
For the media, of course, a “hero of the left” is a “villian in disguise”, so viewers were in effect being asked if Chavez was a villain or a villain. Like many other media, Channel 4 patronised the Venezuelan president as “a global poster boy for the left”. The same programme later asked if he was “a hero of the left or a scoundrel of all democrats?”
In similar vein, Daniel Howden observed in the Independent:
“Not surprisingly for a man who divides the world, Hugo Chavez is greeted as a saviour or a saboteur wherever he goes. The Venezuelan President seems immune to nuance and perfectly able to reduce the world to Chavistas or to Descualdos, the ‘squalid ones’ as his supporters dismiss those who try to depose him.” (Dowden, ‘Hugo Chavez: Venezualean [sic] leader divides world opinion. But who is he, and what is he up to in Britain?’ The Independent, May 13, 2006)
The reference to a lack of “nuance” is a coded smear with which regular readers will be familiar. Chavez is in good company. Steve Crawshaw wrote in the Independent: “Chomsky knows so much… but seems impervious to any idea of nuance.” (Crawshaw, ‘Furious ideas with no room for nuance,’ The Independent, February 21, 2001)
The BBC’s former director of news, Richard Sambrook, told the Hutton inquiry that BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan had failed to appreciate the “nuances and subtleties” of broadcast journalism. (Matt Wells, Richard Norton-Taylor and Vikram Dodd, ‘Gilligan left out in cold by BBC,’ The Guardian, September 18, 2003)
Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow wrote in the Guardian of John Pilger: “Some argue the ends justify [Pilger’s] means, others that the world is a more subtle place than he allows.” (Snow, ‘Still angry after all these years,’ The Guardian, February 25, 2001)
In 2002, Bill Hayton, a BBC World Service editor, advised us at Media Lens: “If your language was more nuanced it would get a better reception.” (Email to Editors, November 16, 2002)
The Channel 4 programme cited above went on to describe the Iraqi cleric Moqtadr al Sadr by his official media title: “the radical cleric Moqtadr al Sadr”. Likewise, the media invariably refer to “the militant group Hamas”. The media would of course never dream of referring to “radical prime minister Tony Blair” or to “the militant Israeli Defence Force”.
The reason was unconsciously expressed by Channel 4 news presenter Alex Thomson in response to a Media Lens reader who had suggested, reasonably, that “a terrorist is one who brings terror to another person”. Thomson responded:
“Your definition of a terrorist as one bringing terror is nonsensical as it would encompass all military outfits from al Qaeda to the Royal Fusilliers.” (Forwarded to Media Lens, February 25, 2005)
It is inconceivable to the mainstream media that Western armies could be responsible for terrorism, no matter how much terror they actually create. Likewise, it is inconceivable that Western leaders could be described as “militant” or “fundamentalist”. This indicates that these adjectives are smear words – they mean, approximately, ‘bad’. More specifically, they mean ‘a threat to Western interests,’ which is why, by definition, they cannot be used to refer to the West.
The use and non-use of these words shepherd viewers and readers towards the idea that leaders like Bush and Blair are reasonable, rational, respectable figures who must be described with colourless, neutral language.
The deeper implication – all the more powerful because it is unstated, almost subliminal – is that figures like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales do not merit balanced ‘professional’ media treatment – the rules do not apply to them because they are beyond the pale.
Because almost all journalists repeat this bias – and because the public imagine journalists are simply well-informed, independent observers who just happen to reach the same conclusions on who is worthy of respect – the impression given is that the media consensus is the only sane view in town.
Before we know it, we find ourselves accepting the corporate media view as our own. If we see enough journalists smearing “maverick”, “controversial”, “left-wing”, “Gorgeous George” Galloway, we will likely find ourselves responding: ‘I can’t stand that guy!’ But how many of us will really know why, beyond feeling that there is ‘something about him I don’t like’? And how many of us will have reflected that, of all MPs, Galloway has at least been uniquely honest in his opposition to the Iraq war?
As for that other “maverick Chavez” (Sunday Times, February 19, 2006), the Financial Times noted that he was invited to London by Ken Livingstone: “London’s maverick mayor.” (David Lehmann, ‘Why we should bother about Chavez and his politics,’ May 15, 2006)
In Part 2 we will examine the realities of Western political, economic and military violence in Latin America – realities that are consistently ignored by the corporate media.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
We’ve been conditioned about winning. Even if there’s no oversized cardboard check or gold trophy, then there’s at least a respectable public ceremony or a squinting interview under studio lights. But winning this game – life – is not an ecstatic glory. It’s a peaceful one. Because the prize is unlike anything we’ve won before: it’s contentment in the face of death.
In the last of developmental psychologist Erik Erikson’s stages of identity formation, we look back in old age on the choices we’ve made, either with despair at what we see, or with acceptance that we’ve lived an integrated life. Quaker author and educator Parker Palmer defines this integration as “living on the outside the truth you know on the inside.” Erikson believed that those who pass through this final life stage, those who come to terms with death, gain wisdom. And that wisdom is more valuable than any material inheritance we leave behind, because “healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.”
Helen and Scott Nearing, activists and authors, embodied this integrity. They left their small New York City apartment in the height of the Great Depression to find a lifestyle that brought them health and economic independence, but without exploitation. In Vermont’s Green Mountains (and years later in rural Maine), they built a stone house by hand and began a 60-year experiment in sustainable living. Pacifists, radicals, and vegetarians, they grew their own organic food, chopped their own wood, and bartered with neighbors for what they couldn’t produce themselves. Their gentle-footprint life – one “enriched by aspiration and effort rather than by acquisition and accumulation” – was chronicled in their 1954 book Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World. Life was work, but that’s what gave it purpose. “The man who works and is never bored, is never old,” said Scott. “A person is not old until regrets take the place of hopes and plans.”
But as humble as the Nearings’ living was their dying. Especially Scott’s. In 1983, two weeks after he turned 100, he turned to his wife at the dinner table and said, “I think I won’t eat anymore.” Helen, 20 years his junior, understood. “I think I would do that too. Animals know when to stop. They go off in a corner and leave off food.” He went on a diet of fruit juices for several weeks, then, after ten days and “thin as Gandhi,” cut back to just water. With no doctors or life-saving machines, no strangers at his bedside, Helen watched Scott’s breath slow until his chest was still. His last words were unforced: “All . . . right.” She later recalled, “He was gone out of his body as easily as a leaf drops from the tree in autumn, slowly twisting and falling to the ground.”
“So he returned to his Maker after a long life, well-lived and devoted to the general welfare,” Helen, who lived on the homestead another 12 years, remembered. “He was principled and dedicated all through. He lived at peace with himself and the world because he was in tune: he practiced what he preached. He lived his beliefs. He could die with a good conscience.” A winner.