Random Thoughts on a Wednesday  

Posted by Ryan Sproull

Apparently I am now organising the Rock Against War, which will be - and see if you can follow me here - a concert with rock music... against war. What will it achieve? Opportunities for people to connect, to potentially organise. To inform some people about things like depleted uranium and international law. And mostly to get out in the sun with good music and scantily clad women.

If you're interested in helping, let me know. We'll need volunteers of various sorts, and also bands - if you are in or know a band you think would be keen, let me know: rockagainstwar at wataki.ALSOREMOVETHIScom

A Letter From  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Dear Ryan Sproull

I am just writing to briefly acknowledge and thank you for your message supporting my recent statement regarding the commitment by United States president George Bush of further troops to Iraq.

That there are parallels between the situation in Iraq and the previous debacle in Vietnam seems to me to be simply common sense, and to suggest otherwise displays a refusal to recognise the lessons of history. I may of course be wrong, but if I am then at least I am in good company; I am sure you will have noted that even prominent members of George Bush’s own Republican party are of the same view.

But I also think that it is important to be mindful of the broader loss which we have experienced as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Although the cynical would no doubt argue otherwise, we have made a great deal of progress since the Second World War in creating a framework of international law which is based on the belief that wars not only ought to be, but can be, avoided, and that there are better ways of resolving conflicts. New Zealand, I am proud to say, stands at the forefront in this, in eschewing the use of armed force other than as a means of peacekeeping. In fact, I think that we do not always give ourselves sufficient credit for taking that position.

The actions of those who took part in the invasion of Iraq (and we should not forget that this was not an action of the United States alone) did the cause of international management of conflict no favours, and set back the progress we have been able to make by quite a measurable distance, which is, at the very least, regrettable.

That notwithstanding, I continue to have faith in the ability of humanity to recover that ground before too long and to make further advances along the same lines. One needs only to look back on human history to see how far we have come since the days when no-one could sleep soundly for fear of attack. Your support for my statement bolsters my faith in the common sense of New Zealanders, and is much appreciated.

With best wishes
Yours sincerely

Jim Anderton
M P for Wigram and Leader of the Progressive Party

Too Perfect - American Humvee in Baghdad  

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Sand Sculptures  

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Horizons of Disclosure  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

This is a rather fascinating interview with an autistic woman about her language. Just as listening to people conversing in a language you don't understand can get tedious, the initial sequence drones on a bit, but well worth the watch, I think.

Victory for the Left! Apparently.  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Remember, if you don't smile, they don't
know you forgot to put in your teeth.

The Financial Times tells us that Iraq and climate change have thrown the right into disarray. While those of us on the sane side of life would love to believe that, let's take a good look at the underlying assumptions inherent in every second sentence of this editorial piece.

His description of a monolithic cardigan-clad left can be forgiven, simply because he's parodying what he considers to be the mind of the average right-winger. Leftists are clearly a bunch of nuts, who were wrong about various things - from privatisation in the '80s to mad-cow disease. Then, suddenly, this same monolithic group were right about two things: Iraq and climate change.

Damn straight I was right about Iraq. But what exactly does he think that means? He doesn't give many clues. He refers to it as "the Iraq debacle", which has cut away at the Reagan-Thatcher belief in military strength and the moral superiority and "exportability" of Western democracy. If the failure in Iraq is the failure to have successfully taken over and occupied a country of 23 million people on the other side of the world, and that Western democracy wasn't successfully exported to it, then presumably what the left was saying in 2003 was, "It's too big a job to manage, and you can't export democracy."

Obviously, people were saying both of those things. But a bit simpler an objection coming from the left was: "There are no WMDs over there, idiots. And the invasion is illegal." We didn't need to wait until 2007 for some insightful editorial piece to tell us, "Hey, you guys were right." We have never been wrong about the illegality of the invasion, and it didn't take long to confirm what UNMOVIC were saying pre-invasion: no WMDs.

As for exporting democracy, that'd be great, except that a functioning democratic country wouldn't illegally invade another sovereign state. Functioning democracies respect the rule of law.

So what lesson has the right supposedly learned from the left regarding Iraq? Apparently, it's something like, "It's tough to take over countries and force them into a governmental system of your choosing." Which simply implies that, hey, if you'd tried a bit harder, it might have turned out okay. The author even suggests that Iraq might "work out in the end". This implies a fundamental ignorance of the worst effect of the invasion of Iraq.

Big words, really, to talk about worse effects than over 100,000 lives lost, many more ruined, depleted uranium setting up the cancer rates of future generations, etc. These things are terrible. So what's worse? The undermining of the rule of law. Why is that worse? Because only the rule of law is going to prevent these things from happening again and again in the future. The invasion was illegal. There were no WMDs. Disarmament was the reason Bush and Blair gave for invading. These things have been forgotten, or ignored.

Chomsky on Vietnam:

The Vietnam War is a classic example of America's propaganda system. In the mainstream media--the New York Times, CBS, and so on-- there was a lively debate about the war. It was between people called "doves" and people called "hawks." The hawks said, "If we keep at it we can win." The doves said, "Even if we keep at it, it would probably be too costly for use, and besides, maybe we're killing too many people." Both sides agreed on one thing. We had a right to carry out aggression against South Vietnam. Doves and hawks alike refused to admit that aggression was taking place. They both called our military presence in Southeast Asia the defense of South Vietnam, substituting "defense" for "aggression" in the standard Orwellian manner. In reality, we were attacking South Vietnam just as surely as the Soviets later attacked Afghanistan.

Similarly for climate change. What have the right learned from the left? Only that concerns about the environment and future generations only become worth considering when enough people believe them that it affects spending and voting. Until "I care about climate change" becomes an effective way to garner votes, politicians will not care about it. But then we're told of the dual role of conservatives in this new, crazy, left-wing era:

The defensive role is to guard against over-reaction to the emerging consensus on global warming and Iraq. The right was not wrong to spot its old anti-capitalist, anti-western foes in the coalitions that first latched on to these issues. There are radical voices that will try to use global warming to create a world in which nobody takes a cheap flight again - and in which globalisation is put into reverse. It will be up to the right to show that growth and greenery can be reconciled. Similarly, the Iraq catastrophe is great news for anti-Americans in Europe and isolationists in the US. Conservatives need to hold the line against both.

But the right can do a lot more than mere damage control. Many of the most important ideas of the Reagan-Thatcher era - privatisation, trade union reform, the re-thinking of the welfare state - were developed in opposition to the intellectual consensus of the 1960s and 1970s. After a long period of intellectual hegemony, a period in ideological opposition might be just what the Anglo-American right needs.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are radical voices that will try to use global warming to create a world in which nobody takes a cheap flight again! And in which globalisation is put into reverse. Yes, there are anonymously evil people out there who just want nothing better than to ruin your good time. Who the hell are those people? Who exactly is using climate change to further their secret anti-flight agenda? And if there is the odd nut who actually wants this - you can usually find a nut here or there who believes anything - why is the Financial Times giving the impression they're an influential voice among the "hey, let's quit fucking the planet in the arse" crowd? And besides, if it turns out that "cheap flights" are directly responsible for consequences that kill people, then yeah, maybe you shouldn't have them. But if that's the case, there's a good reason for it, not just some nutters who lie at the extreme end of the "left" spectrum. Like, "If you go far enough left, you hit guys who just plain don't want you to be able to fly to Hawaii. So, you know, don't go too far left."

"It will be up to the right to show that growth and greenery can be reconciled"! Because apparently the left is out to destroy growth and the mighty right must defend it. And these "anti-Americans in Europe". People who just plain hate America, for no better reason than that they're disagreeable people. Never mind that the US keeps fucking with everyone else on the planet. Europeans are racist. And my favourite, "After a long period of intellectual hegemony, a period in ideological opposition might be just what the Anglo-American right needs."

Why is that my favourite? Because of the feel it gives. It gives you this feel that "the right" have been running the show for a while now, so it might do them some good to have some healthy competition from "the left". It gives you this feel that "the left" is opposed to "the right", and that there are no other options or forces at work. And so it helps you forget that "the right" and "the left" fundamentally agree on a bunch of fucked-up things that could do with a little ideological opposition of their own.

Knowledge is Power, For Real  

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Sunday Story Time  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

It was Wikipedia that catalysed the snap in Jonathan's mind, though the whole thing had the air of the climax of the first Ghostbusters movie. The Problem could have taken any form. It just happened to take this one.

Jon had been browsing Wikipedia searching for '80s nostalgia quotes to put on his girlfriend's birthday present - a series of photos he had taken, captioned with things like "Till all are one" and "Showtime, Synergy" and "Carebears, stare". His browsing took him to one of the officially weirder things in Wikipedia, a list of feats performed by MacGuyver, and whether or not they were scientifically possible. It was such an obscure thing, he thought, and yet here was a page of information.

Then he started thinking about just how detailed such information could get.

For example, he mused, why not an indepth look at Richard Dean Anderson's slowly evolving hair style? Hell, why not a commentary on each individual hair on his head? Or the atoms contained within? But it wasn't just a matter of getting smaller and smaller. How about the relationship between things? Between Anderson's hair style in the pilot episode and early Egyptian heiroglyphics? Or its relationship to underground pornography from Islamic countries? And so on.

While most people, people we call sane, would dismiss the matter quickly and move on with living, Jonathan thought more and more about how he could potentially make an infinite number of meaningful statements about anything, no matter how apparently insignificant. He began drinking, then, and we paid no attention. We never paid him much attention anyway.

It was Julia who first brought it to our attention. They'd broken up, she told us, several weeks earlier. Jonathan didn't seem to care. She said. I'd seen him a few days after they finished, and he seemed fine to me, if a little distracted. He talked about odd things, but we were used to that. But Julia had a bad feeling. And we paid her no mind. Girls, they're nuts.

Anyway, one day, after he'd lost his job (which he didn't need anyway, what with the money in the family), but before we'd found out he had, Jon was drinking in his basement. Not in the dark or anything. His basement was set up as his study area, on account of him doing his doctorate in physics. Of course, his research had suffered too. He was down there drinking, alone, when he noticed a scratch in the concrete floor.

That was the trigger. I mean, if the Wikipedia thing was the catalyst, this was the match strike. He snapped there and then, finally and forever.

He began by mapping out a 1-metre square section of the floor, which included the scratch. He photographed it, sketched it, then sketched it again with his eyes closed, from memory. He drank one beer, sketched it again. Drank another, sketched it again. These sketches, with their decreasing accuracy and detail, he lined them up along the wall, comparing the effects of intoxication on the rendition of the floor.

He smoked weed, sketched it again. Drank various spirits, from gin to absinthe, and began writing his findings in a notebook, meticulously listing the differences and similarities in the different ways of looking at the square of floor.

From the university, he stole an electron microscope and examined various sections of the floor. He took swabs of the dust and tiny scrapings of the concrete, roping in friends - myself included - to create and analyse bacterial and fungal cultures, and employing spectral analysis.

Then came the poetry. He wrote poems about the square, in every form he could think of. Pages of haiku, iambic pentameter, even a sestina. He named and renamed the square (Susan, Marcus, Kelly), speaking to it and imagining it could tell him its troubles. At one point we didn't hear from him for a week, and had no idea what he was doing; he wouldn't answer the door. Later we discovered he had written some kind of philosophical treatise on the square of floor and submitted it to various bemused journals around the world. To my knowledge, they never printed it.

He slept with his head in the square, and recorded his dreams. He purchased a copy of the I Ching and spent days listing the correlation between the seemingly random scratch patterns and different hexagrams, musing on what it might mean.

He sat crosslegged in the square and masturbated - all recorded on film, of course - and wrote 17 pages attempting to accurately represent the sensations across the three-minute-long affair.

By then, we were at least a little worried. He offered no resistance when we smashed a window and entered his house, finding him sitting on the floor, staring at the square. Around him were notebooks and notebooks and notebooks, filled with his mad scrawlings, mostly illegible and nonsensical when they weren't.

He was smiling, though. And after we'd dropped him off at the clinic, he looked at me and it seemed like the same old Jonathan again, from months back, before his turn. I suddenly thought that perhaps I had made a terrible mistake. He just said, "I'm not done yet." And then he was led away.

Wiping Lies off the Map  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in , , ,

"Wiped off the map" and "Ahmadinejad" returns 262,000 results.

Thanks to Bomber for mentioning this. Information Clearing House has published an article debunking the popular myth that President Ahmadinejad of Iran said that he wanted to "wipe Israel off the map". What he said was that Khomeini had said that "the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."

More interesting is the monumental fuck-up that gave birth to the anti-Iranian propaganda:

One may wonder: where did this false interpretation originate? Who is responsible for the translation that has sparked such worldwide controversy? The answer is surprising.

The inflammatory "wiped off the map" quote was first disseminated not by Iran's enemies, but by Iran itself. The Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran's official propaganda arm, used this phrasing in the English version of some of their news releases covering the World Without Zionism conference. International media including the BBC, Al Jazeera, Time magazine and countless others picked up the IRNA quote and made headlines out of it without verifying its accuracy, and rarely referring to the source. Iran's Foreign Minister soon attempted to clarify the statement, but the quote had a life of its own. Though the IRNA wording was inaccurate and misleading, the media assumed it was true, and besides, it made great copy.

Amid heated wrangling over Iran's nuclear program, and months of continuous, unfounded accusations against Iran in an attempt to rally support for preemptive strikes against the country, the imperialists had just been handed the perfect raison d'ĂȘtre to invade. To the war hawks, it was a gift from the skies.

On a slightly related note - ie., American racism - thanks to Russell Brown for pointing out this hilarious interview between Stephen Colbert and Dinesh D'Souza. Speaking of His Truthiness, here's Stephen Colbert versus Bill O'Reilly, and Bill O'Reilly versus Stephen Colbert. What a bizarre experience.

The Cure for Cancer (seriously)  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

The Cure for Cancer.
Makes one unhappy citizen content in all your cities.

According to New Scientist magazine, we have a pretty viable cure for cancer on our hands. Dicholoroacetate has been used in the past to treat lactic acidosis, and except for a few side-effects (pain, numbness, dizziness), it seems to be safe. Better than that, there's no patent on it!

Oh, wait.

All Headline News says it best: "Shrinks tumours, costs $2, can't get funding." (And if you don't like New Scientist, check out The Economist.) There's just no money in producing a cure for cancer when you can't monopolise on owning the patent. In fact, there would be far more money in the myriad symptom-relieving drugs for cancer sufferers. So rather than doing what a sane system would do - start clinical trials on the drug - we have to rely on charities and state funding to achieve where capitalism fails.

The idea of capitalism makes sense. The market mechanism shapes supply to demand by providing incentives to individuals to work in those fields that create the supply. The problem is that 1) not everyone's demand is shaping the supply (ie., those with no money, no matter how much they need something like clean drinking water, cannot shape industry to provide it); and 2) what is actually worthwhile to society is not always profitable, and what is profitable is not always worthwhile to society (ie., the advertising industry, military industry, carbon emissions, etc.) These thoughts are interesting whether or not this particular drug turns out to be the hoped-for cure.

Anyway, DCA sounds pretty good so far. It's shrunk tumours on rats and stuff. It doesn't attack healthy cells, because it affects the fucked up part of a cancer cell that doesn't tell it to top itself for being an asshole. A cure for cancer would rule. Now, if we could just get clean drinking water to everyone...

Doing Your Time  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

This post has nothing to do with Saussure.

The topic of the day, besides changing Shortland Street actresses, seems to be violent criminals being paroled and then going on P-fuelled rampages. The term comes from the French word for "word" - the idea being that a convicted criminal can give his word that he won't break certain rules, and so he's allowed out of prison.

Now, whether or not that's a good idea naturally comes down to your attitude towards prison and the justice system in general. What is the justice system for? And does parole help towards that goal?

Stephen Franks says parole's pointless. He reckons that by (further) lowering the odds of spending a lot of time in jail, the gambling mind of the criminal is even more likely to commit crimes. Also, criminals aren't serving the sentence they've been given. Graeme Edgler explains non-parole periods of imprisonment as the actual punishment, and the maximum sentence provides protection to the community. He says, "The existence of a system of parole means we can keep certain criminals in prison even after their punishment is over, if their release would pose a risk to the community."

Both attitudes are to some extent tainted by the superstitious idea of "deserving punishment". A popular concern with parole - especially with the Sensible Sentencing Trust, which embodies the superstition - is that criminals are getting off easy, without having been punished with the suffering they deserve.

I'll try to explain this bizarre idea of "deserving" and "punishment", in case you're not familiar with it. Basically, these think that humans have a thing they call "free will". It's never really clear what this thing is, but it's sort of the idea that when you make a choice, even though you chose to do one thing, you could have chosen to do something else. It's as if you can totally step out of yourself and your situation and choose without any of those things that make choice possible (upbringing, hormones, emotions, etc.)

To make things worse, there are "good" actions and "evil" actions, and if you choose to do an "evil" action, you accumulate invisible points in a magical invisible scale in space or something. This is called "guilt". And once you have accumulated invisible guilt points, the world will be a better place after you have suffered. And since the world doesn't always make guilty people suffer, we have to do the job ourselves, and even up the invisible point scales by inflicting suffering on those who have accumated invisible guilt points. And failing to inflict that suffering is an evil action itself, and you can get invisible guilt points for it.

So when it comes to criminals, they're people who chose to do evil things, even though they could have - and "should have" - done good things instead, and so they have invisible guilt points and the justice system makes the world a better place by inflicting suffering on them. The more evil the action, the more suffering it takes to make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, these poor, deluded individuals have been rather influential in the past, and so the justice system has traditionally been more interested in evening up the invisible scales than actually reducing evil actions. Partly because to suggest that you can systematically reduce crime is to suggest that maybe crime has causes, rather than it just being those instances when people use their free will to choose to be evil.

On top of that, once the invisible scales have been evened up, there's no reason left to inflict suffering on someone, so it's good to let them go back into the community, no matter what kind of person they may still be.

If they were really concerned with reducing crime and not evening up invisible scales, the whole emphasis of the justice system would be on:

  1. Prevention - looking at the factors that cause people to commit crimes, and reducing them.

  2. Protection - of the community from people who have proven themselves dangerous.

  3. Rehabilitation - methods of changing people from being the kind who commit crimes to the kind that don't want to.

  4. Disincentive - a poor substitute for (1) and (3).

That would have two consequences for parole. Firstly, if a person has proved themselves to be a violent, dangerous person, they should not be allowed out until they have proven themselves to be a social, non-dangerous person. Secondly, the complete emphasis of prisons should be on rehabilitation, with no superstitious ideas of "punishment" getting in the way of that project.

And Check This Out  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

A kind of metasearch for Wikipedia.

Click the logo above for the link.

Climate Change Sceptic Changes His Mind  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Reason Magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey

This actually happened last year, but I hadn't heard about it, so maybe you haven't either. Ronald Bailey is a science writer for a magazine that receives funds from ExxonMobil. In fact, he features on ExxonSecrets. Not strictly a climate-change denier, he's been sceptical of some of the science, which can lend further assistance to those who - for whatever reason - out and out deny that manmade climate change is occurring.

It's interesting to hear him say, "Actually, no one paid me to be wrong about global warming. Or anything else."

Just to bring my intellectual journey in reporting and opining about the global warming issue up to date, I reviewed former vice-president Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth for Reason. I agreed that Gore has "won the climate debate" and that "on balance Gore gets it more right than wrong on the science" though I argued he exaggerates just how bad future global warming is likely to be. However, I agree that the balance of the evidence pretty clearly indicates that humanity is contributing to global warming chiefly by means of loading up the atmosphere with extra carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

ExxonMobil has been a supporter of the Reason Foundation. Folks at the foundation confirmed when I called yesterday that the company has donated a little over $250,000 since 2000. The company's latest contributions were $10,000 in 2003 and $20,000 this past January. The last contribution poses a possible conundrum for hard-line corporate conspiracy theorists because it arrived about five months after I declared, "We're All Global Warmers Now." I would suggest that ExxonMobil supports the Reason Foundation because my colleagues robustly defend the free enterprise system. "Follow the money" is often pretty good advice when evaluating the source of information, but in the think tank and public policy magazine realm money tends follow opinion, rather than the other way around.

It's no huge surprise, but he holds an attitude towards environmental problems similar to Rodney Hide's.

Bailey: "I have long argued that the evidence shows that most environmental problems occur in open access commons-that is, people pollute air, rivers, overfish, cut rainforests, and so forth because no one owns them and therefore no one has an interest in protecting them. One can solve environmental problems caused by open access situations by either privatizing the commons or regulating it. It will not surprise anyone that I generally favor privatization."

Rodney in an '05 interview with me:

You say some things that don’t belong to anyone, don’t belong to private property – coastways and airways – can you list briefly those things that should belong in private property?

Well, as much as you can, because the more resources you have privately held, the better they’ll be looked after and, indeed, the better access you’ll have. I think the Department of Conservation does a disastrous job of looking after our environment.

You think that private-property owners would do better?


Collateral Damage  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in , , , ,

9-year-old Arkin is fed his democracy through a tube.

34,452 is three Mosgiels of people. I have tended to measure large numbers of people in Mosgiels since an early age. There are 10,000 people in a Mosgiel. Roughly. Give or take. Anyway, that's an awful lot of civilians to have died last year in Iraq. Who should be surprised by this, I don't know. Given that the popular justification for invading Iraq has, since the invasion began, focused on how awful Saddam Hussein was and how he was basically just slaughtering Iraqis any chance he got, anyone who thinks the invasion was a good idea now borders on the religiously fanatical.

Interested to see what the zealous spin is on the matter, I tried to check out Little Green Footballs, which seems to be offline. Aww. So I checked out Political Crossfire, and no one was talking about it there. Getting worried, I finally checked Christian Forums. Ahh, here we are. BearerBob says, "Trust the UN? I think not!" But then, he's always saying that, because the UN is a communist anti-Christian satanist nihilist feminist liberal conspiracy.

That said, Bob was talking about bribery charges in the so-called Oil for Food Scandal. Here's my favourite part: "[U.S. attorney Michael] Garcia said the United States had issued warrants for the arrest of Nadler and Sevan and will seek their arrest and extradition to New York." Yeah? Is the US down with extradition now? Excellent. I look forward to a certain CIA terrorist being extradited to Venezuela.

On a bizarre personal note, the unique ID for the javascript in the image above is 1701071 - the only palindromic unique ID until... Oh, wait. There'll be another one in 10 days. Never mind.

Peace Can Last Forever  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in , ,

"Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness."
Martin Luther King. April 4, 1968.

Martin Luther King Day passed in the States as it usually does. George W. Bush, with no notion of how much trouble King would have caused for him had he been alive today, took the opportunity to encourage citizens to use their day off work to help others. "By helping someone in need, you are honouring the legacy of Martin Luther King."

Of course, by persisting in his War on the Poor at home and his Vietnamesque foreign aggression in Iraq, Bush is dishonouring King's legacy. But that doesn't matter, because King's not King no more. He's King™. These aren't new thoughts. 12 years ago, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon lamented the "TV ritual" that is Martin Luther King Day. In their rather interesting piece The Martin Luther King You Don't See On TV, they mention two things that caught my eye.

The first is the word "slain". They begin by saying that the TV ritual involves perfunctory network news reports about "the slain civil rights leader". The Voice of America story about Bush honouring MLK Day follows that to a tee:

Americans are marking a national holiday, Monday, commemorating the life and legacy of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports this year, the focus is on community service.

Emphasis mine. Now, good ol' Robert Anton Wilson - may he rest in peace, praise be upon him, etc. - had a sane explanation for this, but we've got some synchronicity going on. Because what I was going to write about today wasn't Martin Luther King at all. It was the word "slain". A quick Google search shows that 46 Kiwi news sources are reporting an NZ woman "slain" in London. 20 of those are smaller papers carrying the NZPA story about it. A few days ago, we were told all about the "car of slain woman" Doreen Reed.

Slay means simply "kill in a violent way". "Murder" or "kill" would often be just as suitable. And of course, "slain" is a shorter word than "murdered", so maybe that helps in how often it's used. But it really seems to me that there's something more emotive about the term "slain" than "killed" or "murdered". It says something about the slayer, perhaps something savage or primal. Slain. To slay.

Anyway, I'm going to start keeping an eye out for the word. Not that I can really help it now.


Moving on. The second thing that was interesting about the article was the observation that everyone concentrates on MLK's segregation work and almost no one draws attention to the last three years of his life:

You haven't heard the "Beyond Vietnam" speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 — and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The Washington Post patronized that "King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People's Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington — engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be — until Congress enacted a poor people's bill of rights. Reader's Digest warned of an "insurrection."

One news source you can expect not to follow that norm is Democracy Now, which took the opportunity to focus on exactly those aspects of King that others relegate to the Memory Hole. Particularly interesting is the testimony of a black retired Memphis cop, who mentions that - unusually - no black police officers were assigned to protect King the day he was... slain.

Martin Luther King was a champion of the organised left in the States, incorporating both unionism and pacifism. Through a letter from exiled Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Tick Knaw Tahn), entitled In Search of the Enemy of Man, Martin Luther King was compelled to actively oppose America's invasion of Indochina. Dick Meister wrote a few years ago about King's union work, emphasising the reason he was in Memphis when he was killed.

Cliched as the speech is, it fucking rules: I Have a Dream

Running From Camera  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Somehow, this is an argument for decriminalisation.

Strangely compelling, Running From Camera is a blog full of pictures of... people running from their cameras. "The rules are simple: I put the self-timer on 2 seconds, push the button and try to get as far from the camera as I can." It originates, and the pictures are almost entirely from, the Netherlands. No huge surprise there. "Bro. Shit. Listen. Fuck. I just had the best idea."

Of course, futurologist rebelliant innovator and B-grade horror writer Garth Marenghi was once again ahead of his time, realising the threat of the Dutch Menace long before anyone else did:

(And on a different note, if you care about that sort of thing, here is the chapter of OJ Simpson's cancelled book where he hypothetically explains how he murdered his ex-wife. I don't care, so expect no commentary here.)

Thanks and Apologies  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Hitler: Iranian?

Thank you kindly, Idiot Savant and Russell Brown, for the mad hook-ups. Apologies to my mother. Mum, you're no longer the privileged sole reader of this blog. Plus, I'm gay. Just kidding. Or is it? Russell referred to me as "former award-winning Craccum editor". I like that. It suggests that I was award-winning a while back, but no longer. Or am they?

Speaking of the fairer orientation, there's too much cool shit on Metafilter today for me to pick a link and pretend like I'm informed. They are, in no particular order, testable hypotheses regarding the "gay gene", the Passivhaus architecture that's already necessary, and some guys finding their perfect supervillain hideout behind Niagara Falls.

The US is accusing Iran of funding two sides of the same conflict, which has a weird symmetry to it, especially given that half of the Reagan-era staff are now advising Bush. Uninterestingly and unsurprisingly, the suggestion that the recent incarnation of the Ayatollah Saddam bin Castro is behind American troubles comes shortly after Bush's ridiculously unpopular decision to escalate augment US troops in Iraq. Condoleezza Rice heard a few complaints from her own party:

Madam Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous. As a matter of fact, I have to say, Madam Secretary, that I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam - if it's carried out. I will resist it.
- Senator Chuck Hagel (R)
And the Democrats chipped in:

I fear that what the president has proposed is more likely to make things worse. We hoped and prayed we would hear of a plan that would have two features: to begin to bring American forces home and a reasonable prospect of leaving behind a stable Iraq. Instead, we heard a plan to escalate the war, not only in Iraq but possibly into Iran and Syria as well. I believe the president's strategy is not a solution, Secretary Rice. I believe it's a tragic mistake.
- Senator Joseph Biden (D)
How ill-informed and regrettable of them. The Herald notes today that both those in favour and those opposed to escalation are "right", in that the choice is between upping the violence of the illegally occupying Coalition, and leaving the country to spiral even more into civil war.

This is exactly what opponents of the war originally said would happen, and I remember talking to Americans who talked about just going in, finding the WMD - or, once the invasion began, "changing the regime" - and being home in time for a smoked kipper. What I said then was that if the invasion occurs, international law requires that the occupying force stays long enough to leave the territory stable, with a working police and defence force.

The suggestion that the Coalition should stay in Iraq until it's stable is not popular with anyone at the moment. It's not popular with opponents of the war in general - "occupation is not liberation; US out of Iraq now" - and it's not popular with the American public in general, cos their boys are dying a bit too much. And it's expensive.

William Polk, author of Out of Iraq, argues that the violence will settle down far more quickly without the presence of the foreign aggressors:

We argue that, based on what is known of other insurgencies, once the major irritant - us -- is removed, conditions can be created for a healing of the wounds. To encourage and promote that process, we advocate a careful program including a "stabilization force" under the UN working for the Iraq government to police the major facilities (roads, hospitals, schools, banks, factories, etc.). This force would not engage in counterinsurgency and would have a limited mandate so the things that have made an American presence unacceptable will be lessened.
And Tariq Ali has an interesting take in an interview with the Socialist Worker. As he says at the end, victory for the resistance (much of which is currently being called "sectarian violence") would involve the occupier leaving and the people having control of their natural resources - "but will the US allow this to happen?" Given the massive investment already made, and America's tendency to stick around for a while, I don't like their chances.

Thanks, Tony!  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

(no text)

Fisk on Jargon  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Allegedly, Fisk was recently told,
"If you were as cool as Chomsky,
you'd talk about language and shit."

Not one to be discouraged by the fact that Orwell said this shit decades about, Robert Fisk has written a rant about modern language/jargon for The Independent. It's an entertaining read, quite witty and fairly relevant. This current in human communication began with euphemism: "passing away" instead of "dying"; "letting you go" instead of "firing you"; "bowel movement" instead of "Paul Henry commenting on aid workers" - all attempts to skirt around issues that, while understood by all involved, people didn't want to think about too directly. That capacity in language for saying things that are true, while signifying something subtly different, makes spin particularly effective.

Politicians especially have made an artform out of giving answers to questions without actually answering the question. I'm reminded of the principal of Patea Area School telling me about her students talking to [then Minister of Education] Trevor Mallard about plans to close their school. She praised these teenagers for their insight when they commented that Mallard was very friendly and talked to them for some time, but on later reflection they realised he never really answered their questions.

Fisk's article comes across partly as a complaint about political correctness, which itself is a wonderful example of a term that has a meaningfulness feel about it (akin to Stephen Colbert's truthiness) often without really meaning anything. In this case, though, the term is applicable - according to its dictionary definition: the careful avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude or insult groups of people. He mentions that, when wished a "happy holiday" at Christmas time, he roared back, "Happy Christmas!"

I would contend that it's supposed to be "merry Christmas" and "happy New Year", but I'm just a contentious kinda guy.

This particular example - "happy holiday" - represents a bloated non-issue close to the hearts and minds of conservative Americans, the so-called War on Christmas. Drooling commentators like Bill O'Reilly make a living from encouraging the belief that secularising religious holidays (separation of mosque and state stuff) is reflective of an anti-Christian, probably Communist conspiracy to persecute Christians. But while they're all batshit insane, I share part of the sentiment - who fucking cares if a sign says "merry Christmas"? But then again, who fucking cares if they don't?

Euphemisms, (actual) political correctness and public relations (a euphemism for propaganda) all represent three strains of the same aspect of language: the ability to use words to avoid talking about something. It's not an inherently evil aspect. Though one can argue that "nigger" and "African American" both refer to the same person, the connotations differ such that it's just plain polite to use the latter. Similarly, if a loved one has just died, it's just plain polite to avoid addressing the event in mentioning it - if being blunt is likely to cause distress. An awful lot of what's called "political correctness" can be stated a bit more bluntly itself: not being a cunt.

Still, being aware of this aspect of language is important. To those unaware, this environment of half-truths and non-statements is invisible, and so they can be manipulated by skilled rhetoric.

Back to Fisk, perhaps he should have reread his copy of Orwell's Politics and the English Language:

I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged: Pretentious diction. Words like utilise.
- George Orwell

We are not using words any more. We are utilising them.
- Robert Fisk

Paint by Numbers  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Blue states turned red.

Via Reddit, via Metafilter, a fascinating image of the world based on GDP per square kilometre. James Hamilton's comments are interesting, though they do have graphs, which make me go a great big rubbery one.

Gott und Himmel!  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Had an interesting night last night. It began, as so many do, drinking in Forde's Frontbenchers - the most awesome Irish pub in the world. The thing about trying to read a book in a pub on Friday night is that somewhere along the lines, humans evolved a biological imperative to ask people who are clearly trying to read a book, "Hey, what you reading? Blah blah blah blah blah." And so it quickly becomes impossible. But one of these people, a lovely girl from the Saatchi going-away party that was going on, managed to distract me enough for a conversation.

I'm awful smoove, so naturally within five minutes I had quoted Bill Hicks ("You're in advertising? Kill yourself!"), told her that all the billboards in central Auckland should be replaced with locally produced artworks, that all advertising should be replaced with a series of relevant peer-reviewed facts about the products, and that any marketers who lost their jobs through such changes could do something equally productive: repeatedly digging holes and filling them in again.

Having somehow messed up this casual flirtation, I ran into a regular who supervises a construction site. He and I went for a walk to his place of work, and he took me to the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in Auckland, just to see. Fucking awesome. Got a few photos, and I'll put them up here once I can.

Then it was back to Forde's, where the Saatchi thing was still going, and a guy saw my copy of The Hollow Men, declared himself a right-winger and we proceeded to chat. We had just finished agreeing that neither of us was likely to get into politics, simply because we were the kind of people who probably should be, when he mentioned that he is the guy behind the Godmarks billboards in New Zealand.

I mentioned to Darryl that my friend Raoul Shabadoo had used white paint to alter one of the posters: "I don't mind if you yell at me. I'm imaginary." He got a laugh out of that, and I have to say, he's not at all what I would have expected.

Now, I've had enough experience with Christians to have some fairly reliable stereotypes going on in my head. I knew he wouldn't be a raving evangelist, that he'd be young, and given the campaign, a pretty smart fellow. But the next four hours were taken up with some of the most interesting discussion I've had in a while. While we clearly had our differences on things like distribution of wealth, our attitude towards religion was similarly relaxed.

He mentioned, for example, how he had significantly altered the tone of the Kiwi billboards from that of their original American counterparts - no talk about hell, for a start. For the sake of his privacy, I won't go into detail about his beliefs (not that he said anything particularly outrageous), but yeah, it was an interesting night. We ended up exchanging a few books. Good times.

Go, freedom! No, not you.  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Ayn Rand:
Justifying being an arsehole since 1961.

I just stumbled across this little gem. It's a blogging site. Yay! And anyone is free to join up. Yay! Except only if you agree with the Bernstein Declaration, which is this massive diatribe about how great capitalism is. In the FAQ:

So I click on "bugger off", and am told... "BUGGER OFF NIHILIST", followed by a picture of Michael Moore from Team America. Missing comma aside, how on earth does not being a capitalist equate to nihilism? Well, the guy's a massive Ayn Rand fan, and she ranted about the nihilism being taught in public schools and stuff. What kind of things can you have on a blog at this site?

You can't promote anything that's illegal in your country. Or any sort of nihilism such as: anti-capitalism, anti-science, anti-technology, anti-private-property, anti-individual-rights, etc.

Clearly, "nihilism" means "things I don't like". Anyway, that's today's comedy.

Democracy in New Zealand - Push Polling  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Would you vote for this man if you knew
he was a reptilian shapeshifter?

Mainly inspired by Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men, I've been thinking about ways the New Zealand election system could be amended to as to procedurally minimise the kind of problems the book makes clear. Though Hager was writing primarily about the Don Brash-led National Party as a case study - because that's the information he had - the same level of undermining democracy in New Zealand is probably present in every major political party. And even if it is not, the potential for it demands a response.

Firstly, a few preliminary assumptions. I am assuming that an ideal, if not the ideal, of representative democracy is that the citizens of the country have an equal say in how they are governed, manifest as an equal say in forming a government that is proportionally representative of those citizens. Additionally, certain civil and human rights must be protected by law.

In other words, for citizens or groups of citizens to have disproportionately less or more political power than others is undemocratic, and any ostensibly democratic system that makes such a disproportionate amount of power possible (or inevitable) is flawed, and in need of reform. Finally, it is the duty of any proponent of democracy to work to rectify any imbalances of power.

So the problems are twofold. There are situations where small groups wield too much power, and situations where large groups are underrepresented. Given the nature of our society, the most common factors in determining how much political influence one is likely to have are wealth and education. Obviously the two factors feed each other - the wealthy can afford education and the educated are more likely to become wealthy. And also, due to mainly historical factors, proportions of wealth and education are often drawn roughly down ethnic lines.

These are not new thoughts, and there are already institutional limits in place to minimise some of the grosser inequalities. Election-spending limits are an example of this, so that a particularly money-backed party can't just utterly swamp the country with TV, billboard and radio advertising. But political parties are organisations, and organisations are organisms, and organisms evolve. It's inevitable that they will seek out ways to get around these limits. The Hollow Men is full of examples - $1 million worth of Exclusive Brethren campaigning against National's opponents, undeclared; biography of Don Brash written by Paul Goldsmith (who became a National Party candidate), paid for by National donors, rather than the official National Party; declared contracting of international PR companies to influence voters.

And so these new ways of getting around the established limits must be responded to with reform, if the ideal of democracy is going to stand a possibility against the perpetual propensity of political parties to put polls before policy. I suppose I could have made that "prior to policy" or something. If I was really trying.

The easiest thing to deal with is called push polling. Push polling, a practice for which Karl Rove is famous, involves using polls to disseminate ideas rather than for gathering information. In the 2000 Republican primary elections, Bush's campaign used push polling against candidate John McCain. They rang people under the guise of gathering information and asked, "Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"

This was in South Carolina, and they were calling Republicans. So illegitimate children, especially black illegitimate children, aren't these guys' favourite things. Now, there was no reason to believe that McCain had any illegitimate children, black or otherwise, but he and his wife had adopted a Bangladeshi girl. Even though the poll question didn't technically claim McCain had illegitimate children, it left those polled wondering, "Well, why are they asking that? Is there something they know that I don't? Are they polling to find out how voters will respond when it actually comes out that he's got an illegitimate child?" Or maybe nothing as complex as that. Perhaps they just could no longer see McCain on screen without thinking bad thoughts.

An example Hager gives in his book was in a by-election in Canberra in '95. Opponents of Labor candidate Sue Robinson polled with questions including, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for Sue Robinson and the Labor Party if you knew she has publicly stated that she supports the right to abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy?" Robinson had stated no such thing. It was only through the work of journalists on Australian National Radio that the polling question became public, and the campaign guy behind it ended up writing her an apology and paying $80,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

And she lost the election. If the election was close, that push polling could have been the deciding factor, and $80,000 plus a little bad publicity for the Liberal Party was the price of victory in that seat. The campaigner behind the polling was a fellow named Mark Textor, who ended up working for Don Brash's 2005 campaign.

But it's only through sheer good luck that this stuff comes out. It is the role of the media to take political parties to task for unethical practices, but when certain things keep occurring - like push polling - the job shouldn't be left entirely up to them. Nor should it be left up to them when mainstream journalists themselves are often hopelessly inadequate or have vested interests in politics themselves. (The editor of the National Business Review features heavily in The Hollow Men. It's difficult to imagine the NBR breaking a story about National push polling.)

Instead, there should be institutional reform to stop it from happening. When it comes to push polling, the solution is simple: legally require all poll questions to be made publicly available. If undeclared polling is carried out, it should carry penalties from the Electoral Commission similar to undeclared campaign spending. The poll questions could be examined for slanderous statements.

This is one in a number of possible reforms in the name of democracy in New Zealand. I'll suggest a few more soon.

"Inside me I know that what I want is just to be away..."  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

A US soldier demonstrates the new "not orange"
rendition hoods on a young handcuffed terror suspect.

From IRIN News.

I am 10 years old but I have not been to school for the past three years because I'm scared of the killings taking place in Iraq. Many of my friends have either been kidnapped or killed.

Since I was five I had been attending the Adhamiyah Primary and Secondary School, in Adhamiyah district [one of the most popular Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad]. I made many friends there but since last year, many of them have either fled Iraq with their parents or have left school because their parents are afraid for them because of the increase in kidnappings and killing of children and teachers.

I miss my school very much but in the classroom I used to keep looking at the door to see if someone would break in and kidnap me. My family is poor and if they [the kidnappers] take me, I might die because they cannot pay a ransom.

My mother usually forced me go to school, saying that if I believed in God nothing would happen to me but nowadays things are not so easy and even people who pray day and night are being killed.

Two weeks ago, a close friend of mine was killed while she was leaving the school with her father. A car with men wearing black crossed in front of them and the men shot them dead. It was horrible and there were many children at the school's gate at that time.

I have two brothers, Amir and Younis. Both of them are in school. Amir, who is 13, says he is not afraid of killers or kidnappers and he has become a man and is not afraid. But Younis used to cry every day when he had to go to school with me. He is only seven but was seriously sad and traumatised from the violence but my parents don't understand this and used to force him to go with me anyway.

I dream of leaving Iraq but this is only a dream because my parents are too poor to do that. Sometimes I think I will go crazy with the tension I have in my head and the pressure from all sides, especially from my mother who insists that I have to go to school to be someone important. Inside me I know that what I want is just to be away from this violence.

Life is very bad and education is going from bad to worse. Teachers are scared all the time and many of them have left school after receiving threats, making us more scared.

I want to stay at home because somehow I will be safer. I prefer to be illiterate than to die or see a friend killed in front of me or maybe kidnapped and have my ears sent to my family as happened to one of my best friends three months ago.


Posted by Ryan Sproull

Robert Anton Wilson
1932 - 2007

In the year 2000, I went a little nuts. I basically had a kind of breakdown, where I could no longer handle the corporate IT job I had. You know that thing where you stare at a word for too long and it ceases to have any meaning? Everything around me was like that. So I quit my job, gave away most of my stuff, bought a backpack and headed south. I ended up in Christchurch.

That was where a friend lent me The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson (and Robert Shea). This was back when I was a Christian, before I had any idea what anarchism was about, etc. The ideas in the book, and the way they were conveyed, had a significant impact on me.

In retrospect.

Anyway, he's dead now. It's been a long time coming.

“If you think you know what the hell is going on,
you're probably full of shit.”
Robert Anton Wilson

The Sky is Falling! Buy My Books!  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

hey n00b cum 2 chrch or b pwnd

Evangelical Christians love controversy, because there's almost no such thing as bad publicity for a church. If they're hassled for what they call "being politically incorrect" - some of us might call it "being a bigoted cunt" - they get to see themselves as being persecuted, and thus blessed.

So when Left Behind Games started selling their new game Left Behind: Eternal Forces, the controversy surrounding it wasn't really a problem. The game is set in the world of Tim "Foxy Loxy" LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' series of Left Behind books. If you're not familiar with Left Behind, they're a series of fantasy novels theoretically based on the psychedelic visions recorded in the Bible's Revelation. They're not particularly good, but they've got a bit of a captive audience, much like shitty Christian rock that succeeds because there's a bunch of kids who won't listen to "secular" music. Left Behind also got turned into a movie, starring child actor turned nutty creationist Kirk Cameron.

The idea in the story is that, while the main character is musing about how amazing it was that angels totally came out of the sky and defended Israel against their evil non-Christian neighbours, everyone in the world who's not a True Christian disappears in an instant. There's chaos throughout the world, the protagonist realises it's not too late to become a Christian. Meanwhile, the Antichrist arises as... if I remember correctly... a New Age well-loved personality who becomes secretary-general of the United Nations. In other words, the books do an admirable job of packing evangelical racism, sexism, paranoia about the UN and just general insanity into a series of books.

I say "series" because to date, 16 of these novels have been published, including three prequels. There were a few sequels to the movie, and the fourth is in production now. There were graphic novels. There are kids' editions of the novels. There are books about the Bible based on the Left Behind interpretation. There is the Authorised Left Behind Handbook. LaHaye's friend Mark Hitchcock adds to the mix 101 Answers to the Most Asked Questions about the End Times, The Second Coming of Babylon: What Bible Prophecy Says About..., The Coming Islamic Invasion of Israel, Is the Antichrist Alive Today?, Seven Signs of the End Times, Iran: The Coming Crisis: Radical Islam, Oil and the Nuclear Threat, The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy, What on Earth is Going On?, Could the Rapture Happen Today?, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, What Jesus says about Earth's Final Days, and others.

Getting the idea yet?

And now there's the computer game. Criticisms of the game are manifold. Firstly, there's the violence - the "convert or die" mentality. This isn't actually so present in the game, apart from the fact that there is a "convert or die" concept involved. You lose points for killing people instead of converting them with musicians and prayer and suchlike, so the developers argue it's actually pacifist. Fair enough. Though the game company seems to think that violence is the only criticism.

Next, get this. When you convert a follower and get their loyalty high enough, they become a friend. Then they can be trained as a soldier, medic, musician, builder or evangelist. Unless they're a woman! Hahahaaha. Oh God, it's too good. If a female follower becomes a friend, she becomes a "friend woman" and can only be trained as a musician or medic! Ahahahahaha! Awesome.

And finally, like many games today, there will be in-game advertising. Billboards in the background will show real-life ads, which will cycle through and change as the advertising company gets new clients. Which really brings me to my main point:

Have you ever seen as cynical an exercise in money-making as Left Behind?

This Armageddon industry is just raking in the cash. The franchise continues to expand. And simple-minded folk keep buying these books and seriously believe this is about to happen. Well, not seriously enough to, say, give me all their money. But pretty seriously.

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The Right to Execute  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Listen to them - the children of the night.
What sweet music they make.

And the interim president of Somalia says, "The US has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania." Does it? Oh, good. That means that Haiti has a right to blow up the county jail Emmanuel Constant's sitting in, since the US refuses to extradite the terrorist.

And hey, Nicaragua can drop some bombs on John Negroponte as a belated response to his part in the death squads in the '80s. Iraq can bomb Rumsfeld for his role in the occupation of Fallujah General Hospital. Lebanon can bomb Sharon for Sabra/Shatila.

Or perhaps the US doesn't have a right to execute foreign citizens with no trial. (Not to mention civilians caught in the crossfire.)

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Top 10 Underreported Humanitarian Situations, 2006  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Graffiti depicting Mogadishu's roving militias.

As we all know, news has become commodified, is sold in a market of competition, where "appealing" beats "informative" in the same way that "tasty" beats "nutritious". The places we hear about - Iraq, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq - while being pretty fucked up situations themselves, are really only a fraction of the terrible fuckedupitude of the world. As terrible as Iraqis have it, media attention means they're more likely to get assistance than not.

15 years of internal conflict dropped a little last year, when the Islamic Court Union formed and took control of the capital, Mogadishu. Previously, Mogadishu was... Well, some people would say anarchic, but I know better. It was ruled by militias who "preyed on the local population". The ICU claimed its intention was to "ensure that Somali people suffering for 15 years would gain peace and full justice and freedom from the anarchic rule of warlords who refuted their people to no direction." See that? "Anarchic rule". I mean, come on.

Anyway, once in power, they allegedly were more about imposing Sharia law. Or something. The West intervened, along with Ethiopia, backing the "Transitional National Government" in taking Somalia from the ICU. The ICU eventually resigned, listing some pretty sensible reasons, and oh yeah, there were also a bunch of natural disasters. Somalia is fucked.

More coups and violence. The CAR used to be a French colony, but since its independence in 1960, it's had a pretty shitty time. For three decade, it was ruled by a series of unelected leaders who often took office by force. In '93, with help from the UN Office for Electoral Affairs, they had their first democratic election. This hasn't stopped some rebel forces from causing trouble, however, and violence has caused 100,000 civilians to flee across the border to Chad - a country named after Midwestern high-school quarterbacks. Malaria and other diseases abound throughout the refugees, many of whom are young children. The Central African Republic is fucked.

TB isn't something you catch in nice white countries like our own, but apparently in Oogabooga Land and such, the coloureds are quite prone to it. Almost 2 million people a year die from TB, and often both prevention and cure would be possible if the world wasn't so fucked. Worse than that, the Miracle of Evolution has occurred, and there are now prevalent strains of TB that are resistant to both first-line and second-line antibiotics. Superbugs, we used to call them, back in the day. More preventable deaths every minute of the day, tuberculosis is fucked.

I'm surprised we've even heard of Chechnya's existence, there's so much of a media blackout on coverage of the war-torn country. Even though many refugees are now returning to their homes, the society has been shattered by Russia's refusal to let Chechnya out of its grip, and while responsibility is ostensibly handed on to an ostensibly Chechen government, abductions and violence continue daily.

The war between the official Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers continues, with civilians being caught in the crossfire. The Tigers want a separate state for Sri Lanka's Tamil population, and the Sri Lankan government doesn't want to give up large sections of its state. Odd. Doctors Without Borders continue their work there as best they can, faced with obstacles like the murders of aid workers and suspicion of international agencies from all sides. Sri Lanka is fucked.

Acute Malnutrition
I read this poem once, about a butterfly that emerged while it was raining, and it rained for all of its two-day life, and then it died. Meanwhile, right this minute, 60 million children around the world suffer from acute malnutrition. That's some seriously preventable shit right there. You don't have to have wars to have malnutrition, you just have to live in a world that pours resources into making iPods and superyachts while children starve to death. Doctors Without Borders have had some success with feeding malnourished kids a milk/peanut-butter paste. Gaining weight and not dying is an improvement, but come on, humanity, you can do better. Acute malnutrition is fucked.

The Democratic Republic of Congo
Once again, rebels versus governments equals fucked civilians. Count 'em: measles, malaria, rape, meningitis, cholera, no clean water... 50,000 displaced civilians. In the last 10 years, 4 million people have died from violence in the former Belgian colony. The UN says 1000 people are dying a day. It's just fucked.

Second only to the Sudan in terms of internally displaced people, 3 million people have fled their homes in Colombia. The conflict between the capitalist government plus associated paramilitary groups and rebel groups like FARC have, surprise surprise, resulted in massive trouble for the civilian populace. To fund their struggle, the FARC fall back on the drugs trade and kidnappings, which gives them a bad rap, but Phil Rees' interviews and encounters with them in his excellent book Dining with Terrorists is worth a read for a different perspective.

Haiti, a special favourite of being fucked over by the West, some great information is available from Democracy Now!. Haiti was the home of Emmanuel Constant, a CIA-backed murderous terrorist who for years lived happily in Queens, New York, secure in the knowledge that both Clinton and Bush II would dismiss extradition claims. Yes, the US harbours wanted terrorists. Constant's now in prison for rape, but still won't be extradited. Who'd have thought. Chomsky on Haiti, though written in 2004, still relevant.

Central India
"In central India's Chhattisgarh state, clashes between Maoist insurgents, Indian security forces and anti-Maoist militias, also known as Salwa Judum, has been occurring for more than 25 years, resulting in the displacement, sometimes reportedly forced, of more than 50,000 civilians. Others flee into neighboring states while thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and have little access to their land, food, essential health care, or emergency medical services."

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Democracy Now Interviews Greenpeace  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

<GIR>Yay! We're doomed!</GIR>

Meteorologists are predicting that 2007 will be the hottest year on record yet. Perhaps due to meteors. And polar ice caps are melting. So polar bears have no place to live and starve to death. And now they're considered an endangered species, because some guys got together to sue the US government if they weren't. One of those guys was a guy called Greenpeace. Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! interviewed the head guy of those guys, the melodiously named John Passacantando. Full transcript here.

Why has the United States been so far behind the other industrialized nations in recognizing that global warming is from our emissions, CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, and so far behind taking actions? It comes down to a concerted effort by companies like ExxonMobil. Our records at Greenpeace show -- and this is all documented on a research website called exxonsecrets.org -- that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil funded groups that were going to be skeptical of global warming, in some cases lie about the truth about global warming, gave them almost $20 million to confuse the American public about global warming.

Don't think that this is confined to the United States of America, either. Follow the money in New Zealand, see who's framing the debates.

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Gore Trains 1000 Climate-Change Presenters  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

So he says to the guy, "Yeah? Well, I didn't ask for a 12-inch pianist!"
Haha. But seriously, folks. We're all gonna die.

Al Gore just won't quit, God bless 'im. He's trained a bunch of people to present his slideshow. Among the volunteers were Cameron Diaz, and also a 14-year-old kid, who's going to present the warnings about climate change to people his own age. Awesome.

This is good stuff. A few weeks ago, the ever-stylish Alec Hutchinson noted that if necessary changes are going to be made at the governmental level, people need to be as aware of climate change as they are of the dangers of smoking. The social stigma associated with having a cigarette, the subtle guilt/shame involved, needs to be present in taking an air flight or not carpooling, etc. Only then will sane policies become politically convenient.

One group taking an opposite view is the conservative/libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, where a critic called Gore an alarmist and The Climate Project "odd." Marlo Lewis, CEI senior fellow, political philosopher and author of A Skeptic's Guide to An Inconvenient Truth, said the proselytizing, which includes suggestions for reducing pollution to cut global warming, is a waste. "If global warming were really a problem, and I don't think it is, the idea that you can save the planet by carpooling or eating less meat is really silly."

This doesn't help. The "bias of balance", which compels journalists to present "the other side of the story", even if that means giving the ridiculous impression that anyone with any credibility seriously disagrees that global warming is a problem. Fortunately, we have internal documents from ExxonMobil that shows the Competitive Enterprise Institute has received $2,005,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. Marlo Lewis himself, far from being an authority on matters of science, is a politician through and through. Why would any self-respecting journalist give the impression that this guy represents anything other than the interests of carbon-emitting industry?

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How about the power... to move you?  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

These two men gave money to some kids on the street.
And invited them to a party. It's a good thing.

Black, the comic rock great who is in New Zealand to perform with his group, Tenacious D, at the Christchurch Town Hall tonight, was so impressed with the boys' busking in Cathedral Square yesterday that he put money in their hat – and asked them to be his opening act.

And here's a Tenacious D comedy short for your amusement:


Dragons of Massive Geek  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

There, the crevasse. Fill it... with your mighty juice.

It is an established scientific fact that I am a massive geek. Much of this can be traced back to two things: my father forcing me to watch Blackadder, and one day in the reading resource room at Breens Intermediate in Christchurch. I found in there a series of novels called the Dragonlance Chronicles. I read them, slightly guiltily, as my parents had instilled in me a fierce certainty that books about magic and gods and stuff open you up to demonic influences and is part of the well-planned destruction of teens.


While captioning A Goofy Movie, I was curious as to who did the voice of Goofy's son, Max. So guess what he's doing at the moment. He's going to be the voice of Tass Burrfoot in an animated movie of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first of the Dragonlance Chronicles.

I dunno how good the story really is. I tried rereading it a few years ago. It was equal parts nostalgia and generic fantasy - kind of like watching a simple action film you used to like as a kid. The guy making the animated movie was behind X-Men: The Animated Series, and main characters' voices include: Keifer Sutherland, Michael Rosenbaum (Lex from Smallville), Michelle Trachtenberg (Dawn from Buffy) and Lucy Lawless (the wife in those pre-Goldstein ASB ads).


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Lego Robot Builds Lego Car  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Form feet and legs! Form arms and torso! And I'll form...  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

On Earth, a galaxy alliance was formed...

Birth of the first global super-union, says The Guardian:

Amicus, the UK's largest private sector union, has signed agreements with the German engineering union IG-Metall and two of the largest labour organisations in the US, the United Steelworkers and the International Association of Machinists, to prevent companies playing off their workforces in different countries against each other.

About time, too. Without transnational solidarity in unions, the goals of developed-country unions are in line with global capitalist tendencies. In the States, many unions are essentially lobbyists demanding that jobs don't go offshore. If unions are to live up to the tradition from which they sprang, they need to get politically involved in anything affecting workers anywhere - which is to say, everything. American unions had the power to prevent the Iraq invasion, but lacked the solidarity with Iraqi workers necessary to act.

Join a union, and tell your friends to do the same.

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