Archive for October, 2006

Who said the mainstream media were rubbish? II

October 20, 2006

A major driver of my journalism is my concern for the environment and the damage that we are doing to it. A big part of that draws on my rural roots in the north of Scotland, where I spent the first 20 years of my life. I shot, fished and occasionally helped out on farms during that time, meaning that in one way or another I was in direct contact with nature.

I gave up shooting in my 20s, deciding I no longer wanted to exercise the hunting instinct I believe is deep inside all of us. I did not turn anti-blood sports though, which would have been hypocritical given that I’d enjoyed all the times I’d gone shooting and had friends and family who still went. I also always accepted the arguments of shooting friends who ate what they killed – that the animals on their plates had led much less environmentally damaging lives than your average factory-farmed pig or chicken.

When still with Reuters, I volunteered to cover the implementation of a hunting ban in England and Wales, going on two hunts, on foot and on four wheels. I wrote this piece before the ban became law and this one the day it came into force. The absurdity of the eventual law did nothing for nature and served only to convince me of how poor our political system has become.

The pro- and anti-camps – be it on hunting, shooting or fishing – share much in common in their love and respect for nature yet most are too busy slagging off their opponents to realise.

The arguments spill over into vegetarianism, as I know only too well having recently been on the end of a withering from Agnes, a nine-year-old, aspiring vegan who was appalled to learn of my occasional meat eating.

And so to the point of this post. I don’t intend this blog to become a plug fest for the Guardian unlimited news site, and yet this excellent article was too good to resist.

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Brian Haw for Prime Minister, or General Dannatt?

October 13, 2006

The first time I met Brian Haw, he told me to fuck off and let him sleep. I should have known not to come before noon. I hung around though, for when he did wake up and emerge from his cocoon. A man who’s done what he’s done is worth spending time with. I was not disappointed.

Haw’s home since 2001 has been the pavement of London’s parliament square, which if you’ve never been to has a wonderful view of Big Ben and the House of Commons that is rather spoilt but the constant rumble and fumes of passing traffic. His aim is to shame the government into changing British policy on Iraq.

“I want to go back to my own kids and look them in the face again knowing that I’ve done all I can to try and save the children of Iraq and other countries who are dying because of my government’s unjust, amoral, fear – and money – driven policies. These children and people of other countries are every bit as valuable and worthy of love as my precious wife and children.”

He’s no quitter and no trendy issue-chaser either, his protest began before 9/11 and before the spurious use of that attack to justify invading Iraq.

Haw’s website, from which the above quote is taken, tells you all you need to know about his campaign, and the government’s farcical efforts to get rid of him and anyone who cares to support or join him.

I suspect General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British army, would be a fan. He’s just put his job on the line by also rubbishing government policy on Iraq.

Tony Blair’s position becomes trickier by the day, his state of denial less tenable, something the Lancet’s latest Iraqi death estimates and the responses to them make starkly clear.

He’s going, the sooner the better. The questions we should address are what Britain could best do to try to make up for our crimes in Iraq and how we should re-jig our political system to prevent it falling into the hands of a future Blair. The coming Labour leadership battle and how much we can trust tree hugger Dave is not where we should fix our attention.

Give us Brian, give us Sir Dickie, though the latter would mean a military coup so maybe not.

Who said the mainstream media were rubbish?

October 11, 2006

Well, me, quite a lot of the time. In the spirit of flexibility of opinion, however, I post here a link to a more-than-decent article in the Guardian’s technology pages on Google’s snaffling of YouTube for $1.6 billion.

The piece, further down, gives some good stuff on the political effects of YouTube along with some great links to videos.

I predict soldiers with attitude and cameras having a big effect on the ease with which our politicians send them out to kill people.

I predict many more alternative journalists asking political candidates and politicians the sort of questions that source-and-relationship-protecting journalists would never dare. This is a very good thing.

Which U.S. president said that?

October 9, 2006

“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

Not George W. Bush of course, the syntax is too clean, nor his Dad, who’s busy working for the corporations.

No, it is Abraham Lincoln, writing in 1864 after the American civil war and quoted at the start of chapter 8 in Paul Kingsnorth’s excellent book “One no, many yeses”. I came across it again today researching content for the second chapter of my book “Talking about a revolution”.

Old Abe, barring the distractions of a few instruments of modern warfare and Fox News, would struggle to see a whole lot of difference with today’s United States.

French film – no sex and certainly not much fun

October 7, 2006

I went to a free screening of the film “Alerte à Babylon” last night, a very French take on what the director paints as the unstoppable force that is global capitalism and our modern, industrialised society. None of us comes out of it smelling too sweet.

It’s in French, apart from some English-language interviews with Arpad Pusztai and Susan Bardocz – on GMOs – and ones in Russian, on the human health dangers posed by exposure to low-dose radioactivity.

A very thought-provoking film.

Good to see Pusztai, he of GM-potatoes-making-baby-rats-rather-sick fame, sticking to his guns despite having had his career ruined for speaking out against the interests of Monsanto and friends.

No Nobel prizes for this one Joe

October 7, 2006

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel-prize-winning economist who did a great job explaining why ordinary people have got so hacked off with the likes of the World Bank and the IMF. For all his prodigious brain power, however, he is stuck in a very modest mindset when it comes to tackling the problems addressed by his former colleagues at the Bank.

I haven’t worked out how to “ping” these articles yet, such is the work-in-progress nature of this blog, so you’d do best to click across to this article to see what I’m talking about.

And yes, that long-winded hotairhead is, of course, me.

What democracy?

October 5, 2006

I am a frequent reader and sometime contributor to the Guardian online’s Comment is Free section. It’s as big a time waster as other addictive behaviours but let’s just say I think I’m handling it.

The site is usually more interesting than the news section, not particularly because of the original pieces that launch debates but more because of the astute posts that follow, though there’s a lot of rabid garbage too.

Signing up to post was a tentative first step into blogging, and a way to find my feet for this book/journalism project.

Various posts I’ve since made, under the name of “hotairhead” (Yes, a bit dumb but the first thread I posted to was on climate change), have been about democracy.

Usually I have been stumped when confronted with questions about what exactly I am banging on about.

This is where my thinking’s got to as of today.

Firstly, you’re generally lucky if you live in something called a democracy, the alternatives are invariably worse in terms of your personal freedoms.

Before we get too excited though, the conventional democracies we have are pretty rubbish. An occasional vote to choose between a handful of barely distinguishable parties is no great shakes. Those parties each present us with a shopping list of policies/promises which they tend to lose as soon as they get elected. For the Swiss sorts amongst us there is the chance of building enough momentum for a referendum every now and then but it’s hardly that much better. None challenges the fundamental economic system under which we now live, which is basically Wild West global capitalism.

And none of the national democracies, as they stand, offers much prospect of tackling global poverty, hunger, environmental damage or economic inequity. Most also do a poor job of serving their citizens.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure in detail but I hope it lies somewhere inside the Zapatista project, the efforts of a southern Mexican rebel group to revolutionise their democracy.

They have stirred things up since their armed uprising of January 1994, with effects that have already gone way beyond their borders.

This link gives as good an English language summary of what’s been happening as I’ve found.