Category Archives: Comment

Journalistic writing

Techno-fascism

An important article, an important blog and an important and insidious trend in modern living.

Stop The Cyborgs

Great blog post by Mark Carrigan of sociologicalimagination.org:

He starts off with personal experiance of using a tracking device:

Earlier this week I finally bought the Jawbone Up24 after weeks of deliberation. I’d got bored with the Nike Fuel Band, losing interest in the opaque ‘fuel points’ measurement and increasingly finding it to be an unwelcome presence on my wrist. I’d also been ever more aware of how weird my sleep patterns have become in the past couple of years, cycling between rising early and staying up late, with little discernible rhyme or reason. The idea of tracking my sleep in a reasonably accurate fashion, using degree of bodily movement as a cypher for the depth of sleep, appealed to me on a reflexive level.

This experiance of being nudged by wearable tech makes him consider how intrusive wearable tech be if were made manditory and used to enforce behaviour.

I set…

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The World According to George Soros

Alright, I confess, I had to look George Soros up on Wikipedia and after having read this amazingly intelligent, candid and forthright article to be published in the New York Review in April I expected to discover that he’s a former Middle Eastern envoy from somewhere or another, or an Eastern European diplomant, but no. He’s a Hungarian billionaire.

What strikes me about this article is not so much its neatness – he clearly has a bird’s eye view of European and US politics, and I suppose that’s to be expected from ‘The man who broke the bank of England’ – but rather its candour. One of my favourite quotes from it was this:

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, for instance, is dead set against a deal with Iran because peace with Palestine would end his political career in Israel”

It was a huge relief to hear someone speaking so frankly. Most of the coverage and analysis of world events that I come across is full of mealy-mouthed allusions to the personal interest of politicians, and the effects that this has on global politics. We take for granted, for example, that the Conservative party in the UK has recently identified pensioners as a group it needs to canvass for support at the next general election, and has designed a budget to support that. Why have they done this? Because they have a personal interest in returning to power first, and for all other reasons second. Whether or not supporting pensioners is absoutely the best thing that they could have done at this time almost doesn’t come into it. We’ll never get to the truth of all that because of the rhetoric they’ve planned in advance to support it. This is universally accepted. We talk about a party ‘winning votes’, as if politics were a game in which the interests of the country, and on a larger scale, the world, come second. The conservative party and their supporters will argue, of course, as I’m sure will Benjamin Netanyahu, that they are the best party to run the country, that their survival in power is in the best interests of us all… But frankly, everyone knows that this is horse-shit, don’t they?

I liked his treatment of George Bush (a man whom Soros spent millions trying to remove from power in the run-up to the 2004 election), too, and his description of US foreign policy since the cold war. To paraphrase: After the fall of the Berlin wall, the US emerged as the single greatest power in the world but George Bush failed to understand how to use this power in the best interests of America. He didn’t grasp that soft power, the power of attraction is what sustains empires. He went on a crusade after the ‘Bad Guys’ and demonstrated that America was no longer fit to be in charge. This is why, to get to the heart of the matter, the current situation in the Ukraine is so important.

Such is the opinion of George Soros. I won’t paraphrase the entire article, he puts it much better than me, but I don’t care so much about the content, it’s his delivery that I like, his frankness.

Should politicians not be like this? Should we not demand from them a disinterested, bird’s eye view of the political landscape. Should we not be demanding that the steps of the geopolitical dance be made more obvious to us? At least then we could tell them apart. Should we not be supporting ‘conviction politicians’ like the late Tony Benn even, dare I say it, the late Margaret Thatcher purely because they speak a truth that they believe in, regardless of the nature of that truth? Thin ice I know, but I’d like to hear what you think. Personally I’d rather be lead astray by conviction than kept in the dark and fed lies.

Murmurs in the Sky

Thought you might like to see this, recently tweeted (no pun intended) by writer Margaret Atwood. Clearly she’s a fan of ShoalBehaviour too.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/88UVJpQGi88

For me, the most amazing thing about this, apart from the sheer mind-blowing beauty of it is, as Dylan Winter asks in the film, how do the birds avoid crashing, and how are messages transmitted so quickly between one bird and the next? It really does seem that they’re part of one giant organism. 

One person with a view about this is Rupert Sheldrake,  Perrott-Warrick Professor (2005–2010) at Trinity College Cambridge. His controversial views concerning what he calls Morphic Fields are interesting because they offer us an alternative to a simple ‘rule-based’ understanding of our world and instead suggest that our actions, our thoughts, even the shape of our bodies might be part of something much much larger.

Gaia Bites Back

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fanatic when it comes to climate change, I don’t even necessarily believe in ‘saving the planet’ but I’m not stupid either. And you’d have to be, to think that rising global temperatures, the melting of sea-ice and the extinction of marine and terrestrial life are not going to have serious consequences for us, the human race. Here’s a new twist to the tale so far:

30,000-year-old virus is revived

I can almost see Hollywood’s take on it now.

Developments in Ukraine

Euromaidan PR

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“The Ministry of Internal Affairs has information about preparations for military provocations in Crimea,” said the press office of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Mykola Velychkovych.

Law enforcement agencies have evidence that on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, unknown individuals, under the guise of the Ukrainian side, on the night of March 3 to 4th are planning the murder of 3-4 Russian soldiers. The motivation for this is the legalization of the introduction of Russian troops on the territory of our country, warned Velychkovych.

“We would like that these people come to their senses, because with this act, you would provoke bloodshed, which is not (now) in Crimea,” he stressed.

“It is very important that you understand that, for us, the life of a person is of the highest value. We urge you to stop, added the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs. 

“Keep in mind that…

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The Art of War

In the days following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, embattled British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith wrote grumpily to his lover Venetia Stanley about the jubilant reception of the King by crowds in Trafalgar Square. “War,” he grumbled “or anything that seems likely to lead to war is always popular with the London mob.” Now, as Russian troops close in on key strategic locations in Crimea, Ukraine arms itself and the world holds its breath, whilst it might fall far short of excitement, who among us can deny a tingling sense, at least, of bearing witness to something significant?

The stakes are high. The UK, the US and Russia itself are signatories to a treaty enshrining the sovereign rights and the borders of the nation state of Ukraine. Although it may not be legally binding, there seems to be a moral imperative at least for the West to get involved. Obama’s rhetoric of ‘costs’ suggests that relations between Russia and the West are set to deteriorate even further, even if it falls short – as it surely will – of outright war.

I remember listening to the radio on the morning of 7th October 2001, hearing that airstrikes had begun against targets in Afghanistan. Whilst I, like everyone else, had expected it, and greeted it, therefore with the grim acceptance and the sadness that it deserved, I can’t deny that I also felt a strange sense of relief. Finally, I thought to myself, something is actually happening. The shock of the attacks on the world trade centre, I remember, was so total that it almost didn’t count. I couldn’t conceive of it as a coordinated act with a purpose and a meaning. It felt, in my teenage mind, like a disaster, a calamity, an act of God. The sleek flight of the jets, however, and of the missiles, told me something about our nation, our civilisation, and our determination to defend its values.

I was naive. Was it the stagnant air of those times? Was I charged up with the nationalist rhetoric of Bush and Blair? Had I seen too many war films? Was I simply bored? Whatever it was, somewhere deep in my soul, I bought it, but I don’t buy it now. If I feel now a stirring of that same relief, that same tingle of history in the making it is because of this:

Everything is changing. The uprisings we have seen all over the world, and at home are testament to that, as is our own deep sense of dissatisfaction. Not to mention the weather. The events in Ukraine, the belligerence of Russia, whatever power is deployed by other nations to contain it are all part of an elegant dance, the steps of which are known only to the most powerful. The forces that they have at their command, the complexity of their scheming are unthinkable. To see the unfolding, even of Putin’s ‘little schemes’ in Crimea and Georgia before it inspires a kind of awe: a few figures of the dance brought out into the open air.

For all its elegance, for all the drama of its unfolding, the end, of course, is always bloodshed and destruction. Rifts and scars that rarely heal completely. If only I could still believe, as once I did, that there was a purpose and a meaning behind it. If only these people did not die, were not dispossessed, imprisoned, raped and tortured in vain. If war were philosophy writ large I might, just might, be able to support it; but, although it’s presented to us with stirring rhetoric and moralising, do any of us really believe it anymore? No. Rather war, any war, is a piece of a much larger puzzle. A flashpoint, a rising bubble in the pot of geopolitics as it nears the boil. And the heat beneath it all increases. It is out of our control.

This, I think, is exactly what excites the mob. This that kindles, as we watch these dramas unfold, that darkening spirit in all of us who have never lived through war: Chaos. Deep inside ourselves we are sick of this relentless order. Sick of being the cogs in someone else’s machine. Sick of dancing to a tune that we can hardly hear over the thudding jackboots of progress. We want, in short, the world to be a better place, even if we get there through a trial by fire.

We believe, of course, that we ourselves will not get burned. For those of us sitting in comfort in the West, the so-called ‘lines of powder’ those lines of racial, religious and cultural division along which conflict tends to flare provide, in our minds at least, the battlegrounds on which our moral uncertainties are played out on our TV screens. The Art of War, the dance on which we’re lead is in convincing us of that myth; or else in blinding us to the truth, using our sense of drama to kindle support with stealth, sleek hardware and lies.

Thanks to snamess for the featured photo, obtained under Creative Commons License no changes were made to the original image.

Girl Power-Cut

Has anybody seen that piece doing the rounds on facebook: “Don’t Date a Girl Who Travels”? Someone sent it to my girlfriend recently saying how much it reminded them of her. They were kind to say so… I think. (For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, there’s a link to the original text, and the blog of the author Adi Zarsadias, here)

That said, of all the dubious post-feminist writing that I’ve seen, it’s exactly this kind of swaggering, narrow-minded, sexist hypocrisy-as-cultural-comment that I find the most dissapointing; I’ll tell you why:

The biggest myth surrounding modern feminism, the easiest defence against it proffered by every beer-swilling ‘man’s man’ in the local pub and the one that true devotees to its cause have the most work to overcome in the arena of our cultural understanding is the myth that so-called feminists are nothing more than bra-burning man-haters, and should be treated as such, especially if they refuse to shave their armpits. What a lot of rubbish. Feminism is not, or should not be, about bringing men down to the level of oppression from which every generation of women since pre-Hellenic times has been trying to escape. No. Feminism is about equality of women with men. Not sameness, not superiority, equality. Freedom of choice, freedom of action, freedom of thought. Freedoms that men have enjoyed for millennia. It has very little to do with a greater or lesser quantity of underarm hair.

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Yemeni women burn their veils in an anti-government protest

To highlight this, insofar as a message can be disentangled from the alternating layers of saccharine-sweetness and sheer brutality of the piece in question, and others of its type, is, I think, one of the intentions of its author. Since she is not specific, I make the assumption that Zarsadias intends to talk about heterosexual relationships, I think it’s reasonably clear that she does. As such, despite what I see as her strong feminist intentions, there are several turns of phrase that, particularly as a man dating a ‘girl who travels’, leave me cold:

Firstly there’s the villian of the piece, the prospective boyfriend who, representing all mankind has nothing to offer but material wealth, self-centred conversation and a yoke. No wonder she wants to get away from him. I don’t really feel I need to state the obvious and say that there are plenty of us out there with more ideas than money and more time for others than for ourselves, so much as to highlight what a terrible own goal for feminist objectives this portrayal of man is. What Zarsadias has done here is to restate the age-old stereotype of man-as-provider and rule-maker, woman as passive consumer. To do so as part of an analysis of the bias in gender-roles is powerful. To do so unconsciously, as a simple statement of ‘how things really are’, is merely to re-enforce the myth. Furthermore, to the man in the pub, this empty caracature of masculinity is solid gold. The author sounds just like a man-hater.

Further grist to the anti-feminist mill is the suggestion that “[She] won’t care whether you travel with her or not. She will forget to check in with you when she arrives at her destination.” Blimey. What a bitch. Maybe I’ve missed something. Maybe, for the travelling generation at least, actual real love is finally dead. Perhaps the best any of us can expect now is to be tolerated by our partners for the sake of what we offer them, to be dropped, of course, like a discarded cellphone when something better, more exciting comes along. Is this what we mean by freedom? Is this what women fought and died for in the 20’s? I hope not. And consider, finally, how we would view a man who behaved in this way. With scorn, no doubt, and pity for the girl who waits for him.

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“She will never need you.” We are told. This is the saddest thing of all. What a cold and miserable life. How lonely it must be never to need another person. To be so goddam independent that no intimacy, no support whatsoever is necessary! Not only is this a myth – the number of times that my own strong, beautiful, capable independent travelling girl has called me from thousands of miles away in tears because something has gone wrong is equalled only by the number of times I’ve done the same thing to her- it’s an extremely destructive myth.  The young women who, judging by some of the comments it receives, identify strongly with this piece, aspire to be percieved as strong, free and independent as, no doubt they already are. But Zarsadias allows no room for weakness in her descriptions. Her heroine is perfect, flawless even in her flaws -nothing wrong with that of course- but (here’s the rub) she is completely self contained. An ice-queen if you will. Many role models for women in popular culture are portrayed in this way: Jennifer Anniston, Angelina Jolie, even J.K. Rowling are self-made super mums who need noone. What’s a real girl to do then, if, god forbid, she actually feels something? Actually comes up against a situation that she can’t handle by herself? Craves intimacy, understanding, love from another, dare I even say it, from a man? This piece, and all the thousands of words in a similar vein produced every day in magazines, blogs and gossip columns presents yet another hurdle, in fact, for women, and men for that matter,  in expressing vulnerablility (a perfectly natural experience) in a world that is increasingly chaotic and increasingly confused about what it expects from them. Perhaps though, as a man, I speak out of turn.

As a man, however, I am finally and self-righteously enraged by the closing statement which exhorts me, in tones I well remember from my (not very) errant childhood, “… and if you should unintentionally fall in love with one,” (this rare species of ‘travelling girl’) “don’t you dare keep her. Let her go.” What -an’ it please you ma’am- if I want to come too?!

In short, I think this piece is well intentioned but has gone badly awry. Above all else it reflects confusion amongst (particularly young, heterosexual) women and within ‘feminine culture’ as a whole about their relationships with men, and with themselves. Cultural objects of this kind are full of images that paint women as impossibly perfect, unbearably isolated and men as money-grabbing infants. Whilst you could argue that some kind of payback is necessary for the years of oppression that women have suffered, whilst you could say that to gain true equality it’s necessary somewhat to overstate your case, I think this is short-sighted. Not only does this portrayal of women create unrealistic expectations amongst women themselves, it provides easy ammunition for would-be saboteurs of the feminist cause. In order to succeed, we should stand for equality alone, and leave the squabbling for the kids in the playground.