Tag Archives: United States

London’s burning: Blame it on the BlackBerry

9 Aug

We live in a global culture in which the ability to consume is the primary measure of human freedom. To be a prosperous consumer is to be free. Given this reality, violence, theft, and rioting by disaffected youths stealing trainers and plasma TVs, while shocking, should not come entirely as a surprise.

The marauding gangs have been described as criminal opportunists, a description that can be as accurately applied to the News of the World phone hackers,  the Wall Street financiers who gave us the first global financial crisis, the private companies making exorbitant profits from the misery of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the sub-prime mortgage mongerers, authorities entrusted with public well-being who take bribes to work against the common good. Countries such as Australia, the UK and the US have been governed by men who are widely considered to be war criminals: make up your own list, the possibilities are endless.

We commit our crimes in accordance with our means and circumstances. The better our means and circumstances, the less likely we are to engage in the crimes of looting and arson. The London riots are complex in their genesis but without doubt unemployment, poverty and lack of hope play their part.

Of all the reports and analyses I’ve read thus far the one that grabbed my attention was the blame it on the BlackBerry explanation. BlackBerry offers its customers a private messenger service (BBM) that encrypts your messages, unlike the other social media that are available to everyone, including the authorities. It seems that many rioters are communicating via their BlackBerries, and when this is the case, police cannot find out until it’s too late where the next outbreak of violence will be. This has allegedly led to the rapid expansion of trouble spots around the country, as agitators’ communications cannot be decoded by authorities in time to prevent new outbreaks.

It seems something of a long bow. Presumably  an intercity tweet can also get things going faster than police can organize officers on the ground. The real objection to BBM is that it thwarts official surveillance, and when disaffected youth have a means of communication that excludes any possibility of the authorities cracking their codes, this is perceived as a menace in principle, if not in practice.

The mobile phone is one of the iconic symbols of consumption. BlackBerrys cost less than smartphones and BBM is both essentially cost-free and invisible to police. In order to communicate, BBM users must exchange PINs, but their conversations are private. They can spread their PINs via SMS, Twitter or other means.

There’s little doubt that the use of social media is a vital force in getting uprisings of all kinds off the ground, and its use enables rapid expansion. But to blame the London riots on the BlackBerry is like blaming the Arab Spring on Facebook. Social media is a tool available to everyone to use how they see fit. Undoubtedly there’ll be a call to ban BBM before too much longer, or distribute the facility only to those authorities deem to be worthy of their trust.

The violence and looting is awful. But blanket condemnation of the guilty is too simplistic. Yes, they have to be held accountable. Yes, they have to face the consequences of their actions. But these events don’t happen in a vacuum. Criminal behaviour is not peculiar to disaffected youth. Stealing trainers and plasma TVs is no more or less criminal and deserving of punishment than hacking phones, exploiting dead children, starting illegal wars and ruining the global economy. We don’t call for a law and order crackdown except when the crimes are perpetrated by disaffected youth. It’s a class-based demand.

Western culture worships consumerism. We measure worth by what we have and what we can afford. Everywhere we look there’s corruption and criminal behaviour. It’s the zeitgeist. Commentators have been quick to point out that these riots are not political uprisings because one of the goals is to steal stuff.  They’re wrong. These riots are absolutely political. The ultimate assessment of human worth in Western culture is what the human owns and is capable of owning. The middle class aspire to wealth. The working class aspires to what the middle class has. When a large enough group feels it has no stake in society, that group will revolt. Trainers and plasma TVs are the pathetic symbols of the revolt of the have nots against the haves. Not political? You must be dreamin.’

Advertisements

Mladic and Bin Laden: which solution is just?

30 May
General Ratko Mladić during UN-mediated talks ...

Image via Wikipedia

Guest post today by author Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger. Gerard raises interesting questions about the two situations

They couldn’t believe their luck. Finally, after all those years on the run, the Serbs got their man. Ratko Mladic was indicted in 1995 by the International Criminal Tribunal and was recently arrested after a tip off.

Mladic stands accused of the murder of at least 7500 Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica. This is considered the single biggest atrocity since World War II. Having watched footage on the news this morning there seemed joy by many that he had been arrested, but unlike the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there was no hysterical dancing on the streets as there was in the US when news of that killing broke.

longwarjournal.org

The total number killed as a result of all the attacks on America on 9/11 were close to 3000.

There are no winners in acts of terror on innocent civilians and the world is a better place now that both have finally been caught up with. However, the killing by Ratko Mladic and his henchmen of 7500 Muslims never received the same media attention as Osama Bin Laden’s attacks on the US,  even though the number killed by Ratko Mladic was far greater and surely on equal level of cruelty suffered of those killed by Bin Laden.

The siege of Sarajevo resulted in the deaths of at least another 10 000 people. The relentless shelling of this beautiful historical city of was encouraged by Mladic, who was reported as ordering, “Shell them till they go mad”.

One has to go back to World War II to find the equivalent.

There is, however, a stark difference by which both came to their final moment of justice. One was killed outright followed by jubilation and cheers by thousands of enthusiastic people, mainly Americans. It was seen as fair justice. Not many expressed concern that the shooting dead of Osama, in the head ,was done in front of his twelve year old daughter. Amnesty International was less enthusiastic, and was critical of this peculiar US method of justice, as OBL was unarmed and in bed, at 1am.

Amnesty raised concerns that there was no attempt to capture him alive, and stressed the necessity  to adhere and comply with international Law in  such situations.

Ratko Mladic on the other hand was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on an isolated farm, without any violence. He was immediately brought before a judge.

A few elderly women were interviewed just after the arrest of Ratko and were shown to still grieve for their sons and husbands.

The difference could not be more startling. While America has always been associated with guns, violence and seeking retribution whenever possible, no more so than in the cold blooded killing of OBL, at least the Serbs have displayed remarkable resistance to acting in the same way. Mladic is reported to have had two loaded guns but like Bin Laden, offered no resistance.

There are still many Serbs who consider Mladic a hero. The Serbian Government was repeatedly requested to implement his arrest but fearing a backlash, was somewhat less than enthusiastic. The big stick of refusing Serbia’s entry to the EU was effectively wielded by the European Union, finally persuading the Serbian Government to act.

No doubt the world can give a well-earned sigh of relief that another monster has been caught. Unlike the US action against Bin Laden, the world will experience the process of bringing such a monster to justice when Mladic is tried in The Hague.

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

Between the symbol and the reality…

17 May
A still of 2004 Osama bin Laden video

Image via Wikipedia

For my money the assertion by many US commentators that the world is a better place without bin Laden is triumphalist bull dust. It will take a great deal more than the death of a terrorist to make the world and America, a better and safer place.

The killing of bin Laden was symbolically significant for the US. Had he been captured and tried, the result would have been a running sore, unresponsive to any known treatment. His assassination and burial at sea serve to draw a line under the events of 9/11 in a way in which bin Laden captured alive could not. The US government was aware of this. The US government knows the political value of closure, and the political risks of taking him alive.

The symbolic value for the US is that they got the alleged mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and in getting him, restored symbolic supremacy in a way  the Iraq invasion has been unable to accomplish. What this means for the reality of the daily life of many in the US is obscure. When you lose your job and your home, and you can’t pay for your medical care, is there comfort to be found in recalling that your government got bin Laden?

Whether his death was morally right is another question, and a fraught one at that. Killing an unarmed man who apparently poses no threat in that moment – dubious. Denying him natural justice – dubious. Eichmann got a trial, and he was responsible for enabling the murder of many more human beings than bin Laden, though they were not Americans. Mossad agents hunted him down in South America and brought him back to Israel where justice publicly prevailed.The world has changed since Eichmann, and assassination is apparently favoured over the rule of law

We’ve lost our taste for lengthy, painful trials: just taking them out is so much more efficient.

Whether or not bin Laden’s assassination demeans us as human beings is debatable, and probably depends on your individual moral sensitivities. In my opinion it’s no more demeaning than our invasion of Iraq, based as it was on lies about weapons of mass destruction, Western capitalist self-interest, and the linking of that country’s regime with the events of 9/11, a link that has never been established. We are collectively demeaned by our governments’ complicities, no matter what form they take. We are also helpless to prevent them.

I understand the American need for expediency in the bin Laden situation, though it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Politically there’s far more to be gained by killing him than bringing him in alive.  On the other hand, the West continues to demonstrate that we operate by a set of rules that when turned against us we decry as illegal and terroristic, such as the US invasion of Pakistan’s sovereign territory, resulting in acts of murder. The West is at war and the enemy is terrorism, is the justification. The new rules of engagement require the forfeit of sovereignty by certain countries in the interests of entitled Western states prosecuting that war as they see fit.

Since the 2003 invasion, some 110,183 Iraqi civilians have died violent deaths, with Coalition forces responsible for higher casualty rates than anti-Coalition forces for all weapons combined, as well as for small arms gunfire. That figure is regarded as an underestimate since the release of Wikileaks cables apparently adding another 15,000 lost civilian lives. But these lives are not Western lives and they were lost in what Western leaders considered a “just” war. No matter that bin Laden and his followers no doubt consider their war “just” and the lives lost in 9/11 similarly collateral damage. Is state sanctioned terrorism morally superior to the terrorism perpetrated by a band of cave-dwelling religious fanatics? Is the determination to impose Western liberal democracy on every country in the world itself a form of fanaticism?

Nothing will change in America as a result of bin Laden’s death. The gap between the haves and have nots will continue to widen. This distance never had anything to do with terrorists, or the events of 9/11. School teachers will continue to face up to 20% reduction in their salaries as part of budget cuts. Citizens will continue to arm themselves in record numbers, in spite of the 2010 FBI statistics that reveal the crime rate has dropped. Fear will continue to govern the hearts and minds of Americans, fear of each other, fear of their government, and fear of terrorism.

Those who were affected by the events of 9/11 I hope will feel some relief, and some closure. But the death of bin Laden is not going to make anybody more compassionate, generous, accepting and caring about one another. It’s not going to make the small number of Americans who hold the greatest wealth consider paying fair taxes so that others can have a shot at a decent life. It isn’t going to halt the unemployment rate. It isn’t going to house the homeless.

Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Indigenous people of Australia was a powerful symbolic act surrounded by great emotion, but in reality little has changed since the apology was made. In the same way the assassination of bin Laden will bring no change to the lives of the American people who most need it. Both acts generated a great deal of emotion, but emotion is ephemeral and without the will to enact real change, emotion is nothing more than indulgence. Symbolic acts are vital in any society but they are supposed to be representative of a reality:  they have no life in and of themselves. We seem to have forgotten that. We seem to have settled for the belief that the symbol, and the momentary emotional thrill it brings, is all we need.

Of course it was right that Rudd should say sorry, but saying sorry was a beginning, as well as an ending. Of course bin Laden had to be hunted down, but that too is a beginning as well as an ending. Symbols mark the possibility of and hope for change. When that hope is not realized the symbol is rendered ineffective and hollow.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in a post bin Laden USA

15 May
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shares a ...

Image via Wikipedia

Whoa, hello, back home again, seriously discombobulated with regard to day and night, and with a mind teeming with intense impressions. Whatever you think about the USA, it’s stimulating.

A few days ago two imams attempted to board a plane in Tennessee on their way to North Carolina. They went through three separate security searches, and then the pilot threw them off the flight. His reason? Other passengers complained that they felt uncomfortable  with the imams sharing their journey.

I saw the imams interviewed on the news. They were surprisingly affable, given their circumstances. Puzzled, confused, and a little hurt by the treatment they’d received, they explained they were on their way to a conference when their ordinary day turned surreal.

The airline involved eventually apologized to the imams, and they were conveyed to their destination. There is speculation that they will sue. It’s un-American not to.

There were a few people I felt uncomfortable with on my flight home but it never occurred to me to ask that they be thrown off. As they were Westerners not Muslims, it would likely have been me who’d been thrown off as a potential nutter if I’d objected to their behaviour, as opposed to their appearance.

All the while, street parties and celebrations continued over the death of Bin Laden. Relics of the Bush administration such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld seized the opportunity to resurrect themselves, and appeared on Fox News claiming credit for Bin Laden’s death on the grounds that if it had not been for their waterboarding of prisoners in Guantanamo and other places, Obama (have to be carful there, more than one TV commentator consistently confused Obama with Osama in his or her reportage) would not have been able to carry out the raid that took Osama out.

Ergo, they continued, torture is a good thing and it must be brought back. I was unaware that torture had been entirely dispensed with by the current administration.

Bellagio Fountains

On the day of Bin Laden’s death, the magnificent choreographed fountains at the Las Vegas Bellagio hotel danced to the Star Spangled Banner with cannonball explosions thrown in to create an effect derivative of the 1812 overture, as the water surged hundreds of feet into the clear blue desert air. It was spectacular, and people cried and cheered and hurled their two foot long margarita glasses into the lake in celebration while screaming “God bless America!”

The very next tune to issue forth from the fountains was, to my incredulous astonishment, Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli‘s version of Time to say Goodbye.  Make of that what you will, but it wasn’t irony. They don’t do irony in Las Vegas, all those simulacra representing Paris, Rome, Venice and Donald Trump‘s penis are not ironic. “It’s just like the Eiffel Tower!” I heard a French tourist exclaim as she wandered through the Paris Hotel casino, gazing up at a ceiling painted light blue with fluffy white French clouds floating around a construction imitative of the famed Parisian landmark, on her way to the slot machines. Nope. Definitely no irony.

After a great deal of careful thought, I’ve decided the choice of song was accidental and hugely funny, to me at least.

A few isolated and subsequently vilified public voices raised themselves in protest against the undesirability of “rooting for death”, even when it’s Bin Laden’s. However these traitors were speedily humiliated and silenced. A patriotic news analyst speculated as to why Bin Laden had no wall paper in his house, and wasn’t filmed sitting in a Lazy Boy recliner, both of which are middle class American icons. If Bin Laden was so important, his reasoning went,  how come he lived without what many Americans regard as essential items?

Speaking of Donald Trump, the world’s wealthiest bleached blonde mullet gave a foul mouthed speech at the Treasure Island Casino as part of his tilt at being a presidential candidate. The room spilled over with a certain type of Republican who responds to sentences peppered with expletives such as motherf***er, c**nt, etc. and demands that the US stop building hospitals and schools in Afghanistan because the bastards just blow them up, so why aren’t we building the mother f***ing schools in Brooklyn instead?  Trump received a standing ovation from the audience, which was obviously comprised of Republicans who believe that all a man needs to carry out the top job is the ability to accumulate obscene personal wealth. Surprising that with all that wealth, he doesn’t get his roots done, instead appearing in front of all those people looking like trailer trash.

I miss the channel that does back to back re-runs of Law and Order. I really, really do.

Home of the brave

29 Apr
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

So, now Obama has produced his birth certificate proving he was indeed born in the country.  America has a REAL  president, just like we have a REAL Julia.

Speaking generally, one of the striking differences about Australian and American attitudes to government is the undisguised fear and loathing many Americans feel towards  theirs. While in Australia we are bored, fed up with and cynical about politicians, we have a long way to go before we reach the dizzy heights of fear and loathing generated in the USA.

Though maybe the state of  loathing is approaching faster than I thought – driving down the US 95 this morning I had a sudden vision of Prime Minister Abbott, and it seemed so real I nearly ran right off  into the desert. How did those Labor dorks get it soooo wrong? They had everything going for them way back in 2007 and that alone is sufficient reason for Australians to chuck them out – talk about the squandering of social and political capital: you have to be totally ignorant and arrogant (worst possible combination) to achieve that degree of loss so fast.

 There’s many Americans who seem to believe that any government intitiative is a conspiracy to strip them of their treasured freedoms of the kind we in Australia don’t consider freedoms in the first place.  Health care reform, for example, is seen by some as a form of moral corruption – you should be able to take care of yourself, and if you can’t, you probably deserve to get sick and die, is the Darwinian/moral subtext of the unreasoning  fury directed against this particular reform. Like some of the anti abortionists who recently ripped into me on the Drum  – the health care reform antagonists are full of what everybody should do and entirely lacking in understanding of what people do do. They’re lost in fighting for the realisation of  Utopian visions of their perfect world in which there’s nobody in financial need, (because they’ve got rid of them all somehow) and nobody ever has an unplanned pregnancy, so we don’t have to have all these morally disturbing conflicts in the first place, freeing us up to thank Jesus and make money. Or whatever. In the meantime, the messy real world of real messy people keeps getting in their conservative way and resists, thankfully, all their strenuous efforts to repress it.

I’ve long considered US society to have perfected a form of socially acceptable begging, otherwise known as tipping. Your waiter, hairdresser, and other service providers are paid pitiful minimum wages, on the understanding that if they perform their duties well, they’ll be rewarded with a tip to bump up their remuneration to  a living wage or better.  As a consequence service providers are  excruciatingly nice to you, and everybody knows why. There’s that moral equation again: nice servers deserve great tips, even when they don’t really give a toss about you. Appearance is everything.  I don’t know what it does to an individual’s psyche to have to put on extravagant demonstrations of entirely manufactured concern ten hours a day five days a week, but it probably doesn’t leave a lot of time to think about politics and society. Maybe that’s it’s purpose. Hell, I’m becoming a conspiracy theorist.

I did watch Fair Game on the plane over. The movie about how there really weren’t any WMD’s.

 Yesterday I discovered my granddaughter sitting on the dunny with the sheet music of  Star Spangled Banner on the floor before her, practicing her part for the school choir. National pride is everything in schools, they pledge every morning with their hands on their hearts, under the flag. But don’t talk about politics when you’re invited to dinner. Better you should bring up sex, or even death, but if it’s death you choose  don’t say they  died, say they passed. They don’t care for died. It’s too crass.

 Where I come from you pass wind, and sometimes the salt.

As I listened to the child’s tuneless piping of the home of the brave and the land of the free, there  was a ruckus going on upstairs where a four year old was hanging out a bedroom window yelling “Yo! Watcha doin’ dumbass!” at a bunch of Mormons going door to door in our street, while his Momma hauled him in by the seat of his pants on his way to the naughty corner for a good fifteen minutes. Meantime down in the kitchen someone had  left the back door open and five sneaky chipmunks frolicked under the baby’s chair, cleaning up his leftovers and depositing a few of their own. There’s hardly a moment not filled with fun.

 As I sit here picking the chipmunk poop off my feet and reflecting for a few precious stolen  moments, I consider America.  Like Leonard Cohen says, I love the country but I can’t stand the scene. Democracy has not yet come to the USA, no sir, it certainly has not, so how they think they can export it to the Middle East is a mystery to me.

Related Articles

Linda Burney confronted about punitive surrogacy amendment

26 Mar

On SBS Insight on Thursday, March 22,  audience members got their chance to confront the NSW Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney,  on her amendment to the NSW surrogacy legislation that makes overseas commercial surrogacy a crime in NSW.

Extra territorial laws such as this are at present only in place for terrorist activities and child sexual abuse.

Burney introduced the amendment in an effort to protect women overseas she considers to be exploited by Australian parents seeking a surrogate.

It is a little on the grandiose side to imagine that any NSW law will have any impact at all on commercial surrogacy in, say, India.

But Burney’s agenda is punitive – she has admitted  that it is intended to “punish” couples who seek overseas surrogates. It will do nothing to prevent couples using overseas surrogates, as she also admitted in the program.

What it will do is put couples at risk of hefty fines and custodial sentences of up to two years if on returning to NSW they attempt to obtain parentage orders for their babies.

Parents are unable to apply for the orders without disclosing the circumstances of their child’s birth. If in an effort to avoid prosecution the parents don’t apply for parentage orders, their children are cast into a legal limbo that leaves them disadvantaged and discriminated against.

Ms Burney was supported by  Dr Renate Klein, a  “pro life” or anti choice feminist, depending on your point of view. Dr Klein steadfastly refused to acknowledge the right of adult couples to make responsible choices about commercial surrogacy. She stated that we cannot all have what we want, and when couples can’t have children, they must learn to live with it.

There has been much discontent around Burney’s amendment, and widespread agreement that it was passed without anything like the amount of public discussion and consultation it should have had.

It was clear from the couples in the studio who’d used surrogates that they are decent, fair people who went to great lengths to ensure the women who carried their babies were decently treated.

A father told the story of how his twin boys were born prematurely, and he’d lost them both. Klein immediately demanded to know if the surrogate got paid anyway.

The father broke down, and haltingly responded that of course she did, and that he thought it was disgraceful that Klein had had asked that question. I have to say I agree with him.

While there are of course incidences of exploitation, constructing all surrogacy arrangements as exploitative is extremely dishonest. This is what Burney and Klein have done, in order to further their personal agendas.

The topic is too vast, and too important to be left to the agendas of two women whose primary purpose is punitive and who’s moral position, in the case of Klein, extremely narrow.

Lastly we crossed to a short interview with twin boys carried by an American surrogate, whose parents were in the studio audience. The boys know all about their gestation, and are looking forward to a trip to the States where they’ll to go to Disneyland and spend time with the woman “who borned us.”

It seems unlikely that Burney will be a Minister after this weekend. She might be out of a job as well. She leaves a mean-spirited, dishonest and disempowering legacy to couples and their children. It is probably too much to expect that this amendment will be revoked. This means there will probably be babies in NSW who have no legal status and no legal protection, and no legal identity.

Another disgraceful legacy from NSW Labor.

%d bloggers like this: