“This time, like all times is a good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“This time, like all times is a good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Apologies for the huge gap between this post and the previous one. A whole summer been and gone – just like that!
Not for the first time I’ve been struggling with the notion that this whole blogging business is a complete waste of time. But there are a couple of reasons why I can’t seem to put it out of my head entirely.
One is that I simply feel driven to collate and redistribute those news items and nuggets of information that are relevant to my areas of interest in the best way I can. Another is my discovery that my own awareness of these subjects loses all focus unless I can bring them together in one place. That which previously loomed large tends to become diffused and scattered about amongst all the mundanities that compete for attention. The act of search and research, followed by the effort of putting things into new words to create a post never fails to sharpen the mind, clarify the opaque, and sweep away the cobwebs. Hardly a revelation to all the other bloggers and writers out there I’m sure, but there you go – we all have to gain insight in our own way.
So here goes then – let’s give it another shot and pick up where I left off – laughing at my current favourite video. You can actually see Jeremy’s mind boggling here as he struggles to stretch it beyond conventional limitations. But give him credit for at least trying!
Humour is a much underestimated but effective weapon in deflating pomposity, as we can plainly see in the video. But while far from being the first of his kind to poke fun at our ridiculous beliefs and constructions Brand seems to have the knack of getting into close quarters rather than being satisfied taking pot-shots from a distance. Neither does he hide behind “irony” or invented personas. He tends to call a spade a spade, even if we sometimes wonder if it’s actually the same implement that we know and understand.
I doubt that I’ll ever be voting for Russell Brand but I could almost weep with joy at the fact that someone with his wit and edge is willing to stand in plain view, speaking his mind in language that infuriates as much as it entertains. In this he is the archetypal trickster, the mythological wise fool, much of whose power comes from his fearlessness. The trickster takes neither the world nor himself with any degree of seriousness but invariably functions as a catalyst for the actions of others, leaving himself unscathed by the experience and skipping off into the sunset to the next gig. But then I’m sure that Russell Brand knows this story very well.
Posted in Activism, GM Technology, Uncategorized, tagged Agriculture, European Union, Genetically modified organism, March against Monsanto, Organic farming, organic farming sector, Organic food, Sustainable Agriculture, United States on May 22, 2013| 1 Comment »
This is a set of Conclusions that presents a political view of how the current organic production regulatory framework is functioning; how it could be made more effective and how it should evolve in the European Union. The conclusions also provide a focus for policy development in the future.
The document lists 25 points of application of the regulatory framework and development of the organic sector. I’ve listed a number of the conclusions that immediately stand out below, but you can read the complete document and download a copy of the PDF here
1. Organic production and the organic foodstuffs sector in the European Union is established as a sustainable farming and production system which fulfils a dual societal role by responding to an increasing consumer demand for organic products while also delivering public goods which contribute to the protection of the environment, animal welfare and rural development.
5. The Council in its Conclusions on the future of agricultural promotion policy encouraged the Commission to provide consumers with better access to information on the European production model and increase their level of familiarity with quality systems such as organic farming.
7. The use of GMOs is strictly prohibited in organic production.
THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
CALLS ON THE MEMBER STATES AND THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION,
in accordance with their respective competences, to:
13. Develop the organic farming sector at an ambitious level by reviewing the current legal framework, with a view to improving its usability while providing for a period of stability and certainty, and aiming at :
– further clarification and simplification;
– addressing the current outstanding issues requiring further development;
– clarifying the situation regarding protection of the use of the term ‘organic’ for non Annex I products;
– providing guidance on the organic claims associated with the preparation of organic products in mass catering operations.
16. Take specific measures aimed at protecting the reputation of the organic sector and meeting consumer expectations. Explore proposals for the adoption of a rigorous, proportionate, cost-efficient control regime which should include the unambiguous allocation of responsibilities between the relevant control stakeholders and a harmonised sanction regime agreed at European level.
22. Encourage the promotion of the organic sector and increased consumption of organic produce.
Take action to harmonise and guarantee application of the EU logo as a very positive measure to increase the recognition and differentiation of organic products in the market; raise public awareness and promote its use through on-line information and specific campaigns.
25. Continue to recognise and encourage the innovative dynamism and potential of the organic sector and support relevant research and innovation, in particular within the framework of the European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs).”
While there are several notable points here two in particular really stand out as helpful: in point 13 the sentence “clarifying the situation regarding protection of the use of the term ‘organic’ for non Annex I products”; and point 16: “Take specific measures aimed at protecting the reputation of the organic sector and meeting consumer expectations”, show evidence of an awareness among politicians that the consumer-driven success of the organic sector hasn’t gone unnoticed in the boardrooms of the corporate food industries. Type the sentence “corporate takeover of the organic foods market” into a search engine for example, and you’ll see why this level of awareness is so important.
To understand more about this relatively new aspect of the situation in the US and the seek and destroy mentality of the agribusiness and biotechnology giants follow this link: http://www.organicconsumers.org/Organic/
Posted in Activism, GM Technology, Uncategorized, tagged Genetic engineering, Genetically modified food, Genetically modified organism, March against Monsanto, Monsanto, Pablo Picasso, Science and Technology on May 20, 2013| Leave a Comment »
For various reasons, but mostly because it takes up time that I feel could more usefully be spent in other ways I’ve been very close to closing down this blog. However, not having been able to bring myself to the point of actually pushing the button I’ve decided to change course a little bit in the hope that the project will once again begin to make sense to me.
More focus is what’s needed, and so starting with this post I’ll be concentrating on what I feel is the single most important and pressing issue of the times we live in, namely the wholesale appropriation and corruption of our genetic heritage by a cartel of privately owned corporations, aided and abetted by national governments, private armies, and fraudulent or misguided science.
Climate change and deterioration is a battle lost it seems and we’ll have to deal with the consequences as best we can. The argument for and against the use of genetic engineering in order to facilitate the centralization of the source, cultivation, and distribution of the world’s food supplies into the hands of a select few is however a battle that’s still being fought, and it’s far from done and dusted.
It’s not my intention to waste anyone’s time (including my own) broadcasting my personal opinions about the subject at hand. Anybody who’s ever taken the trouble to read this blog will pretty much know where I stand. Rather I’d like to spend the time available helping to point readers in the direction of those who know and understand with more precision than I exactly where the dangers lie.
It’s not difficult to find scare stories about GM technology and the profit motivated manipulation of every link in the food chain. Take for example the recent case of the Indiana farmer dragged through the courts by Monsanto and brought to the brink of bankruptcy by the GM giant. But rather than filling page after page with alarms, horror stories, and negativity I’ll make an effort to keep in the foreground the knowledge that not only do scientifically proven alternatives to GM technology exist, (and have always existed), there is also a huge and growing movement against this dangerous and irreversible folly.
In order to do so I’ll highlight and share every instance of resistance that I can find, from organizations and individuals that work to establish and maintain seed banks free of F1 hybrids and GMOs, to movements committed to slow food, localization, and life after Peak Oil. Along the way (and at the risk of preaching to the converted) I’ll share everything I know or can find about the ways and means to work with and alongside Nature for our mutual benefit.
I have a strong feeling that the vast majority of people simply haven’t yet realized the scope and importance of this issue. Many people I know scarcely ever think twice about what they eat or where it comes from as long as it’s easily and cheaply available. This is exactly the state of mind that corporations like Monsanto depend and thrive on. A passive populace in thrall to consumerism can’t or won’t understand the arguments for and against until the decisions have been made for them, by which time they’ll have other things to worry about.
Taking personal responsibility for the fundamentals of life while sticking up as many fingers as you can spare to the corporations is a way out of this mess. I decide, you decide, we decide – that’s the way forward.
By the way, music – because it’s life-affirming and a joy will always have a place on this blog.
So what’s your problem? Nothing too troubling I hope. As for me I’m delighted to report that after many years groping around in the dark I’ve finally had mine explained to me. My problem, (or at least the one I’m prepared to discuss here) is this: I don’t understand The Market.
I realised this by chance one day last week when I happened to be within range of a radio as on three separate occasions my problem, my lack of understanding, was defined by a variety of erudite experts who were obviously “in the know”. Surely this was no coincidence I thought as the mists cleared; there must be some underlying synchronicity at work here. Either that or a well-meaning higher power was prodding me into finally arriving at an understanding of my handicap.
Having thought about it for a few days I now realise that The Market that I don’t understand is actually any number of markets, maybe even all markets. Or maybe all markets are in reality one huge market, much too vast and complex for simple folk to understand. There you go you see, I’m feeling confused and inadequate already just thinking about the great big hugeness of The Market and the depths of my ignorance. However, just for now, and for the sake of simplicity the three markets that I’d like to isolate are these:
1) The Energy Market. I don’t understand how it can be that energy companies, gas suppliers for example, can continue to make such enormous profits for themselves and their shareholders while at the same time obliging the consumer to pay higher and higher prices. Surely if we are “all in this together”, as we’re so often led to believe this spirit would be better served if the energy companies passed a share of their profits on to the consumer in the form of lower prices? As things stand their position could easily be mistaken for simple, uncomplicated greed by an ignorant person like myself. But my confusion, as I’ve now come to see is simply down to my lack of understanding of The Market.
2) The Food Industry. Specifically the market in meat. I don’t understand how it can be economically viable or beneficial to all those in the chain of supply and demand, from farmer to processor to retailer to consumer, for meat to be flown in to Europe from all corners of the globe, and then sold to me in a supermarket at half the price I would pay for locally sourced meat at the local butcher. Not being a butcher or a farmer, a meat trader, or even a supermarket employee I simply fail, from whatever angle I look at it, to see how this is fair, sustainable, or can be described in terms other than globalized profiteering. However, as I now realise, once again this is simply a case of me not understanding The Market.
3) The Banking Industry. Try as I might, and despite the bombardment of excuses and explanations we’re daily subjected to I can’t understand how it can be possible for such failed and failing institutions, bailed out worldwide by taxpayers to still be in a position to reward their decision makers with armfuls of extra cash on top of their already enormous salaries. I realise of course that I lack understanding of The Market, but it just doesn’t feel right, like when you notice that there’s an awful stink coming from somewhere and somehow you just know that there’s a dead rat under the floorboards.
At this point I suppose I should declare a bias. A few years ago, before the current financial crisis became publicly visible I actually met an investment banker at a small social gathering. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t enjoy the experience. The urbane gentleman turned out to be one of the most seriously unpleasant people I’d ever come across, and I can assure you that I’ve led anything but a sheltered life. It’s safe to say that that particular banker left me with a poor opinion of his profession and the culture it spawns. But putting negative personal experiences to one side for now there’s obviously little doubt that it’s The Market that’s got me flummoxed here.
Clearly there are two sorts of people in the world: those who understand The Market, and those who don’t. So what’s to be done about my unfortunate ignorance? What can I do to get my head around the apparent absurdities and anomalies we constantly see? “Nothing”, is I suppose the answer that some would prefer to hear. Many people believe that there’s little to be gained by poking around under the surface of things, especially when it concerns our economic well-being, or interferes with the status quo, whilst others, the “insiders” seem less than thrilled at the prospect of The Market being obliged to expose itself for all to see. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, as my banking acquaintance might well have said, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and speaking for myself, now that my problem has finally been identified and I can breathe more easily the obvious response is to learn, learn, learn.
23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism, a book by Cambridge professor of economics Ha-Joon Chang seems like a good place to start. By page one of chapter one: “There is no such thing as a free market”, I already feel that I’ve probably chosen the right guidebook, especially when Professor Chang states that 95 percent of economics is actually common sense deliberately made complicated. Made complicated by whom? By free market ideologists who have convinced us that all we need to do is to put our trust in The Market and get out of the way, according to the author, who goes on to insist that it is not necessary for us to have a grasp of all the technical details in order to understand what is going on in the world.
There’s more than one way to run capitalism Chang argues, and what we’ve seen over the last few years are the consequences of allowing free market capitalists, otherwise known as ‘neo-liberal economists’ free rein to develop their concepts about how the World – the World, not just The Market – should work. Understanding the key principles and basic facts puts us in a position to exercise, as he puts it, ‘active economic citizenship’, in order to demand the right courses of action from those we’ve voted in to make decisions on our behalf.
Crucially he also confirms our suspicions that what happened to the world economy over the last few years was no accident but the result of a failed ideology that now wants nothing better than for us go back to sleep and allow it to carry on where it left off – organising and facilitating the upward redistribution of wealth – while we’re left wondering where all the money went.
Of course, this is as about as radical a tome as you’re going to get from someone with the author’s background – there’ll be no overthrow of the established order advocated here. But coming from a self-confessed capitalist this book seems to me like a blast of fresh air finally emerging from the pit. Given that his stated intention is to “equip the reader with an understanding of how capitalism really works and how it can be made to work better”, this is a genuinely courageous and illuminating book from someone who obviously cares about what happens next and wants to let us all in on the act.
To be continued…
Posted in Movies, The Arms Trade, Uncategorized, tagged CAAT, Connecticut, Django Unchained, Graphic violence, Peace movement, Quentin Tarantino, Spaghetti western, Violence in popular media, Weapons industry on December 22, 2012| 4 Comments »
It’s not my place to expound on events such as the Connecticut school shootings where so many innocent people died last week. I’m not qualified, and although I have an opinion about it, as we presumably all do, opinions, least of all mine aren’t going to help anyone. But I will voice an opinion, helpful or otherwise, about something I saw recently, coincidentally on the same day that those shootings took place.
The trailers to the new Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained, two and a half-minute packages of graphic violence in word and deed are now available for all to enjoy on various websites. Of course there may be more to the movie than can be gleaned from watching a couple of trailers, but having seen something of that director’s work in the past I rather doubt it. However well dressed up, the movie will essentially be about individuals experiencing traumatic injustices and/or gruesome conflicts all of which will sooner or later be avenged by the use of an arsenal of assorted weaponry, in this case mainly handguns. The characters will be believable and the dialogue edgy and sardonic. As an audience we will root for the good guy however flawed, and come to despise the bad guy for his misdeeds. But never fear – revenge will be sweet and death will come swiftly to those who stand in the way of vengeance blah, blah, blah. In short Django Unchained is a Spaghetti Western with brains and apparently, in its use of certain characterizations, with 2012 sensibilities.
While my opinion about Tarantino and his work is that it would be better for everyone if he would confine his psychosexual fantasies to the psychiatrist’s couch (preferably while locked away in a remote mental asylum) it goes without saying that his work is by no means the worst of what’s out there. What it does seem to be, judging by the critical reaction to his movies is the acceptable face of extreme violence, made stylish and attractive by the use of hip dialogue and the sharp character definitions so beloved of film critics everywhere. Seen in this light ultra-violence is almost a desirable lifestyle choice and its practitioners trendsetters.
I abhor violence in whatever form it presents itself but I believe that I’ve come to a degree of understanding about particular aspects of it. I understand, for example, that certain people while living safe, secure, but tightly structured lives can become fascinated by the decisive act of violence as a way of cutting through confusion and complexity. I also understand its seductive power as a simplistic means to an end, and even as a form of self-expression when all else fails.
As a very young soldier I experienced the powerful effects that both random and organised violence can have on individuals, groups, and societies. There is an intoxicating sense of liberation when our flimsy social structures fall away and life becomes a matter of striking first and hardest. All questions are answered and all doubts silenced in such moments. Caught up in that delirium consequences are for others to worry about, a dangerous illusion so insidious that otherwise sane and grounded people can easily be swept away by it.
The cowardice that lurks at the heart of the use of guns is carefully masked by the technical and cultural blarney that surrounds it, but it comes down to this: The ability to strike decisively from a distance simply by choosing to do so allows a level of dissociation from the consequences of the act and requires a lesser, meaner kind of courage than, for example, the courage of the boxer who steps into the ring to go nose to nose with his opponent. This same detachment allows soldiers in helicopter gunships to massacre innocent people gathering in the street below, allows for the use and justification of robot drones to bomb and kill at the touch of a distant button, and allows politicians to send generations of youngsters to do their dirty work for them. If on the face of it these actions may seem to have little connection with one another, I’m utterly convinced that in essence they are one and the same thing.
From my personal experience I know that nothing, not my upbringing, not the endless hours of training, nor my knowledge of, and confidence in the piece of technology that I held in my hands prepared me in a fit way for the moment when I had to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on another human being. This was the crucial piece that was missing I realised much, much later – an ability to grasp the full consequences of what my training and clever technology had made me capable of doing.
Maybe it’s because these days I tend to see things from a holistic point of view rather than grouping causes and effects into separate, disconnected boxes that I’m unable to make a clear distinction between the man who designs, manufactures, and sells the weapon, and the man who carries the process to its logical conclusion and uses it to commit an act of violence. To me the designer of the landmine for example, safely out of sight in his workshop, is no better than the man who deploys the device with the intention of blowing another human being to bits. The person who then produces a work of pop entertainment that normalizes, justifies, romanticizes or glorifies that act is just another culpable link in the chain, no better than the arms trader or the psychotic who closes the circle.
This should be the clearly recognised and acknowledged chain of culpability, beginning with the bright spark who designs and markets the weapon, via those who through various ways and means legalize, promote and profit from its use, to the poor fool who pulls the trigger. Surely it must be obvious by now that those who have to deal with the consequences are the victims of a collective effort channeled through a well-defined, well-worn trajectory.
Attempting to fight gun crime or bring about peace by the use of more and more weaponry is a lunatic philosophy worthy of the cancer cell. Calling for the banning or restriction of arms sales to private individuals while at the same time indoctrinating young people in the advantages of their use and flooding the world with weapons of every possible description is nothing but the most cynical hypocrisy, in my opinion. But the arms industry and certain sections of the entertainment industry, amongst others, have a vested interest in keeping people at a level of consciousness that facilitates hatred, violence and warfare as means of dealing with our fears and uncertainties.
Tarting up extreme violence in a slick hi-tech package and selling it as a “game”, a cool fashion accessory or a must-see movie doesn’t make it ok. It’s not a useful contribution. At best it is deluded self-indulgence, and at worst an act of predatory capitalism with a nasty little ulterior motive. Neither does it confront us with “reality” to any useful extent or offer a valuable insight into the human condition, whatever critics and other media types might say ad nauseam. That particular piece of insight, however cleverly disguised in psychological hocus pocus has literally been done to death.
What it does do is keep us scared and stupid. Scared people, given the opportunity, go out and buy guns to make themselves feel safe, then sit at home nursing their insecurities until something has to give. Those who are scared and stupid go out and use them.
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