Monday, 28 November 2011

What is the motivation for having nuclear power?

It’s difficult to see how it serves the interests of anyone at all.

No ordinary citizens want to live near a power plant, given the choice; that must be even truer in light of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The nuclear and insurance industries themselves recognise that it’s not a viable enterprise. The state must nanny the industry massively for reasons including the unwillingness of providers to sell insurance policies to nuclear businesses.

There might be some considerable financial reward for some nuclear executives, but capitalists are clever people: if not nuclear, they can find plenty of other ways to enrich themselves.

Moreover, these executives (and their children) will live in the same country as their power stations and, as Fukushima shows, one can never really live far enough away to be safe from an accident.

I have been watching the documentary, ‘Into Eternity’: in Finland, they are building a massive underground repository (effectively an underground city) for nuclear waste; this facility will eventually be sealed, and must remain sealed for the next 100,000 years.

It’s mind-boggling. It’s not clear (might become so – haven’t finished watching the whole lot yet) who is paying for this. Apparently, this is the only safe way to deal with waste; but the cost of this project seems to dwarf any benefits from nuclear, and that itself seems a massive understatement when you consider that this project will presumably have to be replicated hundreds/thousands of times around the world (for all those advanced nations engaged in nuclear power production).

Out of all the contempt that drives human activity (e.g. racism that enables the plunder of lands populated by brown people, misogyny that sustains the oppression of women, hatred of animals that enables the daily genocide perpetrated by the meat industry), it seems our greatest contempt is for future generations. It seems that we (might) love our children, but we couldn’t give a damn about their children.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

comment on: Norman Finkelstein, 'How to Solve the Israel-Palestine Conflict'

I listened to Norman Finkelstein on Fri at London University: 'How to Solve the Israel-Palestine Conflict'

As an aside: Finkelstein, to my mind, is a very laborious speaker. I don't really want to listen to him again, certainly not live - I could tolerate snippets on YouTube. He is stimulating to read, though; so that's what I intend restricting myself to doing with him in future. (The same applies, though to a lesser extent, with Noam Chomsky.)

Delivery aside, the *content* of his talk was interesting. He spoke for so long (two+ hours - so long that I couldn't even bear to stay to the end) that, inevitably, there is much I could comment on. But I will just highlight one aspect:

Finkelstein said that a major factor exacerbating Israel's international isolation is that its would-be supporters are Jews, so they have Jewish sensibilities. - Jewish sensibilities are a major problem (for Israel).

Jewish sensibilities are overwhelmingly liberal, meaning that Jews believe in such things as: the same rules of law should apply to the rich/powerful as to the poor/weak; conflicts should be resolved through nonviolent means, not superior firepower.

Jews in America are atypical in their voting habits, because, in America, most people vote with their wallets. So rich non-Jews typically vote Republican, and poor blacks typically vote Democrat. Given their wealth, Jews *ought* to be voting Republican, but they overwhelmingly vote Democrat - against their economic self-interest (but according to their liberal sensibilities).

Given those sensibilities, then, and especially if you're a young Jewish boy/girl on some ivy-league campus, you really don't want to be seen defending Israel when its crimes are so massive and perpetrated with such hubris and chutzpah.

For example:

In the summer of 2006, in its war with Hezbollah, Israel dropped four million cluster bomblets (illegal weapons) on South Lebanon in 72 hours; and this was even *after* the UN had passed a ceasefire resolution and the war was effectively over.

In 2008/9, during their massacre of 1400 Palestinians in Gaza, Israel dropped white phosphorous (another illegal weapon - reaches a temp of 800 Celsius, burning through human flesh like a hot knife through butter) on two Gazan hospitals.

The Goldstone Report was a disaster for Israel: Goldstone, a Jew and self-avowed Zionist, succumbed to his Jewish sensibilities in endorsing the judgement that Israel was indeed guilty of war crimes in 'Operation Cast Lead' (the euphemistic term for Gaza Massacre).

In 2010, Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara civilian vessel (part of the pro-Palestinian activist flotilla) in international Mediterranean waters (yet another contemptuous breach of international law), killing a dozen of those onboard. (Incidentally, some of the commandos were captured for a while, yet, despite relentless Israeli propaganda those onboard were terrorists, not a single commando was executed but, rather, received medical attention.)

Finkelstein said much more, but this aspect of his talk struck me as particularly interesting - the notion that the nature of Jewishness itself ('Jewish sensibilities') was a fundamental problem for Israel. That seems a real Catch-22: Israel wants to be a (the) 'Jewish State', but Jews want to distance themselves from it (due to sensibilities which are apparently inherent to the Jewish identity). Seems to me that that might be a real dilemma for the Jewish Diaspora (perhaps even for Jews in Israel): do you avow your Jewishness (Jewish sensibilities) by condemning the actions of the 'Jewish State', or by avowing your loyalty to the Jewish State (which others, including Jews, will see as complicity in war crimes)?

‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ (ethnic cleansing, WMD, and more)

The sequel is much darker than the original.

Po (the kung fu panda of the title) must confront his past so that he can find the strength to deal with the present and the future.

(Incidentally, the Soothsayer in ‘KFP2’ reminds us that the present is the most important: as Master Oogway said in ‘KFP1’, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift – that is why it is called the present.”)

But there is deep darkness in Po’s past, accounting for his adoption: his panda village was destroyed and (nearly) all pandas murdered by a military invasion-occupation.

And today, the leader of that military dictatorship, Lord Shen, is hell-bent on utilising a WMD to expand and entrench his territory – a weapon so powerful that it threatens the very existence of kung fu.

It is the job of Po (and the Furious Five) to save China and Kung Fu.

Well, that’s the politics. There is also much spirituality (Buddhism perhaps).

Awed and inspired by seeing what his Master (Shifu) is capable of kung-fu-wise through achieving ‘inner peace’, Po resolves that he must ‘get his peace on’.

And that’s a principal message of the film: you must vanquish your inner demons – anger, bitterness, vengeance, avarice, greed, ambition etc. – and ‘get your peace on!’

(There is also much implicit promotion of veganism, but that’s probably inevitable because all the characters are animals.)

Kung Fu Panda and other action heroes: compare and contrast

('Kung Fu Panda 2' out now! - on dvd and blu-ray)

Po (aka Kung Fu Panda) is the chubby hero of the Kung Fu Panda movies.

He fantasises that he can be *awesome* like his heroes, the Furious Five (China’s leading kung fu warriors), painfully aware that he is seen by others, and by himself, as just a clumsy overweight oaf. This is exactly what we see him dreaming in the opening sequence of the first movie. Villagers (in his dream) thank him for saving them from evil bandits, someone remarking how “awesome” he is and some girl remarking how “attractive” he is. ‘How can we repay you?’ they ask. Po imagines that he will be very magnanimous: ‘There is no charge for awesomeness – or attractiveness.’

He is unique amongst action heroes in being the only one whose hallmark personality trait lies in having self-esteem issues (e.g. he eats when he’s upset).

This occurs with no other action heroes. For example, James Bond’s primary personality trait is smug arrogance. Moreover, to the extent that any other heroes have any personality at all, the only ‘depth’ to that is their torment: Spiderman and Superman, particularly, are tormented by their separation from the girls they love as a consequence of their crime-fighting duties. That adds a modicum of drama to plotlines which are otherwise pretty turgid.

Conventional action heroes, e.g. Spiderman, Superman and Batman (SSB), are narcissists who demonstrate their superiority to others (e.g. Batman is superior to the Gotham City Police in crime-fighting). Kung Fu Panda merely seeks acceptance by others (particularly the Furious Five), achieving equality with them rather than superiority. It is striking that SSB fetishize themselves through their skin-tight costumes designed to advertise their toned physiques; whereas Po merely wears very old patched shorts that have been stitched in many places (due, no doubt, to his fatness splitting the seams). SSB think only about *themselves* (as exemplified by the branding of themselves through their thoughtfully constructed self-obsessed costumes) and their alter-egos (their enemies). Po thinks only about *others* – in his admiration of kung fu masters and in his mission to protect the villagers. SSB are masters and saviours to be idolised, whereas Po and the Furious Five are merely servants (of the people) to be thanked.

There are striking differences between the economics of conventional action heroes and Kung Fu Panda. Bruce Wayne and James Bond, for example, are capitalists; Po and the Furious Five are socialists. This is sometimes very explicit: for example, Bruce Wayne derives his Batman powers largely from his fabulous wealth which enables him to invest in hi-tech gadgets and weaponry. The same applies to Ethan Hunt, James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer (curious, btw, that so many spies have the initials ‘JB’): enormous personal wealth and/or taxpayer subsidy via MI6/CIA. And even if material wealth is not crucial to the hero, e.g. Superman, Spiderman, then it is crucial to the villain, e.g. Lex Luthor, Green Goblin, Doc Octopus. What we learn from SSB is that there is good capitalism (e.g. Wayne Enterprises) and bad capitalism (e.g. Lex Luthor’s holdings, the Green Goblin’s ‘Oscorp’); and we the audience cheer the good capitalists and boo the bad capitalists, but capitalism itself is not challenged.

In stark contrast, Kung Fu Panda does not derive any power from any such crude commodity as money, nor in fact do his adversaries. Indeed, he doesn’t derive any strength from any external agent – because even the sacred powerful ‘Dragon Scroll’ (the rightful possession of the ‘Dragon Warrior’, who Po is revealed to be) is nothing but a mirror that simply tells one to look within oneself.

Thus, Po is a very positive influence for not only children (whom his films are apparently meant for) but adults too. The message is that anyone, even a clumsy overweight panda, can become “awesome” if they tap into their inner strength. In stark contrast, others, e.g. Batman, Bond, are a very corrupting influence, the message being that, if you can get yourself the right gadgets (Bond films even indulge in the crass practice of product-placement), the right body and the right costume, then you too can be the coolest kid on the block. This simply promotes consumerism, whereas Po promotes self-reflection.

It is striking that, whilst SSB, Bond, Bauer, Bourne & Hunt are men, it is Po the *panda* who is actually the only one with genuine human qualities: he is wracked by low self-esteem, self-doubt and fear.

Po’s supreme humility and complete lack of ego is illustrated at the end of the first movie. He has vanquished the evil Tai Lung and saved the Valley of Peace. He has fulfilled his Dragon Warrior destiny and earned the respect and adulation of the whole village. Even his most severe critic, Master Tigress, is moved to bow and address him with the honorific title he has finally earned, ‘Master’. Rather than basking in the adulation, Po merely chuckles at hearing the word ‘Master’ being applied to him. Moreover, he is so concerned about others and uninterested in himself that the word ‘Master’ simply turns his thoughts straight to his own master, Master Shifu – who he rushes straight off to see for fear that he (Shifu) might have been injured/killed.

In political terms, Po + the Furious Five are like Sandinsta or VietCong guerrillas, whose mission is to repel fascist invaders from terrorising peaceful villagers. In stark contrast: James Bond’s mission is to protect Her Majesty’s imperial interests – originally ill-gotten anyway through rapacious plunder around the globe by the British Empire – against any upstart villains who have the gall to think they can challenge the power of the MI6-CIA terrorist network.

On the inter-personal level, Bond is always looking for sex (from women), whereas Po is always looking for love (from anyone).

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

'Collapse'

There are writers out there who are saying that we are witnessing the collapse of the global financial system.

Just came across this guy, Michael Ruppert - watched a documentary about him and his theses. His last book was 'Collapse' (2010).

Haven't read his book, but listened to him, instead, in the documentary of the same name.

His argument (as I understood it) is that Peak Oil is the key to much (all?) global politics, and that the global financial system (not just America) is, in essence, a pyramid-selling scheme, where the principal product being traded around the world is derivatives (and derivatives of derivatives), where derivatives are complex packages of debts (e.g. mortgages).

So there are two principal problems.

The first is that the vast majority of the economy is fake (trade in debt), based on nothing tangible. What little real money exists, e.g. gold, dollar bills, is dwarfed by the 'money' (fabricated numbers) in circulation. (Apparently, there is $700 trillion in the world, but nowhere near that amount in stuff of real value + real money.)

And then, the second problem: what real economy there does exist is all based on fossil fuels, a very finite resource, especially now that we have reached (perhaps passed) Peak Oil (the point where we have consumed half of the Earth's reserves). One give-away of the truth of this is the fact that the Saudis, who themselves sit atop 25% of the world's reserves, have started drilling in the sea: this only makes sense if they have passed their own peak, because it's massively more expensive for them to extract under-sea than under their own land.

Apparently, the oil companies are well aware that the ice caps are melting, but they're actually celebrating this because it means that, finally, they can now access the oil under the Arctic Ocean.

And the disastrous feature of our economy is that fossil fuels are far more than simply what powers our transport. It powers *everything* (even when the power is electricity), e.g. all manufacturing processes, very many materials (e.g. everything that contains plastic), hospitals, food-preservation. And what is even more scary is that our entire food system is oil-based: modern industrialised farming has so depleted the soil of nutrients that now we can't grow any food without fertilisers and pesticides, both of which come from oil. Without oil, we can't even eat!

An 'oil-based' economy does not really capture the chilling reality. It is more like oil is the blood in the veins of our civilisation, and that, I think, is why these futurologists talk about the 'collapse' of our civilisation rather than, say, 'crisis'.

Ruppert argues (paraphrasing - can't remember his exact words) that it's only when you understand the centrality of oil to western civilisation that foreign policy begins to look rational rather than inconsistent, e.g. overthrowing one dictator whilst supporting another. 'Of course Iraq was all about oil; everyone knows that.'

Thursday, 3 November 2011

"Unions are just as bad as the banks."

"Unions are just as bad as the banks. They rip us off as much as they can. There is no difference."

Amazing statement from someone on Twitter.

The writer has no concept of the relative budgets and power of banks and unions.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The rape accusations against Assange cannot be taken seriously.

There would be no rape accusations against Assange if certain countries (e.g. America) did not regard his Wikileaks project as highly politically subversive.

One indicator of the veracity of that hypothesis is the fact that, originally, Assange approached the Swedish authorities himself (when he was in Sweden - a couple of years ago, I think) with regard to these accusations because he wanted to clear his name before leaving (for England, I think).

At that time, Sweden showed no interest in inviting him to stay (or detaining him) for that purpose (i.e. to examine the 'case'); indeed, the relevant Swedish judge at the time dismissed the accusations as being too flimsy to stand up in court.

Only later did Sweden feel sufficient pressure from America to decide suddenly that, actually, Assange did have a case to answer after all.

Sweden has exposed its new political colours, i.e. subservience to the US, very recently. In all previous years, Sweden has always voted in favour of pro-Palestinian UN resolutions, along with the vast majority of nations, and against the tiny minority of anti-Palestinian voters (primarily America and Israel). But this year, for the first time, it decided to vote *with* the US.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I attended another lecture at the TCU ('Tent City University') at St Paul's.

I attended another lecture at the TCU ('Tent City University') at St Paul's.

The speaker gave some fascinating chilling insights into the welfare 'reforms', e.g. DLA (disability living allowance).

Government actions over DLA are basically striking panic and fear, even sometimes suicide, into people receiving that benefit and their carers and families.

A major driving force behind these 'reforms' (i.e. privatisation) is a certain American health insurance company (whose name escapes me now).

She remarked on how the corporatized media spin this subject. For example, they typically pose the question, 'What do you think about people claiming undeserved disability allowances?' - to which the answer, of course, is universally 'we hate it.'

BUT, when you ask, say, 'Is there anyone whose future you fear for with regard to welfare reforms?' you get a very different picture of people's attitudes towards welfare claimants.

She writes this blog (which looks pretty interesting):
http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/