Early Christmas presents – your virtual gifts here…

It’s something we’ve done in a small way over in the forum for a couple of years, but I thought I’d copy it over here as a comment thread this year – giving Christmas presents is often expensive and perhaps almost as often, pointless. You spend ages trying to find something that is adequate as a gift, not that is either useful or of benefit, or something where the purchasing in the first place is for the greater good…

We can talk about fair trade presents (and beautiful solo bass cds) later but for now, we’re looking for free online pressies. They can be as simple as recommendations for cool websites, or links to sites with free (legal) MP3s, or cartoons, films. Please don’t post links to anything where the legality or morality of the derivation is questionable, like MP3 blogs not sanctioned by the artists etc. but links to last.fm pages with free mp3s are good, or even last.fm pages where albums are streamable if not downloadable.

This is your chance to offer a free gift of something fun and useful and artsy and cool to all the readers of this ‘ere blog…

So here are my three for you – one or two of which I may have mentioned before –

The End of Control – on ongoing ebook, readable as a blog or downloadable as PDF chapters, on the changes in the music industry.
Free Culture – another e-book about the nature of copyright, ownership and the proliferation of ideas and content in a digital age.
New Music Strategies – a third e-book about the changes in the music industry. More deeply thought out stuff on where it’s all going.

So there you go, three books for Christmas (or for you Americans, you can see them as a Thanksgiving present too, should you wish to, along with this thought and this thought about what Thanksgiving is).

So post away, comments are open – give a freebie web-gift for Christmas! :o)

A rare moment of god-botheringness on the blog…

I don’t often post God bothering things on the blog, but today’s ‘verse of the day’ on the Sojourner’s blog really caught my eye –

“You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.”
– Deuteronomy 24:14-15

Back in the 80s people used to talk about believing in a ‘social gospel’ or some other euphemism that suggested there was any other way of reading what it means to be inspired by jesus… with the wealth of stuff in the Bible that relates looking after the poor, looking after immigrants, not pursuing wealth, the dangers of greed etc. etc. it’s a wonder that some people claiming to be Christians can sleep at night…

There’s a magical bit in Amos that says (in The Message) –

” 21-24″I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

No wonder so many people are turned off from anything Jesus-related, following Gandhi’s route of being inspired by the sermon on the mount but seeing the church as an agent of the hideous status quo rather than a radical organisation with a deep concern for the poor, for justice… it’s there in the book, just not there in the behaviour of the Bushes and Blairs of this world, making a total bollocks-up of anything remotely justice-oriented, talking a load of shit about their concern for poverty reduction and ‘fairness’ whilst waging illegal wars and backing the IMF and World Bank in their schemes to trap yet more third world countries into privatisation schemes and debt cycles…


More on Friedman…

Ok, I didn’t explain what I hate about this quote, ” In an essay titled “Is Capitalism Humane?” Friedman said that “a set of social institutions that stresses individual responsibility, that treats the individual … as responsible for and to himself, will lead to a higher and more desirable moral climate.” “

The huge issue is the fallacy of ‘individual responsibility’. The assumption that all-powerful personal autonomy is a healthy way to live. It also assumes that (as most people with some kind of heart would agree, even if they like Friedman) there are a handful of people who will struggle, and so we need systems in place to help them, because they are disabled, or mentally ill, or whatever, but everyone else can just get into a scrap for the top of the heap.

It’s bollocks. Indefensible bollocks. Because if it was true, rich people would be happier. It’s as simple as that. And they aren’t. Not even close. In fact, the opposite is often true. I know of people earning $2 million a year, who talk about what they want to do ‘when they get rich’. How fucked is that? I also know people with nothing who give what they have to help others, and are rewarded richly for it.

So, a system that promotes the rights of those at the top, who already have more than they’ll ever need, over those at the bottom who aren’t just devoid of luxury, but can’t get basic food, medical care, education etc. is clearly screwed. I’m baffled how anyone could think otherwise.

So, to suggest that the ‘moral’ aim of economic systems is to facilitate the right to acquire any level of person fortune, to encourage people to strive for that because of some screwed up ‘trickledown’ concept, is mendacious.

It seems clear from the failure of most Communist government experiments that that isn’t the answer. I very much doubt that Soviet Russia scored too highly on a contendedness/happiness/shalom rating. I think there’s genuinely a ‘third way’, it’s just a shame that the third way we’ve been presented with post-Clinton is just the same old shit with a few crumbs being thrown to the poor.

Politics as if people mattered. What a lovely thought.

Death toll in Iraq – officially not really newsworthy…

A couple of days ago, I got an email from Doug Lunn in LA, with a link to an article about a report about to be published in The Lancet saying that the death toll in Iraq is likely to be as high as 655,000. The horror of the figure led Doug to say that he wasn’t going to circulate it til he had more confirmation of where the figure had come from etc.

Today, The Independent have it on their front page – clearly deeming it credible enough to run with it. After all, it’s not some crazy fringe website that’s claiming this, it’s The Lancet! Hardly known for it’s rabid anti-zionist, anti-western stance. It’s a medical journal.

here’s a chunk from the article –

“The new figure is much larger than all previous estimates – more than 20 times higher than President George Bush claimed 11 months ago – and will add considerable weight to the calls of those seeking a withdrawal of troops.

The 654,965 deaths estimated to have resulted from the invasion represent about 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi population. It means people have been dying at a rate of about 560 a day, equivalent to one death every three minutes, or less

Two years ago, a study by Dr Les Roberts and a team from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, estimated that at least 100,000 Iraqis had been killed as a result of the war. This new survey, conducted by the same team and based on similar methodology but using a larger sample, suggests the situation is getting worse rather than better – a conclusion at odds with claims made by President Bush.”

So why the hell isn’t this everywhere? the lovely Jyoti raises this point, and it’s a scary one – why, if this is a credible report (which it clearly is) isn’t this on every front page? Operation Enduring Freedom and its conjoined sibling Operation Gargantuan Fuck-up have lead to the deaths of 2.5% of the population – most attempts at Genocide don’t do such an efficient job of wiping out sections of a population!

Meanwhile, has anyone in government on either side of the Atlantic apologised? or acknowledged the report? Here’s Bush’s response from the same article –

“Yesterday, Mr Bush sought to dismiss the survey, claiming without elaboration that its methodology was flawed. “I don’t consider it a credible report. Neither does General George Casey [the commander of US forces in Iraq] and neither do Iraqi officials,” he said.

“I do know a lot of innocent people have died, and that troubles me. And it grieves me. And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence.”

So the guys responsible for the slaughter don’t consider it credible, so we’ll just let it go. Nice of him to applaud people for their courage in the face of violence that he commissioned… Like a murderer bigging up his victims for the struggle they put up.

The problem with numbers like this is that whether the report is validated or not, it gives the hawks a reference against which to say ‘look, other figures say that only 100,000 people have died – check out our wikkid humanitarian skillz’ – as though 100,000 would be OK.

However it’s spun, we’re left with a government in the UK and US that in the style of King Kanute, stands in the face of a tidal wave of evidence against them and says ‘well, we’re in power, and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing until you start believing us, regardless of the consequences.’

Is there a way forward from this? what’s the best thing that could happen? You know, I’m not at all sure (like that’s a surprise, me with my PHD in Islamic Peace Studies ‘n’ all… ;o) ) – but various people who do know have offered suggestions, and all of them favour getting the troops the hell out of Iraq. Some say immediate withdrawal, some say timed but quick withdrawal. All say that the western military presence is making it worse not better, leading to more deaths not less deaths, giving a voice and legitimacy to those who seek to destroy Iraq from the inside, and provoking the understandable anti-western guerrilla response – the so-called insurgents. The western military presence makes it impossible to discern the difference between those who are fighting the occupation, and those who are just crazy warmongering loons on the rampage. If the troops pull out, those fighting the occupation would clearly stop, because there’d be no occupation, and those carrying on would be opposed from within as the Iraqi people get back some sense of ownership of their own nation and destiny no?

perhaps I’m being too simplistic (I’m definitely being too simplistic), but given the choice between two simplistic answers – keep fighting so we can blame ‘them’ for the war, or pull out so we can expose ‘them’ for their ulterior motives. I’d take the second…

But back to the initial question – why the hell isn’t this front page news everywhere???

Clinton at the Labour Party Conference

So Bill Clinton’s been bigging up Blair and Brown at the Labour party conference, describing Blair’s government as a ‘stunning success’, and Brown as having a ‘brilliant vision for the future’.

I, on the other hand, prefer George Galloway’s description of the two from a few months back – ‘Blair and Brown are two cheeks of the same arse’.

I can’t even be bothered to watch the coverage of the conference. It’s all either nonsense about the leadership challenges or it’s labour monkeys telling us not to concern our pretty little selves over the leadership squabbles and to focus on issues.

Well, we are focused on issues – issues like those expressed by the 50,000 people who demonstrated in Manchester earlier in the week, calling for Blair to resign now, and for an end to the balls up in Iraq. Ah, I’m guessing our faux-labour-new-tory chums would rather not talk about those issues… let’s not forget what happened to Walter Wolfgang last year… So instead we can continue to talk like the succession of Blair to Brown is a foregone conclusion.

Two cheeks, bloglings – where’s the left wing option when we need it? Billy Bragg for prime minister?

Violence over being called violent

Much has been said about the events following the Pope’s perhaps unwise comments about Islam – see here and here – but it’s worth repeating. Unwise though the pope was, does it really do any favours to show your displeasure at being accused of being a violent religion by killing nuns or calling for ‘a day of anger’? If the pope was feeling particularly rash he’d probably just go ‘see???? you nutters are proving me right!’.

What is clear is that there are a heck of a lot of Muslims who aren’t into violent retribution for nonsense talked by the pope. But the ones who do declare fatwas on people for trash-talking the Prophet or the Koran could clearly do with a reality check. Either that or just say ‘yes, we are indeed a violent religion – you, in the robes, outside, now!’

Every faith has its extremists – America has it’s gun-toting so-called-christian militia (otherwise know as the GOP), but they aren’t generally referred to in the press as ‘Christian extremists’ – same with the troubles in Northern Ireland. Our language is very different. Perhaps because the terms we use to describe the different levels of commitment to a religion don’t really work for Islam – moderate doesn’t seem to be a word that any muslims like, with its connotations of being watered down and less committed. Perhaps what we need to support are those muslim leaders who challenge muslims that it is more intrinsically muslim to be anti-war than it is to be pro-violence.

A very wise friend once commented that the problem with George Bush isn’t that he’s an evangelical christian, it’s that he’s not evangelical christian enough. The culture of right wing Evangelicalism in the US has very little to do with any Biblical notions of ‘christ-like’ behaviour. Blessed are the peace-makers? Is it possible to read the whole story of the bible and not come out with the conclusion that God is on the side of the poor? the marginal? Sure, it’s easy enough to proof-text any level of craziness, in the same way that Armando Ianucci can edit a Blair speech for Time Trumpet to make him look like he’s into all manner of surreal weirdness. But if you take the Bible seriously, it seems to me pretty clear that the calling on people who are inspired by Jesus is towards peace, reconciliation, justice, care for the poor, sick, disenfranchised. All very politically charged things. As Desmond Tutu once said ‘when people tell me religion and politics don’t mix, I have to wonder if they’re reading the same bible as me’, or words to that effect…

So in the same way that the deranged war-monger in the White House needs to be exposed not as a religious extremist, but as a having a violent, neo-imperial agenda utterly indefensible from the Bible, so it’d be great to see more public dialogue about the nature of ‘true’ Islam, rather than just some late night channel five discussion show chaired by Terry Christian (which was the last one I saw – truly dreadful).

For reference, my favourite book deconstructing the theology of the far right in the US is Ceasefire – Searching For Sanity In America’s Culture Wars by Tom Sine – it’s pre-Bush Jnr, but pre-empts it perfectly, and is still prescient. Would love to see Tom Sine update it, but he lost a hell of a lot of friends when he wrote it…

I Know I'm Not Alone

Just found the perfect way to focus my thoughts about world politics on a day when everyone’s talking about it. I watched I Know I’m not AloneMichael Franti’s documentary about his time in Baghdad, Israel and the Occupied Territories. It’s a fantastically well made documentary, especially for a first time film maker – fabulously put together, brilliantly edited and profoundly moving.

Franti’s commentary is as you’d expect – insightful, wise, observant, and full of choice quotes about our reponse to conflict, war, and the search for peace.

He says towards the end ‘If I’ve learnt anything from this trip it’s that I’m not on the side of the Americans or the Iraqis or the Israelis or the Palestinians – I’m on the side of the peacemakers, wherever they come from.’ Sounds kind of sermon-on-the-mount-ish, dontcha think?

A blessing be upon the head of Michael Franti for his gift to us of this film. Buy a copy, watch it and take it round to your friend’s houses. And while you’re at it, buy the new Spearhead album, ‘Yell Fire’. It’s amazing.

Quick Political comment…

Just a quick political thought or two…

it’s been a pretty disastrous week for the Labour party – John Prescott’s affair with his secretary was gruesome misuse of power (and a sackable offense in just about any other area of work), Clarke letting thousands of foreign prisoners free was laughable for a home secretary of such draconian ideals, and Patricia Hewitt being laughed at and heckled for suggesting that this has been the best year ever for the Health Service, mere days after thousands of job cuts were announced was the icing on the cake…

The party is imploding, the government is falling apart, and even for those of us who think they’re a waste of space, it’s pretty bad timing, given that we’ve got local government elections coming up this week, and one place that a lot of disaffected voters from all parts of the political spectrum seem to be turning is to the BNP. Oh yes, racists seem to crop up all the way from left to far right, and for some reason, the pathetic bunch of political ignoramus convicted violent criminals that populate the BNP seem to be enticing them. The mind truly boggles at the lunacy of such thinking. I mean, even if you’re a racist, surely the Tories offer a slightly more coherent brand of thinly veiled white middle class straight male hegemony than the BNP.

Which brings us to the thing about voting. It’s vital. It really is. Given the profile of the BNP of late we all need to get out and vote for anyone but them. Find out who’s on your council at the moment, and who the nearest challengers are and vote for them if there’s no other sensible option. Anyone but the BNP. The rise of fascism in Britain, however small their actual support base may be, is something that needs to be fought at every turn. Right now we’ve got a government that are implementing a load of laws that if not directly fascist in their application right now, hand a dangerous level of information and power over to whoever happens to be in government. Under UK law, they work for us, they’re trying to reverse that. One look at the rise in popular support for the BNP shows why ID Cards and laws against the right to protest are so dangerous.

We’ll get back to fighting the Labour party on the 5th May. Election day is the 4th, and that’s the day to stop the BNP.

Anyway, head over to The BBC news page about the local elections, find out about your area, vote, and stop the fascists.

Antiwar march on Saturday

Saturday’s anti-war march was a fab event – met up with Jyoti, which was a delight, always nice to put a face to a blog. The march itself seemed rather upbeat, pretty huge (biggest one I’ve been on since the BIG ONE three years ago – organisers estimated 100,000, the police laughably suggested 10-15,000. Using the patented ma lawson method of doubling the police figure, halving the organisers and splitting the difference brings it to 40,000, but I’d say that was on the low side.)

The issues were a bit simpler than for the last few – people get very tetchy about protesting about military situations where there are British soldiers committed, as though it’s somehow treason to complain once they are there. Not much thought given to how little they want to be there, and the legality of them being there in the first place… This one was easier because of the dual themes – troops out of Iraq, and don’t attack Iran. The threat of a military strike on Iran is just nuts. Sure, the Iranian president is a crack-pot, but if anything is likely to bring together the myriad disparate factions in Iranian politics, it’s an attack by the US/UK Team America-stylee crack commando team. A damn fool thing to do, for sure.

So, I got to protest the lunacy of our jumped up nobhead of a prime minister, and hang out with lovely peoples all day.

And now I’m breaking my own rule and am using TSP’s laptop to access the net, as my desktop has bizarrely decided not to connect to the web. It’ll access email, chat, ftp, just nothing with an http in front of it. There are no proxies set up, and I can’t find any changes to the firewall settings (and switching it off doesn’t seem to change anything either) – any suggestions, lovely blogling geeks?

Here’s me on the march, from Jyoti’s photos –

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