Just when the world went and got itself a dose of healthy optimism with a royal wedding (despite what you think about it, at least it was a positive news story), it had to turn back to darkness with the death of Osama Bin Laden. There was a Martin Luther King misquote that got started on Twitter and made its way to Facebook very quickly. Although I agreed with the sentiment expressed in the (mis)quote, it’s worth reading through this article on science hoaxes to put it into context.

Of course the conspiracy theories began swirling around, almost before Bin Laden’s body met the inky depths of the ocean. One word that has been used a fair bit by the US Government, as well as bandied about on the internet is ‘justice’. This old-world, wild west notion of justice concerns me, as it does a number of people. Despite Bin Laden’s alleged links to 9/11, extrajudicial killings are illegal under international law. The US government is shimming and shamming its way out of it by saying he tried to defend himself but reports are coming out (from sources such as Bin Laden’s daughter who was present during the raid) that Bin Laden was unarmed, taken alive, then executed by the special forces. They’re also claiming that he was an enemy combatant, so it was justified, but he was an international criminal, not a soldier. The legal linguistic gymnastics look set to continue for while to come. The sea of information and disinformation also looks set to widen and deepen, so what truth there is to the situation looks set to be lost anyway. I am not confident we will ever really know the truth about this.

One thing is certain, Bin Laden is going to be very much a prescence in US foreign policy for a long time to come. His assassination certainly played into his hands, and his legacy is certain to continue into the future. Geoffrey Robertson hit it right on the head, as usual, and Tom Engelhardt is always good to read for an insight into the bigger picture.

Oh, and it’s worth repeating, but you you’re really interested to know what the US government thinks about truth and free speech, then look at what happened to Ray McGovern. He was arrested and beaten up by security thugs for staging a silent protest at a Hillary Clinton speech – the one where she defended the right to free speech in Egypt, but obviously not to Americans – especially in a plutocracy. Oh, and Mr. McGovern used to work for the CIA.

That whole Libya thing is looking dodgier and dodgier by the day. Not so much about bringing peace and democracy and about getting their hands on (surprise!) oil, Libya’s sovereign funds as well as those funds to rebuild the pulverized country.

How’s that Guantanamo place going? Still a bastion of degradation and ongoing torture? Good… nothing to see here. Oh, and how’s Bradley Manning, by the way? Being treated as a citizen of the US..? No? Oh, how about as a human bei…. No? How about as an animal? No? Worse than that? Oh – nothing’s changed then. Congrats Obama, you’re a monster in my book. If they can’t schedule a war crimes trial for George W., maybe they will for you.

And since the next US election isn’t until next November, it’s time for the pundits to start lining up. One thing for sure is that the Republicans are going to make American Decline their theme, somehow trying to avoid bringing up that it happened on the watch of the last Republican president. How are they going to do that? Well, for a start, by bringing up as many crazy early candidates as they can, so by the time they get around to choosing someone seriously, they’ll look quite sane in comparison. Johann Hari’s excellent article in The Independent sums up the situation most elegantly. I love the opening paragraph, so I’ll quote it in full for you:

Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has proved that one of its central intellectual arguments was right all along. It has long claimed that evolution is a myth believed in only by whiny liberals – and it turns out it was on to something. Every six months, the party venerates a new hero, and each time it is somebody further back on the evolutionary scale.

Fatsen your seatbelts, it’s going to be a looong ride – maybe not so bumpy, but hopefully entertaining.

The last combat veteran of World War One has passed away. Claude Choules served with the Royal Navy in WW1 then for Australia in WW2. He passed away aged 110. There is one more veteran of the war left, a British woman, Florence Green, who served in a non-combat capacity. She is also 110. We shall remember them.

Of course the idea of ANZAC Day is remember the fallen and to hope for no more wars. It is not to continue Australia’s role as a supplicant to the USA. Australia’s current prime minister, who is starting to look more and more like John Howard as the days pass, may well have been installed to continue US interests. Just who are we serving?

Not each other, according to this article. It made me sad to think of returning to Australia…

Australia’s not the only country joining the ranks of the Bush copycats. I see Canada has now joined the ranks.

As the situation in Fukushima continues, it’s worthwhile remembering the world’s worst nuclear reactor disaster in Chernobyl. Here’s a piece about one of the photographers who went in to document the disaster in the midst of deadly radiation.

Skynet is with us, but don’t worry, those HD cameras are great for taking footage of surfing….

China’s economy is still growing strong, and it looks set to overtake the US in as soon as 2016 according to the IMF.

But, we’re running out of stuff. Not only are we running out of manual typewriters, we’re also running out of oil; not only the black stuff, but the oil we need to eat. We’re also running short of food, fresh water, helium, chocolate, medical isotopes, tequila and phosphorus. Stuff like tequila and chocolate we could probably reluctantly get used to, but no medical istopes means no cancer treatments, no phosphorus means no food, and no water, well, that’s pretty obvious.

With the buzzword being ‘cloud computing’ these days, it’s worthwhile thinking about the possibility of hackers having a field day, or perhaps they already are, right Sony?

An English teacher working in Australia won a case against unfair dismissal recently. That’s a good thing, especially when you consider his ‘crime’ was to teach a class of adults on the correct use of the ‘F’ word. In my opinion, if you’re going to participate fully in Australian society, a comprehensive knowledge of when to use – and not use – that word should be mandatory! 

Yahoo calls out the ten most overrated tourist destinations and, more importantly, gives alternatives. Some of  these I had absolutely no intention at all of going to, but it’s good to learn about other places that are equally awesome. You might also want to check out the site at Angkor Wat before it disappears under the heels of a million tourists. I went there a couple of years ago and aside from the central complex and Angkor, I’d recommend you take a few days and see the other temples around the area; there are far fewer tourists, fewer pedlars, often better preserved architecture, and a chance to help the locals more by shopping where they shop.

So when is a kilo not a kilo?

Einstein’s theories have been proved, yet again.

A list of names for things you knew had a name but didn’t know what they were.

One of the interesting things about living in an information age is that one simply doesn’t have to die. It is the stuff of science fiction to transpose one’s personality into a computer and to continue ‘living’ as a machine, but in the past, in order to achieve immortality one had to be a Hemingway or a Shakespeare, a Monroe or a Dean, a Warhol or a Picasso. Now, thanks to the available technology, our writings, videos, music and musings can live as long as the server permits. I came across this blog post, of one Derek Miller, who recently died from cancer. It is a marvellous, poignant and inspiring piece of prose. Even though the man is dead, his work can live forever, and thereby so can he. What an age we live in!

Enjoy it while you can.

So, I have two weeks off and a massive backlog of articles I’ve been reading through over the past few weeks to share. The World Cup dominated my free time during June and July, so I apologise for the delay in posting stuff.

I’ll deal with the serious stuff first then do another post with a distinctively lighter tone. Two-tone posts? The 70s aren’t dead!

It’s been hot here in Japan, but in Russia they’ve been dealing with the hottest temperatures on record, forest fies and many deaths from the application of sun, water and alcohol.

Oil spill first. Apparently since the cap finally started working the oil has disappeared – or just found a way to hide. If most of it has sunk then it’s going to foul up the sea floor wonderfully for the next goodness-knows-how-long.

It’s election season in Australia and it’s going to be an interesting one. In one corner you have another victim of the Obama Factor (promising much, delivering little, and actually smells a lot like the previous head(s?) of state), Julia Gillard. Australians are quickly growing tired of novelty (first female PM, first redhead PM) and want substance. The problem with Gillard is that in trying to please everyone, she’s going to please no one. In the second corner, you have Tony Abbot, a religious nut who speaks before he thinks. Australia under him could become a quasi-theocracy – something that many sensible Aussies gag at the thought of. In the third corner, you have the Greens. Prone to a bit of in-fighting, yet they have something that the ‘main two’ parties are sorely lacking in at this point: sensible policies. They are poised to seize the balance of power, and affect real change.

Oh yeah, blink if you missed it, but the Autralian government censored 90% of a document about their internet strategy to stop “premature” debate. That means they don’t want anyone to know what they want to do until after the election, when they have three years to impose censorship on the internet with no one to stop them. Disgusting.

And a full one third of Australians now believe that human and the dinosaurs existed at the same time, highlighting the plight of science education in a country that used to be able to pride itself on having a collective IQ greater than that of the USA….

The US occupation of the Middle East continues to draw unwanted attention from serious journalists who refuse to tow the line of the military and the White House. Good for them – long may it continue! (The tradition of good journalism – not the occupation) For example, there’s the story of the Pentagon losing over $87 billion. That’s more than the entire GDP of Tunisia. But that’s small potatoes compared to the ludicrous amounts being funnelled into doomed projects. You have to wonder at the logic that sees the US buying Russian helicopters for the fledgling Afghan air force to fly – since that’s the era of aircraft the only trained pilots know how to fly. There’s also the story of how US soldiers are being brainwashed with ‘positive thinking’, the persistent disturbing links to Israel and Zionism, John McCain thinks that the USA has alreaady won the ‘war’ in Iraq,

The wikileaks story has shined a very bright spotlight on what has become a very dark stain on human history, the US occupation of Afghanistan. For example, when they aren’t being killed by outsiders, the Afghans are often turning on each other, meaning the whole notion of the US withdrawing forces is another Obama pipe dream.

Some economic stuff. The situation in Japan is still in a process of slow disintegration. Unemployment (and under-employment) are still high. This in-depth article from Time describes the situation very well.

The situation in the USA continues to spiral out of control. There’s so much out there that is interesting to read, so I’ll just link here, here, here, here and here, and hope your clicking will do the rest.

The housing situation in the US and Australia also makes for some interesting, and scary reading.

That’ll do for today. And since the puter crashed I lost all the fun links. Boo! But trust me there is funny stuff in the world too. Enjoy.

So it’s been a year and I think I have given Barack Obama enough time to get his act together and start to really shape his presidency the way he wants to in order to leave his stamp on history.

I’m 90% sure that if Sarah Palin decides to run in 2011, she stands a very good chance of becoming the first female president of the United States of America. This is despite her being a right-wing loony-Christian card-carrying member of the American Taliban.

The recent loss of the former seat of one of the Democrats’ figureheads of recent years to a Republican ex-nude model gives us a taste of what’s to come. The electorate is justifiably disappointed with Obama. Elected to effect immediate and comprehensive change, he has betrayed the people who put him in power and they’re sending a clear message the only way they can – through the ballot box.

Paul Street has put together a very thorough analysis of the Obama presidency so far, and how the signs were very clear from the beginning of Obama’s campaign as to how events were likely to play out. The past year has certainly been a wake-up call to America, with both the extreme right and left becoming more active – the extreme right more so since Obama successfully neutralised so much of the left. The next couple of years are going to be very interesting, especially if no one finds a way to make Mrs. Palin sit down and shut up.

Ivan Panarin’s prediction hasn’t come true – yet.

High ho, high ho. It’s weekend time again, thankfully.

The weather’s just starting to come good and the cherry trees are starting to blossom, so it won’t be long before every open space near a sakura will be populated by people sitting on blue plastic tarps, drinking and eating themselves into oblivion. It’s a great time of year. It looks like I’ll be catching up with some ex-Nova buddies next Sunday for the annual Himeji Castle pilgrimage.

It’ll be the same day as the Tatsuno Spring festival but after I went last year with my mother, I don’t think this year will live up to the good time had last time. It is interesting though, with people parading through the old town dressed up in samurai costume – even with warriors on horses. It’s a good chance to take heaps of pix, as I did last year.

There’s also the crowning of the new Miss Tatsuno which has got to be one of the lamest beauty pageants in the world. For the record, there are TWO Miss Tatsunos for some reason… safety in numbers? Maybe it’s so they can go to the bathroom together – who knows. What a year is promised to the winners though, with the chance to appear at every local community event as the eye-candy! I wonder if the girls really get many opportunities arising from the role…

I’ll be in a secret location for a few days from April 1 to 4. All I can tell you is that it will be sunny!

I’ve been going on some dates recently but it’s proving to be quite frustrating at times. I prefer women who are interesting and are good to talk to but it’s hard to break through the Japanese shyness barrier. I’m sure Japanese women are interesting and brainy – as well as sexy – as I’ve met quite a few, but when you’re going on a date with one there’s often this coyness that descends, making conversation a real minefield. Coyness can be sweet (as Morrissey sang, “Coyness is nice…”) but say the wrong thing, or be too assertive and it’s game over man.

I’ve been trying to go out with one woman but it’s been a chore just to get some free time. Also she won’t go out of the house unless she’s 100% healthy, so a couple of snuffles and she cancels. We’re up to three or four aborted dates versus one actual date so I’m thinking of just not bothering. Her English is OK and she’s a cutie but she’s shyyyyyyy….

I have also been on a couple of dates with a woman who speaks absolutely no English, so that’s been an extra challenge. Dictionaries have come in very handy! She’s a sweetheart but I honestly can’t see us being more than dinner friends. The language barrier really is so hard to traverse. It is an interesting experience to try to develop a relationship of sorts in a language completely not your own. I hope she’s enjoying the adventure as much as I am.

Many foreigners in Japan have dated and developed relationship with Japanese women and have sometimes gone on to marry them and live long and happy lives with them. I’m glad I’m friends with some of them as they give me hope! Others (like me) have been burned by the experience and have often been left wondering just what is this creature known as the Japanese female. This article may shed some light on the subject and it brings to the fore that Japanese women can fall into two distinct categories, which for the sake of argument I’ll term as outward and inward thinkers. The outward thinkers tend to have travelled or lived in other countries and have taken on a more international way of thinking. They are certainly more assertive and opinionated and probably more widely read. They are also more likely to settle on a partner who complements their personality. The inward thinkers tend to have not travelled much and if they have they’ve probably only been on tours with other Japanese people, and for short periods of time (ie. less than a week). Their expectations are fuelled by their parents, fashion magazines and (in short) society. They tend to want to marry a rich man who will give them what they want. There’s no thought given to love: marriage is the goal, the means to an end.

As the man in the article says, “You see, you have it backwards. So many Japanese women put the cart before the horse: you think that if you get married you’ll finally be happy, if only, if only you could just wear the dress and walk down the aisle, then you could truly find bliss. But guess what, marriage is not the path to happiness, it’s exactly the opposite. Happiness is the path that leads to marriage. Only when you are truly happy with someone and you love them to the core of your being can you even broach the idea of marrying that person. Tough concept, I know.”

Good words.

Japan’s rice farmers are doing it tough, and things aren’t getting much better. They can’t make much of a living and as most of them are currently over 60, before too long rice farming will become a thing of the past.

According to the Australian Treasurer, Wayne Swan, the Australian economy ‘can’ emerge from the current economic downturn in good shape. The newspaper has changed that into ‘will’ in the first paragraph of the story, and the headline also makes it clear that prosperity is a certainty. Memo to the editors, there’s a world of difference between ‘can’ and ‘will’!

Kevin Rudd went to Washington, met Obama and like Obama he come back with ideas that have left us wondering if we really just got an extension of the previous regime. I went on about his not-so-green environmental policies before, but now Rudd’s doing a Howard on Afghanistan. My sentiments on the invasion and occupation of the Middle East are quite clear, but you really have to wonder exactly what Obama said to Rudd to get him to be such a lapdog as this. This is going down as Obama looks to expand the war into Pakistan, more Australians are dying there and the Afghan people are proving to be more than a match for the invaders.

With Obama continuing the American Project and betraying the faith placed in him by the American people, with continued economic collapse threatening our civilization and people already living in tent cities, it’s interesting to note how people are responding. Some are going back to gardening, with a vengeance.  It’ll be very interesting if the collapse of the global network fuels a resurgeance in local community activism.

One problem with this is that the seeds people buy are only sold through a few massive agri-business corporations. This article looks at how something as seemingly important as the Doomsday Seed Vault on the Norewegian island of Svalbard in the Arctic Circle is a front for guaranteeing a seed supply in the event of biological warfare based on the very seeds used to grow our food. If you think it’s just conspiracy, these companies have already developed vaccines that induce abortions as well as corn that renders men infertile. Genetics is scary… and don’t mention population control.

Rolling Stone has put out an article which attempts to place the economic crisis into the context of a massive takeover – of the government by a few extraordinarily rich people. It makes a convincing case. It does get a bit wordy for the financially illiterate like myself, but it’s worth persisting. The final paragraph sums things up pretty clearly though; “These people were never about anything except turning money into money, in order to get more money; valueswise they’re on par with crack addicts, or obsessive sexual deviants who burgle homes to steal panties. Yet these are the people in whose hands our entire political future now rests.”

The U.N. wants to re-organise the world economy around a green-energy model, which they (naturally) will oversee. I can’t see that happening at all, to be honest…

I gave the Russians and Chinese proposals for a new world currency an airing before and it looks like the Americans are seriously considering it, which stunned the world markets, forcing an immediate retraction. Horse. Barn door.

North Korea’s said it’s going to fire an experimental communications satellite into orbit so Japan’s going on full alert in case it self distructs and rains debris over the countryside. Things are a little tense. For the record, the last time the North Koreans fired this kind of rocket they did it without warning and launched it across Japan before it landed in the Pacific Ocean.

Another cog in the incredibly complex climate machine has been identified and quantified: atmospheric dust.

Not much wacky stuff here. Apologies.

Tom Ellard has posted a bunch of Severed Heads videos online though, so please enjoy.

See you under a cherry tree with a bottle of sake and some onigiri!

It’s been an interesting week.

Thailand has been in the process of shooting itself in the head. You’d think that a country that relies so much on its image as a good place to holiday would take care of its tourism industry, but apparently not so… As the PAD protesters blockade both of Bangkok’s airports, paralysing the movement of people in and out of the country, the government continues to do nothing, but wait for them to go home. The PAD started out as a principled group of protesters with a simple goal of calling elections to try to displace the apparent puppet government. Now they’re running around with bombs and guns and ruining their own country’s economy. If they’re looking for support, now they can rule out anyone who loses their job because there aren’t any tourists. What a shame – it was such a nice country…

Obama is living up to my expectations of becoming just another president. His appointments reek of old-school Washington with all their preferences and prejudices intact. I want to wait to give him the benefit of the doubt, but all I’m reading just confirms that he will be a “steady as she goes / look on the bright side” president while the country goes through crisis after crisis. The guy can deliver a speech, but it looks like he isn’t strong enough to stand up as the events of history are poised to sweep him and everyone else away.

Sending more troops to Afghanistan is hardly going to make anything better for the people who have to live there and endure bombs from the sky, bullets from the hills and streets and acid thrown from passing morons on motorbikes.

Bush wants to be remembered as a guy who liberated 50 million people and who helped bring peace to the world. Well, sure, I think we’d all like to be remembered in a positive way. But if that isn’t evidence that he is psychotic, then I don’t what is. I suspect the history books will remember old George as a man who bankrupted a baseball team, then an oil company, then a country… perhaps the world.

The global economy lurches from one piece of bad news to the next. I’m so glad I don’t hold any major debt such as a loan or a mortgage right now. I feel for my friends who are going through tough times. All I want is the A$/yen exchance rate to stay where it is for the next year or so at least! Selfish, yes, but hey – everyone else is trying to make money so why not me too?

This really puts the bailout into perspective. The current bailout is only comparable to the entire cost of World War II, and even then this bailout is costing more. Another way of looking at it is by checking the bankruptcy risk. At this point California has been assessed as being a higher bankruptcy risk than Slovakia. If your bank or country has a lot of debt in dollars, it’s not a good thing! You can add China to the list of countries suffering at the hands of this crisis.

So what next? While some are predicting the decline and fall of America, deflation, maybe bankruptcy, or perhaps another world war, the consensus is that things will definitely get worse, maybe much worse (OK – probably very much worse!), before they begin to get better. Oh, and that other crisis – about food – is still going.

Personally I’m counting down to December 22, which is when I take off for a week in Siem Reap, Cambodia, with the lovely Sheree, providing she can make it through Thailand without incident. After that I head back to Japan via Hong Kong and some time with my good friend Fatima. Christmas in Cambodia, New Years in HK, then back to work in freezing Japan. Such is the life of a jet-set penny pinching old bastard.

Japan is weird. Really weird. A good article about the wedding industry here in Japan – especially its fetish for foreign wedding celebrants. China is trying to catch up in the weirdness stakes. I wish I knew where I could find this shop.

And THIS is just wrong!