Sadly, a lot of “more of the same” on the global front. The rich and the powerful don’t seem to have enough money and power and are seeking to take as much as they can from everyone else. In other words, what’s new?

Look at Libya. Yes Gaddafi is a madman and a despot, but he also had Africa’s best interests at heart. As this article points out, he wanted to take Africa to a single currency, based on a gold standard. He wanted customers to pay for oil in gold, not dollars. He funded programs to free Africa from dominance by international corporations and organisations. If you’re thinking this sounds familiar, Saddam Hussein did a similar thing before being killed off. Also it looks like Dominique Strauss-Kahn was undermining the dollar by calling for a new global currency, before news surfaced of his arrest for assaulting a maid.

Take a look at Europe. Its policymakers are looking to extending the power of its financial institutions to taking over the governments of a member country if they can’t run things the way they like it. Watch out Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland….

Don’t forget America. As it slides slowly toward collapse, the President believes he’s above the law and able to order the assassination of anyone he likes, the government is destroying its education systemgiving itself more power than we are aware they have and fighting wars without end, the rich are taking everything they can, and destroying the country in the process.

News from China that in 2010 there could well have been over 180,000 protests and demonstrations. That’s an average of nearly 500 per day! Some have been quite large and violent. Seems like the Chinese growth machine isn’t helping a lot of people.

In Australia, while the media and politicians scramble over the treatment of illegal immigrants, the elephant in the room is the treatment of the Aboriginal population. You won’t read about it in the Murdoch press though, which owns most of the major daily newspapers. John Pilger at his best.

The Department of Homeland Security may soon be changing its name to the Ministry of Peace, since it is starting to roll out 1984-esque technology that is “designed to identify people who intend to commit a terrorist act”. That’s right: thoughtcrime.

It’s fairly well known that the state of the health of Americans is getting worse and worse. Having no access to decent health cover, hospitals and food is one thing, but the recent statistics show that life expectantcy in the USA is declining at a noticeable rate.

Before long, that may also have something to do with the Fukushima situation, which looks like it now ranks as the worst nuclear disaster of all time. ‘Hot particles’ of radioactive isotopes of strontium, caesium and even plutonium have been showing up in Tokyo and as far as the west coast of the USA. This article says that there has been a spike in infant mortality in the western US since the Fukushima nuclear plant entered meltdown.  There might be a link, there might not. The lack of coverage on the right-wing news might indicate that it is hooey, but then again, the Russian atomic energy agency is pointing out that a nuclear plant in Nebraska, currently in trouble due to floods, is leaking radiation. (Yes, that is ironic) The silence from the American news is deafening. The fact that the largest operator of nuclear facilities has very close financial ties to Obama may also have something to do with it. In March I said I wasn’t worried about the radiation from the disaster, but that was based upon what I knew at the time. I refused to be drawn into the speculation and panic going on. Now, I am even reconsidering plans to travel to Tokyo for a holiday. I know I’m going to die some day, but I don’t want it to be from cancer caused by a stray particle of plutonium that I could have avoided by staying on this side of Japan.

Here was something interesting, stemming from a German report that the nuclear workers in Japan are disproportionally drawn from the ‘rejects’ of Japanese society, for example, the homeless and the burakumin.

Meanwhile, radiation has started appearing in crops of green tea. This happened in Shizuoka which is a) one of the largest tea growing areas in Japan, and b) west of Tokyo – supposedly a long way upwind of the evacuated nuclear-devastated areas surrounding Fukushima. The Japanese tea industry’s response was worry that people might switch to other forms of tea. Gee, thanks fellas. Keep up the good work.

It might be more expensive to get anything to eat as commodity speculation is pushing up food prices again, along with population growth, environmental destruction and (maybe) climate change. Coffee isn’t immune either, with the cost of raw green beans doubling in the past year.

The humble consumer can’t do much. Even hailed ‘environmentally friendly’ products such as those tagged as ‘biodegradable’ turn out to contribute to the problem. They often end up in landfill where they release methane.

Maybe we aren’t heading for another mini-Ice Age. Maybe we are. Maybe we’re heading for a time of much hotter weather. Maybe we aren’t. I’m with Ernst Mayr, George Carlin and Bill Hicks on this issue now. Carlin said, that the planet is fine – it’s had to deal with things much worse than us and it’s come back fine. Hicks said that if you’re truly a committed environmentalist, you should kill yourself and set the example for all of us to follow. More quietly, Ernst Mayr put forward the idea in a debate with Carl Sagan that intelligent life is perhaps a lethal mutation. I believe we’ve gone past the tipping point now and something is going to happen which will make life for humans much harder and a lot of people are going to die. The rich and powerful will still have access to their caviar and fine wine, so they won’t care – and since they don’t, who else will?

One problem with all this going on is that we’re all too busy to notice. We’re either working way longer hours, trying to multi-task and failing miserably in the process, or so busy looking over our shoulders in case someone tries to steal our jobs that we can’t work effectively. Stress is a killer. If you’re too busy to watch what the rich and powerful are doing – and are dying in the process – then they’re free to continue doing what they want.

Today in “My Religion Is Crazier Than Your Religion” News: A poor dog is in danger from a Jewish rabbinical court due to the belief that it is the reincarnation of a lawyer cursed by the same court twenty years ago.  Religion is certainly a great moneyspinner though – just look at the crazies who predicited the end of the world earlier this month. They’d raised more than US$100 million in just the past seven years – tax free. I’m in the wrong business.

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I’ve been listening to Gil Scott Heron again recently. ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ still rings as true today as when it was released, even though the pop culture references won’t make much sense to anyone born after 1980 or read any history…

Reading history does help give one a sense of perspective. I remember buying a copy of The Penguin History of the World as a high school student, simply because I though it was ridiculous that a small, brick-shaped book simply couldn’t hold the required information to adequately describe the entire history of the world thus far. So it sat on my shelf, gathering dust for a few years, until one day I thought, “You know, I should actually read this and see what it has to say”. And read it I did, from cover to cover, from the first emergence of humanoid like creatures in our pre-historic past to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, where the writers of the book chose to conclude their essay.

I learned a few interesting things from ploughing through chapter after chapter. To a late-teenager who had never read history they were revelations, which strike my late-thirties self as self evident truths. Nonetheless I keep coming back to them. The first was that history moves in cycles; boom and bust, rise and fall, come and go, nothing is forever, like Ozymandias in that poem by Shelley. The second is that power will always be sought and held onto by the rich and powerful. There will always be the rich and powerful who lord over the poor and weak. The third one is that no person is greater than history. People can try to create their own legacy, but once history has got a hold of you, then you are just along for the ride.

It’s nearly the 47th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, so the Hostory Channel here in Japan are running a series of documentaries about the events of that day in history. Tonight’s doco looked at the transfer of power that had to occur after the president was killed. History has taken a fairly dim view of Lyndon Johnson and the way he seemed to pressure the Kennedys into taking over the reins of power. However the documentary showed (as documentaries often can, thanks to the power of the medium – my reservations are being aired) that it was the Kennedy cap in their grief and devastated state (not to mention the alcohol consumed on the plane back from Dallas to Washington) as well as having bought into the cult of personality that JFK had brought to the presidency, that perhaps played a bigger stake in what came to define Johnson’s presidency, as well as history’s view of him.

History is written by the winners, and the tendency to mythologise is not confined to the ancients.

I chose LBJ quite deliberately to open this post, because the way that he dealt with his own feelings and shock and grief on the day simply had to take a back seat to the continuation of power, to maintian stable and effective leadership in a time when the world had recently teetered on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. LBJ was a thoughtful, concerned and sensitive man. He was also a liberal in the true sense of the word and also a Texan. He stands in proud defieance of the stereotype that has come to be dominated by his more recent Texan political archetypes, the Bush family, in particular, one George W. Bush.

George is in the process of defining his legacy. He is attempting to do this by releasing a biography. I say ‘biography’ since there is doubt that he actually wrote it himself. He has joked about this, but as we know, dear reader, humour often masks a more uncomfortable truth. The timing is also important, coming at a time when his successor is staring down the barrel of becoming a lame duck and Bush’s Republican cronies are circling the mortally wounded carcass of another Democratic presidency, waiting for it to fall for the last time.

The critics are rightly taking a hatchet to the more spurious elements of the book. The revelations within it reveal the arrogance of the man, as well as his callousness and disregard for humanity that we saw glimpses of before and during his presidency. The former president has admitted, through the account in his biography, to authorising the use of waterboarding on an American citizen – that is, ordered one of his own countrymen to be tortured. He has also lied about being “shocked”, “angry” and having a “sickening feeling every time I thought about it” over the fact that weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq. You won’t find it in his biography, but during a media dinner in 2004 (well recounted here), Bush made light of the search for weapons in Iraq, playing it for laughs. As it has been noted before, Bush displays some classic psychopathic tendencies, including not being able to realise that he lies to himself, as well as everyone around him. The recent Wikileaks release of thousands of diplomatic cables go a long way to refute the claims and narratives claimed in Bush’s biography. That Bush is seeking to invent his own legacy is par for the course. I wonder if he will take his book tour abroad?

The increasing tension between the two Koreas, the USA and China is continuing. Japan is sitting awfully close to the sidelines and hoping the taunting doesn’t boil over into full-on conflict. The situation is threatening to unwind US / China relations. It’s also highlighting the bias against North Korea, given that everyone assumed the North fired first, when reports are now stating the South has admitted using its artillery in a war games exercise before the North responded, thinking it was under attack. It is well known that the North barely has the resources to feed its own army, let alone its people, which have been largely abandoned by the state. If the war fires up again, the North has a vast amount of weaponry it can call upon, and could wreak havoc on the South, as well as cause econimc chaos throughout the region, but in the end it would be a suicidal move, one China and the South – and Japan – would not want to have to deal with.

The global economic woes continue to be reported daily. The European theatre is seeing Ireland, Spain, Portugal added to Greece as hotspots for a torrent of activity to shore up the euro and keep the economies there alive and ticking. There are alternatives, but since they would involve actually helping people and not protecting the rich and powerful, they won’t be done.

In the USA, the situation is not getting any better. The housing situation continues to worsen under corrupt and illegal exploitation of the system. Hunger and poverty are becoming commonplace. Despite calls by some of the mega-rich to end Bush’s tax cuts, the degree of inequality of income between the rich and the poor continues its relentless march. Any serious steps to revitalise the economy, such as engaging in a massive public works and infrastructure project, or set reasonable levels of taxation to fund welfare, are not happening, lest the cry of “Socialism!” from the right-wing lunatic faction becomes too loud. (How giving unlimited funds to the rich and powerful became socialist is a masterpiece of linguistic trickery)

The US has passed the record for the amount of time spent in Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, with no effective timeline on the horizon for ever leaving – unless it loses. (Australia’s Prime Minister, Gillian Gillard, told Karzai to halt corruption. The peals of laughter must have chased her out of the room.)

Human Rights abuses continue to undermine everything Obama ever promised to do, such as close Guantanamo for a start. The Obama administration recently granted waivers from the Child Soldiers Preventaion Act to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Yemen – effectively legalising the use of child soldiers to fight ‘terrorism. 

The surveillance state continues to unfold, with law enforcement looking to use 1984-esque technologies, along with taking iris scans to create a database of potential enemies of the state. The US continues to appease Israel, while Israel continues to exploit the situation in America to its own advantage.

The Sarah Palin juggernaut continues unchecked. At least if she becomes president, the end will come swiftly and perhaps the pain will not be so long-lived.

In other countries, the response to this continued screwing of the middle and working classes is open hostility. In American it seems to be a collective ho-hum. It’s a very dangerous ho-hum, as it’s providing a space for the extreme right to make inroads, as we have seen in the recent elections. As the universities become enslaved to money, at the expense of being sanctuaries of knowledge, the intellectual response to this situation has become a meek acceptance to the status quo. There will be no sixties uprising led by the professors (such as the great Howard Zinn) as they’ll all be afraid of losing their jobs.

Quietly, why is the FBI supplying bombs to Muslim teenagers and grooming them to become terrorists, just so they can arrest them and say they’re keeping America safe? The timing – just before the busiest travelling time of the year – is also impeccible.

Opt Out Day was a fizzer, mainly due to the fact that most Americans are quite happy to buy into the myth that these invasive searches are making them safer somehow. Many security experts agree that the patdowns cannot and will not work. There are viable alternatives. Anything has to be better than pulling someone off a flight because of his tattoos. Boycott non-essential travel in and around the USA until they give up.

Seriously, read The Shock Doctrine.

Yay, I’m back for who-knows-how-long… For those who aren’t in the know; I have a bad back. To be precise I have two herniated disks in my L4 and L5 lumbar. So that means from time to time they go nuts on my spinal cord and I can’t do simple things like sit or walk. I had an operation once to fix this problem when I was 24 but the problem resurfaced a few years later. I could have another operation but the time needed for recovery is rather large so it’s just not an option at the moment.

So in practice what that meant was I had to spend a week in bed, which wasn’t as exciting or romantic as it sounds. Thank goodness I have a Macbook and an almost endless stream of movies to watch, not to mention the free wireless access through some kind neighbour’s unsecured network!

The funny/sad thing about all this is now I share my bed with a Macbook. Does that means I’m now cursed to never have a girlfriend ever again? At least I don’t live in my parents’ basement…

Another upshot is that the update I had in the works is now hopelessly out of date. But it’s refreshing to note that apart from a couple of celebrity deaths and a couple of aircrashes that nothing much has really changed in the news over the past few weeks – at least in the meta-stories that I follow…

I qualify for the free 12,000 yen from the Japanese Government! I have the form and will go down to the city office soon to stake my claim. No idea how I will choose to stimulate the economy… Any suggestions?

One interesting development in the Australian internet firewall fiasco is that iiNet has pulled out of testing the new system. They have cited the reason that the list clashes with their philosophy of supporting free speech and social responsibility. The list of banned sites was leaked onto Wikileaks and showed that the government was not just targetting child porn sites (the reason for the censorship) but also regular porn sites as well as some that discuss euthanasia, hate speech, even inocuous sites like that of a Queensland dentist. A big thimbs-up to iiNet for taking a stand, and hopefully if the other testers follow suit the government will have no choice but to abandon this ridiculous program.

You could also add the Australian government’s environmental program to the list of policies that need drastic overhauling. Rudd’s done a Howard and gone to ‘clean coal’ (an oxymoron if ever there was one) instead of doing what the Europeans (and even Obama) are doing and that’s developing solar and wind energy.

Cracks are appearing in the mainstream media’s one-eyed hero-worship of Obama with a 60 Minutes interview taking the new President’s seeming callous attitude to the economic crisis to task. Public protests are also starting up across the country as it becomes clear that the bailout of the banks may well be doing more harm than good.

Obama’s empty rhetoric is justifyably getting an airing, and we need to keep supporting people researching what’s really going on behind the words of this charismatic man. Take closing Guantanamo for example. 200 or so of the prisoners (since they aren’t called ‘enemy combatants’ any more) are being moved to an expanded Bagram base in Afghanistan, where their situation won’t change. Another is the escalation in Afghanistan. Obama would do well to listen to the advice of the former Soviets – and that is, basically, don’t bother.

There was also the passing of legislation that could lead to the creation of a seven-million strong civilian “army” that could be drawn upon to keep the peace if the country goes to pot, or just become a default ‘draft’. This one can’t be blamed entirely on Obama as it’s been in the pipeline for ages, but it is happening on his watch, and with his approval.

One independent commentator is asking if Obama is really “dumber than a bag of hammers”. Another has declared that the USA has two solutions; either declare bankruptcy or start a war – a big one. That could well happen in Pakistan as the state looks to be very unstable at the moment – and they have nukes.

Regardless of the economic situation, Britain’s chief scientist has released a report claiming that due to food, water, energy and environmental problems getting out of hand, by 2030 the world is going to be in a desperate state, and people will respond by taking desperate actions.

With China and Russia calling for the world to abandon the US dollar as the default reserve currency, things are going to get very interesting indeed.

Meanwhile the top story in Australia the past couple of weeks has been over whether Pauline Hanson had nude pictures taken of her. No, I didn’t look, and I don’t think you should either (urrrgh!), but it gives you an idea of why I don’t read the mainstream press that much…

No, I don’t want to live, work or study in the USA… (no air traffic controllers, for a start)

Hey ho, back for the first rant for 2009. It’s taken a while to settle back into Japan and get back into the swing of things. That and it’s been so amazingly cold… we had a couple of flurries yesterday.

Which brings up an interesting point. The last two winters have now been the coldest for years, and an increasing amount of scientists are taking up the position that this could be the start of the next Ice Age. We’re due for one, as periods of global warmth usually last for 20,000 years or so, which fits this current period we’re in now. The scary fact is that Ice Ages tend to last for 100,000 years. That’s without the glaciers, woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers in your backyard – or nipple rings causing frostbite…

Hey, if that doesn’t depress you, then how about this? The Milky Way is heavier and moving faster than previously thought, so we’re going to crash into the next galaxy even sooner!

Even in retirement, former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, is still a bonehead.

George W. Bush… How many of us are counting the days? The worst president in American history is busy trying to create his own version of history right up to the moment he leaves. It’s certainly leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of those he has victimised, whether they be from New Orleans or Baghdad. The thing about the term “legacy”, is that it’s not just what you try to leave behind after you’ve gone, but what people remember about you. Bush’s 20% approval rating and litany of disasters (84% more people are unemployed are at the end of 2008 than in 2001, or that One in every two Iraqis is dead, wounded, a refugee, or starving.”) that will prevail long after he has gone will prove to be his legacy, no matter how he and his followers try to spin it. It looks like Obama won’t be pursuing his crimes either – so that’s a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card right there.

Worth more than a cursory glance: a look at the state of Latin America in 2008.

Japan has come up with a errrmmm… novel way to end the rise in unemployment amongst a general sagging in the economy, as well as provide a solution to the aging of the rural towns: send young unemployed people to work in the countryside. Sounds great except for a) most Japanese young people are so urbanised they’d rather starve than go into the countryside, except from the confines of a tour bus, b) this program is for only 800 people to go on trip of 10 days a piece, c) only 50 positions are being provided for full-time workers, and d) (related to point ‘a’ ) agricultural work is highly labour intensive with low financial reward – hardly appetising. The Japanese government thinks it could work two ways though. Apart from the oldies teaching the youngies a thing or two about farming and fishing, the youngies could open the oldies to the wide world of teh internets and blogging. Yes, elderly people blogging will save Japan… but if society does collapse, then these younger people will stand a chance of being able to provide food for themselves.

The Japanese government is also calling for high school English lessons to be taught in English in order to raise students’ ability with the language. Interesting idea, but the teachers may not be so willing…

An interesting story about a couple of Americans who saved a Japanese man who fell onto some train tracks. The final paragraph says a lot about people who never travel or read much about the world, and those who see a lot of it.

NASA has blamed Australia for “destruction of much of the life on the planet”. What are you going to do about that, Mr. Rudd? (Ridiculous assertion, I know…)

Even good old Listerine is now on the list of things that could give you cancer… Joe Jackson got it right – and it sounds much better when he sings it.

The privatisation of utilities is fundamentally wrong. Case in point: Australia has drought (bad), government urges people to use less water (good), people use less water (great!), water company cries over falling profits and raises prices (asinine). Once again this illustrates my point, utilities such as water, electricity, sewage, public transportation, roads, and so on are basic services that a society needs to exist. They are the foundation that companies and businesses are built on. They are not for-profit businesses. The government is not in the business of making profits – it’s in the business (if you have to call it that) of keeping society running smoothly. Taxes pay for that. Get over it. Don’t sell these important services off, pay your taxes and reap the benefits.

In February, it looks like we’ll be up for a spot of comet watching. Sweet!

Looks like the Apollo Landing conspiracy theorists are going to have to come up with some new ideas. The Indian lunar satellite has mapped the sites of the lunar landings.

Note to anyone who wants to go country driving in Australia: if the sign says “Road Closed Due To Flooding”, don’t ignore it and continue driving like these twits did.

There’s no way James Bond would be caught dead wearing this.

Best name for a soft drink. Ever.

That’s enough for now. More later.