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.

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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…

One thing that strikes you about Japanese TV is that there are seemingly hundreds of ‘idols’ – campaign girls, bikini girls, promotion girls – whatever you want to call them. One show famously has one hundred girls dressed in red outfits sitting in the background while the hosts talk about the news of the day or other recent hot topics. They don’t do anything, just sit and react to what the hosts say – kind of a living wallpaper if you wish. I have sometimes wondered how the TV industry can support such a lot of people who just sit around and do nothing (save my tirade for the celebrities (or ‘talento’, as they are known in Japan) for another time) since they must be getting paid a decent rate for their ‘services’. Turns out they are often paid less than office workers and have to resort to offering other ‘services’ to get by – or even to get work. One of these idols has blown the whistle on the culture of prostitution and corruption that plagues the TV industry in Japan.

Japan’s whaling fleet are heading back south for their ‘research’ to commence. In Tokyo, two Greenpeace activists are being held in prison for making off with a box of whale meat that was headed for the black market. They wanted to expose the corruption and truth about the scientific research – that it really was all about the meat. Instead they’ve been the target of sustained and organised harrassment by the authorities.

George W. Bush’s legacy continues to reveal itself. Something that has been around since 2000 but I didn’t find out until recently was that at a young age, the younger George exhibited a strong sociopathic streak, shooting frogs and blowing them up with fireworks. You can extend that to his callous attitude to life, whether it be convicts in Texas, prisoners in Abu Gharib or Guantanamo.

Meanwhile the US financial system continues to unravel. The Fed has refused to release any details of where $2 trillion is going. A prominent hedge fund has collapsed, leaving a $50 billion hole behind. One of the world’s most prominent investors has labeled the banks as essentially “bankrupt, totally bankrupt”. Another commentator has placed the blame squarely at the feet of the big universities where most of Wall Street got their education. It’s also the reason why these people can’t and won’t be able to take the steps necessary to fix the crisis – and why it will in all likelihood get much worse over the next year – and why Obama really won’t be able to do much about it. It’s going to be very hard for anyone to undo 30 years of mistakes.

The Governor of Illinois was arrested for allegedly putting Obama’s vacant senate seat up for auction, or was arrested in order to cover up dealings with the Bank of America. You choose.

Very quietly, the Iraq War ended on November 27, 2008, when the Iraqi government signed the new Status Of Forces Agreement with the USA. It is legal and binding. It calls for all American forces to be out of Iraq completely by December 31, 2011. The news was buried amongst the reports from Mumbai, but it does mean that the USA has lost that war. Sssssh!

In Somalia, some progress has appeared to have been made on the diplomatic front, although the Bush administrataion has reserved the right to declare the whole country a ‘free fire zone’ in the name of combating piracy, but you can bet that it’ll be the civilians of the country who will feel the wrath of the bombs that fall.

The riots in Greece continue anabated. It’s important to note that country-wide chaos doesn’t unfold in a vacuum. The crisis has been brewing for years.

Tensions are still high in Thailand, Russian forces are still in Georgia, and the Caucauses are still primed to explode at any time.

It can all seem rather hopeless

I’ve been revisiting the Qatsi trilogy. The films (along with Ron Fricke’s Baraka)resonate with my feelings about life, the Earth and what we’re doing to it. If it all seems hopeless then I am somewhat comforted that after civilisation has ended and we are all dust, life will go on. We are all made of stars, so to the stars we will all return one day. I’ll finish with three quotes, one from the film Koyaanisqatsi, one from its director Godfrey Reggio – and one from Agent Smith:

koy.aa.nis.qat.si (Hopi) [n] 1. crazy life 2. life out of balance 3. life disintegrating 4. life in turmoil 5. a way of life that calls for another way of living.

“What I’m trying to show is that the main event today is not seen by those of us that are living it, who see the surface of the newspapers, the obviousness of conflict, the social injustice of the market, […] but to me the greatest event or the most important event perhaps in our entire history, nothing comparable in the past with this event, is fundamentally unnoticed, and the event is the following: the transcending from all nature or the natural environment as a host of life for human habitation, into a technological milieu, into mass technology as the environment of life. So these films have never been about the effect of the technology, of industry, on people, it’s been that everything, politics, education, the finance structure […] the culture, religion, all of that exists within the host of technology. So it’s not the effect of, it is that everything exists with-in. It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” – Godfrey Reggio

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague…” – Agent Smith (The Matrix)