I watched a great documentary about Motown the other night, so please excuse the Marvin Gay reference. There is a lot going on at the moment. Let’s go through some things. Bear with me.

I recently read James Kunstler’s The Long Emergency“, and I’d thoroughly recommend you do too. It’s affecting my long-term goals and aspirations in a big way. To summarize, it’s about the passing of Peak Oil and what is likely to unfold. It makes for some scary reading, but it’s also serving to be inspirational. I might have to expand on this at some point… but not at the moment. More thinking and reading to do.

The USA’s Special Forces killed Osama Bin Laden – in Pakistan. That’s a sovereign nation where the US military is not supposed to be operating. According to a spokesman, the US Special Forces currently operate in 75 countries, and that number is set to increase over the next year – to 120. It’s one thing to have a diplomatic presence in a country, but it’s something else to have an active military one – especially when you don’t notify the host government about what you’re up to. Will there be more operations? You betcha. Will that only serve to increase anti-American sentiment, when they should be considering pulling out of these sorts of situations? You can definitely count on that. For example, the USA recently signed a secret pact to stay in Afghanistan until 2024.

The US really should do something about its own record on human rights before tramping around the world telling everyone else they should enact their own human rights laws. But hey, when in the past 60 years hasn’t the US been tramping the world, telling people how they should live?

The unnofficial case against the Western protagonists of the Iraq War continues to build, with MI5 coming out saying they told Tony Blair Iraq was no threat to the West. Also Dick Cheney’s memoirs are out in which he continues to unapologetically defend his actions and policies. Can someone arrest these scumbags ASAP, please? There are more and more officials who would be willing to testify against them. Let’s do it! Oh, wait. Americans are now too distracted, too conditioned and too afraid to do anything. Also, the conservatives are busy setting up a gerrymander to keep as many potential Democrat voters out of the voting booth as they can. Looks like the real terrorists have won…

Alternet is becoming a go-to place for effective analysis of the American Republican Party’s policies and personalities as the 2012 election starts to gear up. Essentially, they’re all lying scumbags, but at least one can have a solid intellectual foundation for explaining why. Obama isn’t any better by the way. Ron Paul isn’t a viable option out of the crazies. If ever there was a time for a solid ‘third-way’ candidate to make a difference, this would be the time. I don’t expect it to happen though.

The new economic reality of America is changing the way people live and work. For example, here is a piece about Workampers. Nothing new, you might say, but it’s happening more and more as the US economy stalls big time. Here’s something else about how car washes are turning into sweatshops, along with chocolate factories, or how students in trouble are turning to that old standby, sex work.

The Eurozone is slowly moving towards a major existential crisis…

The Australian government tried to pass a law enabling them to send refugees arriving by boat to Malaysia for processing. That was shot down by the High Court. This article goes through the situation and some of the implications very nicely. Personally I’m very disappointed that the supposed left-wing Labour Party have ended up following the policies of the deposed conservative Liberal Party, in particular its 90s poster-boy, John Howard. Very disappointed indeed. Looks like the current PM could be headed to the chopping block since her criticisms of the decision have made her looking bitter, or in the words of the High Court, “‘irresponsible … extraordinary, unfair and curious”.

Woolworths and Coles are essentially the Walmart of Australia, with the recent price wars highlighting their dirty campaign to remove other brands from their shelves and replace them with their own ‘home brands’.

They’re talking the high-speed rail link between Sydney and Melbourne again, again.

Oh, and quietly, Australia’s internet is now censored.

Moving back home is going to be quite interesting. It’s been ten yen years since I lived in Australia. Australia has always been a culture of haves and have nots – and the haves seem to become a bunch of over-indulged, whiny douchebags. It’ll be entertaining, at least…

But they are doing one thing right though. The Australian Government may soon pass laws that will, in effect, bankrupt the Scientologists. By legally defining the meaning of ‘charity’, they may be able to force the ‘church’ to back pay its workers millions of dollars, as well as the taxes owed on those wages.

An interesting look at the benefits of ‘lazy parenting’. I know it’s ironic that I’m a part of the industry responsible for the over-scheduling of children, depriving them of creative free time and the chance to enjoy their childhoods. However, I do believe that learning English is going to be become indispensable as global communication becomes a key for survival and prosperity in this current world. You can take your abacus-learning, flower-arranging and calligraphy clubs, along with your cram-schools and drown them in the sea for all I care about what good they’ll bring. (They reinforce a lot of negative attitudes that the Japanese have; namely Japanese exceptionalism, the culture of overwork, as well as teaching useless skills.)

With all the media’s attention focussed recently on the riots in London, someone or some group of people have been engaged in a campaign of torching luxury cars across Germany for some time now. Are there still areas of Paris that are set alight every summer, where the police fear to tread? The cities are becoming war zones…

Some more climate changey type things going on. The ice sheet on Greenland is starting to break up, with massive ice islands being calved and glaciers shrinking.

People in Japan always seem surprised when I tell them I hate Disney and everything about the Disney company. This article (and subsequent book) go a along way to explaining why. Essentially, Disney’s business model is based on targetting children – as young as six months old – in order to condition them to a certain world view, based on conformity to stereotypical roles and bland consumerism. If I ever have children, I will actively ban them from exposure to the Disney company, and if any friends give me anything for them from the Disney company, it will be burnt. Joyfully. Sorry.

The James Randi Educational Foundation has had a $1 million challenge for a number of years now. It’s getting pushed again since they’ve challenged some prominent media ‘psychics’ to prove their ‘ powers’ are real. One has made overtures, but we’ll see if any actually take on the skeptics. In her words, she’s the ‘real thing’ so she doesn’t have to worry about taking scientific tests to prove her abilities are real. Huh? I guess we just have to take her words for it. PLEASE don’t give these sorts of scumbags any money!!

As the military are always looking to get their mitts on the latest technology, you can be sure that invisibility cloaks will soon be coming to an army near you.

Lebowski.

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Another week rolls by and the injustices of the world continue to require our attention and vigilence.

An interesting look inside the Indian call centre industry. Yes, you may be annoyed with having to talk to an Indian on the phone, but also spare a thought for what they are going through as well. Direct your energy towards the companies and policies that cause jobs to go offshore, not the fact that this is a rare shot for thousands of poor people to make a ‘decent’ wage. Buy an answering machine to screen calls if you have to.

In Australia, the furor over the introduction of the carbon tax has overshadowed the reality for a lot of people that they are currently living through a recession, despite all the ‘official figures’ saying otherwise. There’s also the issue of the government shooting Australian internet users in the foot over wireless internet. A “prohibition on Telstra “promoting wireless services as a substitute for fibre-based services for 20 years” “!?!? 20 years ago – in 1991 – NO ONE had internet access in Australia. Not a single person. My university got internet in 1994. In twenty years the rest of the world will be downloading entire full-sensory movies into their minds to be experienced in all five senses, and the internet users of Australia will be clinging on to their legacy DVDs and Blu-Rays. Ridiculous.

This was an interesting piece looking at the underlying racism behind unemployment figures in the USA. One highlight of the piece was an experiment done where four types of job applicants applied for work and the reponse rate was measured. The worker types tested were all male, of similar age and educational background. The only differences were if the applicant was white or black, and if they were a felon or not. The white applicant without a criminal record achieved a 34% rate of callback and the white felon received a 17% rate of callback. What made the experiment devastatingly eye-opening were the callback rates for the black applicants: 14% and 5%. The white felon was preferred over the college-educated black man with a clean criminal record. The experiment’s results have been reproduced, so it seems apparent that racism, and a glaring disparity between blacks and whites, is still alive and well in the USA.

Despite what the American politicians say, the next election is all going to be about jobs. No one is talking about that giant elephant in the corner and while ‘austerity’ is the word in the air, you can bet your bottom dollar that the situation will not improve, which may well affect us all. You can certainly bet on cutting services to most Americans, whereas if just the top 25 hedge fund managers were forced to pay taxes like most ordinary Americans, they could cut the deficit by US$44 billion over the next ten years. That’s a lot of money to help fund actual policies that help actual people. Will it happen? Don’t bet on it.

The global situation over food, water, climate and energy continues to unravel. The wars of the 21st Century will continue to be about control of the world’s resources – that’s if the fundies don’t kill us all first.

Maybe North Korea is getting close to implosion since it can’t even feed its army any more.

This was a moment of journalistic beatup and hysteria-mongering that almost defied description. Victoria experinced a small earthquake that rattled some windows in Melbourne, so the next day The Age ran a story about how Victoria’s volcanoes were ‘overdue’ for eruption. The writer ignored most of the science on the issue (such as the hot spot under Mt. Gambier being well and truly dead) and focused on the law of averages as referred to by one single piece of research. It was scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of a story. Good fun to read though. 

Almost as entertaining, but not quite as harmless, the same newspaper (amongst others) ran a piece on how the next terror threat involved surgically implanted bombs. The Department of Homeland Security think the terrorists are getting their ideas from Batman movies and are going to set off bombs on planes by remotely detonating explosives hidden inside suicide bombers. I’m sure the terrorists are saying ‘thanks’ for the idea and we should all look forward to CT scan machines making an appearance at boarding gates before too long.

Oh, and I’ve said this for years, but now Cracked has picked up on the idea that major events in the War on Terror™ mirror Starship Troopers in no small way.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!