Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Most likely American politicians will reach a deal that prevents the country from going over the so called fiscal cliff, and most likely they will do it as late as possible. This is all part of the political theatre. Invent a problem, describe it as a matter of economic survival, and solve it half an hour before deadline in an all night meeting with no journalists present.
In deed, there are real problems to solve. There is climate change. A war in Syria. An economy that no one is content with. Not all world citizens have access to clean water - others still have o access to education. But "the fiscal cliff"? Unlike these other problems it does not correspond to anything happening in the real world - it is a problem invented by US politicians, it would be rather disappointing if they can not even solve that.
It is easy to criticize politicians. But maybe the problem is not that they are not doing their job, but that they are nothing but human? Maybe it is the curse of humanity that we can only solve the problems we have invented (not the one we have caused) - on an individual as well as societal scale. We are apt at resolving quarrels with friends that were not really about anything at all, but quite unable to deal with facts beyond our own making, e.g. our own death. Similarly, society is better at solving problems related to traffic - a system invented by us, than problems relating to matters beyond our control, like some historical - or environmental issues.
If so... it would mean that we can expect from politicians to solve the fiscal cliff (and maybe ask them not to invent another one), and blame them for all those kids who don't go to school. But on the other issues, clean water and climate change, we can not expect human solutions. We have no choice but trusting our faith and good luck.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Suspicion about arson have circulated since days after the fires. The fires erupted in an area seldom visited by tourists, so it was unlikely that a visitor would have lit it by mistake. But the police have now gone through material filmed from helicopters, seeing no signs of anyone at all, even though an arsonist would need quite some time to get from the spot.
This is hardly compelling evidence, but it is still worrying. Bulgaria, as the rest of the Balkans did endure an extremely hot summer due to climate change, and if this fire erupted without human interference, more fires is a likely scenario to play out in the years ahead.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy I would like to add that whereas climatologists are not so certain that global warming causes hurricanes, there is no doubt that global warming will lead to more draught and floods.
Also in Sweden the last summer has been discussed this week in the public radio. It was extremely wet, which made some farmers suffer, while others saw record harvests. Again - it is not proven that climate change leads to more hurricanes, but certain that it will change rain patterns.
I think this illustrate how climate change will be a very different experience in different places. To some Europeans it will mean dangerous events like wildfires and floods, to some it will mean that some places for growing potatoes will have to be abandoned for others.
The second scenario, which is more likely for Sweden is probably a whole lot easier to live with, and would so be if we ate only potatoes. But the true impact on Sweden will come not from extreme events, but from disruptions of global supply chains in other countries.
Santa Claus in a sun chair... the airplane exhausts say "nothing's wrong". Quite a telling picture of what climate change will look like. The irony is not lessened from the fact that the ad is for an oil company - Overgas
Friday, September 21, 2012
When asked about his opinions about western civilization, Gandhi is said to have answered - I think it would be a good idea. A hundred years later, I agree. We should in deed try something like that. But it is still to be seen.
The last week has been revealing about the deeply hypocritical stance he so called western world takes on freedom of speech. Whereas it is deemed a constitutional right to mock the prophet Muhammad, it is criminal to publish pictures of the English princess Katie Middleton's tits. I do think both ideas are in deed sensational and unworthy of attention - what I find provoking is the difference in how the matters are handled.
Caricatures of Muhammad has become a quite boring tradition in western news outlets, as have the predictable response in Muslim countries. The way most people seem to deal with these caricatures is like this: It is bad taste, but the point of free speech is that bad taste is not illegal, therefore it is up to editors, not censors, to decide what to publish or not to publish. I completely agree. I do not think it should be illegal to publish caricatures of Muhammad.
But these caricatures should be discussed, as all published should. It is not really the same thing as Monthy Pyton did in Life of Brian, when Jesus was caricatured. First of all, one can notice that Monthy Pyton are quite kind on Jesus himself - what makes the film humorous is that one recognize modern power in the Romans, modern left wing extremism in the various Jewish liberation fronts etc. As all literature, it is a comment on the time in which it was written.
I guess the same is valid for Muhammad caricatures - they do comment something in the world we live in, presumably a political correctness that taboos criticism against minorities. Is there such a political correctness? I am not sure. What I see, living in a Swedish town with many Muslims, is that Muslims are discriminated against in almost everything except legislation.
There is also a rather murky side of this business. One has the feeling that there is some kind of hatred against Muslims hiding behind the freedom of speech, and sometimes such suspicions are confirmed. As when Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist mainly known for his Muhammad caricatures appeared on an extreme right convention about islamization in the US.
Still. Freedom of speech is important, and in a troubled democracy like ours it is becoming increasingly important. Therefore, Muhammad caricatures should be discussed, but not banned.
Which is why it is equally important that topless pictures of royalties are not banned. On the whole, I can not get what is so provoking with topless pictures. We all knew that Katie had tits, right? And in case she thinks it is a great deal, she does not need to go out topless on the French riviera in the first place. That is a life she has chosen, a life that includes papparazis, so live with it.
Here I feel much more alone, though. Most people seem to regard this as an issue of privacy, not free speech. And that the News of the World debacle has made the press wary. Please, it is quite different to steal phone numbers from crime victims than photographing people who have chosen a public life in situations they did not choose. It is very bad taste, of course, but then again - is not the whole point with free speech that bad taste?
I think sheds light on how our society uses different rules for different people. We like to pride ourselves of our liberalism and humanism, but the reality is, like Gandhi said, that the western world has never been able to behave in a civilized manner.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
You know it already - Sweden wanted Julian Assange extradited from the UK to charge him for sexual harassment. The UK agrees, and mr. Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. In the background lurks the US - the charges against Assange appeared less than two weeks after Assange had published chunks of classified US diplomatic cables. The US wowed to take revenge, but since Assange is not yet imprisoned, Bradley Manning - the true hero of this story - is tortured in stead.
This afternoon Ecuador has granted Assange asylum, and moreover accused Sweden of having a politicized juridical system, which of course has caused a lot of furore in this haven of hypocrisy. Our foreign minister Carl Bildt who is known not only to bring peace to the Balkans but also to bring death and destruction to Sudan and Ethiopia through his oil business, tweeted angrily about it. Not that I take his tweet much more seriously than al Shabaab's or Dimitry Medvedev's. I bet they are all friends on Facebook.
Please note: I do not believe that Julian Assange has harassed anyone and should get away with it. I do find the allegations against him ridiculous, and I fully agree with the Ecuadorian analysis of our juridical system. Sweden is working on behalf of the US. Most countries who show this degree of dependency are called banana republics, but since are proud to sport a royal house, Sweden must be classified as a banana monarchy.
According to the attorney, Assange during a brief stay in Sweden stayed in some female aquintancies' apartment, and coerced at least one woman into having sex against her wishes. A truly disgraceful behavior, true, but do not think it is illegal in Sweden, unless you are wanted by the US. There have been several cases during the last year where our highest judiciary signalizes one thing - men's violence against women is not a crime. Hovrätten is the highest juridical instance for this type of crimes in Sweden and its judgings are considered predicative.(Links below are in Swedish)
In this context, what sentence would a crime like the one Assange is accused of get? If found guilty he would maybe have to pay a few thousand Euros in compensation - after all the victim is neither trafficked, nor under aged or anything, and he didn't use a samurai sword to get into her pants.
The thought that any Swedish man would be searched for abroad for a crime that our judiciary finds so utterly unimportant is ridiculous. And quite frankly I would be glad if the resources spent on trying to convict Assange were spent on some other male suppressing women around him. They are not so hard to find, actually. There must be some other reason Sweden wants him extradited.
And what reason might that be? Ask Bradley Manning, who is bearing Assange's cross. The US wants him, of course. But our media are so lame. Ecuador have publicly stated that they have asked both Sweden and the UK for guarantees that Assange is not extradited to a third part. Carl Bildt did not comment on that, and no reporter made him say if Sweden has received such a proposal, if it has denied it and why, if that is the case.
All in all, it is a pretty nice example of the decay in morals and politics in Sweden. If Julian Assange should go to court, he should at least be allowed to do it in a country with a working judiciary.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
To sum up what was said in the discussion: such firms do work that the state has not resources to do, e.g. protect NGO's, which is a good thing, but they do wage violence in the name of the state beyond any political control and compete with the national armies for competent staff, which is bad. All of this is something that is almost never discussed in public.
What struck me most about the discussion was the lack of any historical perspective, and the naivety about our democracy.
First history. Are these firms a neo-liberal phenomenon, typical for our time? Not so much. Outsourcing violence has been, and is being done done before in many different contexts. Who is doing the massacres in Syria? Not the Syrian army but the Shabiha militia. Shabiha is a pretty new name - a few years ago it was the Janjaweed militia that were talked about. Almost 150 years ago, when the Ottoman empire was unraveling, the Bashi-bazouk were famous for brutality against Christians on the Balkans, notably the Batak massacre in Bulgaria.
The Wikipedia article on Bashi-bazouk notes that "Although Turkish armies always contained bashi-bazouk adventurers as well as regular soldiers, the strain on the Ottoman feudal system caused mainly by the Empire's wide expanse required heavier reliance on irregular soldiers".
I believe this is the key insight - when states and empires crumble, as the US and Syria are today, they are forced to rely more heavily on irregular forces. When the Ottomans conquered the Balkans they did it with a very loyal force of Jannisaries, controlled directly by the Sultan. When they lost it they did it with self-sufficient Bashi-bazouks. Which of course undermines the very essence of the state - its monopoly on violence.
Thus, the rise of private security firms, is a strong indicator of an empire in decline. And these days anyone can see that the West's grip on the world is weakening.
So much about history. Then there was the naivety. It is true that the outsourcing of violence is a democratic problem. But it is not strange that it is not discussed. Since when do we discuss fundamental issues? When did you last see a government official including climate change and peak oil in economic forecasts? Still the same politicians will acknowledge these problems when discussing environmental policies. We live in a state of official denial about the future of civilisation, so why on earth would we discuss this matter?
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Climate change has been hotly debated for several years, and anyone who has read an article about it will know that more, and more intense, wildfires is one out of many predictable effects of a warmer atmosphere. Other predictable effects are fiercer storms, droughts and floods.
The key fact is that warm air holds more vapour than cold air. That means it will rain more seldom, but more intense when the rain falls. Some places are flooded, while others remain dry.
The key insight is that weather has always been potentially extreme. On a certain location at a certain time, there is always a potential for extreme weather. A warmer climate does no bring any new events - it simply changes the likelihood of them to occur.
But given that the world is now somewhere around 0.6 degrees warmer than it was 30 years ago, and given the immense damage caused by events like the wildfires in Colorado, it is very relevant to ask to what extent these events are due to warmer weather.
Scientists and activists who have been saying this for years of course make this connection. And you can find journalists in regional newspapers. But you will search in vain for a discussion of climate change in connection with real world events in major news outlets like CNN or NY Times.
This would make sense if CNN and NY Times rejected the idea that warmer temperatures affect the weather, but, alas, you can find several articles describing the effects of climate change on these sites.
How can an article that predicts that climate change will give more wildfires, not be referred to when wildfires do appear?
It's the politics, stupid. One could easily imagine the loathsome comments to a NY Times article about wildfires that even hinted at climate change. It would be highly controversial.
But if we let such bigotry stand in the way of discussing climate change when it happens, how could we ever manage to deal with it? Well... it is like that. We can't.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Permaculture is an attempt to answer the fundamental issues of our time in a coherent way - how can we live without depleting the Earth's resources. Be it oil, phosphorus, benign climate conditions or top soil - if we keep on the current trajectory, it will be very hard to generate food enough to feed humanity 50 years form now.
How could we arrange things differently? The answer that Permaculture gives is that since gardening is an incredibly efficient way to produce food, we must base our food consumption on local gardening, not global monoculture agriculture and food chains.
What can not be produced in the consumers own gardens, will have to be bought on the market of course. But it will be bought by nearby farmers, with a relation to the consumers.
Traditionally, high costs of transportation made it more profitable to sell potatoes to your neighbour than to foreign citizens. Today, there are a number of initiatives to achieve this. One is that customers "subscribe" to a farmers produce, pay a bill and receive a certain amount of potatoes each Friday.
Another is that a number of consumers get together and do the farming themselves and share the produce. Hopefully that will not be so much work per participant.
A third way is CSA - community supported agriculture. Wikipedia defines CSA as "a particular network or association of individuals who have pledged to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production".
I very much think that this is how we will get our food in the near future, so I have been browsing for similar projects in Sweden. There are some, run by idealists, but it is still a very new movement. In other places it is already becoming the norm.
The Guardian is reporting that a new movement is taking shape in Greece, where local authorities help linking local farmers with local consumers. Buyers and sellers then get together at local fairs and exchange goods and money. Farmers get paid instantly, and consumers get food much cheaper than in the Supermarket.
The Greek potato movement could be an idea straight from a Permaculture textbook. But as Marx would have pointed out - this revolution is not created by idealist radicals, but by the grim realities of a capitalist crisis. Permaculture is a very non-Marxist movement, emphasising individual life style choices over political action and ignorant of social classes. But I think Marx fundamental analysis - that the ideas do not become real because they are good, but because they are economically necessary is right. Fortunately, Permaculture might be such an idea.