January 17th, 2011

Good manners in the age of Wikileaks

In The London Review of books, Slavoj Žižek published an essay about the meaning of the Wikileaks era. An intriguing piece I must say, and I can only recommend to read it.

The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises. Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn? The real disturbance was at the level of appearances: we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know. This is the paradox of public space: even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.

In Europe, there is the this half-sentence. still being used in this context. It is a reminiscent of the second world war. It is was many, many regime supporters said when confronted with the atrocities of the Nazi’s: “Wir haben es nicht gewusst” (“We didn’t know”). Žižek’s conclusion is not very agreeable.

We face the shameless cynicism of a global order whose agents only imagine that they believe in their ideas of democracy, human rights and so on. Through actions like the WikiLeaks disclosures, the shame – our shame for tolerating such power over us – is made more shameful by being publicised. When the US intervenes in Iraq to bring secular democracy, and the result is the strengthening of religious fundamentalism and a much stronger Iran, this is not the tragic mistake of a sincere agent, but the case of a cynical trickster being beaten at his own game.

January 8th, 2011

The long arm of the law

Today it was announced that on December 15th, the US subpoenaed a.o. the twitter accounts of Rob Gongrijp (a Dutchman, he is the guy behind the “we don’t trust voting computers” here, there is more on this blog about that) and an Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir (she has pushed lawmaking in favor of protecting “leakers”). The subpoena was held secret for 3 weeks, by order of the US magistrate Theresa Buchanan.

Lessons kearned:

  • If one uses US based cloud services, accept they are bound by US law (google, microsoft, twitter, this blog)
  • accept there is no such thing as respect for foreign law, on the contrary: in my experience, for US law enforcement, a non-American citizen is one step lower on the ladder (sorry to be so blunt)
  • accept in a broad sense that to plead for a transparent government, one is probably a Wikileaks supporter, and therefor somehow a terrorist, or at least there is some sort of smell. (see this youtube how Wikileaks REALLY works)
  • accept that this smell is enough to tear down a lot of intrinsic mechanisms to protect the average Joe from it’s, or in this case somebody else’s government.

A sad state of affairs.

And just for the record: my country is not a shred better in cases like this. Just more silent.

December 26th, 2010

Terrorists!!! Oh wait?

Friday, xmas eve. 12 Somalians are arrested and taken into custody “to prevent a terrorist attack that was to be executed on short notice”.

Somehow it didn’t feel right. The squad first busted into the hotel where these 12…… were not, but hey, we’re only human, and we cannot do all the checks perfect. Also, their laywer stated his clients were very “surprised” about being arrested. Not really the language you’d expect.

Today, 48 hours later, 5 have been released already. No weapons, no explosives were found. Somehow it sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Update 72 hours: another one freed without charge.

Update 96 hours: 4 more have been released, so only one now in custody. The one is still suspect, as are two of the released ones, which usually means they are suspect of a relatively minor offence. Some defence by the police is already piling up, usually along the lines of “when the intelligence service issues a message, one acts and doesn’t investigate”. Nice try, especially as the material from the intelligence service can NOT be used in court.

Update 120 hours: Not all is out in the open, but it seems a classic case of “I will tip off the cops you are a terrorist if you don’t xyz”. Case is not closed, but it is here. Who’s the laughing stock?

Update 144 hours: Oh erm, well, no. The last one has been released.

December 7th, 2010

The leaks

I don’t think there is much to add to the unfolding Wikileaks saga. But this you might find this somewhat noteworthy: two public broadcast networks here (think a bit your PBS, although things are much more diversified here) have hosted a mirror site of Wikileaks now. This to the chagrin of my new, fresh, “let’s get to work” right winged administration, working with a parlimentary minority and a few ultry right wing opportunistic supporters.

I must say I was kinda flabbergasted by the almost lascivious suggestions made by both Australian and American representatives to actually execute mr. Assange. Hello??

In the meantime, here, parliament insist on having toilets on ALL trains, and cancelling the mandatory clubcard for people who want to view a soccer match, all while the economy is grinding. Oh, well, they WILL debate on Assange, see if freedom of press is being violated and to try to put pressure on Sweden to not let him be send to the US. If it wasn’t sad, it would be really, really funny.

Silly tidbit: A Danish newspaper started a Wikileaks mirror, and decided to host it on Amazon’s cloud servers, you know, the Amazon where Wikeleaks themselves have been thrown off two weeks ago. The newspaper simply stated it was the simplest option to use but added “it would make in interesting story if they were kicked out too”. Hee!

August 7th, 2010

The faith of comrades in the liberal revolution

This is a shameless, rough translation from a newspaper article. I thought it might be nice to see some “other perspectives”, if I may be so patronising.

Edit: See Citykid’s comment: “Liberal” here in Europe usually means “laisez faire”, free market thinkers, right-end of the political-economical spectrum. I realize again in the US it is far more connected to a leftish, or as we would call it “social-democrat” way of thinking. . Please read the following with the European setting in mind. If you like, replace neoliberal with neocon, but I am not sure that would be entirely fair, as we’re not talking  about the con men we usually attach to that word :-O

Added Aug 18th: My friend V. actually bought me this book, so soon enough I’ll read it all.

Neoliberalism presents themselves as a matter of course. It is the system that occurs when the government let things run their course, the natural situation. The average neoliberal sees himself as a realist. The dreamers are the others. He cherishes no illusions, he knows that man is in essence just let unrelenting self-serving.

In his recent book “The utopia of the free market” the philosopher Achterhuis  makes it convincingly clear that this is a fallacy. Neo-liberalism, like communism, is an utopia: a doctrine based on a schematic and highly idealized worldview.

Achterhuis, who since the seventies with some regularity tore down established opinions is hardly slowing sown since since his retirement in 2007. Less than two years after his last book, full of criticism of fallacies in leftist intellectuals thinking, there is another new book.

In “The utopia of the free market”, he again demonstrates an unprecedented eagerness. He sucks in everything from newspapers to books and makes no distinction between the great philosopher Michel Foucault and Times reporter Peter de Waard. Both make him think and so both are mentioned in his book. Achterhuis is not afraid to look at is own thinking in a critical way.

This time he takes the blame on himself that it took so long before he saw that neoliberalism was an utopia. “What I knew very well theoretically, but in practice di not realize was that every ideology presents itself as an inevitable and natural view of reality. Thus it remains largely invisible. It is the glasses that almost everyone wears. ”

Neo-liberalism, like communism, is a creation, emerged from a group of fanatical believers who – like Lenin and his faithful – succeeded in spreading their vision over a large part of the world. It lifted one of the many instruments of social organization, the market, to a sacred principle.

The main ideologue of neoliberalism is a woman according to Achterhuis: Ayn Rand (1905-1982). She is born in 1905 in St. Petersburg named Alissa Rosenbaum. The October Revolution, twelve years later, brings the Rosenbaum family to beggary. The family members wander for years through Russia and Alissa learns to hate communism and socialism. In 1926 she was given the chance to travel to the United States and she would never come back.

In the United States, she creates a unique philosophy: Objectivism and she wrote a book, Atlas Shrugged, in which she describes her favorite society. In Europe, the book never reached a large public, but in the United States it is considered by many the most important book after the Bible.

In Rand’s utopia it is the individual first. The collective, the idea that you help each other, has been eradicated. Charity does not exist. The Robin Hood in the story, Ragnar Danneskjöld, robs Government ships to give the money back to the exploited super-capitalists. And workers self control is seen as no less than a crime against humanity. “Remember this – remember it well – it is not often that you’re face to face with undiluted evil.”

Also sexually, anyone in Atlantis can follow just their own interest. The main character has passionate affairs with three male protagonists. While making love, no shared, collective interests may be pursued. Sex is there for personal pleasure and certainly not because you want to express the love for one another. “Her sex scenes often come across as semi-rape” writes Achterhuis.

Rand brings her sexual ideal in practice. She has an 18 years long affair with Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist who, according to the doctrine of Objectivism, is to be considered a superman. If he decides to exchange Rand for a much younger sample, the great philosopher is less rational than could be expected from “Atlas Shrugged”. Branden is expelled from the group and a smear campaign is started.

If the Rand was the Karl Marx of neoliberalism , Alan Greenspan was Lenin. The later president of the Fed, the U.S. central bank, at the age of 26 came into contact with the close circle of Ayn Rand Objectivists and was almost immediately a believer. He also believed strongly in a “capitalism with minimal government intervention as the ideal form of social organization”.

In Alan young revolutionary sentiments rose. “I took part in the nights of passionate debates and wrote commentaries for her newsletter with the fervor of a young disciple who is attracted to a whole new set of ideas,” Greenspan writes about it himself.

His love for Rand went well. New friends were always immediately introduced to her and when Branden was excommunicated, Greenspan, in the best Soviet tradition, signed a letter in which he stated that no longer would maintain any contact with Branden.

For Rand, Greenspan is the bridge to the government in Washington. He is a key economic adviser to Republican presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In 1987, it culminates when Reagan appointed him president of the Fed. In that capacity he can manipulate the entire world to his will. And he does. He keeps interest rates too low for 19 years, allowing the free market to flourish more than ever. Greenspan makes no attempt to rein in market forces.

In the early seventies the first country converted itself to the new faith: Chile. The consequences are disastrous at first: the economy shrinks 15 percent and unemployment rose to 20 percent.

Faced with this misery, Milton Friedman, another major neo-liberal, shows a reflex that was also often observed in communists. If economic performance was disappointing, it was not because communism was no good. No, the real reason was of course that it is not Communist enough. According to Friedman, the only solution that Chile should be more neoliberal. “The only medicine. Absolutely. There is no other. ”

The former Soviet Union is also to be converted overnight according to the new utopians. Public Properties fall into the hands of a new class of super-capitalists. Factories from one day to another are closed, many women saw no other option than to prostitute themselves. Pensions were wiped out in one blow and life expectancy is falling rapidly.

The pain is so great that even Alan Greenspan also doubts his faith – there are no social services to be created? – But he recovers quickly. “If we succeed we must break completely with the past.”

Many neo-liberals show the same perseverance and emotionless nature as Ceausescu when Romanian villages were destroyed and everyone had to live in large flats. Or, as Mao was with his Cultural Revolution, wanted the final clean-up. “Only when the downfall and destruction of the old world is complete, is it possible for them build the new economy of the utopian free-market capitalism,” writes Achterhuis.

In the Western world the the neoliberal revolution proceeds more gradual. Since the early nineties governments begin to retreat, state companies were privatized and subjected to market discipline.

The Netherlands, after Great Britain, is the greediest convert of all European countries to the New Thinking. The natural enemy of liberalism, social democracy turns itself off. In both countries the social democrats convert explicitly to the Third Way. They therefore no longer believe in a strong government, or anything collective, and believe much more good will come from the free market.

Sociakl democrat leader Wim Kok did not even notice that he is converted. He defends its own words just a ‘pragmatic’ and ‘realistic’ policy. Later, when he was commissioner at ING bank, and he agrees to a huge salary increase for the top, he not even acknowledges that as a change. Achterhuis has an explanation. “That Kok
(…) enriched himself to three times the prime ministers salary shows how far the ideological maelstrom can draw in a pronounced pragmatist. ”

The world view of the neo-liberals is as schematic as the worldview of the Communists. Both hold a limited and somewhat impoverished view of humanity. The Communists forget that the average person suffers from greedy and selfish instincts, so he’ll never sacrifice himself for a fully collective ideal. The neo-liberals forget that man also suffer from unselfish love, loyalty and compassion, and so be controlled by blind self-interest only. Both groups of revolutionaries presuppose a rationality that is alien to the average man. They do not see that there are irrational fears and desires. John Maynard Keynes, the great British economist, for example, saw this. He called them animal spirits, and because everyone is possessed with them, we need a strong government to take us – if necessary – on the right path.

Achterhuis finally draws the conclusion that neo-liberalism hasn’t done the world a lot of good. The upper and middle classes have certainly benefited – classes who saw their wealth and salaries only increase – the underclass pays the price.

He has been particularly persuaded by Marcel van Dam, who with his documentary “The Unprofitable” tried to show that large groups of Dutch are economically expelled, and by the British historian Robert Skidelsky, who compared the global economic growth in the period 1951-1980, when Keynesianism – that believes in a strong government – was the dominant economic trend to the period 1989 -2009, when neoliberalism conquered the world. In the first period, growth was 4.8 percent. After the glorious rise of the neo-liberals ran it fell to 3.2 percent. Achterhuis: “For me this was the definitive end to the utopian belief that I apparently still had in the economic performance of neoliberalism.”

We have not seen a major global revolt against the system so far. But perhaps it is because the ideology is now for the first time seriously tested by the current crisis. Will the neoliberal system within collapse in a few years yet with a thunderous roar? Or will the economy recover just wonderfully with the natural resilience a neoliberal economy has according to its proponents. The verdict is not out yet.

That is no reason for Achterhuis to advocate revolution or for the old Keynesianism system to be restored. He hopes that the world slowly adjusts and that the “ideological vacuum on the left of the political spectrum” is filled. At the end of the book he attempt to do so. The key to the solution lies not in the market or the government – then there is the risk that a new utopia is chosen – but in the people. “We citizens can change more than we think.”

April 20th, 2010

BBC: Human technology vs. nature

Updated below.

Here in Anchorage we have to listen to BBC on Public Radio for most of the late night hours. The eruption of a volcano in Iceland has disrupted human activity that is reliant on recently developed technologies. The folks at the BBC don’t seem to get it. Simply, nature trumps man. How ironic that the BBC can’t seem to mention that we humans have built an unworkable system. Rather than focus on the cascading technological failures caused by a natural event in Iceland the BBC can’t go beyond reporting effects. How odd.

We have created for ourselves some unreal views of nature and our relationship to nature. Technologists hate to say they got it wrong. We have convinced ourselves, and our media trumpets the view that our technology has outdone nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

See for example:

Winner, Langdon. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.

Ellul, Jacques. The The Technological Society. New York, NY: Random House, 1964.

Update: 2010 April 28

I think Joe Bageant’s take is grounded in reality,

Thanks to technology and layers upon layers of mediation by TV, movies, the Internet, etc., gadgets and manufactured imagery, we all live many steps removed from reality. Collapse is symbolized to each of us in different ways. To some it would be the sustained malfunction and lack of access of the Internet, which is surely coming……

I have come to think the price of admission anywhere in the world, (except in America and Europe, where enough dough will get your ass kissed in any circles) is service to others. We have been indoctrinated by an earth devouring capitalist system to believe otherwise. Believe that giving only depletes. And that mankind and civilization came about through kings and warriors and “great men.” But the essential glue of man the social animal has always been on cooperation and sharing. That an endless stream of elite thieves have always managed to steal the fruits of that cooperation does not matter. And the best that is in man still rests on the same fundamentals — cooperation for the greater good of all.

Most of the folks here in the U.S. can’t imagine a “cooperative economic model.” I think it’s been “programmed” out of most folks here in the U.S. – cooperation is a model that few U.S. citizens have ever encountered over the course of their lives. Too bad for all of us.

March 17th, 2010

The future of publishing


(yup, I did almost buy an e-reader, but not just yet)

January 27th, 2010

The positivity blog and Mozart

It’s all too easy to focus on the bad and ugly and deceit in the world. But let’s never forget the other side.

Mozart’s Top 3 Tips for Making Your Own Kind of Music (this links to the full post)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart seemed to live a pretty fast and quick life. He started writing his own music when he was just four years old. When he was six he played violin to the emperor of Austria. At 14 he wrote music for Milan Opera. As an adult he worked at a furious pace. By the end of his life he had written over 600 pieces of music. A life that ended early, just before his 36′th birthday.

  1. “I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”
  2. “One must not make oneself cheap here – that is a cardinal point – or else one is done. Whoever is most impertinent has the best chance.”
  3. “When I am travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that ideas flow best and most abundantly.”

Thanks Elena.

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January 27th, 2010

To not forget

Today, after 112 hours, the reading of 102.000 names of people who were transported through the Nazi deportation camp Westerbork in my country and then onwards by cattle train to the extermination camps in Poland came to an end with the last name on the memorial, Heinrich Zysmanowicz.

The youngest reader was 11, the oldest 80. A few by telephone from the US and Israël.

Let us not ever forget the evil that can be created and nourished by hatred. Let us not forget what administrations can do if they know too much (is that why they are called “administrations”?); the round up of Jews in WWII was ultra efficient in my country because of the wonderfully complete and precise record keeping.

January 19th, 2010