Monthly Archive for December, 2009

Technology, development and c..c..c..climate change.


Time to Take Sides

Ha!  George Monbiot got one thing (almost) delightfully right in his recent article: The rapacious will not give up without a fight

“Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives, though both sides are informed by the older politics. Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits.”

I  had to insert ‘almost’ in my introductory sentence above, because the split  is still between reactionaries and progressives.   The ‘expanders’  are the progressives, and the ‘restrainers’  are the reactionaries, doomed to run behind, shouting and gesticulating.

In his article,  Monbiot is clear that economic growth must be curtailed.  In order to Save the Planet, humanity must “redefine itself”  and reject the idea that there will “always be another frontier” because “perpetual growth cannot be accomodated on a finite planet”.

Well,  we still have at least a billion years  before changes in our Sun begin to make the planet uninhabitable.   (And by that time we’ll have spread into other parts of the universe anyway.)   Given that it’s only a few hundred years since all of humanity was dependent on a carbohydrate energy economy (ie  we depended entirely on human manual labour, augmented by animals, such as horses) , and in too many parts of the world that is still the case, it seems very odd to say that we are about to reach some sort of limit.  The reality is that we’ve only just begun.

Industrialization,  and the economic growth made possible by that,  is essential  to human liberation .  For most of human history, life has been brutish, nasty and short. Even at the best of times,  the vast majority  could only just manage to subsist  by spending almost every waking hour engaged in some from of back-breaking toil.   The industrial revolution changed all that and provided opportunities and possibilities which were not even dreamed of in the past.  And we’re still only at the beginning.  A huge part of the planet has yet to industrialise.  Those of us who are already on the way, want to continue.

Continue reading ‘Technology, development and c..c..c..climate change.’

Next stop… the Moon!

Water has been discovered on the Moon. Ho hum. No mention in the mainstream media, as far as I’m aware. No headlines. No general thrill or excitement at the potential in such a discovery.

I just found out about it via spiked on-line in an article by Sean Collins. Sean says this is “one of the most important discoveries of our lifetimes” and ponders as to why there’s not great excitement about it. His article can be read in full here.

The NASA press release, dated 13 November, can be read here.

What gets me is how we’re supposed to be living in this social system that is supposedly so dynamic and encourages individual and group enterprise, yet something as huge as this is barely mentioned.

It’s not hard to see how, under a different set of social relations, with science and innovation socially owned and geared to social need, exploration for its own sake and fun, and no longer privately owned and geared to private profit, something like the discovery of water on the moon would be front-page news with people rushing in with ideas on how to make the most of it.

Reflecting the historical reality that we’re living in a system that has passed its used-by date, the ‘popular culture’ is generally negative and pessimistic, obsessed with celebrity gossip, Hollywood blockbusters about how ‘the end is nigh’ (unless we live more subserviently to Nature). On television, I’ve noticed a tendency to detective series that have at least a few autopsies performed each episode – is this symbolic of a ruling class foreseeing its own dissected corpse?

(Of course, the popular culture is not all like that, but there’s a definite trend).

A most important point in the article relates to the disjuncture between the “elites” lack of response/excitement in public commentary on one hand and the great interest, via the Internet, on the part of the general public, on the other.

Sean says: “I was surprised to learn that, according to Yahoo!, ‘water on the moon’ was the sixth most searched item in UK news in 2009… This would indicate that the public is more interested than the intellectuals in the punditocracy, who haven’t lifted a finger to type a word on the topic”.

Even the greens, who can be relied upon to oppose any further lunar missions and developments (lest we wicked humans damage the ‘balance’ in the moon’s environment by changing it signficantly) have been very quiet about it.

“spiked” writes in support of striking British Airways cabin crew

British online magazine “spiked” has published an article by Tim Black supporting striking British Airways cabin crew. The strike was announced last Monday by Unite, the union of which the striking cabin crew are members.

The article makes a very good point about how strikes are seen and reported these days: this is not seen by people as workers standing up for themselves, but as a mere inconvenience to passengers:

However, to say there’s been little in the way of public sympathy for the actions of the cabin crew would be an understatement. Much like the London Tube strike earlier this year, the reaction from the hundreds of thousands of passengers likely to be affected has been largely hostile. Only 10 times more so, given that it’s not just a case of getting to work late, but of not getting home for Christmas. As far as many affected are concerned, this is atrocious customer service.

In fact, the public discussion of the planned cabin crew strike has been framed almost entirely in terms of the individual consumer. It seems to be the only perspective available. The BBC News website doesn’t offer an analysis of the conflicting interests at stake; it offers advice on ‘how else to get around this Christmas’. The Times doesn’t address the concerns of businessmen; it addresses the worries of the disgruntled customer – ‘Don’t rush to buy another flight, just wait and see’, a column urges. Throughout the coverage and public discussion, the only relationship one can seemingly have with the strike is that of a consumer to a disrupted service.

I also noticed this in the reaction to complaints about last week’s bus strike in Brisbane. There was almost universal disgust with the bus drivers and the union and very little sympathy for their right to stand up for themselves via striking. I don’t know how to convince more people to automatically, or at least generally, see the point of view of striking workers.

Australian Government moves closer to Internet censorship – what to do? #nocensorship #nocleanfeed

Via ZDNet News Editor Renai LeMay comes news that the Australian Government has received a report of its trial of systems to censor the Internet. Amusingly, as I type, the Government’s website announcing the report is down, presumably because of the amount of people visiting

The crucial finding is:

Filtering Refused Classification (RC) content

The pilot demonstrated that ISPs can effectively filter a list of URLs such as the ACMA blacklist with a very high degree of accuracy and a negligible impact on internet speed.

While it’s possible for technical people to argue about whether this is true or not, the political reality is that it will give the Government a good technical argument to go ahead with its plans to censor the internet. Therefore the plan will need to be defeated on political grounds.

At the moment, the Australian Greens and the Liberal/National Coalition still oppose the censorship plan, despite the Greens recently choosing to run Clive Hamilton, the moral architect of the censorship plan, as their candidate in the recent Higgins by-election. If this remains the same, it is likely that the plan will fail in the Senate as the Government is unlikely to ever have enough votes to pass the censorship plan without the support of one of those groups.

After the discussions we had here a year or so ago about this issue, I think we need to spread the idea that Australians need to take responsibility for their own viewing habits and not expect the Government to nanny them, and we need “maximum freedom for the maximum amount of people”. There was also a good discussion about laying a political cost on the Government by painting THEM as the creepy weird ones who are obsessed with people looking at nude pictures of children.


Interview with Bus Drivers’ Union secretary about Wednesday’s Brisbane bus strike

Last Wednesday, Brisbane bus drivers at the Toowong depot went on strike after a driver was stood down. The driver was stood down following this report on Channel 9 TV News showing a young girl getting her foot caught in the door of a bus. While Channel 9 said the driver “showed little remorse”, the footage shows him walking past the TV crew (who did nothing to help the girl) and going straight to the back door of the bus to make sure everything was OK. You’ll notice that the TV report doesn’t show anything of what he said or did when he got to where the girl was.

Looking at the footage shown in the Channel 9 report, it looks very dodgy that the driver was stood down (he was a casual so unless the union can win a case for him, he wouldn’t have got paid for being stood down). I kept an open mind until I saw the footage, but now I think he was being unfairly blamed by the his management. If someone in a place I worked at was stood down on such flimsy evidence, I hope my fellow workers would strike to defend not only my rights, but their own.

I talked with David Matters, Assistant Secretary of the Queensland Branch of the Rail Tram and Bus Union about the incident. Mr Matters explains that this has been an ongoing safety issue, that Brisbane Transport management may have been upset that bus drivers and the union have been challenging management on safety issues, and also talks about just how stressful a bus driver’s job is.

Click on this link to listen to the interview – if your browser won’t play the interview, clicking here will download it so you can listen on your own computer: 091210 David Matters RTBU

It’s important to note that even though this strike was clearly about unfair treatment of a worker, the strike was declared illegal within hours. This is as a result of workplace laws brought in by the Rudd Labor Government, the worst anti-union laws ever brought in by an Australian Labor Goverment.

On Friday morning I sent the following email to Councillor Jane Prentice, the chair of Brisbane City Council’s public transport committee – in effect, she is Brisbane City Council’s “Minister for Buses”:

Dear Ms Prentice,

I am writing a story, to be published on Saturday afternoon December 12 2009, on Brisbane’s bus strike last Wednesday. I am emailing you to ask you to clarify some issues and to give you a chance to say anything you think the public should know about the story.

1) Media reports suggest the driver shown on Channel Nine TV News on Monday who had a passenger’s foot caught in the back door of his bus was stood down from duty before any enquiry had had the chance to report on the full facts of the incident. Is this so?

2) Media reports suggest that the driver was a casual employee. If so, and if it is true that he was stood down before any enquiry had reported, does this mean that he would have received no pay during the enquiry?

3) If the driver was stood down before any enquiry had examined the full facts of the case, why was that so?

4) What complaints or suggestions have been received formally or informally by Brisbane Transport management from employees about safety issues related to back-door sensors in buses designed to stop the doors closing while passengers might be caught in them?

5) Do you have any comments or observations you’d like the public to know about regarding this issue?

Revolution – Nina Simone (1969)

Remember the Beatles’ reactionary song, ‘Revolution’? I liked them as a group, and still do, but, gee, it was disappointing to be a young revolutionist in the 1960s and  hear them come out with lyrics against revolutionary change. Of course, the Beatles’ song was written from the perspective of the Establishment – lyrics about “minds that hate” and against “Chairman Mao” would not have made much sense to people who were struggling for survival and freedom in the Third World, not to mention in the ghettoes of the US.

Someone who, at that time, stood with the oppressed people was the great African American piano player, composer and singer, Nina Simone.

Poor Nina, she was not consistent later in life and her decline and end was a very sad one indeed. Her version of the Beatles’ song subverts it into an actual revolutionary song.

I’m sure she was addressing the Beatles with the lyrics:

“Some folks are gonna get the notion
I know they’ll say im preachin hate
But if i have to swim the ocean
Well i would just to communicate
Its not as simple as talkin jive
The daily struggle just to stay alive”.

And, hey, greenies, “It’s more than just air pollution”.

She recorded the song in 1969: “We’re in the middle of a revolution, coz I see the face of things to come”.

Enjoy! (And swim that ocean!)

Really crazy …. or someone having a joke???

The video below was shown at the opening session of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.    Could it be a parody??????

Greens really think they’re Left – we’ve a long way to go

Ben Raue, a fairly senior New South Wales Greens member, has a post on his blog discussing the Higgins and Bradfield by-elections and the Greens results there. It’s a fairly standard sort of post, spinning the results as good for the Greens and not so good for the Liberals, but the interesting thing is that Raue labels the Greens as the “left-wing” party in those seats.

The Greens achieved a strong result in a right-wing heartland seat while running an explicitly left-wing campaign.

Raue is of course not being merely dishonest, even though calling Clive Hamilton, (the Greens’ candidate in Higgins), a left-winger is utterly laughable. Rather, left-wing politics has degenerated to such a degree that people who are suspicious of modern industrial civilisation and want to slow it down are considered Left, merely because they dislike capitalism.

This article in The Spectator attacks that idea, pointing out that many Green ideas come from the right-wing position of Thomas Malthus, whose arguments Marx and Engels rejected.

However the Greens are the only even semi-major political force talking about things like the rights of unions, freedom from internet censorship (even despite Hamilton’s appalling position) and the right to gay marriage, it’s easy for them to be seen as left-wing, and to attract support from many who could be won over to a real left-wing position. Such a left-wing position would include confidence in modernism and humanity, a belief that humans are more important than the Earth for it’s own sake, and a belief that people shouldn’t just demand a “fair day’s pay” but should take over society and run it themselves. Clearly there’s a lot of agitation to be done to spread these ideas.

Class War Isn’t Just Sneering at the Rich – Jason Walsh in @goforthmag

Jason Walsh has an article in forth magazine about “the phoney reconstruction of class politics” in the UK.

The article comments on UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s attacks on the privileged backgrounds of Conservative Party figures, which have been mislabelled “class war” in the UK media.

Walsh says:

The Daily Mail reported last week that the British Labour party leader Gordon Brown plans on besting the Conservatives by launching a “class war”. The Mail’s faux middle-class outrage aside, this is a rather strange development. Why, now, would Labour decide to indulge in a spate of political cross-dressing? Also, how on earth can a party that has been in government for twelve years cast itself in the role of radical opposition?

Of course it transpires that, rather than encouraging the self-organisation of workers, the fat controller’s idea of class war is not much more than pointing out that prominent Tories tend to be the privately educated scions of the wealthy. Who knew?

Yes, Clive, “all that is solid melts into air”, you just don’t get it…

People coming here in response to David’s article in the Australian today (Green Wowser is no Leftie), may also be interested in an article about Hamilton that I wrote for Spiked last year : “Liberal Tyranny on the World Wide Web

Also,   few months ago it was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock so the media was full of articles about it.   Hamilton wrote one which he entitled  “From Free Love to Narcicissm”.  I began drafting a response to it, but as is fairly usual for me, I became  distracted by other stuff before I finished it.   However it seems appropriate to publish what I had written up to the time I stopped, rather than leave it languishing on my hard drive.  It’s not really finished, and should really be edited a bit …. but better to just put it here than wait till I  have the time and inclination to do any more work on it .   So here it is:


The recent anniversary of Woodstock has prompted various public intellectuals to whip up  media pieces on the legacy of the ’60’s era. I was particularly irritated by Clive Hamilton’s piece “From Free Love to Narcissism“, published in Crikey. But I’ve since noticed the similarity between his and several other articles. On some levels they could have been woven from the same cloth.

It’s especially irritating that these people are so ready to describe  Woodstock as a (or even the) defining event of the worldwide upsurge of the  1960s. It clearly wasn’t. Throughout this period, young people around the world fought real battles which actually changed things. The counter-culture which emerged alongside these struggles most certainly had its rebellious side, but it was also heavily influenced by  the ‘turn off, tune in, drop out… ‘all you need is love’  mentality. And that aspect of it was struggled against by the leadership of those groups fighting for serious change. The idea that a mass stone-in at a rock n roll concert could be a world-changing event was not one that was widely embraced.  At best, Woodstock reflected (rather than drove) the general rebellious spirit of the times. It may have been a demonstration that the youth were no longer prepared to accept the old social conventions, but it was not a centre-piece of any particular struggle.

However, 40 years later, it suits both the overt Right and the pseudo-left to look back  on Woodstock as some sort of pivotal event.   The pseudo-left is quite comfortable redefining  the ’60s era as having been all about  peace, love, harmony, tolerance,  while  the Right has fun lampooning the idea that a muddy gathering of half a million drug addled, group-thinky, tie-dyed, incense burning kids, should be viewed as having been of positive significance.

Ayn Rand wrote:

“The hippies are the living demonstration of what it means to give up reason and to rely on one’s primeval “instincts,” “urges,” “intuitions” – and whims. With such tools, they are unable to grasp even what is needed to satisfy their wishes – for example, the wish to have a festival. Where would they be without the charity of the local “squares” who fed them? Where would they be without the fifty doctors, rushed from New York to save their lives – without the automobiles that brought them to the festival – without the soda pop and beer they substituted for water – without the helicopter that brought the entertainers – without all the achievements of the technological civilization they denounce? Left to their own devices, they literally didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. “

I actually have some sympathy with Rand’s view, although her contempt is far too extreme for me.

Poor old Clive Hamilton wants to have it both ways. In his Crikey article he wrote: “The original  Woodstock festival was imbued with a sense of harmony and  tolerance and was everywhere seen as a ‘victory of peace and love’ “. The rest of his article is a sermon about  the sixties movement more generally in which he explains that it’s time we woke up and realised that in reality  the “rebellion [which] shook the foundations of conservatism in the sixties and seventies  [ has resulted in]  the most materialistic, egocentric and decadent societies the world has ever seen”.

Apparently we were conned, instead of winning we really lost because the main impact of winning more freedom and greater personal autonomy was the unleashing of … da Market Monster!!

Continue reading ‘Yes, Clive, “all that is solid melts into air”, you just don’t get it…’

Save Solar Systems public meeting – photos and recorded speeches

Some Strange Timers went to a public meeting last night about Victorian solar energy company Solar Systems, which may go into receivership after failing to attract investment for a planned solar electricity plant in Mildura, Victoria.

The meeting featured several speakers including the Greens candidate for tomorrow’s by-election in the seat of Higgins, Clive Hamilton, who distinguished himself by calling me a “prick” after he demanded (and I refused) that I stop taking photos of him, a public figure at a public meeting. This photo shows Hamilton just before he confronted me.

Clive Hamilton at Save Solar Systems public meeting, Fitzroy Town Hall, Napier St, Fitzroy Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 091203-19

Continue reading ‘Save Solar Systems public meeting — photos and recorded speeches’

Why Clive Hamilton isn’t a leftist – article in The Australian @australian

I’ve got an article published today in The Australian attacking Clive Hamilton, the Green candidate for the by-election in the seat of Higgins that is happening tomorrow.

My article says that left-wingers should reject Hamilton’s politics as they are further to the right than the Liberal Party is:

It’s a sign of the decline of Left politics that a reactionary, pro-censorship sexual moraliser who hates the idea of working people enjoying a higher material standard of living could ever be considered left-wing.

If you find this article interesting, you might also want to have a look at this article published about Hamilton in forth magazine, a new Irish current affairs website. It talks about Hamilton’s pseudo-left politics:

Until now, the voice of Australian opposition to global-warming moralism and scaremongering by the likes of Hamilton has only come to the political right, such as the rather nasty populist Andrew Bolt, writing in Melbourne’s Herald-Sun. (10) It is crucial that more leftists move into the global warming debate and defend the vision of a left that supports the modern world, including industrial development. If we don’t, the argument for a modern world will be left to the capitalists.

Who Owns Science??

The Manchester Manifesto (entitled “Who Owns Science?”) was published last week and, as Arthur pointed out in a comment in another thread, (Just too Bizarre) it seems  “…nicely timed to coincide with “Climategate” [having demonstrated]  abuse of  “Intellectual Property” to protect scientific tribalism.”

It’s a moderately worded manifesto, but it’s signed by about 50 scientists and other “experts” and its focus is on the way in which the notion of intellectual property (IP) is a threat to innovation.

“….the current dominant model of innovation and commercialisation of science poses a number of problems. It has potential to encourage innovation and scientific research and development, but also to frustrate innovation and stifle research”

Here’s a longer excerpt from Arthur’s comment as a discussion starter:

“While very moderately worded, it has a suitably extensive list of signatories to stimulate discussion that will inevitably hook up with the more aggressive (and widely supported) Free and Open Source Software movement,  which  confronts the same problem in engineering (and hence in everything), and related “Open Culture” movements (wikipedia etc) etc, that link directly to mass rejection of property rights in music, video and games by file sharing.

I’ve always thought (eg with “Software Liberation” in early 1980s) that this stuff is central to linking communist ideas about capitalist relations of production fettering the productive forces with practical political struggles.

There’s also a possible opening in Australia at the moment with a transparently silly scheme likely to go through against opposition from Nationals, Liberals and Greens – none of whom have the slightest credibility.

How about (seriously) proposing that they should offer an “alternative” of Australia spending as much on science and R&D towards cheaper base load primary energy,  as other countries do on restricting carbon emissions. And with no IP rights, since  that would only hinder our contribution to the common world effort to “do something”  …but  we would prefer to do something “actually useful”.  Spin-offs to Australia,  instead of IP,  are a generally higher tech workforce  – like the spin-off to US from military and (related) space programs.”

And below are some other articles, which may be of interest:

Science in Shackles

Grant system Leads Science Researchers to Play it Safe

Seeking a Shorter Path to New Drugs

Frances Widdowson and Noel Pearson

Frances Pearson is a Canadian author on Aboriginal issues there. Her blog, Offended by Offence, has a recent article “Developments in Australian Aboriginal Policy”. The article discusses the work of Noel Pearson and Peter Sutton.

It appears that the discussion here when we mentioned a review of Widdowson’s book “Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry” might have helped to connect Widdowson with Pearson’s work.