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Riots, disaster, and recovery - Aug 12

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An open letter to David Cameron's parents

Nathaniel Tapley, blog
Dear Mr & Mrs Cameron,

Why did you never take the time to teach your child basic morality?

As a young man, he was in a gang that regularly smashed up private property. We know that you were absent parents who left your child to be brought up by a school rather than taking responsibility for his behaviour yourselves. The fact that he became a delinquent with no sense of respect for the property of others can only reflect that fact that you are terrible, lazy human beings who failed even in teaching your children the difference between right and wrong. I can only assume that his contempt for the small business owners of Oxford is indicative of his wider values.

Even worse, your neglect led him to fall in with a bad crowd. He became best friends with a young man who set fire to buildings for fun. And others:

There’s Michael Gove, whose wet-lipped rage was palpable on Newsnight last night. This is the Michael Gove who confused one of his houses with another of his houses in order to avail himself of £7,000 of the taxpayers’ money to which he was not entitled (or £13,000, depending on which house you think was which).

Or Hazel Blears, who was interviewed in full bristling peahen mode for almost all of last night. She once forgot which house she lived in, and benefited to the tune of £18,000. At the time she said it would take her reputation years to recover. Unfortunately not.

But, of course, this is different. This is just understandable confusion over the rules of how many houses you are meant to have as an MP. This doesn’t show the naked greed of people stealing plasma tellies...
(11 Aug 2011)



Why we need to stop trying to 'save the planet' and just realise our place in it

Peter Baker, the ecologist
In an extract from his new book the Jolly Pilgrim, Peter Baker argues that a Gaian consciousness is slowly emerging out of our efforts to overcome climate change and other environmental challenges

The human race has a problem in its relationship with the environment. That problem is an intrinsic consequence of running a technological civilisation on the surface of a planet and it's one we were destined to face since long before perceiving it. Now that we do perceive it, and everybody's talking about it, we should start being more realistic about the historical context of those discussions.

All life forms exploit their surroundings to get what they need to survive. Daisies need sunlight, squirrels need acorns, whales need krill. We humans, however, have always been rather more ambitious about what constitutes our needs and, for 100,000 years, those ambitions and their side effects have been inexorably increasing.

By the time anatomically modern humans were spreading across the globe after 60,000 BCE, already no other animal could stand against us. We'd become the invincible global super-predator. Snuffing out species. Re-ordering food chains. Distorting ecosystems.

Agriculture increased our impact on the world to a new scale. Watercourses were redirected, forests cleared and marshes drained. Systematic land alteration on a massive scale. The face of the world artificially reworked.

The Industrial Revolution intensified our influence once more as we twisted minerals into artefacts, scorched fossils into electricity, shaped rock and clay into cloud-skimming edifices and began constructing the physical trappings of this grand civilisation of ours.

The stage for this drama has been the surface of planet Earth, the climatic and biological systems of which are fantastically complex, poorly understood and intertwined through an assortment of mysterious and subtle feedback mechanisms. Everywhere those systems are being modified by the newfangled civilisation sitting among them, and every day that civilisation grows larger and more elaborate...
(11 Aug 2011)
Find out more about the book here.


New Zealand quake: Christchurch 'to be garden city'

Staff, BBC news
New Zealand has announced plans to rebuild the centre of the quake-damaged city of Christchurch as a safe, sustainable "city in a garden".

City officials said the revamp would cost NZ$2bn ($1.6bn; £1bn) and would dramatically reduce the size of the city's business district.

They propose limiting the height of buildings in the centre and giving over much more space to parkland.

The 22 February quake killed 181 people and largely wrecked the centre.

Large parts of the city have been written off as uninhabitable, and the government has said it will compensate 5,000 homeowners whose houses cannot be rebuilt...
(11 Aug 2011)
Access the plan here -KS



Riots are no reason to surrender our rights

Ellie Mae O'Hagan, New Statesman
When I left the tube station on Monday night, I found my bus service cancelled. 'EMERGENCY' read the makeshift sign, 'bus cancelled due to assaults on bus drivers.' As I walked through the eerily quiet streets, I noticed three young men eyeing me. They whispered between themselves and sloped off. I realised I was totally alone: if anyone wanted to attack me, they could, and nobody would come to help. I ended up staying at a friend's house. The rioting made us housebound; so we watched, aghast and afraid, as rioters tore into familiar streets that had seemed tranquil only days before.

Orwell once wrote, 'Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain.' And to me, that's how the riots felt. It was like watching my home being injured, as well as watching people being injured of course. In those moments, I felt paralysed and desperate: I wasn't thinking about politics, I just wanted it to stop.

Maybe other people felt the same as I did, and maybe that's why now polls show the vast majority of us are happy for the government to end the riots using rubber bullets, which killed 17 people - 8 of them children - during the late 1970s in Northern Ireland. Maybe that's why most of us now support water cannons, despite their long history of misuse, including the blinding of a man during a protest in Stuttgart.

As I type this, the Prime Minister is triumphantly announcing staggering measures to 'restore law and order,' including restrictions on social media use, removal of face coverings, curfews and baton rounds. I find it difficult to believe that these measures won't eventually be used in contradiction to the European Convention of Human Rights, and yet all three parties are currently waving them in, putting their 'phoney human rights concerns' to one side.

It's understandable that highfalutin concepts like civil liberties aren't at the top of the agenda during desperate times: when we're suffering from Orwell's physical pain, asking whether our society is civil seems outmoded - indulgent, even. Besides, we know we are civil when we see those 'feral' looters. We're not criminals, we're good people who clean up our communities; why should we care our rights being trampled on?...
(11 Aug 2011)



Shopocalypse Now

Mike Freedman, Critical Press blog
So it has come to this. Outside, sirens doppler back and forth every few minutes. My street is one of the quiet ones. The looting is restricted to areas with high street brands.

The irony here is so thick it could cure anaemia. London is overrun by looters, smashing in windows, tearing open shutters and making off into the night with armfuls of tracksuit bottoms, DVD players and flatscreen televisions. The streets are strewn with hangers.

The purported flashpoint of this widespread disorder? The shooting of a young man in Tottenham, north London named Mark Duggan. He was shot by the police in what can generously be described as an opaque incident involving an exchange of fire that may or may not have involved the police accidentally shooting each other and blaming it on him. The people smashing into sports shops and electronics stores probably don’t even know his name. They’re too busy, in the words of this girl, “getting [their] taxes back”. With Duggan’s death fresh enough to be bandied about as a cause, the rioting could be somehow explained as a form of protest, an eruption of vitriol from the disaffected youth inhabiting the poorer districts of this city, struggling to find a role in society that won’t involve performing oral sex on disused railway platforms or stacking shelves at Tesco.

How is this anti-establishment sentiment made manifest? By what can only be described as violent shopping. Rampaging through the communities they grew up in, they take out their frustration at a lack of occupation or engagement on the shops and businesses that provide employment in their area, they smash-and-grab the luxury items which are supposedly the fruit of all the social climbing, work and effort our society enshrines. Their generation’s grand gesture of disobedience is straight-up Western-style consumer-capitalism, pure and uncut, direct from the amygdala. Take whatever you can get your hands on for yourself and trash the commons with impunity. They are not inhuman, they are not confused, they are not wrong – they’re us, except they’re doing it here and with no sense of irony. Protest 2.0, London-style.

In Cairo, during the uprising, it was the Egyptian youth who linked arms to protect the Museum of Antiquities, the cultural heritage of their long and respected history. Here in London, if any of these kids have been to a museum, it was after being dragged there by force during a field trip (if their school still had the budget or in fact a subject which included things you’d find in a museum). While there, they glumly trudged the halls, occasionally looking over the dusty artefacts of the past with dull eyes. After all, with a smartphone that has wi-fi and full colour interactive gaming, with Twitter, with Facebook, with Bebo, Myspace, Blackberry Messenger and YouTube, how the hell is a museum supposed to hold a young person’s attention unless they’ve been taught to respect and cherish a slow offering up of knowledge and beauty directly proportionate to the attention one pays? These people have been marketed at since birth. They have been groomed in a manner more insidious than the tactics of the most hungry-eyed paedophile. Their sense of self, their very existence, has been mediated by the economy into which they have been prepped for entry.

...Given the opportunity to take to the streets, they come out in force as consumers, not citizens. Their protest is against their lack of spending power, their lack of a flatscreen television, the meddlesome need of government to extract taxation from them for services from which (if they reach their dotage) they will never benefit. They are the purest incarnation of our free market, consumer ideology. They are competing against the law for the best results a consumer can ever hope for, which is something for nothing. And they are winning.

While pundits are onscreen in the coming weeks for the mandatory hand-wringing, while Parliament is debating the inevitable emergency police powers which will bring water cannons and maybe even rubber bullets onto the streets of London, these consumers will be at home watching it all on their new televisions, comfortably toasty in their new tracksuits. They will be re-absorbing the narrative of their activity through the mediated world we created for them, a world which still does not contain a sense of genuine community, of productive work, of social justice, fairness or equality.

Our government decries the violence on the streets of Brixton, Tottenham, Lewisham, Camden, Woolwich, Croydon and Birmingham while levying taxes for wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Our deputy mayor is disgusted by the looting of electronics from Curry’s, electronics that have been made for slave wages in a Chinese factory rife with worker suicide and abuse, because that kind of throughput is more “efficient” (read “cheap”) than producing things ourselves using well-compensated labour. How dare they smash their way into a Tesco supermarket and steal food, while Tesco itself runs an approximate £2 billion profit margin annually while purposefully opening up “express” shops next to successful neighbourhood grocery stores, driving them out of business with tactics designed to bypass local objections? How can they set pubs on fire? How malicious is that? Those pubs sell beer from upstanding brands who buy barley from countries wracked by famine while our government bleats about food aid. Whence cometh such cannibalism? Where indeed could these misguided looting fools have gotten these kinds of ideas?...
(11 Aug 2011)



The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom

Peter Osborne, The Telegraph
David Cameron, Ed Miliband and the entire British political class came together yesterday to denounce the rioters. They were of course right to say that the actions of these looters, arsonists and muggers were abhorrent and criminal, and that the police should be given more support.
But there was also something very phony and hypocritical about all the shock and outrage expressed in parliament. MPs spoke about the week’s dreadful events as if they were nothing to do with them.

I cannot accept that this is the case. Indeed, I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society. The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.

Most of the people in this very expensive street were every bit as deracinated and cut off from the rest of Britain as the young, unemployed men and women who have caused such terrible damage over the last few days. For them, the repellent Financial Times magazine How to Spend It is a bible. I’d guess that few of them bother to pay British tax if they can avoid it, and that fewer still feel the sense of obligation to society that only a few decades ago came naturally to the wealthy and better off.

Yet we celebrate people who live empty lives like this. A few weeks ago, I noticed an item in a newspaper saying that the business tycoon Sir Richard Branson was thinking of moving his headquarters to Switzerland. This move was represented as a potential blow to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, because it meant less tax revenue.

I couldn’t help thinking that in a sane and decent world such a move would be a blow to Sir Richard, not the Chancellor. People would note that a prominent and wealthy businessman was avoiding British tax and think less of him. Instead, he has a knighthood and is widely feted. The same is true of the brilliant retailer Sir Philip Green. Sir Philip’s businesses could never survive but for Britain’s famous social and political stability, our transport system to shift his goods and our schools to educate his workers.

Yet Sir Philip, who a few years ago sent an extraordinary £1 billion dividend offshore, seems to have little intention of paying for much of this. Why does nobody get angry or hold him culpable? I know that he employs expensive tax lawyers and that everything he does is legal, but he surely faces ethical and moral questions just as much as does a young thug who breaks into one of Sir Philip’s shops and steals from it?

Our politicians – standing sanctimoniously on their hind legs in the Commons yesterday – are just as bad. They have shown themselves prepared to ignore common decency and, in some cases, to break the law. David Cameron is happy to have some of the worst offenders in his Cabinet. Take the example of Francis Maude, who is charged with tackling public sector waste – which trade unions say is a euphemism for waging war on low‑paid workers. Yet Mr Maude made tens of thousands of pounds by breaching the spirit, though not the law, surrounding MPs’ allowances.
(11 Aug 2011)



Can the Aftermath of Disaster Be Beautiful?

Anne Thomas, Yes! Magazine
Hello My Lovely Family and Friends,

First I want to thank you so very much for your concern for me. I am very touched. I also wish to apologize for a generic message to you all. But it seems the best way at the moment to get my message to you.

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend's home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.

Utterly amazingly where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. People keep saying, "Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another."

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.

We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on.

But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not. No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun.

People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All happening at the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.

The mountains are Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky magnificently.

And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better off than others. Last night my friend's husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don't. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and love of me,

With Love in return, to you all,

Anne
(11 Aug 2011)

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