Monday, June 28, 2004

Reflections on Farenheit 9/11 - by Michael Moore

A black screen was the only possibility. A muffled soundtrack…the first explosion…blackness…screams of fear and disbelief…another explosion…on and on in the darkness… our fears, nightmares, hates and hopes (yes hopes) were absorbed. Swept up, at once expressed and banished into the blackness. Slowly the light emerged. Images of swirling papers, facing staring up in disbelief and horror.

There was no other way to show the events of 9/11. Michael Moore knew this. The nerves are still too raw. Prejudices too brittle and sharp. For a while, for a few precious weeks, there was a space for questions. The jelly of uncertainty wobbled as people struggled to understand. The inevitable question of ‘why’ sprang up – at least for some. But the crystals formed quickly and set into jagged, sharp edges.

In the immediate aftermath, sales of American flags went through the roof. People rallied round the flag and beat the drums of war. But George Bush’s responses to the events of 9/11 have been slowly tempering the brittle resolve, rounding the edges of the harsh public backlash against the ‘attackers’.

It is now clear that the only connection between Iraq and Al Quaeda is the letter ‘Q’. As we all know, ‘Q’ is shorthand for ‘Questions’. And Michael Moore goes some way to providing answers.

Like, how a mother feels when her son is killed in a far off country, fighting a war, that he doesn’t believe in, for no clear purpose other than enriching the business buddies of the President? And like why US Senators turn their back and walk away when asked if they would like to enlist their children in the army to fight in Iraq? But we already knew the answers to these questions. At least many of us did. But what Moore does is make it real.

You have to struggle not to share the tears of the mother as she reads the last letter from her son. Not quite sure whether to laugh or scream as George W stands on a golf course, driver in hand, spouting war rhetoric before turning to play his tee shot with a joke for the cameras. You can’t help but realize that for him, it is all just a hideous and sick game.

You feel a bizarre empathy with young US soldiers as they turn the stereo up full boar before heading into battle…chanting ‘burn mother f###er, burn!’ along to the CD, while others reflect on how they can live with themselves after having killed other human beings. Moore makes us laugh. He makes us cry. He fearlessly and brilliantly walks the line between patriotism and fervent criticism of the US government and the military industrial complex.

Of course there are things the film could have said but didn’t. Things are missed out, arguments partly made, and it has Michael Moore’s idiosyncrasies etched all over it. But he tells a compelling and important story, at a crucial time in history.

Bush bashing provides most of the real entertainment in the film, and there are some explicit calls for action in the upcoming election – kind of like electoral ‘product placement’. But Moore does go further than bi-partisan politicking. He ends with the obvious but seemingly poorly understood truism that war is not about justice or peace - it is about making sure that people who have power and wealth are able to hold onto, and increase that power and wealth.

As I left the cinema on the opening night in San Francisco, there was a throng of activists handing out leaflets about how I could get involved in the campaign to get Bush out of office. I passed a Democrat stall, screaming ‘VOTE FOR JOHN KERRY!”…the ardent activists focused on signing up as many people as possible while the fire was still burning in their bellies.

As I wandered off to the pub with my friends, I thought to myself, didn’t John Kerry (and most Democrats) vote in support of the war in Iraq?

The philosophy of reform

"Let me give you a word on the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults into silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. - Frederick Douglass - Letter to an abolitionist associate, 1849. (Quoted in Howard Zinn - A peoples history of the United States).

Sunday, June 27, 2004

795 Americans killed since Iraq was invaded

795 Americans have been killed in Iraq since George W decided to invade. This 'art' exhibition took place in Washington DC in early June, with 795 pairs of combat boots and the name, age and home state of each of the Americans killed. It was organised by the American Friends Sevice Committee (Quakers) and they had several veterans of the Iraq conflict there to talk to passers by. This photo was taken by Terry Foss - American Friends Service Committee
 Posted by Hello

So this could be me?

These are young high school recruits. The US military aggressively recruits from low income communities. Young men 'in trouble' often are given few other options. As in Vietnam, the average age of soldiers killed in Iraq is around 19 or 20. I don't think anyone has counted the average age of the iraqi's who have been killed in this war. Photo by Keith Snyder - American Friends Service Committee. Posted by Hello

Combat boots of Steven Acosta, Age 19, killed in Iraq.

Combat boots: Pfc Steven Acosta Age 19 from California - Photo by Chris Pifer, American Friends Service Committee Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Why aren't rich kids in Iraq?

Yes, a very good question indeed.... In earlier times in US history, conscription usually had an escape clause for rich people who could buy their way out of the draft. While there isn't a formal draft in the US (yet) there is an economic draft. For many, the army is their only prospect for a stable income. Posted by Hello

Book of the month - A peoples History of the United States

Henry Kissinger once wrote: “History is the memory of states.” Howard Zinn has written “A people’s history of the United States” as the memory of ordinary people – of slaves, of the native (Indian) peoples, of women, and of the working poor.

To quote from the opening pages… “…this book will be skeptical of governments and their attempts, through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest…I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements. But to think that history-writing must aim simply to recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat. If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasise new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare. That, being as blunt as I can, is my approach to the history of the United States. The reader may as well know that before going on.”
 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Urban Ore re-use centre in Berkeley, California

Urban ore in Berkeley, California. This re-use centre turns has been going for over 24 years and has an annual revenue of around $1.6Million. They divert around 6000-7000 tonnes of materials away from landfill each year and employ 32 staff. Posted by Hello

Dan & Mary Lou are the founders & owners of Urban Ore

Dan and Mary Lou are the founders and owners of Urban Ore. Very generous, very knowledgeable....all round great folk who are passionate about reducing waste and protecting the environment. Posted by Hello

Urban ore - inside

bloody big shed full of crap. All of it very useful of course... Posted by Hello

Urban ore - windows

This yard is huge...more windows than you can throw a brick at. Posted by Hello

Urban Ore - doors

It's all about the Doors. Jim Morison would have loved this place. No less than 3 whole rows of doors like this. Dan and Mary Lou continually stressed that doors and windows are their bread and butter - their 'cash cows'. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Reclaim the Commons convergence in San Francisco to protest BIO 2004

Reclaim the Commons - a national convergence of biotech activists from all over the USA. The protest took place outside the BIO 2004 conference in San Francisco. Protesters blocked the 3 main entrances to the convention centre, causing general mayhem and disruption in the city centre - and bringing public and media attention to the controversial issues of genetic engineering. Photo June 8 2004. Posted by Hello

The 'green block' built a garden in the middle of one of the intersections - surrounded by a chain of people locked together using steel pipes. Reclaim the Commons June 8 2004 Posted by Hello

The police swooped on the unsuspecting plants - arresting them one by one. This grass went limp - a classic nonviolent tactic...Reclaim the Commons June 8 2004 Posted by Hello

GE Free Zone - This woman (sorry I have forgotten her name) collected over 1000 signatures to get her county declared GE free - they may well be the 2nd Californian country to go GE free after Mendocino county recently became the first GE free zone in the USA.

Photo taken at Reclaim the Commons - June 8 2004. . Posted by Hello

GMO works for me. This is the way of the future.

Reclaim the Commons - San Francisco June 8th 2004
 Posted by Hello

Protesting BIO2004 - Why can't we just be nice?

San Francisco, 8th June 2004: BIO 2004. The worlds largest gathering of the biotechnology industry is happening here in San Francisco over the next few days. It is truly a gathering of the biotech glitterati with over 20,000 delegates expected to attend.

Out on the streets, hundreds of protesters gathered this morning under the banner "reclaim the commons". Saying NO to patents on life, NO to corporate driven industrial agriculture, and saying NO to an industrial medical model where research is focussed on far fetched solutions for the rich minority, while the majority of people in this world are denied access to basic medicines.

The clash of cultures and of world views on the street was extreme. Bespectacled scientists in tweed jackets carried their brief cases past pink haired young punks. Young corporate high-flyers dressed by Georgio Armani strolled past elderly women offering flowers and placards saying "food from farms not from the lab!".

The dialogue was almost exclusively visual. Words flew, only to bounce meaninglessly into the swirling mass of police. San Francisco's finest stood unflinching, pumped up with testosterone. Their pose interrupted only by an occassional, sudden, and disproportionate burst of brutality towards an unsuspecting protester.

It seemed like nobody was there to listen. The chieftans of the biotech industry don't need to listen to anyone. They are busy redesigning our future and they certainly don't need any input from dumb non-scientists who can't even pronounce deoxyribonucleic acid, let alone spell it.

For many of the conference delegates, there is no need to listen or to reflect on the social, economic or environmental impacts. The only reflection was from the mirror sunglasses of the cops, as they once more ensured that corporate intests are pursued with minimal disruption by 'the people'.

For our part, we weren't there to listen either. We were there to speak - to raise a voice for the voiceless. We listen to the hype about Biotech week in week out. Biotech is where the future is. Biotech is needed to feed the hungry...the endless string of increasingly lame public relations lines. Today was a day for making heard the voices that are systematically supressed.

Unfortunately it was also a day when a small number of protesters yelled abuse at every delegate. In my experience, this is rarely a useful tactic. Not everyone attending the conference is an 'evil nazi' as some people seemed to imply. Some attending the conference are no doubt just researchers in some obscure and potentially benign offshoot of biotechnology. While these individuals may be undeserving of verbal abuse, they do need to consider the political and social dimensions of their work and the industry of which they are a part. But having people yell at them is unlikely to trigger the desired critical response.

So for today at least, the gulf was widened. The walls built a little higher.

At one level, this seems problematic. Somehow communication needs to happen. The likely impacts of biotechnology are far too important for the decisions to be left to scientists alone. Serious and ongoing public debate around these issues is urgently required.

But when power and money are at stake (as they invariably are), civil and obedient dialogue is ignored. It is as impotent as the rhetoric hurled around on the street. The only dialogue that is heard is the dialogue that happens in a civil DISobedient way.

The conflict over GE foods is far more than a debate about gene transfer, or risk assessment models or whatever. It is a debate about politics, about power, about who benefits and who bears the costs. It is not only a debate about what our future will look like, but about who has the right to define it.

Scientists will continue to complain about radical tactics and the polarisation of the debate. But in the face of an unaccountable technological juggernaut, communities around the world will continue to take non-violent direct action to protect their interests. They will continue to resist technologies that increase the power and wealth of corporations at the expense of our communities, our health and the environment.

It is impossible to have nice discussions around issues where so much is at stake. Nice is just an acronym for Not Insightful or Critical Enough.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Monday, June 07, 2004

Gotta love Anarchist book shops...thankfully some still exist.  Posted by Hello

I tried to turn what would normally have been a dark still shot into an action photo - expertly capturing the movement of my shaking hands on camera.

These two dudes are the online campaign managers with and - giving a workshop on online organising. Very inspiring stuff. They both identify as 'values based' rather than 'issue based' organisations. This means that they are highly responsive to the politics of the day - rather than developing long term programmes for change. Prime aim is to get George Bush out of office.

Moveon got 300,000 new supporters though one cyber action when they tried to air an anti George Bush ad on CBS TV. They are probably the two fastest growing protest groups around - if you havn't already, it is definitely worth checking out their websites!

They were speaking at a 3 day conference organised by planetwork - a non-profit techno geek organisation that advocates high tech networking to 'save the planet'. Check them out at
 Posted by Hello

Friday, June 04, 2004

Jim Thomas (ETC Group Nanotech campaigner) strutting his stuff at the Berkeley Poetry Slam...

"No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetic expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses they will seek a ven in song for the aspirations, fears, and hopes , the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is the dogma of the few not the faith of the multitude." James Connolly 1907 Posted by Hello

Air New Zealand Ad in San Francisco suburban railway stations. The Australian tourism industry certainly could't run these kind of ads - unless they had a picture of a detention centre - with irony dripping down the side of the billboard... Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Democracy is a wonderful thing. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Imagine TM

Monsanto’s global website says “Imagine innovative agriculture that creates ‘incredible’ things today.” Actually, I think most of us are more interested in ‘credible’ things when it comes to agriculture. Like food that people can trust. And crops that meet the needs of the farmers that grow them.

The monsanto slogan used to be “food, health, hope”. As if this wasn’t absurd enough, it has now been changed to “ImagineTM”. John Lennon must be turning in his grave.

Imagine a world with vast monocultures of patented, genetically engineered crops, producing foods with inbuilt pesticides. Imagine the world’s staple food crops engineered with genes from bacteria and then released into our food chain without any real understanding of the health impacts. Imagine…

The Monsanto website states boldly that “Integrity is the foundation of all that we do. Integrity includes honesty, decency, consistency and courage.”

I suppose ‘courage’ isn’t that far fetched. But ‘audacity’ would probably be a more accurate word.

Imagine trying to introduce a new product into the market place when most people don’t want it, and when it is effectively impossible to keep it separate from other similar products. Imagine being able to insist that the cost of keeping this product separate be passed onto the users of the other, existing products. It’s kind of like insisting that your neighbour to pay for the new fence when you bring home a pit bull terrier for a pet. Imagine not only trying to pull off such an audacious scheme but actually succeeding!

‘Consistency’ is also plausible. Although I suspect the appropriate agricultural term is ‘monoculture’.

As for “honesty’ and ‘decency’, I’m not sure how the victims of Agent Orange would feel about that. Or the thousands of people who have been affected by PCB’s – another one of Monsanto’s brilliant and ‘safe’ inventions. Or the 70 odd farmers in the US who have been sued by Monsanto for saving seeds and breaching Monsanto’s intellectual property?

I for one, imagine a world where Monsanto doesn’t exist. Where I don’t have to spend my days struggling to stop possibly one of the most irresponsible organisations in human history from involving all of us in an uncontrolled experiment without our consent.

Monsanto are on the back foot. Millions of people have been rejecting their foods. Thousands upon thousands of farmers have been rejecting their seeds. In the face of this, they have ‘voluntarily’ withdrawn GE wheat in North America, and GE canola in Australia. We can only hope that ‘voluntary’ liquidation is the next step.

Imagine food without pesticides. Imagine diversity in agriculture. Imagine seeds without patents. Imagine a future without Monsanto…

Sirens of the war on terror

I went shopping in a San Francisco mall today. It was difficult to notice that this nation is at war. The amber alert of the terrorist warnings hardly kept people away from the ‘MEMORIAL DAY SALE!’ (Memorial Day seems to be the US equivalent of ANZAC day).

Isn’t it a bit inappropriate to degrade Memorial Day with a SALE!, I thought to myself? But on reflection, it’s probably completely appropriate. It is after all, the right for American’s to buy cheap consumer goods that their soldiers are fighting for. This is, ultimately what is driving the endless war. The war on the environment, the war on the Third World, and this so-called war on ‘terror’.

So while the people of Iraq and countless other countries experience the war amid the sirens of air raid warnings and ambulances, the citizens of the homeland scurry between the flashing sirens of the WALMART bargain trays. It’s a strange solidarity indeed.

Text messages from America

Alistair Cook is dead. His letters from America are no longer forthcoming.

In anycase, letters are an outmoded form of communication. They are manifestly uncool. They simply aren't hip to the vibe of the global economy.

We used to know if something was important if it was 'something to write home about'. But what is the new reference point? Is an issue important if it is 'something to send an email about'? Or what if it is just 'something to send an SMS about'?

Nobody should try to replace the awesome journalistic feat of Alistair Cook. But perhaps some frontline reportage in the form of abbreviated geek speak may help to fill the emptiness.

Yo dude. How RU? California is like awesome. OVER.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Forts and signposts in Los Angeles

Los Angeles airport smells funny. Not bad or anything. Just different from Australia. Maybe it’s the detergent they use to clean the floors.

As an outsider, it’s easy to ‘totalise’ America - this country gives rise to an uninterrupted orgy of power, consumption and war mongering. But even a jetlagged 15 minutes at LA airport reveals that it is much more than this. It is also a nation full of people just trying to make sense of their time on this earth. Struggling to make do. The ‘whole’ is an abberation that in many ways misrepresents the individual parts.

During my 3 hour wait for a connecting flight to San Fransisco, there is an almost constant stream of flights to “Forth Worth”, Forth This, Fort That. A constant reminder that this country was once a battlefield. That it was colonized through a long and bloody war with the traditional inhabitants.

The place names remain as a suble reminders. Pointers for the curious. Or maybe just curiosities amongst the pointless. Tight corners that evade the whitewash of history.