Wednesday, November 30, 2005

criminals and outlaws

From Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins:

The difference between a criminal and an outlaw is that while criminals are frequently victims, outlaws never are.

Indeed, the first step towards becoming a true outlaw is the refusal to be victimised. All people who live subject to other people’s laws are victims. People who break laws out of greed, frustration or vengeance are victims. People who overturn laws in order to replace them with their own laws are victims.

We outlaws, however, live beyond the law. We don’t merely live beyond the letter of the law – many businessmen, most politicians, and all cops do that - we live beyond the spirit of the law.

In a sense then, we live beyond society. We have a common goal, that goal is to turn the tables on the nature of society.

When we succeed, we raise the exhilaration content of the universe.

We even raise it a little bit when we fail.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

public safety warning

I've previously happened upon a sign in a street that made me advise continuous caution.

This, however, is in a league above that one.

How incredibly nerve-wracking for any road user who acts on the warning, being in a constant state of trembly vigilance.

But surely the sign exaggerates, there must be some road somewhere that doesn't have the risk of playing host to deer activity. I've been walking the streets of inner city Leeds for many years (not continuously, admittedly) and have never seen deer.

Still, another one for the list. Watch out of deaf cats and, whenever you're near a road, marauding deer too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

the real price of gold

The Independent continues to run a series of startling front covers about issues the others ignore.

Sadly, they do a pay-archive. Fortunately for you, I think it's worth splashing out occasionally on some of them.

Mining for rare minerals is one of those things that I've always known is damaging, but most of the hard info on mining I've seen is about corporations like RTZ getting copper and whatnot.

Yet it stands to reason that rare minerals - not only gold and silver, but also minerals for electronics, and also the healing crystals popular with those who otherwise think themselves environmentally responsible - are hugely destructive. They surely require many times their own volume in waste products to be dug out, and will have meant some bit of wild land has been dynamited.

The facts about gold as given by The Independent are considerably worse than I'd imagined.

The real price of gold

It weighs 1oz. It costs £1,000. And it creates 30 tons of toxic waste

By Daniel Howden

The lust for gold has reached record levels worldwide as India and China have joined developed nations in demanding more jewellery. On the back of this surge, gold prices have reached a 17-year high, and yesterday rose $7.70 (£4.30) to more than $474 per ounce. But the world's remaining gold deposits are microscopic and the environmental costs of extracting them are profound.

A £1,000 wedding ring - equivalent to one ounce of gold - creates up to 30 tons of toxic waste. To produce that single ounce, miners have to quarry hundreds of tons of rock, which are then doused in a liquid cyanide solution to separate the gold. Payal Sampat, the campaign director for Earthworks, the mining watchdog, told The Independent: "Gold mining is arguably the world's dirtiest and most polluting industry."

A growing alliance of conservationists and local communities affected by mining operations is pushing governments, corporations and consumers to consider the real cost of gold. "The industry has not been under public scrutiny and people don't really know where their gold is coming from," Ms Sampat said. "The mining industry could be making changes which could provide consumers with a product which is far more clean."

Writers from Shakespeare to Shelley have lamented the lure of this precious metal, but today's gold fever neither seeks to bolster empires nor underpin currencies. It is fuelled by our desire for jewellery.

Of the gold mined today, a total of 80 per cent is produced to feed the demand for status symbols. Campaigners are trying to dissuade shoppers from buying "dirty gold", which is extracted using cyanide leaching. But they face an uphill struggle. Newly affluent consumers have pushed jewellery sales to a record $38bn this year, according to the World Gold Council.

With the best ore already mined in most developed countries, the industry is turning to the poorest countries in the world. Up to 70 per cent of gold is mined in developing countries such as Peru and the Philippines. Vast tracts of the developing world are being laid to waste, leaving a multibillion-pound toxic time-bomb.

Environment agencies in the US have described disused heavy metal mines as an equivalent to nuclear waste dumps, which must be secured and maintained for the foreseeable future. America's Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the costs associated with the clean-up of metal mines could rise to $58bn, according to The New York Times.

The mining industry argues that it is bringing much needed investment, infrastructure and jobs to the poor. And it is an argument that is backed by the World Bank, which has pushed more than 100 governments into making tax breaks and subsidies to big mining companies.

A flood of complaints, protests and lethal spillages prompted the bank into a two-year moratorium on financing mining in 2001. That resulted in calls for the mining industry to reduce the use of cyanide and stop dumping toxic waste.

However, these calls were dismissed by the industry as impractical and the World Bank is now giving multimillion-pound loans to multinationals. The first loan after the moratorium went to the Canadian company Glamis Gold, for a project in Guatemala that has faced heavy opposition from Mayan Indians.

At the root of the environmental problem is the industry's reliance on old mining technology called "heap-leaching". Leach mining allows miners to coax tiny flecks of gold from low-grade ore. Cyanide is the chemical of choice and more than 90 per cent of the 2,500 tons of annual global gold production is extracted in this way.

In a typical heap-leach operation, huge quantities of rock are crushed and stacked on top of clay and plastic liners to create piles the size of pyramids, which are then drizzled with the cyanide solution for years. As the chemical passes through the rock layers, it teases the gold out of the ore, where it is collected at the bottom and processed further. As little as one ounce of gold can be extracted from 30 tons of low-grade ore.

Cyanide is a toxic chemical - one teaspoon of 2 per cent cyanide solution is enough to kill a human being. This dangerous chemical is used in gold extraction operations from Peru to Ghana. And it has left a toxic legacy in its wake.

The cyanide waste produced from gold mining is stored in reservoirs. Spills from these lakes have made their way into water systems with fatal consequences for the environment, wildlife and local communities.

Just such a leak in Romania in 2000 led to the worst environmental disaster in the region since the meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. Tons of cyanide-laced water broke through a dam and poured into the Tisza and Danube rivers from the Aural gold mine near Baia Mare. The results were devastating; more than 1,000 tons of fish were killed, while plantlife and birds along the river were devastated.

The Tisza disaster has been replicated at mines all over the world. In the five years since the Baia Mare accident, mines owned by international corporations have been responsible for spills in Ghana, Western Australia, Papua New Guinea, China, Honduras and Nicaragua. During that time the UN Environment Programme has been locked in negotiations with the mining industry to produce a self-regulatory code.

Desta Mebratu, a Unep official, admitted that the mining industry's activities presented a serious environmental hazard but said they were working towards lessening this. "We're working with the mining companies to help prevent the occurrence of accidents," he said. But the code, which was finally unveiled this month, has been dismissed by environmental watchdogs as toothless. A review of the voluntary code by Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth Europe said the code was "greenwashing intended to create the appearance that mining companies are addressing environmental issues".

Australia's remote Lake Cowal in New South Wales is the latest battleground between mining multinationals and indigenous peoples. Neville Williams, 61, who represents the Mooka traditional owners council clan of the Wiradjuri nation, says the fight is essential, although he knows the odds are stacked against them as the mining companies enjoy government backing.

"We have no resources but we are taking the fight for all the peoples because of the prospect of cyanide poisoning."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

cloisters and closets of oxford

I was at People & Planet's annual chinwag Shared Planet over the weekend, hosted by Oxford Brookes University.

In the 1990s the government decided all the polytechnics should lose the stigma of being seen as some sort of second class option for higher education and join the esteemed ranks of the universities.

As most cities had a poly and a uni, it meant they had to come up with names to differentiate them. One wag of my acquaintance suggested that the polytechnics should be called 'The University of...', and the universities should become 'The Real University of...'.

This wasn't taken up by any of the institutions as far as I know. Instead, they all came up with their own different answers.

In Leicester, they named themselves De Montfort University, after the medieval Jew-slayer Simon De Montfort.

In Liverpool they decided to give students a clear vision of the intellectual heights to which they may aspire by naming themselves John Moores University, after the man who founded Littlewoods department stores and catalogues. I suppose if you're going to get a degree, you might need a nice cardigan to wear while you do it.

North London Polytechnic toyed with the idea of giving students the choice of name, until it became clear that they'd end up being Karl Marx University. Having a degree in philosophy from Karl Marx does have a certain ring to it. Better than a degree in philosophy from John Moores, at any rate.

Newcastle Poly was on course to be City University of Newcatle upon Tyne until they spotted the acronym.

I'm not entirely sure who Oxford Brookes is named after, and I can't quite be arsed to find out.

Universities have long and venerable histories, their belief in learning and intellectual improvement reinforced by the upkeep of age-old traditions. Nowhere can this be more obvious than in comparing the ancient hallowed cloisters of Oxford University with Oxford Brookes University.

I am pleased to report that Oxford Brookes have met the challenge of overcoming the wet-behind-the-ears aspect of their newish university status by honouring tradition. Their Headington Campus toilets have classic graffiti-friendly formica partitioned cubicles.

It's sad to see how many other establishments have foiled the graffiti writer with a move over to stainless steel or tiled walls. I remember being in the bogs at Kings Cross station in the early 1990s where there was a massive 6 or 8 paragraph descriptive and detailed epic from a guy who explained that he'd moved to London and was staying in his uncle's bedsit and was really enjoying wanking while watching his sleeping his uncle's white Y-fronts glowing in the moonlight. It's an experience becoming rarer by the day. (The reading of such things on toilet walls, that is; I wouldn't hazard a statistical guess about the incidence of wanking at uncles).

But at Oxford Brookes this weekend I was pleased to read in just one cubicle 'smell my cheese, you nobber' alongside 'Dolphins are just and kind beings. Gay sharks are evil.' And then, above that foot-high gap before the floor peculiar to toilet cubicle doors, the classic 'beware of gay limbo dancers'.

Honouring intellectual tradition, feeding eager young minds and encouraging them to intelligently express their thoughts and ideas in this way, Oxford Brookes may hold its head as high as the gay limbo dancers bend low.

Friday, November 11, 2005

no thanks, i don't do the horse

As my friend Justin has pointed out, 'due to the alarming rise in humans partaking of ketamine, the black metal-enhancing drug which rightfully belongs to horses, the equine kingdom has decided to wreak its boozy revenge':

Ketamine is a weird one.

It's commonly used as an anaesthetic for horses (not merely a tranquiliser as is commonly said). This is stuff that makes animals the size of horses so out of it that you can cut them up with knives and saw into their heads or delve around inside their guts without them noticing. The slightest misjusgement in your dose and you are rendered immobile.

There are facets that hold great value for the intrepid mongonaut. It's dissociative, so it pushes boundaries of space and self and can give mad visions. Unfortunately, this can objectively manifest as spending hours drooling whilst sat in a curdling pool of someone else's sick.

The other day, in the first piece of overheard conversation I felt compelled to rush-transcribe since that day in St Helens, a friend was on the phone saying, 'K hits me really hard, I was a bit of a puddle, I did that line without thinking and next thing I knew it had all gone... I was in queer 1930s Berlin in a writhing mass of people of indeterminate gender... It was great, actually'.

Doing it without thinking was how I last did K. I was DJing at a festival last summer and did a nice set of soul, disco and pop for munters at sunrise. The people on after me asked me to show them how the decks and mixer worked, so I ran them through it. They then dug a key into a small paper packet and pulled it out with a little cone of white powder on. Placing it less than three inches from my nose, I was asked the one-letter question, 'K?'.

Caught by surprise, like a fool I did the obvious. Two minutes later I was useless. The rig I'd just been using for two hours was a minefield of buttons and faders. And that was on one little toot. My colleagues, who'd been hoofing great snorts, were having trouble getting a CD out of its box. And there were two of them trying.

Their set opened with them randomly flicking a fader between a 7inch single of Brown Girl In The Ring and a CD of industrial noise. I don't mean industrial noise as a musical genre. I mean really industrial noise, like wearing a fleet of hoovers gaffa taped round your head while clinging on to the underside of a speeding train.

Why did I take that toot? It's one of those things like poppers. Amyl is never, never, never a good idea, and if someone suggested buying some you'd mock them into the floor for their buffoonery. But if that same person already has the poppers and gets it out, approaches you with their thumb covering the open top, well, it takes a peculiarly self-disciplined and puritanical presence of mind to decline.

But what the fuck is the point? You feel like someone's pulling a balloon over you scalp for ten seconds, then have a sharp headache for half an hour. At no point is it fun or anything else that could remotely approach qualifying for the label 'worth it'.

Ditto K at parties. As a psychedelic voyage, or as a way of being cosy on a comedown fair enough, but really, at something where it's all about interaction and energy, taking something that dissociates isn't going to fit with the vibe.

Indeed, so well does it break a sense of bouncy unity that it could almost be designed as such.

The CIA put crack into American black ghettoes in the 1980s.

At the same time in the UK, just as the tories turned on travellers as their enemy a cheap and plentiful supply of heroin found its way on to travellers sites across the country.

By the same token, I do wonder about the appearance of ketamine in dance culture. The establishemnt was terrified of dance culture when it began. A generation were growing up not drinking alcohol, not going to profitable mainstream drinking clubs, but were instead doing free warehouse parties and festivals and taking ecstasy.

The response took many forms. Despite the tosh in tabloids, alcopops were never aimed at schookids. Schoolkids don't have a lot of spending power. Like street drinkers, their primary and probably only concern is maximising the cost:alcohol ratio. At £1.20 a bottle, why get an alcopop when you can get white cider in double the quantity and strength for the same cost?

Alcopops were a way to sell alcohol to a market that had never forced themselves on to drinnking at 16 years old and thereby acquired the taste. They were aimed at the E generation.

Simultaneously, they massively increased the penalties for holding illegal rave parties, jumping at a stroke from £2,000 to £20,000 and six months in jail (an Act introduced by Tory MP Graham Bright; the head of his local Conservative Association was - what a coincidence - a director of Whitbread).

They arrested ravers again and again. A single party in Yorkshire in 1990 had 836 arrests, one of the largest mass arrests in British history. And just for the criminal activity of dancing in a field.

Then they brought out the Criminal Justice Act 1994, which actually defined the music it opposed, 'sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats'. It was outlawing the predominant youth culture. It's as if the UK was run by that 1950s Alabama White Citzens Council who published the 'Rock 'n' roll will pull the white man down to the level of the negro' posters.

By contrast, in Berlin in the early 90s they began the Love Parade, 300,000 people in one big dance music party. The authorites not only allowed it, they had it technically defined as a demonstration in favour of world peace; a party would saddle the organisers with the large clean-up bill, whereas a demonstration made it a government responsibility.

If the British government - the same one's who'd used MI5 to break the miners, the same ones who'd got smack to travellers - were so ardently opposed to rave culture, there's no reason they wouldn't also do the CIA/crack, travellers/smack thing. Ketamine would be ideal.

In many ways, ketamine is the opposiite of ecstasy. People on pills hug and dance and talk to each other, enthusing and listening. People on K, if they can move at all, stumble oblivious and bewildered, like an arthritic pensioner on acid.

Where E encourages euphoria, enthusiasm, communication, a sense of unity, love and empathy, K subdues, dissociates, dislocates and makes then user effectively absent from where they are.

If you wanted to break that strong bond of people at ecstasy-fuelled parties, if you want to make all-nighters look really ugly, stick a load of K up the punters noses. That'd send anyone with the urge for a sociable good time back into the pickpocketing hands of the mainstream drinking culture.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

america, fuck yeah!

Sometimes I'm a bit to busy to click all the links people send me. They sit and fester in my inbox until I get an idle moment.

Recently, after a hard day's night at the computer, I thought I'd wind down by clearing some of the backlog.

One was a link to a .swf video file, and the email said, in its entirety, 'I refuse to be the only one that was made to watch this'.

Bear in mind my psychologically precarious 3am computered-out state, feeling tired and like my brain had been ironed flat. The video is for a generic be-mulleted American rock dude doing a song that was like America, Fuck Yeah! from Team America. Only it was serious.

Like the bastard that originally sent it to me, I to decided not to suffer alone and sent it out to half my address book.

One of them was my friend Kirk who got back to me with some with hard facts. The song is called America We Stand As One, and was written and sung by Star Trek stunt co-ordinator Dennis Madalone. There is a much better quality version of the video on the official website.

Even better, someone has set Team America's America, Fuck Yeah! to the video, with hilarious results. You can download the video, or check it out online.

Funny, frightening, depressing and surreal all at once. Fuck yeah!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

your money or your life

In the year he promised climate change would be one of his big priorities, Blair's belief in economic growth at the expense of humans being able to survive strengthens by the day.

"People fear some external force is going to impose some internal target on you ... to restrict your economic growth," he said. "I think in the world after 2012 we need to find a better, more sensitive set of mechanisms to deal with this problem."

And we know that 'more sensitive' means less drastic, less enforcable.

Can we get away with that? Was Kyoto perhaps a bit stringent?

It promised a 5.2% cut in CO2 emissions (with loopholes for some of the most polluting industries like transport). The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - hardly a bunch of alarmists - say we need 60%-90% cuts now or climate change will kick in hard.

The prime minister said that legally binding targets to reduce pollution made people "very nervous and very worried".

We can either:
A) take the only route to sustainable living, or
B) encourage global weather patterns to change so that we're unable to feed a serious proportion of humanity within a generation or two and quite possibly make the planet uninhabitable to humans and a significant number of other species within a couple of millennia.

Which one should make you 'very nervous and very worried'?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

more whores & narcoleptic tiddlywinks

A couple of new things to be found elsewhere.

With characteristic eloquence, Jim Bliss wrote a piece on his blog about Brian Eno selling Music For Airports to be the soundtrack for an Orange phones TV ad.

I've taken his point, and most of my previous post about Taylor Mali, and written an article about the use of good music in advertising. It's called The Most Evil Concept Ever.

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There's a newbie in the Other People's Blogs section of my sidebar. Rhythmicginger! is the blog of my companero Adam, the funniest man alive, the prime force behind Radio Savage Houndy Beasty, the greatest drummer I know of and - more relevant for blogging interest - a man who relishes absurdities of language.

Right there in the first post on his blog he lets rip with his failed googlewhacks. I do love it that there are a plural quantity of webpages that you can hit with the phrases he came up with:

narcoleptic tiddlywinks

bamboozling diplodocus

multifarious manhandlers

discombobulated protohominid

pandemic pottymouth

pandemic ululators

ululating masticators

ululating protohominid

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

another whore at the capitalist gang-bang

Claire Fauset is a performance poet of such talent and power that she commonly has audience members in tears. When I first went to her blog, there was a link saying simply 'God'. I had to click it. It took me to the site of Taylor Mali.

I'm largely unfamiliar with slam poetry, but Claire and all others I know of who are involved talk of Mali in these awed, untouchable tones. He wins national poetry slams in America year after year.

Not knowing much about him, my first click was naturally enough to the biog page. It told me how he makes his living these days as a voiceover artist, and was the voice of Burger King.

What? A poet of such passion, honesty, idealism and clear vision as Claire Fauset is in awe of a Burger King voiceover guy? Not just that, but one who is so proud of it that he believes it warrants a mention given a few short paragraphs to describe himself?

Despite Mali's enormous talent and unarguable prowess as a poet and performer, what does it mean if he willingly dresses himself in puppet strings? How can we believe anything he ever says? Not only will he say anything he's paid to say with just as much conviction as he delivers his poetry, but what if he had a point to make that conflicted with the interests of his corporate paymasters? Would you trust him to speak up?

Trust is the real issue here. His voice is not trustworthy. When he so readily says things he doesn't believe, who's to say what parts of what he says can be trusted?

Mali's poems talk of his dayjob as a teacher, proudly declaring

So I finally taught somebody something,
namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
it's going to be one eighth grader at a time

Then he goes out, one entire nation of kids at a time, and changes their minds. Any work he may have done about getting people to think for themselves or to sharpen their intelligence is undone millions of times over as he makes them buy junk food, stuff that - as we've seen in Supersize Me - literally makes its consumers stupid.

He talks of how, when challenged by a lawyer to say what he makes, he replies that he 'makes a difference'. He certainly does. He makes people buy things they don't want by lying to them.

Oh, but surely he doesn't make them buy things. They have a choice, don't they?

Burger King, and Mali's other employers, know they will sell a lot more of their product if he does the voiceover. If that were not the case, they would not employ him in the first place. His powers of persuasion, honed on the from-the-heart slam poet stage, are very strong. He does indeed make the audience buy the products he's selling.

He is, his biog says, a 'voiceover artist'. What is the art in 'voiceover artist'? It's the art of sounding enthused, authoritative, knowing, wise, cool or passionate about something when you're really not. It is the art of lying. Not lying for any greater good, but lying to people so they give your paymaster their money and you get a tiny cut of the take.

He says you have to 'speak with authority', but what does it mean if that power and conviction is the same voice that he uses to sell us superfluous consumer goods that we don't need to enrich people we don't like?

Someone who says whatever the corporation pays them to is no longer an artist, they are a billboard. Whatever is paid to be pasted up is what goes up, they have abdicated their believability. The real origin of what they say is not in their heart, but in the advertising executives offices.

Mali does a poem addressing his voiceover work. It is a clever ratatat collage of snippets but it offers no explanation of why he does it, or even much meaning beyond 'I do this because I can'.

In 'What Teachers Make' Mali says ‘if you got this [taps head] then you follow this [taps chest]’.

To the untrained observer, it may seem like the latter gesture indicates the heart. To those who know what Mali does with his time, it’s clear he’s indicating the inside pocket of his jacket where he keeps his wallet.

He's proud of teaching in private schools. Private schools will always find good teachers. If he really wanted to 'make a difference' he'd put a teacher of his enthusiasm and commitment in a public school. Poor kids have as much potential as the rich kids he teaches, but they are offered less motivation and less opportunity. Light is needed where it's darkest, and just one torch can light up a vast darkness.

Taking the easy money of doing adverts is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in an established artist. By surrendering to the pressure to become just another brand, just a saleable commodity, or - less even than that - a mere sales tool for vacuous or actively destructive commodities, they tell us a lot about themselves.

They tell us their work is not paramount to them any longer; their view of the original reasons for doing their work has become obscured; their conscience is gagged; they don't mean enough to themselves any more.

That being so, how can they mean anything to us?

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‘Here’s the deal, folks. You do a commercial, you’re off the Artistic Roll-Call forever. End of story, OK? You’re another corporate fucking shill, you’re another whore at the capitalist gang-bang, and if you do a commercial there’s a price on your head, everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.’
- Bill Hicks