January 31, 2012

More Re- the Infowar

Don't miss Michael Hasting's excellent, recent interview of Julian Assange in Rolling Stone.

Assange mentions the speaker in the video below, Jacob Appelbaum, ("[t]he Tor Project, which protects people around the world from being spied on or censored, lost some $600,000 to the U.S. government, as a result of one of their people, Jacob Appelbaum, having filled in for me once at a conference in New York.") If you haven't seen much of Appelbaum before, his presentation's also not to be missed (you can skip the first 2 min.):

Assange's appeal of extradiction proceedings in the U.K. is due to be heard by the nation's supreme court tomorrow.

January 24, 2012

Assange to Host Talk Show

Just when one might have feared that Assange and Wikileaks had been successfully sidelined, WL's issued this press release:

Julian Assange will be hosting a series of in-depth conversations with key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world. The theme: the world tomorrow.

Upheavals and revolutions in the Middle East have commenced an era of political change that is still unfolding. In the West, the deterioration of the rule of law has demonstrated the bankruptcy of once leading political institutions and ideologies. The internet has never been so strong, or so much under attack.

At this pivotal moment there is an awareness of the need to radically rethink the world around us.

WikiLeaks, as the world’s boldest publisher, has been at the front line of this global movement for understanding and change. Its founder, Julian Assange [has been] the subject of an ongoing Grand Jury investigation in the United States for over 500 days now . . . .

Both a pioneer for a more just world and a victim of political repression, he is uniquely placed to catalyse a global discussion on how to go forward.

. . . Assange will draw together controversial voices from across the political spectrum – iconoclasts, visionaries and power insiders – each to offer a window on the world tomorrow and their ideas on how to secure a brighter future.

Julian Assange says: “Through this series I will explore the possibilities for our future in conversations with those who are shaping it. Are we heading towards utopia or dystopia, and how we can set our paths? This is an exciting opportunity to discuss the vision of my guests in a new style of show that examines their philosophies and struggles in a deeper and clearer way than has been done before.”

The series will begin airing in mid-March, in ten weekly half-hour episodes. Initial licensing commitments cover over 600 million viewers across cable, satellite and terrestrial broadcast networks. . . .
(Wikileaks; see also The Guardian.) As I've suggested, Assange knows it's not just an infowar, it's a p.r. war.

January 22, 2012

P.R. Lessons from Religions

I'd embed Alain de Botton's TED talk, "Atheism 2.0," except that for some reason, TED's forcing a big bunch of empty space above the vidi, so scrue 'em; go here for the talk.

I had several of my own comments, among them being that while I agree that propaganda is a form of art, I believe there's an important, distinguishing characteristic of the greatest art, and that is that, intentionally or not, it conveys truth – because (unlike religions), artists who have proven over the long run to have been great have cared more about exploring and expressing truth in a non-judgmental way than they have about winning adherence to any pre-selected program. E.g., Karl Rove is a great artist if you define "great" as, effective in spreading emotionally compelling fiction; but his fictions probably won't be read 400 years later (unless as examples of effective p.r.). Shakespeare is a great artist if you define "great" as, effective in spreading truths that are timeless.

Clay Shirky on PIPA and SOPA

Excellent overview of where these bills are coming from and what we should expect going forward, at TED.

January 5, 2012

Update Re- Genetically-Modified Foods

As explained in a 2009 post and by others before me, "insect-resistent" GM plants have in fact been engineered to produce food that's literally full of poison.

Lately I'm hearing stories on public radio (the only traditional-media news product I regularly consume) about "good" GM – how spider genes have enabled silkworms to create stronger silk, and how sunflower seeds have been engineered to produce more cooking oil.

I hope this surfacing of the GM discussion results from an independent, journalistic initiative on the part of public radio – that seems possible, since I believe I also heard mention that the use of environmentally-hazardous pesticides or other chemicals has actually increased with the use of GM crops. Alternatively, the coverage may arise from a p.r. initiative on the part of the GM industry.

Regardless, I welcome the discussion, since I think genetic engineering is here to stay and does in fact offer the potential to help us build a better world quicker than natural selection might otherwise do.

But for purposes of the discussion, it would seem useful to distinguish between GMOs that deploy different kinds of strategies – e.g., for starters, to distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous GMOs (since creating organisms that produce intrinsically poisonous food would seem more obviously likely to give rise to undesirable consequences).

To do that, we need new, clear terms – and we should expect that any terms the industry might propose will not be clear.

So let's propose some ourselves. Here's an initial attempt:

"Poisonous GMO": a GMO engineered to cause death or illness in any living organism, or to impair or inhibit the reproductivity or functioning of otherwise healthy, normal or typical living organisms.

"Non-Poisonous GMO": a GMO which is not a Poisonous GMO, as defined above.
Alternative or additional suggestions welcome.

January 3, 2012

The Larger Economic/Political Cycle

"Book V of Aristotle’s Politics describes the eternal transition of oligarchies making themselves into hereditary aristocracies – which end up being overthrown by tyrants or develop internal rivalries as some families decide to 'take the multitude into their camp' and usher in democracy, within which an oligarchy emerges once again, followed by aristocracy, democracy, and so on throughout history."

That's the first paragraph; it gets even better. E.g., after an incredibly succinct yet enlightening history of economic/political evolution through the ages, he explains,

Democracy involves subordinating financial dynamics to serve economic balance and growth – and taxing rentier income or keeping basic monopolies in the public domain. Untaxing or privatizing property income “frees” it to be pledged to the banks, to be capitalized into larger loans. Financed by debt leveraging, asset-price inflation increases rentier wealth while indebting the economy at large. The economy shrinks, falling into negative equity.

The financial sector has gained sufficient influence to use such emergencies as an opportunity to convince governments that that the economy will collapse they it do not “save the banks.” In practice this means consolidating their control over policy, which they use in ways that further polarize economies. The basic model is what occurred in ancient Rome, moving from democracy to oligarchy. In fact, giving priority to bankers and leaving economic planning to be dictated by the EU, ECB and IMF threatens to strip the nation-state of the power to coin or print money and levy taxes.

The resulting conflict is pitting financial interests against national self-determination. The idea of an independent central bank being “the hallmark of democracy” is a euphemism for relinquishing the most important policy decision – the ability to create money and credit – to the financial sector. Rather than leaving the policy choice to popular referendums, the rescue of banks organized by the EU and ECB now represents the largest category of rising national debt. The private bank debts taken onto government balance sheets in Ireland and Greece have been turned into taxpayer obligations. The same is true for America’s $13 trillion added since September 2008 (including $5.3 trillion in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bad mortgages taken onto the government’s balance sheet, and $2 trillion of Federal Reserve “cash-for-trash” swaps).

By Michael Hudson at Counterpunch; much more here.