The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'propaganda'
As the G8 prepare to meet in economically depressed Northern Ireland, the UK government hosts have been touching up the area, by covering the windows of the area's many empty shops with large photographic stickers of thriving businesses:
One set of stickers have been fixed to a former butchers in Belcoo, on the border between the province and the Republic. They show the shop – which traded as Flanagan’s until it went out of business about a year ago – still fully stocked with a selection of fresh meat on display. A sticker pasted on a closed door even shows an open door and an apparently well-adorned interior. Another set of stickers have been put up in the windows of a former pharmacy in the village, to give the vacant site the appearance of an office supply stores.Perhaps if the Soviet Union and its satellites had had large-format photographic sticker technology, the Berlin Wall would never have fallen, and Marxism-Leninism would still be shambling on, joyless but just about alive, much like George Osborne's austerity plan is.
Meanwhile, the US Secret Service has reportedly deployed agents disguised as Irish farmers; they purchased a fleet of shiny new tractors, but apparently neglected to make them look less conspicuously new:
However, locals told the paper the agents would “stick out like sore thumbs” in Fermanagh, as their tractors are all brand new. It’s “like something out of Father Ted”, one resident said.Surely there'd be someone in the US Secret Service who could apply convincing amounts of dirt, rust and general wear to tractors to not compromise the whole point of having bought them in the first place?
The Cold War isn't over everywhere: An article in Foreign Policy accuses the authors of travel guides of fashionable leftist sympathies, falling over themselves to praise anti-US dictators like Castro, Chavez and Ahmadinejad and enthusing about how gloriously free (of Coca-Cola and McDonalds, that is) Pyongyang is whilst trotting out the same old obesity/religion/guns/geographical ignorance stereotypes whenever America is mentioned.
There's a formula to them: a pro forma acknowledgment of a lack of democracy and freedom followed by exercises in moral equivalence, various contorted attempts to contextualize authoritarianism or atrocities, and scorching attacks on the U.S. foreign policy that precipitated these defensive and desperate actions. Throughout, there is the consistent refrain that economic backwardness should be viewed as cultural authenticity, not to mention an admirable rejection of globalization and American hegemony. The hotel recommendations might be useful, but the guidebooks are clotted with historical revisionism, factual errors, and a toxic combination of Orientalism and pathological self-loathing.
THERE IS AN almost Orientalist presumption that the citizens of places like Cuba or Afghanistan have made a choice in rejecting globalization and consumerism. From the perspective of the disaffected Westerner, poverty is seen as enviable, a pure existence unsullied by capitalism. Sainsbury refers to Cuban food as "organic" and praises the Castro brothers' "intellectual foresight [that] has prompted such eco-friendly practices as nutrient recycling, soil and water management and land-use planning." Meager food rations and the 1950s cars that plod through Havana's streets, however, don't represent authenticity or some tropical version of the Western mania for "artisanal" products, but, rather, failed economic policy. It's as much of a lifestyle choice as female circumcision is in Sudan.It may well be that the authors of the guidebooks are a cabal of Cultural Marxists, and that the Communists who (according to Margaret Thatcher) run the BBC, and thus Lonely Planet, are pushing the doctrinaire anti-US line. (I don't doubt that, among travel writers, there are some who subscribe to a romanticised, orientalist leftism, to the point of making apologies for the other side; I once read a somewhat myopic travelogue set in the two halves of Berlin in the 1980s, by an English author who delighted in contrasting the refreshing joy of the East (and dismissing as embittered hacks the dissidents who lost their jobs for criticising it) with the abject, junky-squat nihilism of the West.) On the other hand, a more economical explanation is in the nature of guidebooks and their function.
Guidebooks, by definition, are intended to be taken to the countries they describe as guides. If those countries lean towards totalitarianism, books which criticise their regimes, or reflect too strongly the point of view of the hostile state in which they were published, might not make it in through the border, or may cause trouble for the hapless tourist who buys them. As such, it makes sense that guidebooks to authoritarian states have, by definition, to be somewhat fawning, at the very least refraining from any criticism more than strictly necessary to be credible to a Western tourist and to leaven that with some praise of the President-for-life, explanations for why his secret police are not at all menacing and aspersions on the sorts who would criticise his beneficent rule. (I would venture that this wouldn't apply merely to fashionably anti-American states with iconically stylish martyred leaders: I'm guessing a tourist guidebook to Pinochet's Chile (which was, after all, a US-backed libertarian/authoritarian dictatorship) wouldn't have gone on about the death squads, human rights abuses and the optimism of the Allende years. Similarly, were the US to somehow roll back the First Amendment and criminalise hostile speech, I suspect that even the hippies in the Lonely Planet boardroom and the Communists in the BBC who control the purse strings would, from within their haze of funny-smelling cigarette smoke, decide to drop all superfluous references to guns, televangelists and junk food and stick to praising the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the prodigious variety of taco trucks.
China has launched its own homebrew Twitter clone. It's named Red Microblog, run by a regional propaganda department, and by all accounts, is the place to go if you have some rousing Maoist revolutionary sentiment to share:
"I really like the words by Chairman Mao [Zedong] that 'The world is ours; we should work together'," one of Mr Bo's messages read. Other messages on the home page included: "Work hard, be honest and treat others well", "There is no sky larger than the hand, no road longer than the feet, no mountain higher than the people, no sea wider than the heart", and "Those who go with the flow are forever going up and down in the waves; only those who go against the wind fearing no hardship, can reach the other side fast."
A statement on the site said the launch had been in response to a call from Li Changchun, China's Propaganda chief, for local governments to master new media.
More Wikileaks revelations, this time about Cuba, the world's grooviest totalitarian dictatorship: a US diplomat complains that countries including Spain, Switzerland, Canada and nominally loyal Washington ally Australia have stopped criticising Cuba's human rights record, ostensibly in return for commercial favours.
Meanwhile, it emerged that Cuba banned Michael Moore's film Sicko, which decries the state of privatised health care in the US and contrasts it with a glowing image of Cuba's health system. The reason Cuba banned it was apparently because its portrayal of Cuba's system was so mythically positive that it could have led to a popular backlash against the real thing; in particular, one of the Cuban hospitals is only available to the Communist Party nomenklatura and those who can pay bribes in hard currencies:
The cable describes a visit made by the FSHP to the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital in October 2007. Built in 1982, the newly renovated hospital was used in Michael Moore's film as evidence of the high-quality of healthcare available to all Cubans.
But according to the FSHP, the only way a Cuban can get access to the hospital is through a bribe or contacts inside the hospital administration. "Cubans are reportedly very resentful that the best hospital in Havana is 'off-limits' to them," the memo reveals.
Some time ago, Wikileaks posted online video footage apparently showing US troops massacring children in Iraq. This caused a flurry of condemnation, and further tarnished the already shabby image of the Iraq war. This was followed by a large cache of documents pertaining to the conduct of the war. The US government fumed, but, it seemed, Wikileaks was unstoppable.
More recently, Wikileaks announced that it had possession of a cache of US diplomatic communications, which are by convention considered sacrosanct, and was going to release them. Cue more fuming, and a somewhat predictable denial-of-service attack (one of which seemed to be the work of a patriotic good-ol'-boy, and not the NSA), but then it came out. And we find out that... well, that diplomats say impolitic things in private about their hosts, Gaddafi's vain and flamboyant, Berlusconi's in the pockets of the Russians, and the Chinese government was behind hacking attacks on Google. Oh, and Iran has missiles that can hit Berlin, and poses an imminent threat to a lot of people; so much so that the Obama government actively had to resist the Saudis' demands that they bomb Iran.
Which all seems a bit too convenient. Nothing particularly embarrassing to the US (they do like to spy on other world figures, but that's neither a huge surprise nor a shocking atrocity), though a few things which make the Obama administration look weak, and strengthen the hands of hawks calling for the bombing of Iran. Meanwhile, the world's hegemonic superpower can only fume impotently and possibly put behind-the-scenes pressure on the Swedes to kick Wikileaks chief Julian Assange out. (Assange is reportedly currently in the United Kingdom, not a country known for its reluctance to extradite anyone to the United States.) You'd think that if the US government really wanted to get Assange, they would have had him bundled into a van and flown over to Diego Garcia for a spot of light waterboarding within a week maximum of him popping up on their radar, but it seems not. Which makes me wonder whether, at some time between the original video and now, they managed to reach him and turn him into a propaganda asset.
"Now, Mr. Assange: this flash drive contains some files. You release these to the world through your channels, and make a good show of it, and nothing will happen to your family. Pleasure doing business with you."
Historical artefact from the American culture wars, circa 2010: The Liberal Clause: Socialism on a Sleigh, a children's story book by a demagogue from the right-wing Tea Party movement, in which an evil Obama clone gets elected as Santa Claus and proceeds to ruin Christmas, assisted by a supporting cast of caricatures of liberal political figures, politically-correct straw persons, sinister foreigners and (for some odd reason) cameo appearances by historical dictators, until a little girl catches a glimpse of "Ox News", shakes off her brainwashing and assembles a movement to depose the evil liberals. A few choice excerpts:
From now on, for ever fifteen minutes of work there had to be fifteen minutes of break time. The work day was cut from eight hours to six hours with a two hour paid lunch break. If a toy supervisor gave instructions, the union would hold a meeting with every elf to talk about how they felt about those instructions. Toy quality control was no longer allowed, because it might hurt an elf's feelings. As a result, most toys were assembled wrong and were falling apart.
On top of this, Liberal Claus eliminates toy specialists and replaces them with "general toy practitioners" who follow his instructions to only create little red train cars and nothing elseAt some point in the future, this book will either be the pride of some thrift-shop digger's ironic kitsch collection, or puzzled over by archaeologists as they debate the causes of the collapse of the American civilisation, or both.
A Berlin-based advertising agency has created some clever ads for the International Society for Human Rights' press freedom campaign:
The Times has re-stoked Thatcher-era allegations about "Communists in the BBC", with claims that left-wing scriptwriters wrote anti-Thatcherite propaganda into Doctor Who episodes during the 1980s. (Of course, being a Murdoch paper, they say that like it's a terrible thing...)
“We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. At the time Doctor Who used satire to put political messages out there in the way they used to do in places like Czechoslovakia. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered. Those who wanted to see the messages saw them; others, including one producer, didn’t.”
Under Cartmel’s direction, Thatcher was caricatured as Helen A, the wide-eyed tyrannical ruler of a human colony on the planet Terra Alpha. The extra-terrestrial character, played by Sheila Hancock, outlawed unhappiness and remarked “I like your initiative, your enterprise” as her secret police rounded up dissidents.The leftist scriptwriters also included, in another episode, a speech against nuclear weapons heavily influenced by material from those known comsymps, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Unfortunately for them, Doctor Who failed to bring down Thatcher, the show being canned before she was ousted in 1990.
A lie, Mark Twain wrote, can cross half the world before truth can get its boots on. This may be even more so in the age of Twitter, with its ephemeral, 140-character posts reducing discussion to soundbites with no room for boring old substantiation. A contributor to the (US Democrat-affiliated) Daily Kos blog has demonstrated this by creating a Twitter feed named InTheStimulus, purporting to reveal the Obama administration's egregious wastes of money, and watching the right-wing Twitterverse pass it on as gospel, giving him virtual high-fives along the way and praising his patriotism.
For the most part, my first couple days of posts were believable, but unsourced lies:He then proceeded to make the revelations increasingly absurd:
* $3 million for replacement tires for 1992-1995 Geo Metros.
* $750,000 for an underground tunnel connecting a middle school and high school in North Carolina.
* $4.7 million for a program supplying public television to K-8 classrooms.
* $2.3 million for a museum dedicated to the electric bass guitar.
* $473,000 to Fueled by Ramen, record label for such bands as Fall Out Boy.The funny thing was, while a few people dropped his feed, even more started following him and passing on his revelations. It seems that confirmation bias kicked in, and the buzz of having one's beliefs confirmed and outrage justified outweighed the possibility of being taken for a ride.
* $4 million for Obama bobbleheads.
* $104,000 to exhume President Taft.
* $465 million for massive air conditioners to combat global warming.
* $855,000 for the gambling debts Laura Bush incurred on diplomatic trips between 2004-2008.
The Daily Kos' spin on the result is a partisan "conservatives are dumb". Whether or not that is the case, I suspect such an experiment could be repeated with any group invested in a particular belief.
Recently, the media (and not only the tabloids, but the Guardian, the BBC and Reuters, to name a few) was full of headlines suggesting that consuming even small amounts of alcohol would significantly increase one's risk of cancer. Now, Charlie Stross tears that report apart, revealing that the paper in question actually said the opposite, even if its abstract, for some unfathomable reason, didn't:
... there was no dose response between the number of drinks the women consumed and their risk for all cancers. Women drinking no alcohol at all had higher incidences for all cancers than 95% of the drinking women.
The actual incidents of all cancers was 5.7% among the nondrinkers. The cancer incidents were lower among the women drinking up to 15 drinks a week: 5.2% among those consuming ≤2 drinks/week; 5.2% of those drinking 3-6 drinks/week; and 5.3% among those drinking 7-14 drinks a week. [Table 1.]Of course, this leads to the question arises of why the abstract of the report contradicted its actual content, instead presenting a message at odds with it. Charlie suggests that it's not a mistake, but rather the result of Bush-era ideology, in which science receiving federal funding had to echo the official ideological line:
"Alcohol is evil. We know this because it is True. And it's especially bad for women because, well, women shouldn't drink. If you run a study to confirm this belief and the facts don't back you up, the facts are wrong. So tell the public the Truth (alcohol is always evil) and bury the facts; the press won't be able to tell the difference because they're (a) lazy (or overworked, take your pick) and (b) statistically innumerate."
This is pernicious fallout from the way the 2000-2008 Bush administration did business. Their contempt for science was so manifest that distortion and suppression of results that undermined a desired political objective became a routine reflex. If the science doesn't back you up, lie about it or suppress it. That administration may have been shown the door (and replaced by one that so far seems to have a pragmatic respect for facts), but the disease has spread internationally, becoming endemic wherever ideologically motivated politicians who hold their electorate in contempt find themselves seeking a stick to beat the public with.
Boing Boing Gadgets' John Brownlee has an interesting account of playing a robot in an evangelical Christian school play as a child. An evangelical Christian robot, of course:
The play centered around Colby, a sentient Christian super-computer who — for some reason — had set up a secret neighborhood enclave for the Christian kids in the neighborhood. It was called Colby's Clubhouse, and inside, it was a Jim Jones phantasmagoria, in which a dancing, singing Christian robot led a gaggle of Bible-thumping kids in elaborate dance numbers, pausing only occasionally to recite scriptures. The main dramatic arc of the play concerned the arrival of new kid Eddie in the neighborhood: he cracked wise about Jesus, never read the Gospel, and was dismissive not only of the Colby Gang's impromptu hymnals but openly professed an admiration and affinity for that year's hot R&B supergroup, the New Kids on the Block. Eventually, Eddie is shown the error of his ways through the tireless proselytizing of the Colby Gang... as well as the direct intervention of Colby himself, who bluntly informs Eddie that he's going to hell if he doesn't mend his ways. Eventually, Eddie breaks down, falls to his knees, and welcomes Jesus into his heart as his Lord and Savior. At that point, Eddie is welcomed into the Colby Gang as an honorary member, presented with his very own pastel-colored, self-identifying t-shirt, and takes part in the exiting performance of the play's title song, "God Uses Kids." Curtain and applause.Of course, in retrospect, the play looks a lot more disturbing:
At the beginning of the play, Eddie moves into a new neighborhood. He's alone, depressed and friendless. Worse, he quickly discovers that none of the kids in the neighborhood like to play video games or watch movies or listen to records or play with action figures or throw the football around — you know, normal kid stuff. All they ever want to do is sing about Jesus. Raised non-secularly, poor Eddie finds himself ostracized from his newfound peers from the very start, and understandably compensates by adapting the defense mechanism of a smart aleck personality. He acts out. He differentiates himself through cynical non-conformity, but is soundly hated for it.
That's all bad enough, right? Poor Eddie. But consider what happens next. Eddie is invited to the neighborhood clubhouse. Hoping for the acceptance and friendship of the neighborhood's unseen but popular alpha dog — the mysterious but charismatic Colby — he goes, but instead of meeting another kid, the door is locked behind him and a giant metal monster lumbers out of the shadows. Its eyes spit sparks; its servos gnash like rusty teeth. It grabs Eddie by the arms and in a shrill falsetto scream that reverberates with metallic soullessness and the sounds of gears grinding, it inexorably begins to paint Eddie a picture of hell straight out of Bosch. Mewling, fleshless bird things with scissors for beaks. Oceans of boiling feces in which billions bob and drown. Bodies crawling with insects and scabs that never heal. Forced sodomy by impossible geometric shapes. The sound of infants screaming forever and ever and ever and ever. Eddie's mind breaks... as, in fact, had the mind of each and every member of the Colby Gang's under the same nightmarish duress. It is the initiation. He's been accepted. One of us. One of us.And then, of course, there is the theological question of whether an evangelical Christian robot would have a soul, which John's teacher couldn't quite satisfactorily answer.
(via Boing Boing)
Animal-liberationist group PETA have launched a new campaign to fight for the rights of fish to not be caught or eaten: rebranding them as "Sea Kittens":
Given the drastic situation for this country's sea kittens—who are often the victims of many major threats to their welfare and ways of life—it's high time that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) stop allowing our little sea kitten friends to be tortured and killed. Who'd want to hurt a sea kitten anyway?!
Sea kittens are just as intelligent (not to mention adorable) as dogs and cats, and they feel pain just as all animals do.
Please take just a few moments to send an e-mail to H. Dale Hall, the director of the FWS, asking him to stop promoting the hunting of sea kittens (otherwise known as "fishing"). The promotion of sea kitten hunting is a glaring contradiction of FWS' mission to "conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats."
Faced with a wave of ostalgie, misty-eyed nostalgia for the fallen East German Communist regime, Germany's educational authorities have created a mockup of an East German classroom, in which school students would be subjected to the Communist experience. There they would be threatened with disciplinary action for wearing Western clothes, ordered to sing Communist marching songs and told of field trips to border guard regiments, by a "teacher" attired in authentic East German synthetic fabrics. One student would also volunteer in advance to play the child of dissidents, who would then be alternately criticised and ignored by the teachers. What the organisers hadn't planned on was that the whole thing would turn into a small-scale reenactment of the Stanford Prison Experiment, with dissident "Steffen"'s erstwhile classmates turning on him and joining in persecuting him like good cogs in the totalitarian machine:
The other pupils began to ostracise "Steffen" themselves and accused him of disrupting the class. Although they were encouraged to stand up against the system before the session, none of the pupils rallied to Steffen's support when he was told he could not visit the border-guard unit, or at any other time.
During these sessions Elke Urban models herself on Margot Honecker, the leader's wife who was also a hardline education minister. She said that only one group had dared to stand up and defend the dissident pupil during her classes. "I deliberately create a totalitarian atmosphere and I am still always shocked how quickly and easily people are conditioned by it," she said. "East Germany may have left a pile of Stasi files behind rather than a pile of corpses, but the similarities with the Nazi regime are there."
Recently, Australia's recording industry body released a video, made for schools, in which various popular musicians (from industry stalwarts to the hottest commercial-indie bands today) talking about how file sharing is hurting them. Now one of the particupants—Lindsay McDougall, the guitarist from JJJ alternative band Frenzal Rhomb—has issued a statement that he was misled into appearing in the video, and doesn't actually disapprove of file sharing:
He said he was told the 10-minute film, which is being distributed for free to all high schools in Australia, was about trying to survive as an Australian musician and no one mentioned the video would be used as part of an anti-piracy campaign.
McDougall said: "I have never come out against internet piracy and illegal downloading and I wouldn't do that - I would never put my name to something that is against downloading and is against piracy and stuff, it's something that I believe is a personal thing from artist to artist."
"I would never be part of this big record industry funded campaign to crush illegal downloads, I'm not like [Metallica drummer] Lars Ulrich. I think it's bullshit, I think it's record companies crying poor and I don't agree with it."
"I'm from a punk rock band, it's all about getting your music out any way you can - you don't make money from the record, the record companies make the money from the record. If they can't make money these days because they haven't come onside with the way the world is going, it's their own problem."Other artists were unable to be contacted for comment.
As the Olympic torch continues its worldwide tour, surrounded by aggressive Chinese guards and hounded persistently by human-rights protesters, some have called for the protesters to shut up and keep politics out of sport. They would do well to read up about the history of the whole Olympic torch ceremony, which originated not in ancient Greece but in Nazi Germany:
He sold to Josef Goebbels – in charge of media coverage of the Games – the idea that 3,422 young Aryan runners should carry burning torches along the 3,422km route from the Temple of Hera on Mount Olympus to the stadium in Berlin. It was his idea that the flame should be lit under the supervision of a High Priestess, using mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays, and passed from torch to torch along the way, so that when it arrived in the Berlin stadium it would have a quasi-sacred purity.
The concept could hardly fail to appeal to the Nazis, who loved pagan mythology, and saw ancient Greece as an Aryan forerunner of the Third Reich. The ancient Greeks believed that fire was of divine origin, and kept perpetual flames burning in their temples.
But the ancient Games were proclaimed by messengers wearing olive crowns, a symbol of the sacred truce which guaranteed that athletes could travel to and from Olympus safely. There were no torch relays associated with the ancient Olympics until Hitler.
The route from Olympus to Berlin conveniently passed through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia - countries where the Nazis wanted to extend their influence. Before long, all would be under German military occupation. In Hungary, the flame was serenaded by gypsy musicians who would later be rounded up and sent to death camps.
As the Australian election approaches (capsule summary: the Tories look set to be wiped out, much as they did in the previous two elections), the ABC's Bob Ellis (presumably a leftwinger who evaded the purges) claims that Rupert Murdoch's polling organisation manipulates its own results by timing its polls, technically without actually doing anything fraudulent:
Newspoll is not called 'the Fox News of statistics' for nothing. Like Fox News, it serves Rupert Murdoch. Like Bill O'Reilly, it tells him what he wants to hear. And what does Rupert Murdoch want to hear? Well, that the voters are very volatile, for one thing. The Labor numbers go up to 58 before the Great Debate, then down to 54 after it. On the weekend when, in the greatest gatherings in human history, the West protests against the Iraq war, and it's known that most Australians oppose it, the vote for Howard goes up. When he's found to have lied about Children Overboard, the vote for Howard goes up. When Howard seems on his last legs, he gets the good news he needs. From Newspoll, the preferred Murdoch pollster.
And like Newspoll you ring no mobile phones, thus eliminating or minimising, the Labor-leaning, or Green-leaning, under-38s. Like Newspoll you ring homes on Friday night, when the under-38s aren't home, but the old, the ill, the friendless, the poor and the mad are, the Howard battlers, the Menzies limpets, the One Nation crazies in socks and sandals. And you make them one-third of your figure.
How is I know, or I suspect, this is what they do? Well, I noticed the Labor vote always plummets, according to Newspoll, at the beginning of the Christmas holidays, and soars at the end of them, and it has for the last ten years. Is this because people think of John Howard over the plum pudding and decide that they love him? No. It's because the Labor vote, or the prosperous, educated Labor vote, aren't home. They're at the Sydney Festival or on a boat on the Hawkesbury or in a hotel in Byron Bay or a pensione in Venice whereas the old, the ill, the friendless, the poor and the mad are at home, as usual, waiting for Newspoll to engage them in detailed conversation. And so it is the Labor vote goes down at Christmas, and up again after Australia Day.
(via The Poll Bludger)
The next version of SimCity will include global warming, brought in in collaboration with oil company BP. Players will be able to choose how to power their cities; if they choose cheap, dirty, carbon-intensive forms of energy, their carbon ratings will rise, and eventually bring about natural disasters. However, players can avoid that by using various BP Alternative Energy-branded low-carbon power options. Nice bit of greenwash there.
Rumour has it that the subsequent version of SimCity will tackle the obesity crisis, by causing your city's obesity levels to rise and health costs to spiral unless you build McDonalds Healthy Eating™ restaurants.
(via Boing Boing)
The British government has rejected the recording industry's push to extend copyright terms on music recordings from 50 years to 90. The European parliament previously rejected the same proposal, and the recording industry lobbied Britain, historically one of the global powerbases of Big Copyright and one of the most Atlanticist and pro-corporate governments in the EU. For a while it looked as if the government was going to buy the IFPI/BPI's argument and dismiss the Gowers Report (which argued that copyright term extension was a bad idea), but common sense prevailed and they stuck to their guns.
The Reuters article linked above, however, seems to almost have been written from an IFPI press release; it quotes the recording industry's spokesreptiles at great length, and perpetuates the misconception that recording artists who were around 50 years ago stand to lose huge parts of their incomes and be left penniless in their old age, by mentioning the plights of the likes of Cliff Richard, whose first hit, recorded in 1958, is likely to fall to the ignominy of being in the public domain — whilst neglecting the fact that the vast majority of Richard's catalogue will remain in copyright, quite probably for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the arguments which swayed Gowers and the British government, such as economic analyses on why copyright extension does more harm than good, are not even mentioned, given the impression that either the honourable MPs were careless, lazy, corrupt, or else under the influence of mind-control rays fired from Cory Doctorow's hot-air balloon, and thus a grievious injustice has been done.
(via Boing Boing)
More YouTube videos: this time Stump's "Buffalo", which you may remember from the C86 compilation (it was the most dadaistic track on that one). The video, in this case, is the visual equivalent of the song. Enjoy.
Meanwhile, more Swedish indiepop: Jens Lekman's "You Are The Light"; pretty polished, involving Jens riding through a tunnel in a van surrounded by riot police, with brass sections passing in open-topped cars at key sections of the song.
And here's one for the goths: Propaganda's "Dr. Mabuse", with Anton Corbijn doing his best Fritz Lang homage.
American Christianity may have fallen behind fundamentalist Islam in the fanaticism stakes, but it's now making an effort to catch up. Witness the Jesus Camps, America's own madrassas, which serve to indoctrinate 9-10-year-olds in a severe form of fundamentalist Christianity, linked to all manner of conservative ideologies, from veneration of George W. Bush to denial of global warming:
Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Tears of release and joy, they would claim -- the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an "army" to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie. (This last one is a puzzle -- how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?)
at one point Pastor Fischer instructs the little ones that they should be willing to die for Christ, and the little ones obediently agree. She may even use the word martyr, which has a shocking echo in the Middle East. I can see future suicide bombers for Jesus -- the next step will be learning to fly planes into buildings. Of course, the grownups would say, "Oh no, we're not like them" -- but they admit that the principal difference is simply that "We're right."
In another scene a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, with his trademark smirking smile, is brought out and the children are urged to identify -- many of the little ones come forward and reverently touch his cardboard hands.
(via Boing Boing)
The Age ran a scathing commentary about the state funeral, and various other memorial services, held for deceased media baron Kerry Packer:
Has there been a more disgusting public spectacle in modern Australian life than the Packer memorial service? I was at the cricket on the day he died, and the ground announcer declared that a minute's silence would be observed in honour of Packer's "contributions" to cricket. My friends and I refused to stand, but everyone around us did, without a whimper of complaint, like those who are asked to march off and fight wars, and do.
So how did we come to the conclusion that a life spent turning an inherited fortune into an astronomically bigger one is a life well lived? We didn't. Rather, as Orwell showed in 1984, those who control the means of communication control the language itself, and can assert, and have a large enough number of people actually believe, that freedom is slavery, war is peace, or that a life spent gorging oneself, squandering amounts on blackjack tables that could help solve, say, the global malaria epidemic, avoiding one's civic duties and speaking to everybody with barely concealed contempt, is a life of generosity and grace.
Beazley and Hawke are both Rhodes scholars. It's more likely they know that their party now stands for nothing, and think it's better to be present at the memorial service of a devout enemy of working people (despite Packer's love of sport, pies and swear words), than risk offending the owners of a vast media conglomerate whose "opinions" hold more sway over elections than any well-formulated policy.
The memorial service was broadcast without advertisements. Thus viewers could experience, for once, what it is like to watch a program on Channel Nine for an hour without fools screaming at them for 15 minutes to buy things. The only people who protested against this disgraceful, taxpayer-funded event - four members of the noble Kerry Packer dis-memorial society - were arrested.Of course, Packer was a true-blue dinky-di Aussie, a great mate and a great Australian, and it would be shamefully un-Australian to say otherwise about the great man.
The Sun announces, grudgingly, that it will support Tony Blair in the election, directing its readers to vote Labour. Which conjures up images of Sun readers marching like shellsuit-clad zombies from the council estates to obediently do Papa Murdoch's bidding and give the election to his anointed candidate.
It's a factoid often stated that The Sun decides British general elections, which makes pleasing Mr. Murdoch more important for candidates than pandering to the whims of the general public. Another, less conspiratorial, interpretation, is that The Sun always backs the most likely winner of an upcoming election to maintain its populist credentials. (Telling people to vote the way the majority would have voted is easy; whether Sun readers would compliantly bloc-vote for, say, the UK Independence Party if instructed to do so is another matter.) in which case, support for Labour was inevitable (the Tories still being too much the pantomime villains of British politics to win, and all third parties being equally irrelevant in a first-past-the-post electoral system).
The folk belief that The Sun decides elections appears to come from the 1992 election, where The Sun backed the Tories and engaged in a spot of post-election triumphalism.
But Murdoch, it emerged, was furious with the claim that his newspapers could swing elections.
Funny, because there is evidence to suggest that that's exactly what News Ltd.'s media assets did in the 2004 Australian election.
The News Limited 2004 Marginal Seats Guide is an internal News Limited document giving statistical details on the 30 most marginal federal seats. It gives a small but significant insight into News Limited's strategy for manipulating public opinion so as to achieve a very specific outcome from the coming 2004 federal election.
Is such fine-grained news management something the Murdoch empire only practices in Australia, or is it applied in Britain and/or America as well? If the former, is it because Australia's highly concentrated media environment makes such things possible to an extent that Britain's diversity of proprietors (most of them shockingly biased, but for different parties or beliefs) does not?
A militant Islamist group's website recently published a report saying that the CIA has opened a facility for training agents to impersonate muezzins and infiltrate mosques:
The CIA opened its first muezzin school at a deserted army airstrip in Virginia in 1989, with the school being specially equipped with six minarets from which its agents could practise, the report said. It added that the CIA was now capable of producing up to 100 qualified muezzins each year.
Unbeknownst to them, the original story was a piece of satire, published by British satirical website The Rockall Times in 2001. Apparently the members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, who republished the story almost unchanged, either did not notice the satirical content on the rest of the site or wrote it off as authentic reportage of the corruption and decadence of British society.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin's government plans to revive a Soviet-era programme to instil patriotism in the youth; the updated programme will involve patriotic video games, which, it hopes, will replace the likes of DOOM and inculcate patriotic values in youth. Which could mean something like a post-Soviet America's Army, or something more heavy-handedly jingoistic.
The latest Orwellian threat to democratic discourse is verbless language, à la Teflon Tony Blair:
Humphrys notes Blair's apparent fear of verbs and mocks his speeches, which are peppered with verbless phrases like "new challenges, new ideas," or "for our young people, a brighter future" and "the age of achievement, at home and abroad".
By using this technique, Humphrys says, Blair is simply evading responsibility.
"The point about verbs is that they commit the speaker," he writes. "Verbs cement sentences to their meaning so it's not surprising that politicians tend to mistrust them."
(via bOING bOING)
A piece on how The Sun, Murdoch's original no-brow right-wing tabloid, is unifying propaganda and porn, by having the Page 3 girls give right-wing opinions about the Iraq war and political correctness and such whilst flashing their breasts. Perhaps, if this is successful, Americans can look forward to topless newsreaders on FOXNews? (Or perhaps not, given how US conservatives freaked out and demanded tougher decency laws after the Janet Jackson thing.)
A new study from US Federal Reserve economists has shown that countries with widespread beliefs in Hell and damnation are less corrupt and more prosperous. The report, of course, casts a very flattering light on the US, with its marriage of fire-and-brimstone Christianity and free-market liberalism like a shining beacon to all. Common sense psychology, or more of the Bush administration's neo-Lysenkoist ideological pseudoscience? (via bOING bOING)
There have been mass arrests in the People's Democracy of Cuba after the official Communist Party newspaper printed a photograph of Fidel Castro doctored to look like Hitler. The offending issues of Granma (which is presumably similar in tone to Pravda before it turned into the Weekly World News) were quickly retrieved by the secret police; the efficiency of this operation evident in the vagueness of descriptions of the photograph, which few people have actually seen (or will admit to having):
Some say that those seated in the background of the photograph, which was published on December 4, have had their glasses darkened, to make them look like mafiosi, or that they have had white lines superimposed on their lips, suggesting that they dare not speak out against Dr Castro's wishes.
A Russian national has praised the conditions in Guantanamo, where he is being held. Ayrat Varikhtov, a Chechen is on record as saying that the US military prison compares favourably to Russian health resorts. "Nobody is being beaten or humiliated," he added.
The statue of Saddam Hussein which was toppled by
the newly-liberated Iraqi public a Whitehouse-backed warlord and his militia has now been
replaced by a new statue of Ronald McDonald a symbolic Iraqi family holding aloft a crescent moon (representing Islam) and sun (representing the ancient Sumerian civilisation).
First there was America's Army, the US Army's multiplayer game/recruitment tool; and now Islamic militant group Hezbollah have released their own first-person shooter. Named Special Force, it allows players to play anti-Israeli militants and kill Jewish settlers and Israeli troops. (No news on whether it involves blowing oneself up on crowded buses in Tel Aviv, leading to a victory screen showing 72 virgins in Paradise, or whether it's just a reskinned first-person shooter.) The game has been a roaring success across the Arab world; there are calls for it to be banned in Australia.
You've seen the historical images of the newly-liberated people of Iraq toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad? Well, claims have emerged that the whole thing was staged. Apparently the square was sealed off by US Marines, with the newly-liberated Iraqi people kept well away from the scene. The statue was pulled down by a US military vehicle. The celebrating Iraqis seen in the square were members of the militia of Ahmed Chalabi, Washington's favourite for Leader of Free Iraq. The whole thing was staged for the benefit of the media as a propaganda exercise. Mind you, people have said similar things about the moon landing. (via NWD)
The Realities of Online Reputation Management, an essay about the Internet's effect on reputation and spin.
Hate campaigns are surprisingly unsuccessful with the masses. Certainly hate sites attract the like-minded, and for awhile got good mainstream media attention. But again, the "Back" button. On the Web there is always another "channel." The ethnic slaughters in the wake of Yugoslavia's disintegration were largely blamed on inflammatory talk radio - and the absence of contrary opinion.
In a similar vein, at present it would probably be impossible to spread a false "oil shortage" story through the Internet, as the American oil companies and mainstream media did in 1972. In fact the Internet would probably demolish such propaganda in days. In 1972, it was not until months later that a merchant marine officer told me how his oil supertanker had been held off the New Jersey coast for six weeks at the height of the "oil shortage." Today, he would have emailed Matt Drudge.
Of course, the fact that the Internet has put paid to older forms of skulduggery doesn't mean that new, more subtle forms won't take their place. (via Slashdot)
UN covers up Guernica, Picasso's painting of maimed and dying civilians in a shelled village during the Spanish civil war, for a photo opportunity. Or perhaps because the message would be politically inappropriate given current events?
The drapes were installed last Monday and Wednesday -- the days the council discussed Iraq -- and came down Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, when the subjects included Afghanistan and peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and Western Sahara.
(via bOING bOING)
Swingin' Stalinism, in the form of 1950s Communist propaganda posters from Poland. Totalitarianism never looked so groovy. (via bOING bOING)
I just saw Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. (I had intended to see it whilst in London in November, but ran out of time.) It's an interesting film, looking at gun culture and violent crime in America; its thesis is an interesting one: that the problem is not so much a result of Americans having guns (Canada is full of guns but has a much lower murder rate) or a violent history (Germany, Japan, England, &c. do as well) but one of America living in a culture of fear, division and paranoia; with news reports constantly highlighting violent crime (because that's where the ratings are), a culture of mutual suspicion, and a near-criminalisation of poverty. (The differences between the US and Canada are particularly telling.) In short: guns don't kill people, memes do.
Apparently the Saturday-morning TV cartoons of the 1980s weren't just 30-minute toy commercials; some of them were also deeply inspired by Scientologist teachings.
I also used one of L. Ron Hubbard's discoveries in the field of study in a Muppet Babies episode I wrote.
(via bOING bOING)
There's Turkish Star Trek, and then there's the Soviet equivalent, Kosmicheskaya Militsiya, usually translated as "Cosmos Patrol". It's stylistically like Star Trek (it has its own Kirk, Spock (who's implied to be an ethnic German), even a proto-Wesley Crusher), only it's a vehicle for rather heavy-handed Marxist-Leninist dogma.
As on Star Trek, the "strange, new worlds" the Red Adventurer visits often seem ringingly familiar. Let's see: There's the Nazi Germany planet, the Gangland Chicago planet, the Ancient Greece planet, and the planet of the Militaristic Paranoid Fascists (the U.S.A. planet). And there's time travel, too: In my favorite episode, the crew somehow goes back to Zurich in 1917 to help Lenin get to St. Petersburg in time to start the Bolshevik Revolution... Perhaps one of the weirdest borrowings from Star Trek has Dobraydushev and a reanimated Peter the Great challenging holographic supervillains Adolf Hitler and John D. Rockefeller in a chess tournamentto the death!
Surprise, surprise: after September 11, a number of Hollywood films which had been made were shelved as unpatriotic. These films included those which projected negative images of the US military.
And then there were not one but two Che Guevara biopics planned, one starring Antonio Banderas. On September 10, 2001, with Communism having all but collapsed as a threat, it was safe to pander to baby-boomers' '60s radical nostalgia by rehabilitating one of the (now safely commodified) icons of their wild youth. Then the planes hit, and the projects got scrapped to make room for Jerry Bruckheimer patriotic thrillers and safely escapist fantasy flicks.
(The identity of heroes/villains in films can be telling; for example, there's Four Feathers, which glorifies the British Empire (which can be seen as a rather prestigious model to proponents of a a global American empire) and its doings in the Middle East, only a few years after pre-9/11 film The Patriot painted the British as the original Nazis (somewhat slanderously, apparently). I wonder whether we'll see any metaphorical films about straight-dealing, heroic apple-pie Romans (played by Ben Affleck or Brendan Fraser) doing battle with treacherous, Taliban-like Visigoths.)
Bias in the Blogosphere, an analysis of the blogging phenomenon using the Chomskyite propaganda model, and concluding that blogging is a reactionary, right-wing propaganda machine by its very structure. Makes some good points (about linkwhoring, the threat of being Dooced or mailbombed serving to shut down dissenters, and dependence on official resources for facts), but it appears to fall into the "blogging was born on 9/11" fallacy, the stereotype of equating blogging as a whole with the right-wing, jingoistic talkback-radio excesses of the "warbloggers". (via Graham)
It may well be that the majority of bloggers are wealthy white males, Libertarians turned born-again Rush Limbaugh clones when the planes hit the WTC, but that just reinforces Sturgeon's law; specifically, that when people have the means of expressing themselves, the vast majority will use it to download porn, put up photos of their cats, discuss the last episode of Friends, or loudly expound their allegiance to their favourite thought-saving orthodoxy, and only a small proportion of content will be actually interesting. (Well, that and the primal instinct to form packs and do battle against rival packs.) So it's not unexpected that big chunks of the blogosphere look like a conservative, vaguely xenophobic suburbia; well, that and the LiveJournal britneyblogs, and the technofetishistic E/N sites run by misogynistic virgins, and so on. Just that warblogging is the currently fashionable flavour of blogging for pinks.
Caveat lector: The ever-lucid Charlie Stross deconstructs alleged Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith's ghastly tirade, in which he claims the right to kill 4 million Americans. It appears the Middle East Media Research Institute, which found and translated the piece, is run by people connected with Israeli intelligence, and thus may not be as impartial and nonpartisan as it purports to be; and there's the suggestion that this Abu Ghaith chap may be just some random lunatic chosen for his scariness.
(Imagine a mirror-image Arab news organisation combing the US local newspapers for editorials demanding that we kill them all or forcibly convert them to Christianity. They wouldn't have to look far with the likes of Anne Coulter about, would they?)
The scary similarities between Bush's America and Orwell's 1984. From the state of permanent war to the
Ministry of Truth Office of Strategic Influence, and more. Perhaps soon they'll introduce a daily Three Minute Hate, with summary dismissal or detention for non-participation?
You've heard of the research unanimously pointing to ecstasy causing long-term brain damage? Well, apparently much of that is propaganda, with experiments being compromised to give politically useful results, and contradictory research being frozen out of journals.
Cultural documents: Summaries of Soviet literary classics, most with impeccable socialist credentials:
The daughter of a Volga fisherman becomes a sniper with a Red partisan detachment. She misses her 41st vicitim (a White officer), then winds up stranded with him on a desert island, where they fall in love. However, the White's essentially selfish, bourgeois nature becomes apparent and she shoots him, fulfilling her mission and her class destiny.
A philistine from the NEP era gets accidentally frozen and is revived fifty years later in 1979. The moderns at first mistake him for an honest worker, but then correctly identify him as a bourgeoisus vulgaris , a blood-sucking insect similar to, but more dangerous than, the bedbug. He is put on display in a cage equipped with special filters to trap all the dirty words. (Klop, 1929)
Various pundits and experts are contemplating novel stragegies against terrorism, from reducing anti-American resentment in the third world to memetic warfare:
The goal of U.S. policy, he said, should be to "re-engineer the perceptions of our enemies." Suicide bombers have to be convinced "they get nothing for dying for Allah," and the people who support terrorists -- leaders or commoners -- have to be persuaded such violence is an insult to Islam and counterproductive. So Baxter proposed a Manhattan Project of "perception engineering," which would explore and develop a variety of means: psychological warfare, propaganda campaigns designed by advertising executives ("these guys were selling Chevrolets when they were crap with the 'heartbeat of America'"); nanomachines that can invade the circulatory system and effect the brain and thought patterns of the target; cultural products that can engender warm feelings toward the United States.
Nanomachines that make you love America? Loyalty plagues and love bombing? Or as Kennedy said, "we have control of the mind". (via Rebecca's Pocket)
The World Trade Organization has, one must admit, a bit of an image problem, especially amongst youngsters susceptible to the seductive underground brands of the anti-capitalist movement. So, to combat this, the WTO has commissioned a marketing campaign from yoof marketeers Y Not, to sell their vision of neo-liberal free trade to the kids under the brand of "Positive Anarchy". A leaked report floats a number of strategies, including beating the lefties at the merchandising game (gas masks and bandanas being relatively unexciting brands) and selling trendy teen clothing with the WTO brand, to getting comedians to take the piss out of the anti-capitalists and product-placing fake WTO-brand merchandise on Reality TV shows.
- Recruit model/spokespersons. Polling indicates that "Anti" has benefited significantly from association with high profile musicians/actors. (Note: 43% of teen girls identified U2 singer Bono as related to "Anti" "brand.") Through a third party, Y NOT, Inc. initially approached actresses Sarah Michelle Gellar and Tara Reid about serving as spokespersons for the WTO "brand," but made little headway. We have since been approached by a representative of Kevin Costner, but aren't convinced that he is "brand" appropriate.
Utilizing this strategy, the WTO "brand" would be replaced by a symbol or logo that teens consider more appealing. Note: in focus groups, 59% of teens reported that they would consider purchasing WTO product if associated with friendly talking frog.
As far as I know, this is not a parody, though it looks like one. (via Lev)
And speaking of our corporate friends, evil drug cartel Philip Morris has published a report saying that smoking is cost-effective, with the deaths of smokers reducing the costs of health care and housing for the elderly. The report was delivered as a cost-benefit analysis to the Czech government.
The technology for electronically faking video footage is coming to fruition. And we all know how the street finds its own uses for new technologies...
A demo tape supplied by PVI bolsters the point in the prosaic setting of a suburban parking lot. The scene appears ordinary except for a disturbing feature: Amidst the SUVs and minivans are several parked tanks and one armored behemoth rolling incongruously along. Imagine a tape of virtual Pakistani tanks rolling over the border into India pitched to news outlets as authentic, and you get a feel for the kind of trouble that deceptive imagery could stir up.
Suddenly those large stretches of programming between commercials-the actual show, that is-become available for billions of dollars worth of primetime advertising. PVI's demo tape, for instance, includes a scene in which a Microsoft Windows box appears-virtually, of course-on the shelf of Frasier Crane's studio. This kind of product placement could become more and more important as new video recording technologies such as TiVo and RePlayTV give viewers more power to edit out commercials.
With just a few minutes of video of someone talking, their system captures and stores a set of video snapshots of the way that a person's mouth-area looks and moves when saying different sets of sounds. Drawing from the resulting library of "visemes" makes it possible to depict the person seeming to say anything the producers dream up-including utterances that the subject wouldn't be caught dead saying. In one test application, computer scientist Christoph Bregler, now of Stanford University, and colleagues digitized two minutes of public-domain footage of President John F. Kennedy speaking during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Using the resulting viseme library, the researchers created "animations" of Kennedy's mouth saying things he never said, among them, "I never met Forrest Gump."
A video game designed to instruct the player in Ayn Rand thought (currently in the proposal stage).