The Null Device


A new crime wave is sweeping through affluent parts of Sydney; ultra-wealthy socialites are mutilating and poisoning trees in order to ensure uninterrupted views of the harbour from their palatial residences. The offenders are unconcerned about being caught, as the maximum fines are dwarfed by increases in property values thus gained, thus making illegal tree-poisoning a sensible investment.

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This Sunday before dawn, 4,300 Melburnians gathered on the banks of the Yarra and got their gear off, in icy rain, for a mass nude photograph by celebrated US photographer Spencer Tunick. The turnout was a record, with the previous highest turnout being 2,500 in Montréal, Canada.

Inevitably, not everyone came to strip. A lone, placard-bearing protester dressed in a suit knelt in the middle of the St Kilda Road tram tracks, praying loudly. Tunick personally tore up his placards. "He tried to disturb my shot," Tunick said later, stressing it was not an attack on the man's religion. "I would have tore it up if it said 'Coke' or 'I like carrots'."

(No, I wasn't there (too early, for one), but I know two people who were.)

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All the trouble in the world: Voice in the wilderness Robert Fisk looks at some of the killers, crooks and torturers lining up alongside America in "defense" of "liberty and democracy". Then there's this piece about America as Athens or Sparta or Imperial Rome, which is reasonably interestng. And finally, an analysis of the whole idea of patriotic consumerism, or the notion of Doing Your Bit by going out to the mall and buying consumer goods. (Suggesting even more strongly that the US government (and other Western governments) are answerable to corporations before all else, interfacing with citizens only as the consumers and shareholders of their corporate constituents, and are beginning to drop the pretence of being anything other than that.) Quite insightful, even if it does lose a bit of credibility by quoting neo-Luddite crank Kirkpatrick Sale (he's the guy who smashes computers with a sledgehammer on stage as a protest against the evils of technology).


Metablogging: Looks like Shauna's in classic form.


Britain's Railtrack agency, which owns the nation's railways and infrastructure, has been placed into receivership. (Now could be an excellent opportunity for a forward-looking cartel of oil companies, car manufacturers and bus operators to buy up what remains of it and tear up the train lines, much as happened with the Los Angeles tramway system in the 1940s.)

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Don't Ever Antagonise the Horn: A look at hawala, an ancient informal banking system dating back to the Silk Road, and still used throughout Middle Eastern communities to transfer money across borders untraceable.

In hawala, sums large and small are sent halfway around the world on a handshake and a code word. Records of transactions are kept just until the deal is completed. Then they are destroyed. No cash moves across a border or through an electronic transfer system, the places where authorities are most likely to spot or record the transaction. The sender does not have to provide his name or identify the recipient. Instead, he is given a code word, which is all the recipient needs to pick up the same amount of cash from an associate of the original trader. The transaction can occur in the time it takes to make a couple of phone calls or send a fax.

In many places hawala (which means 'trust' in Arabic) is illegal, but it is hard to stop, and more convenient than using legal banks and such, relying on a known web of trust. Authorities believe that Osama Bin Liner and the hijackers who committed the WTC attacks made use of hawala.

Oddly enough, nobody has registered Though there is a, registered in Falls Church, Virginia. They don't have a web site, though.