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All in the Mind Computing

All true conservatives are green

I sometimes enjoy Peter Hitchens’ antidote to mainstream trendy Neo-Liberal thinking, but fear he is on some subjects in bad company and a tad ill-informed. No rational person could deny volumes of hard evidence showing the exponential rise in humanity’s collective impact on our planet’s delicate ecosystem, both in terms of our numbers (rising from just 750 million at the start of the industrial revolution to 7 billion now) and our per capita consumption. Our population will probably peak in the next 10 to 30 years, but at the expense of adopting modern high-consumption lifestyles. And now 2500 million Chinese and Indians are preparing to join the mass consumer frenzy, resources that previously seemed almost unlimited, are nearing depletion.Â

The fact that scientific forecasts have so often proven wrong should lead us to take a more rather than a less cautious, and thus conservative, approach to future development. Climatologists know full well our climate is subject to multiple natural and, dare I say, anthropogenic factors, but man’s impact on our environment has reached unprecedented levels. But climate change is just one of many potential side effects of our rapid overdevelopment. James Lovelock has merely conceded that some of the more alarmist forecasts made 20 years ago have not been supported by subsequent observations. So what! They were just forecasts. Meanwhile, other forecasts, such as available oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, have also turned out to be gross exaggerations. That’s why Brazilian geologists are busy surveying fossil fuel deposits 2 miles below the surface of Mid Atlantic Ocean, the Chinese are sealing deals with Nigerian businessmen and Western Oil companies see Libya as a mere gateway to oil in Chad and Darfur, despite the huge costs of building pipelines and other infrastructure.

Wishful thinking cornucopians would like to see the current era of cheap mass motoring for all continue without drastic consequences and place blind faith in scientists to find to magic techno-fixes. Climate change denial, so popular in Neo-Conservative circles, has little to do with any understanding of the actual climate (which may get warmer, colder, wetter or drier in different parts of the globe) and everything to do with the same culture of entitlement Mr Hitchens so rightly denounces in his columns. Claiming to have a god-given right to drive your car to a suburban shopping mall, funded by your non-productive marketing job, is just the same as claiming a right to welfare handouts to subsidise your hedonistic idleness. If we are to tackle our very real environmental challenges and avoid unprecedented loss of life resulting from a grotesque overconsumption, we need to power down.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Two billion quid Stasi

We seem to have only superficial cuts in the huge state and corporate bureaucracy monitoring every aspect of our lives. If we needed any proof the current ConDem alliance is mere continuation of the same big business party previously marketed as New Labour, we now have it. No sooner were plans for a hi-tech identity card ditched and believers in mandatory RFID chips dismissed as conspiracy theorists, as the government plans to let GCHQ intercept our e-mails, browsing history and log into our social networking accounts server-side, for our own benefit of course. Surprisingly rather than rise to the technical challenge, some the biggest players in information technology have decried the proposals as not only intrusive and open to abuse, but expensive and unworkable.

Whenever your browser, mail client or any other TCP/IP application requests a resource from your Internet service provider or mobile phone company, the fact is logged. There is no need for surveillance software to run on your device. The problem is the sheer volume of traffic makes it very hard to make any sense of activity and what constitutes a request? Most high traffic news sites are saturated with advertising and tracking services. To post comments you are invited to log on via your Facebook, Yahoo, Google or Hotmail accounts, so in practice way over 90% of traffic can monitored via a handful of social networks, search engines and email services. I'm beginning to think maybe Richard Stallman was right after all:

As our society grows more dependent on computers, the software we run is of critical importance to securing the future of a free society. Free software is about having control over the technology we use in our homes, schools and businesses, where computers work for our individual and communal benefit, not for proprietary software companies or governments who might seek to restrict and monitor us.

Categories
Power Dynamics War Crimes

Demagogue sweeps to victory

Many on the left in the UK and elsewhere are celebrating George Galloway's resounding victory in the last Thursday's Bradford West by-election. With a turnout of just over 50%, the former labour stronghold saw a massive swing away from New Labour and the other mainstream parties to the left-leaning Respect coalition. Just ten years ago I would have been over the moon about such a spectacular win for the superficially radical left. Yet beyond his firebrand rhetoric, can Gorgeous George really offer a viable alternative or would his populist policies, if ever implemented, dig our proverbial hole even deeper.In recent parliamentary elections Respect candidates seldom muster more than 2% of the popular vote. Considering the level of public disillusionment with the big three parties (Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives), their mendacity and their indistinguishable policies once in power, protest votes on a scale seen in Bradford should surprise nobody. Bradford has more than its fair share of social problems, high rates of welfare dependency and a very large Pakistani community with a very high birth rate. To Galloway, such constituents represent an opportunity to rant and rave about the evils of imperialism and proposed cutbacks in the Welfare state. Such demagoguery has its appeals. A leaflet exclaims Bring back our boys from Afghanistan, and urges us Bring back industry to Bradford, and Stop government cutbacks. Indeed Galloway would like to spend more on child benefit and healthcare, while letting more immigrants join the labour force and claim benefits. Galloway is a latter-day cornucopian. He genuinely believes that by redistributing wealth from the grotesquely rich there will be plenty to go around and we can continue to go forth and multiply without a worry in the world. Yet Bradford's social problems are caused largely by the side effects of unsustainable global corporatism that Galloway wants to milk even more.  The stark reality on the ground in Bradford is one of little hope for a large section of the city's youth population, divided into three main groups: Muslims (mainly of Pakistani descent), offspring of single parents wholly dependent on benefits and a shrinking traditional white working class. To these groups we can add a recent influx of Eastern Europeans who have miraculously taken many of the jobs shunned by the local population. While Mr Galloway may bemoan child labour, sweatshops, temporary contracts, payday loans and betting shops, his constituents depend on them for their shopping and lifestyle. In so many inner city streets across the UK we see betting shops next door to pawnbrokers, remarketed as Cash Converters. A quick perusal of available vacancies in the West Yorkshire reveals some unsettling truths. Most are in care. While superficially this may seem like progress, as all good societies care for their citizens, why is demand so high and why do so many young citizens suffer from mental health problems and learning disabilities ? Yet many refuse to admit the bleeding obvious, a mix of benefits dependency, alcoholism, fatherlessness, divided communities and inbreeding combined to produce a new generation that lacked a sense of purpose other than to enjoy themselves or breed the next generation of welfare dependents. Bradford's distinct communities suffer different sets of social problems. In the white section, the two biggest problems are clearly dysfunction families and lack of initiative, while in the Asian community a high birth rate, inbreeding and sectarianism place huge demands on the rest of the wider national community.  To the likes of Galloway such observations are both xenophobic or misanthropic, for he would like us to believe more public investment can bring back industry to the North of England. Such a shift would dramatically increase production costs and would, based on recent experience, merely provided more jobs for newcomers willing to get out of bed in the morning. Does Respect plan to quit the European Union and World Trade Organisation so it can impose tough import controls? Does it propose to limit per capita consumption through huge price hikes in consumer goods as we pay workers decent wages? How would Bradford's gadget-addicted youth survive without affordable mobile phones and game consoles? Of course, countries can be much more self-sufficient and guarantee their people food and job security at a price. Cuba miraculously coped in the 1990s, but its citizens have to make do with ageing infrastructure and its birth rate is stable. More important, Cuba can feed itself, even with horse-drawn ploughs, while the UK, with one of the world's most highly mechanised farming industries, only produces just over half of what it consumes and if Scotland were to declare independence England would rely even more on imports. True radicals would champion self-empowerment through hard work, community cohesion and economic policies fit for our grandchildren. Instead Mr Galloway offers only rhetoric, while expecting a morally corrupt system to continue to subsidise idleness and irresponsibility.