Category Archives: media

Capital Ideas

I walked completely around the Christchurch central cordon a few weeks ago, and over the handful of hours it took I started to wake up to some realities I’ve really been trying to ignore. My city, the country it lives in, and indeed the world, is in the grip of a deep crisis. We are led by a National government that not only underfunds our recovery, but actually wants to cut back further. They are captives of an ideology of government that is opposed to governing.

I needed to get out of the city. Driving out south, mazing through closed turnoffs and bumping over rippled roads, I caught the end of a National Radio broadcast about the World Economics Association. This international organisation, launched in May, aims to break the neoliberal lock American economics has on the discipline. The coverage is illuminating.

Ideas on Sunday interviewed Robert wade, who talks about the lack of change in macroeconomics, and the way that its outdated, ‘respectable’ ideas favour big financial institutions over productive businesses and people. He notes how large international financial organisations have avoided the initial post-crash moves towards regulation, and how the theory economists promote looks after economists, and their classmates (hah! a pun) who went on into finance. Deregulation is founded on the faith that the market best takes care of society – a fantasy that nobody should believe anymore.

Ideas also spoke to Ha-Joon Chang, author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, who exposes the illusion that the market pays people what they’re worth, and explains how individual productivity is dependent on social setting. Society, he concludes, therefore has the right to intervene. Individual rewards are collectively determined; pretending otherwise merely privileges those individuals who manage to secure a disproportionate slice.

The final third of the hour is spent with Steve Keen, author of Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences who explains the logical flaws in neoliberalism, well-known for over 50 years, and says that economics has rebuilt the world in its own image – a pseudoscientific, flawed and unfair image, if his critique is to be believed. Neoclassical economists, he says, don’t understand neoclassical economics. Naive, they are like Ptolemaic astronomers post-Copernicus, unaware or unwilling to accept that they are not at the centre of the universe. Unlike astronomers, unfortunately, these economists dominate global education and decision-making, and their provably false beliefs (Keen cites their belief that the level of debt does not matter) create crisis after crisis, which the rest of us have to bear while financiers reap gigantic bailout packages (government intervention in the economy… what?).

I have just started economics at university. In the first week, they introduced and then glossed over the major flaw in market capitalism: markets, it is claimed, are allocatively efficient, that is, they portion out goods and services to those who want them most (and will therefore pay the highest price). In the words of my lecturer Steve Agnew, the problem with this is people have different amounts of money to spend. In other words, markets are only efficient when everyone has the same ability to indicate their preferences. In a world where CEOs make over 500 times the average wage (ignoring the income gap between nations), the idea of allocative efficiency is simply a fallacy. Markets are systematically inefficient, ignoring the needs of the poor and the many, and massively overvaluing the demands of the rich and powerful. Who knew? This is a major problem in economics and apparently solving it will give one instant celebrity among economists worldwide. Well, we’ll see.

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Filed under economics, Government policy, media

Turtles are cute, and it is freezing.

Just you try to deny it. To start with the turtles, the NZIFF* is currently on in Christchurch, so if you feel like getting the warm fuzzies, go see Turtle: The incredible journey. It looks like a feel good film, just in case anyone tries to accuse me of constantly posting depressing news. If you’ve miss(ed) the screenings and need to acquire it through, er…other means, then you can donate to the Save Our Seas Foundation that appears to have commissioned it. You don’t even need a credit card. Yay. Unfortunately I can’t find info about a DVD release date. Anyway, the trailer really did warm the cockles of my heart.

Speaking of warmness (which the living room is currently not), the Greens are currently campaigning for a “Warm Healthy Rentals” bill that calls for minimum energy performance standards for houses. I’ve emailed Gareth and asked him what the Greens would support in terms of specifics, but the basic idea is to legislate basic housing requirements for rental properties. This is not to vilify all landlords, but it is meant to address the HUGE number of unacceptably insulated houses. It’s a real problem in the South Island, where temperatures get below zero quite often over winter. If you’re a fan, send the e-card and join the facebook page to show your support and join in the discussion.

*I forgot to blog about Inside Job, which was a pretty funny doco about the 2008 financial crisis that included interviews with some of the key players. Their faces are so funny when they realise the doco maker is not on their side. Its screenings have finished in Christchurch, but it should come out later in the year again (not as part of a festival probably). Interestingly it’s paid for by Sony, and that means the film is slick and looks totally professional. Cheers to the Dim Post for the heads up.

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Filed under economics, Film/Documentary, Government policy

Story of stuff expands

The first time I watched Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” I almost cried with joy. Finally, someone was communicating the most important issues of our time with a clear, simple message which also didn’t bore. The cartoons in The Story of Stuff really do justice to the phrase “a picture paints a thousand words,” without leaving you scratching your head about what the pictures really mean, thanks to Annie’s succinct commentary, complete with excellent analogies that give her arguments a common sense vibe. Best yet, she anticipates a lot of the “but what about x” questions that people are likely to have, and offers practical solutions.

Recently I caught a glimpse of “the story of cosmetics” which was great for people who see cosmetics as a necessity because it didn’t just advocate complete boycotting. The story of cap and trade however is probably the most pertinent to all of us, in the US and NZ, because National has implemented the “free permit” scheme too.  Lastly there’s the story of bottled water, which really does present some alarming figures about how big the problem of bottled water has become, and looks at the wider effects of picking up that pump bottle.

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Filed under Climate Change, economics, Film/Documentary, media, Products

Vodo

I may be a little late to this, but Vodo is a site which allows content creators (video at this stage) to distribute their work for free download and then let users decide whether and how much to donate back after they’ve watched the film. It’s an idea that I’m sure plenty of people have had, but so far I’ve only seen one major company smart enough to really promote themselves on the major P2P sites like Mininova and The Pirate Bay. Currently they’re promoting a film called In Guantanamo, which offers viewers a glimpse of the prison from the inside, but obviously with restrictions. Sounds interesting, but what’s more impressive is the list of films they’ve got already.

Also interesting is that VODO is funded by Channel4 BritDoc Foundation, the Emerald Fund and Arts Council in England, so there is a commercial interest in the mix.

On a related note and in the name of sharing, here’s a wee essay written by me for my COMS305 Media and Social Change paper at the University of Canterbury, titled “Did you copy right?: The influence of copyright protection on media content in the realm of the Internet“. Feel free to debate it etc. I’m thinking of posting any well graded (preferably at least an A) University essays you want to send in that are related to any of the blog posts. Alternatively if you have an essay that is relevant to a particular issue, write up something and attach the essay with it (like I’ve done here).

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Filed under Film/Documentary, media

RMS

It’s obligatory for me to begin this post by pointing out that Richard Stallman is so famous that I can just refer to him by his initials.

An early luminary in the MIT hacker culture, Stallman is founder of the GNU’s Not Unix Project, the free software movement and a champion of copyleft (which we use a version of!).

He’s currently touring New Zealand, and despite regular ninja hacks is giving a second talk in Christchurch, Tuesday October 13, Lecture Theatre A1, University of Canterbury, 5-7pm. Apparently the first speech, at the Chrsitchurch Town Hall, will run you $450 for a day registration (is this a typo? Do conferences really cost that much?). Stallman prefers talking in openly accessible settings anyway.

He also spoke on Kim Hill’s morning show last Saturday (archived here, but National Radio’s site is useless so you might have to right-click and select ‘save link as’, or open the location with a media player if you’re that savvy). This interview was hilarious; have a listen. Kim Hill doesn’t seem to believe a word Stallman has to say about abuse of surveillance and control technologies. It’s almost as if she’s never heard of the Security Intelligence Service, which spies on and maintains files on political dissidents, even if they’re focussed on the national interest, or Rob Gilchrist, the Police informant who infiltrated every harmless activist group I’ve ever been in, agitating for actions that would allow our arrests, as well as unions and other civil society groups. Not to mention the state terror raids of 2007.

Back to Stallman. He speaks about these issues in the abstract, and cites overseas examples. New Zealand has no shortage of examples of abuse of secret power, but Kim Hill needed so much convincing that Stallman barely had the chance to speak about software freedom. He also had some excellent ideas for funding media in the 21st Century, essentially proposing that creative works be made freely reproducible and available, and artists paid from the tax dollar on the basis of polls or some other way of tracking their popularity.

Most of all, I was struck by how close-minded and unimaginative his interviewer appeared, and how this mirrored my own experiences in talking about these issues with people. When pointing out that the present system is awful, and suggesting a few ideas for a positive alternative, one must expect a hostile and aggressive challenge to present a wholly-formed alternative, complete with revolutionary program and a denunciation of every paranoid fantasy presented (pogroms, terrorism, intellectual totalitarianism, women with hairy pits) with any admission of personal limits or ignorance taken as evidence that the status quo is unassailable. Stallman shows that it only takes a little bit of common sense to stop accepting the abuses of the powerful, and that stating the obvious is often a perfect response to one’s doubters.

Hopefully I’ll see you Tuesday.

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Filed under Events, Free, media

Trafigura’s shame

The Independent and Times Online have just reported on the lawsuit regarding the dumping of toxic waste on the Ivory Coast by oil giant Trafigura, who has offered the 31,000 complainants from the affected area a total sum around £100m. The incident occurred in 2006, and has been dubbed as one of the worst pollution disasters in the last few decades. While £100m is a great amount of money in itself, once divided amongst the 31,000 complainants, each person will receive only several hundred dollars, and the greater population of 100,000 residents affected will not be compensated at all. As a private company with an annual turnover of £44b, this payout equates to a pitiful 0.2% of a year’s turnover. Their turnover is twice the GDP of the entire Ivory Coast. What makes this decision more difficult to swallow is that a UN report shows that Trafigura made a conscious decision to dump the waste in an inappropriate, illegal open-air waste site which the contractors informed them about prior to the incident. Internal emails published by the Guardian show the company’s dogged determination to cut costs while ignoring the costs to human life. Absolutely no compassion has been shown by the company so far, which, instead of paying those affected, has hired one of Britain’s most aggressive law firms to settle the suit while also employing a PR company to deny the link between the toxic waste and a flurry of complaints at hospitals immediately after the dumping. It has also denied liability, despite damning evidence to the contrary. No representatives from Trafigura have set up camp for a few days in an area affected by the own toxic waste, or even downed a glass to prove that the stuff is as harmless as it purports to human health. The UN meanwhile has released a report confirming the link between the waste and the health complaints. Trafigura has also been involved in trying to stifle news reporting on the issue by threatening to litigate against critical interpretations of the fiasco.

It looks like every repugnant act of defiant, determined evil has already been taken. Knowingly dump toxic waste on already disempowered citizens, check. Deny liability, check. Quickly go into damage control and spend money on lawyers and PR people rather than the victims, check. Offer an offensively small amount of compensation to a minority of those affected to seem as though something is being done, check. Continue to deny that toxic waste caused health complaints, check. Attempt to shut up anyone who disagrees with you, check.

Of course, before one gets too excited about blaming big oil giants, remember that it’s the consumption of oil on a massive scale that allows companies like Trafigura to not only exist, but thrive, and continue to exploit innocent people  in the name of bigger profits. Events like these are reminders that oil consumption has its consequences, and that these consequences are often devastating for those who are already disadvantaged. Remember that International Car Free Day is coming up (on the 22nd) – take a stand, and continue to walk, bike or bus instead of driving, as much as you can. There are plenty of other areas in our lives where we use oil unnecessarily as well – research them, but also keep in mind the effects of alternatives as well (the Hybrid car is a good example of a product that may actually be worse than a normal car).

Other links

How UK oil company Trafigura tried to cover up African pollution disaster (Rainbow Warrior)
How UK oil company Trafigura tried to cover up African pollution disaster (The Guardian)
The Company: The shadowy history of a slick oil giant (The Independent)

PS. When I first tried to publish this article, all the text disappeared, including all the past drafts that were auto-saved by WordPress. All that was left was the title. Freaky or what?!

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Filed under Current Affairs, media

The Age of Stupid

From the director of McLibel Franny Armstrong is a film about why the world needs to act now to address climate change. It’s part dramatisation, part documentary, and part call to act, based on topics of oil, war, politics and consumerism in their relation to climate change.

theageofstupid

New Zealand Screening dates and locations have been confirmed, mostly it’s just the times that are TBC. If you’re in Auckland, there’s also a “green carpet” premiere you can head along to, but tickets are exclusive and available only through Oxfam and Greenpeace. Visit the “not stupid” page and watch the pop up, it’s actually quite informing. There are some interesting resources on that page as well, including guides on how to talk to skeptics, and how to organise an indie screening if you feel so inclined (which I may, and will of course let you know if I do).

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Filed under Events, Film/Documentary, media