‘Full of Fire’

Only a few more weeks until The Knife release their new album, entitled ‘Shaking The Habitual‘, on the 8th of April.  I for one cannot wait for the album.  A recent Guardian article details the background to the new album, and the new direction of the band following the different projects pursued by the brother and sister bandmates of Olof and Karin Derijer Andersson.

As mentioned in a previous bog post it is worth checking out the music the two have made since they released the previous Knife album (2006’s Silent Shout), including the beautifully crafted electronic opera ‘Tomorrow, In A Year‘ with Planningtorock and Mt Sims, and the outstanding Fever Ray album by Karin.  Two singles with videos from ‘Shaking The Habitual’ have so far been released, including ‘Full Of Fire’ linked below and ‘Tooth For An Eye‘.

Aaron Swartz Obituary


Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) speaking against SOPA.
Software developer, Internet activist.
Photo by Daniel J. Sieradski (Source: Vintage Computing).

“His suicide was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach”, his family said in a statement on 12 January. A tragedy, with a powerful moral.”

Marth Gill in The Newstatesman.

“His aim was to download as many pages as possible from an archive of academic journals called JSTOR, which was available by paid subscription only to libraries and institutions. That was morally wrong, he thought; the knowledge contained in it (often obtained with public funding, after all) had to be made available, free, to everyone. And it was absurdly simple to do that. He already had access to the library network; no need to hack into the system. He just ran a script, called keepgrabbing.py, which liberated 4.8m articles at almost dangerous speed. MIT tried to block him, but time after time he outwitted them; and then, as a last resort, he plugged in the laptop in the cupboard.”

The Economist.

“The web programmer and open-data crusader Aaron Swartz has been found dead in his New York apartment, having apparently taken his own life at the age of 26. Swartz made a notable impact on the web: when he was 12, he wrote his first serious programs, and at 13 won an ArsDigita prize for creating a non- commercial website. He co-authored the RSS internet syndication standard, an automated system for distributing blogposts, at 14, and then contributed to the development of Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons copyright system.

Later, he was a prime mover in halting the US government’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which could well have led to widespread censorship of the internet. He co-founded the DemandProgress organisation to continue the fight for internet freedom and openness.”

Jack Schofield in The Guardian.

Hollywood in the Media and Wider Thoughts

“But such slick, award-winning cinema isn’t about nuance, it’s just self-serving moral ambiguity – and in this sense it is a fitting cultural reflection of actual US policy in the Middle East.”

Today’s Guardian article on the recent main American movies and television shows depicting the Middle East, or Middle Eastern issues, to a Western audience, including the films Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and the TV series Homeland.

It is important to notice the variations in the publications regarding the US, and the West’s, perceptions and reporting’s of the Middle East as a whole.  Whilst I am not comfortable accepting a certain viewpoint (who can be in this over-saturated information world?), I think it is wise to try to read widely and understand the effect and implications that can happen from misunderstanding our fellow human beings.

I am not a big fan of the politically correct brigade, but I also realise change needs to happen, in certain respects.  The recent US election was a dismal failure, as the dichotomy of the Republican and Democrat thrashed it out, mostly to the horror of the world if the republicans had won.  Even so the US continues its unlimited drone attacks , and a nuanced approach to world wide politics and governmental understandings remain a distant dream.

This is a world issue which worries me, as both a citizen of a Western country, and as a citizen of the world.

However real change is happening, no matter how it is reported throughout the world’s media.  People are standing strong, and together, to fight injustice throughout the world, regardless of faith or governmental decrees.  One only has to look to India to the recent outpouring of protests due to the fatal rape of a promising medical student, to the on-going upheaval’s of the Arabic Spring and the birth of democratic nations, to the world wide community of Avaaz who are standing together for good of global ideals, to understand that people on an national and international scale are not happy.

We have to ask ourselves, and each other, what is the sort of world that we want to live in, want our children to live, and want our descendants to live in.  Do we let the fanatical minorities of religion win?  Do we remain brainwashed by the mass media into hating people and countries far away?  Do we remain ignorant of the effect that we have on our beautiful planet?

There are no easy answers.  There are no shortcuts.

This is the way that life has always been, and likely, always will be.

But it takes courage to stand up for your ideals, whatever they are.  And it is in this way that we can remain true to ourselves, and to make the individual heard.

Do we sit silent?  Or do we raise our voices?

Only you yourself can decide, and answer, that.

Diary Keeping

An excellent article over at the Guardian- ‘Diarykeeping is an exceptional and heroic act‘.  It reminded me that I kept a series of diaries, or journals, over a period of a few years, from the hectic sixth form years and surgical gap year up until my first year at University.  It may be time to take a peek of them.

It is an act of writing that is deeply personal and often only for the view of that person themselves, yet their value is inherent.

Christmas and the Homeless

Whilst reading the New Statesman and The Guardian recently I came across two articles of interest.  Firstly there is the Guardian article by a young man who experienced homelessness throughout the past few years, and questions what the government are doing to help those who are homeless into getting back into education.  It is an interesting and educational article, full of important points and views.  In it he defines homelessness itself-

‘Homelessness does not necessarily entail living on the streets. In fact a comparatively low number of young people, on any given night, sleep rough. Many live in temporary accommodation, stay in hostels, or simply travel between sofas: all are forms of homelessness.’

In particular is the mention of the current UK governments benefit cutbacks for people aged under 25 years old, and in particular the impact of the cutting of the EMA, Educational Maintenance Grant, in 2010 on people in his position.

Over at The New Statesman a column by Jim White caught my attention.  The article centered on the rise of StreetLink going national, across the UK.  StreetLink is a charity which is designed to be a first port of call that helps homeless people.  It encourages the public to phone a dedicated phone line to report people who are sleeping rough so that they can get some immediate help.  The quote below details the exact mechanism-

“The idea is simple: save the number (0300 500 0914) in your phone, and call it when you see a rough sleeper. You give the telephone worker a description of the person and their location. They will then get in touch with the council or a local homeless service to visit the person and provide support. If requested, StreetLink will give the person who made the call an update on what’s happening 10 days later.”

The article nicely outlines some of the major issues faceless homeless people in general, as well as some of the tedious barrier hopping they have to do to gain benefits and help to put them back on their feet again.  In particular both of the articles above highlight the fact that many people are homeless due to a variety of reasons.  In this relatively harsh economic climate the number of people sleeping rough is generally increasing-

“After years of decline, the problem of homelessness is getting worse. According to Homeless Link, the number of people sleeping rough grew by more than a fifth last year. There has also been an increase in the number housed in temporary accommodation and in B&Bs, and as I wrote about recently, a 34 per cent increase in people housed in a different local authority.”

This includes both males and females, old and young.  It can be hard to conceive of being homeless, but you can never know what is going to happen in the future.

Whilst I was living in the cities of Hull and Sheffield I often encountered homeless people begging for money.  It is a hard choice, and a personal choice, whether you decide to give them money, buy them a hot drink, and/or stop to chat with them.

Christmas is a time of a thinking about other people, and you can do nothing better than to save the above number in your phone, and call it if you come across a homeless person.  Have a safe and a happy Christmas.

Disparate Reactions to the Loss of Life

Following the tragic recent mass murder of school kids and teaching staff in America, there has been a small flurry of essays and articles detailing the media reaction to mass murder in comparison to the on-going war on terror, particularly mentioning drone strikes and their impacts on Muslim countries.  For me personally this is a conflicting emotion, as these subjects are so often split into a dichotomy between left and right, republican and democrat, right and wrong etc.  Often the vitriol that spits up on both sides from arguments demeans the complex and thoughtful points made by both sides.

However, there are articles that are worth reading as they often highlight the nuances in how different cultures and societies react to death, both near and far away.  In particular there is a strong and emotive essay on differences in cultural/societal perceptions on the deaths of children in different countries, wrote by Glenn Greenwald in a  recent article for the Guardian newspaper.  Equally eloquent is George Monboit’s article in the same paper, entitled ‘In the US, mass child killings are tragedies.  In Pakistan, mere bugsplats‘, the bug splats being the nickname of the victims of drone victims.  Of course it could be argued that the very title of Monboit’s article incites liberal froth, but the details do make for disturbing reading regarding the actions, and outcomes, of US drone attacks in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  It often seems they enter into a very grey are legally.  As he goes on to say “Obama’s administration neither documents nor acknowledges the civilian casualties of the CIA’s drone strikes in north-west Pakistan. But a report by the law schools at Stanford and New York universities suggests that during the first three years of his time in office, the 259 strikes for which he is ultimately responsible killed between 297 and 569 civilians, of whom at least 64 were children”.

As Greenwald concludes he states that “As Monbiot observed: “there can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people” in Newtown. The exact opposite is true for the children and their families continuously killed in the Muslim world by the US government: huge numbers of people, particularly in the countries responsible, remain completely untouched by the grief that is caused in those places. That is by design – to ensure that opposition is muted – and it is brutally effective”.  We must state here that this in no way belittles the families and friends affected by the Newtown tragedy, it is a clearly heart wrenching and heinous act, and one that hopefully may never happen again.

The tragedy is not seeing the people on screens in the drone control centres as humans, as much as part of humanity as each and every child is throughout the world.  Dehumanisation is an essential part of war, and in the effort to kill the opponent and to view those oppressors of the state as less then human in mass media helps to sanction untold drone attacks on victims up and down the Muslim world, and never to mention the victims, to never put a name to those that have died or to why they have died.  Unfortunately governments across the world will engage in amoral and stupefying actions, designed not just to silence an enemy, but to  make them disappear as if they never existed.