Friday, 28 June 2013

Article: Failed states are a western myth

Original Article written by Elliot Ross for The Guardian - Friday 26, April 2013

A boy walks past a bullet-scarred building in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a. ‘Rejected by scholars, the idea of the failed state has found a home within the noisy space of shallow political punditry that forms much of the national conversation.’ Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

The concept of the failed state is meaningless. It was invented as a rationale to impose US interests on less powerful nations

In the same week that the investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill spoke of the need for the US to "take a humility pill", we've been subjected to precisely the opposite – yet another instalment of Foreign Policy magazine's annual Failed States Index, complete with accompanying "postcards from hell" purporting to show what it's like "living on the edge in the world's worst places".

Quibbling with the many bizarre claims of the index is tempting (Kenya is "less stable" than Syria, we learn), but in the end such gripes only give credibility to this tedious yearly exercise in faux-empirical cultural bigotry. For anyone interested in actually finding out about places such as Yemen or Uganda, the index is probably the last place you'd want to go. But what's more interesting, and more helpful in understanding what the index really does, is to grasp that the very concept of the "failed state" comes with its own story.

The organisation that produces the index, the Fund for Peace, is the kind of outfit John le Carré thinks we should all be having nightmares about. Its director, JJ Messner (who puts together the list), is a former lobbyist for the private military industry. None of the raw data behind the index is made public. So why on earth would an organisation like this want to keep the idea of the failed state prominent in public discourse?

The main reason is that the concept of the failed state has never existed outside a programme for western intervention. It has always been a way of constructing a rationale for imposing US interests on less powerful nations.

Luckily, we can pinpoint exactly where it all began – right down to the words on the page. The failed state was invented in late 1992 by Gerald Helman and Steven Ratner, two US state department employees, in an article in – you guessed it – Foreign Policy, suggestively

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Speech: Alan Watts - Man and Nature

Another incredibly inspirational talk by Alan Watts.

Article: Welfare state expresses an ideal of the good society

Original Article written by David Bell for The Guardian - Wednesday 3, November 2010

Cuts are an ideological assault on the concept of welfare and the market economy denies our nobler side, says David Bell

Times of crisis force us to think about fundamental questions such as, "What is a good society?" The welfare state, founded upon the principles of progressive taxation and universal welfare, expresses an ideal of the good society, where the community as a whole provides for the other, and those in need receive this provision as of right. Such an institutional structure serves to express the more communal part of our nature, which strives towards generosity, compassion and concern, and contains the more selfish (narcissistic) side that greedily pursues its own interests and sees others only as potential competitors.

Universal benefits such as child benefit have a social and psychological value, binding people together in a community, whereas targeted benefits are divisive; one breach in this foundational principle undermines the whole edifice.

Our relationship with awareness of our own vulnerability is far from comfortable – we have a natural tendency to locate it in other people – it is he, not me, who is in need, it is she, not me, who is vulnerable. Unfortunately, this projective system has a drive of its own: as it gathers momentum it acquires contempt, providing the psychological soil for destructive social processes such as racism or homophobia to germinate.

The cuts express an ideological assault on the concept of welfare – originating with Margaret Thatcher and now escalating violently. This ideological position can be characterised as follows: the welfare state does not provide people with the basic necessities of life as part of a duty of state but instead is a mechanism by which people are disempowered, creating in them a helpless state of invalidism. The "have-nots", instead of "getting on their bikes" and competing in the marketplace, stay at home and whinge for the nanny state to do something for them. Namely, to have one's basic needs met is to be treated as if suffering from a state of infantile dependence and to be dominated by a delusion of an inexhaustible supply of provision.

In this kind of thinking, or more properly non-thinking, the world collapses into simple binary categories – "us and them" – and all complexity is lost.

Those on welfare become just "scroungers". Worst of all, many who are legitimately entitled to benefit identify with this propaganda and collapse into despair. The nanny state slogan expresses this perverse logic and hatred of vulnerability.

The social cleansing process where those on benefits will have to vacate their homes will further fuel this process, as it lends support to the sense that "they" do not deserve to live here.

Civilisation, as Freud pointed out, had to develop ways of managing human hatred and greed, givens of our nature, through creating structures that contain it. This insulation is breaking down. The free market both perpetuates and receives its justification from the ideology of the "survival of the fittest", giving force to a primitive moralism: those who survive have a right to, because they are superior to those who, now morally inferior, failed as they had no right to survive.

The market economy may be a necessity of life, at least for our current epoch, but as an ideal of social institutions it necessarily fails to support the nobler side of our nature.

• David Bell is president of the Institute of Psychoanalysis and a consultant psychiatrist at the Tavistock and Portman NHS foundation trust.

Speech: Lisa Kristine - Photos that bear witness to modern slavery

For the past two years, photographer Lisa Kristine has traveled the world, documenting the unbearably harsh realities of modern-day slavery. She shares hauntingly beautiful images -- miners in the Congo, brick layers in Nepal -- illuminating the plight of the 27 million souls enslaved worldwide. 

(Filmed at TEDxMaui)

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Article: The Gospel according to Bill Hicks

Original Article written by Mike Sager for the GQ MAGAZINE - September, 1994

Part comic, part preacher, part philosopher, Bill Hicks had something important to say. And though it didn't make him a star or get him a  sitcom, he kept right on saying it, brilliantly, till the end.

"Good evening, folks," says the comic, freeing the microphone from its stand, charting a course across the stage, his shadow following. His right hand searches the pocket of his baggy pants, puddled atop weary moccasins. The cool mesh orb grazes his lips, carries his voice over the crowd. "It's great to be back here in good ol'...where am I again!"

He is joking, of course, sort of. That's what Bill Hicks does. Sort of joke, sort of tell the truth. He knows where he is, the Comedy Corner in West Palm Beach, Florida-- black walls, flickering candles, glasses tinkling in the dark. Though he headlines more than 200 nights a year, he is not on the marquee tonight. This is a special performance. In the back of the club, little sprockets turn, tape rolls. He wants to get this down. The exact set that was canceled.

He was to appear on The Late Show With David Letterman on October 1, 1993, his twelfth guest spot with Dave. Bill had flown to New York, taped his spot, and for the first time, he'd really killed on Letterman. Dave had even given him a fat Havana cigar. He was smoking it in the hotel bathtub when the producer phoned. It wasn't just a matter of "Sorry, we're out of time." It was the material, the producer said, too many "hot spots."

Tonight, four nights later, fresh from all the publicity, from Howard Stem to the Los Angeles Times, Bill Hicks wants

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Video & Article: Edward Snowden - the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

Original Article written by Glenn Greenwald for The Guardian - Monday 10, June 2013

The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organisations – the NSA.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to