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By Akira The Don on Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 11.27.30From RINF.com

Werner de Gruijter, Arnout Krediet and Sven Jense 
RINF Alternative News

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic who construct an image of toughness – tough on crime, on terrorism, on humanistic-inspired idealism etc. – are tapping into a sensitive spot that blocks critical thought among the public. Obama‘s brute and harsh reaction on Edward Snowden‘s revelations is just another example. Somehow it seems like ,,We, the people…” lost track of ourselves. Four main reasons why we abandon our once hard fought civil rights.

Many countries in the West, like Britain, France, Spain the US and the Netherlands have experienced in recent years an exponential increase in technological surveillance and a resolute decline in parliamentary and judicial control over state police and secret service. Issues like the ban on torture, the possibility of detention without charge, privacy and freedom of speech were in the public debate reframed in favour of state control. And everybody accepted it. To be fair, there was some opposition – but it lacked intensity. Why is this happening?

To give an example, under former British Prime Minister Tony Blair 45 criminal laws were approved creating 3000 new criminal offences. British writer John Kampfer argues that in the past ten years more criminal offences were made in his country than in a hundred years before. All this was legitimized by the idea that a ‘terroristic’ virus attacked Western civilization. Of course, there is some truth in it – but these risks were grossly exaggerated. Still, we fearfully went along with the proposed measures.

This cultural shift towards perhaps a more authoritarian future for the West is no coincidence of nature. It is manmade. If the opportunity is there, top down induced shifts happen only if politicians, corporations, media pundits and other cultural icons are able to find the right symbols and techniques to get a new message across.

But first, besides these techniques, famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow is probably aware that there is also something else which stimulates our apathy in this respect. He signified the importance of leisure time for our own personal well being as well as for the well being of the community as a whole – it creates so to speak the possibility to make well informed decisions. Currently our leisure time is under assault. Thirty years of income stagnation in the midst of rising prices – people have to struggle to earn a living – meant that for most of us there is less time for critical thought.

But it has even been made harder to reflect on important issues since politicians and opinions leaders use marketing tools in order to seduce. Remember that soon after the 2008 banking bailout the discussion was reframed in such a way that government spending instead of the unregulated financial sector itself, was the root cause of all ‘evil’ – this message was repeated like a commercial, over and over again. This technique of repetition effectively neutralizes critical thinking. Hence, Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebels, was on to something when he famously stated: ,,If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Long after Goebbels died, psychologists experimentally discovered that it is a natural tendency of human beings to react more receptive to whatever kind of message the more they are exposed to it. They call this ,,the law of mere exposure”. We should question ourselves if this habit is healthy for our general welfare.

Furthermore, psychologists discovered that our ability to think critically is severely limited when we act under stress. Frightened people tend to perceive reality through a prism of simple right and wrong answers, leaving the complexities aside. Scared, we are easily fooled. Politicians and corporations can’t resist the temptation to manipulate this animal instinct – like when we started a war without having been shown any serious proof of its legitimacy.

One could expect that the mainstream media in its role as guard dog was attacking those politicians that create black & white polemics. However, currently most (privately owned) media echo the voice of corporations, which these days doesn’t differ much in substance from that of the government. As a result alternative and more nuanced voices are underrepresented in cultural discourse which, again, makes it harder to produce well informed decisions.

And, when considering the information that is filtered thru to a broad audience – one also notes the slow, but steady disappearing of the separation line between news media and entertainment. American academic Daniel Hallin argues that the average time for sound bites politicians are given in media performances has shrunk from forty seconds in the 1960s to ten seconds in 1988. Hallin’s crucial point is that he believes that the biggest victim of this still on going process is the careful scrutinizing of social problems. This results in so called ‘horse race’ news – news about politics presented as a game of ,,who’s the most witty” in which politicians try to be popular instead of reasonable. The blur of catchy one-liners reaching the audience creates a further alienation from reality.

Taken together an assault on leisure, repetition of information, fear policies and the transformation of our media outlets from guard dogs to lap dogs create a situation wherein our spirit for the common good slowly dissolves into an ocean of noise, distraction and misinformation.

Meanwhile, the social environment which politicians, corporations and media gurus are constructing produces anxieties and illusions in order to make profits or political gains. Together these social forces act as a gravitational pull for government and corporate empowerment. That is to say, they pull away strength from the people to participate in the maintenance of a mentally healthy, meaningful democratic environment.

Thomas Jefferson once argued that a government should fear the power of the people. In that respect the apathy with which the audience in general responds to the revelations of Snowden is a cynical demonstration of our time frame. Although, however little, a message this confronting does still stir society a tiny bit. We are not completely brain-dead – and there is some hope in that.

Probably the best question contemporary Westerners can ask themselves is: will today’s power structure be able to obscure these clear violations of human civil rights or is this message too loud to ignore?

Or to say it more bluntly than that: will there be a transition to a meaningful democracy in the West or to an advanced form of authoritarianism? What’s your point of view…

Read the original article at RINF.com

 

 

— By Akira The Don on Sunday, January 5th, 2014

By Akira The Don on Saturday, September 14th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 13.19.12From The Guardian:

Last week, Russell Brand was in hot water again after cracking a Nazi joke at the expense of GQ award sponsors, Hugo Boss. Here, he gives his side of the story.

I have had the privilege of scuba diving. I did it once on holiday and I’m aware that it’s one of those subjects that people can get pretty boring and sincere about, and sincerity, for we British, is no state in which to dwell, so I’ll be brief. The scuba dive itself was numenistic enough, a drenched heaven; coastal shelves and their staggering, sub-aquatic architecture, like spilt cathedrals, gormless, ghostly fish gliding by like Jackson Pollock’s pets. Silent miracles. What got me though was when I came up for air, at the end. As my head came above water after even a paltry 15 minutes in Davy Jones’s Locker, there was something absurd about the surface. How we, the creatures of the land, live our lives, obliviously trundling, flat feet slapping against the dust.

It must have been a while since I’ve attended a fancy, glitzy event because as soon as I got to the GQ awards I felt like something was up. The usual visual grammar was in place – a carpet in the street, people in paddocks awaiting a brush with something glamorous, blokes with earpieces, birds in frocks of colliding colours that if sighted in nature would indicate the presence of poison. I’m not trying to pass myself off as some kind of Francis of Assisi, Yusuf Islam, man of the people, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I ambled into the Opera House across yet more outdoor carpets, boards bearing branding, in this case Hugo Boss, past paparazzi, and began to queue up at the line of journalists and presenters, in a slightly nicer paddock who offer up mics and say stuff like:

“Who are you wearing?”

“I’m not wearing anyone, I went with clobber, I’m not Buffalo Bill.”

Noel Gallagher was immediately ahead of me in the press line and he’s actually a mate. I mean I love him, sometimes I forget he wrote Supersonic and played to 400,000 people at Knebworth because he’s such a laugh. He laid right into me, the usual gear: “What the fook you wearing? Does Rod Stewart know you’re going through his jumble?” I try to remain composed and give as good as I get, even though the paddock-side banter is accompanied by looming foam tipped eavesdroppers, hanging like insidious mistletoe.

In case you don’t know these parties aren’t like real parties. It’s fabricated fun, imposed from the outside. A vision of what squares imagine cool people might do set on a spaceship. Or in Moloko. As we come out of the lift there’s a bloody great long corridor flanked by gorgeous birds in black dresses, paid to be there, motionless, left hand on hip, teeth tacked to lips with scarlet glue. The intention I suppose is to contrive some Ian Fleming super-uterus of well fit mannequins to midwife you into the shindig, but me and my mate Matt just felt self-conscious, jigging through Robert Palmer’s oestrogen passage like aspirational Morris dancers. Matt stared at their necks and I made small talk as I hot stepped towards the preshow drinks. Now I’m not typically immune to the allure of objectified women but I am presently beleaguered by a nerdish, whirling dervish and am eschewing all others. Perhaps the clarity of this elation has awakened me. A friend of mine said, “Being in love is like discovering a concealed ballroom in a house you’ve long inhabited.” I also don’t drink so these affairs where most people rinse away their Britishness and twitishness with booze are for me a face-first log flume of backslaps, chitchat, eyewash and gak.

After a load of photos and what-not, we descend the world’s longest escalator, which are called that even as they de-escalate, and in we go to the main forum, a high ceilinged hall, full of circular cloth-draped, numbered tables, a stage at the front, the letters GQ, 12-foot high in neon at the back; this aside though, neon forever the moniker of trash, this is a posh do, in an opera house full of folk in tuxes.

Everywhere you look there’s someone off the telly; Stephen Fry, Pharrell, Sir Bobby Charlton, Samuel L Jackson, Rio Ferdinand, Justin Timberlake, foreign secretary William Hague and mayor of London Boris Johnson. My table is sanctuary of sorts; Noel and his missus Sara, John Bishop and his wife Mel, my mates Matt Morgan, Mick and Gee. Noel and I are both there to get awards and decide to use our speeches to dig each other out. This makes me feel a little grounded in the unreal glare, normal.

Noel’s award is for being an “icon” and mine for being an “oracle”. My knowledge of the classics is limited but includes awareness that an oracle is a spiritual medium through whom prophecies from the gods were sought in ancient Greece. Thankfully, I have a sense of humour that prevents me from taking accolades of that nature on face value or I’d've been in the tricky position of receiving the GQ award for being “best portal to a mystical dimension”, which is a lot of pressure. Me, Matt and Noel conclude it’s probably best to treat the whole event as a bit of a laugh and, as if to confirm this as the correct attitude, Boris Johnson – a man perpetually in pajamas regardless of what he’s wearing – bounds to the stage to accept the award for “best politician”. Yes, we agree, this is definitely a joke.

Boris, it seems, is taking it in this spirit, joshing beneath his ever-redeeming barnet that Labour’s opposition to military action in Syria is a fey stance that he, as GQ politician of the year, would never be guilty of.

Matt is momentarily focused. “He’s making light of gassed Syrian children,” he says. We watch, slightly aghast, then return to goading Noel.

Before long John Bishop is on stage giving me a lovely introduction so I get up as Noel hurls down a few gauntlets, daring me to “do my worst”.

I thanked John, said “the oracle award” sounds like a made-up prize you’d give a fat kid on sports day – I should know, I used to get them – then that it’s barmy that Hugo Boss can trade under the same name they flogged uniforms to the Nazis under and the ludicrous necessity for an event such as this one to banish such a lurid piece of information from our collective consciousness.

I could see the room dividing as I spoke. I could hear the laughter of some and louder still silence of others. I realised that for some people this was regarded as an event with import. The magazine, the sponsors and some of those in attendance saw it as a kind of ceremony that warranted respect. In effect it is a corporate ritual, an alliance between a media organisation, GQ and a commercial entity, Hugo Boss. What dawned on me as the night went on is that even in apparently frivolous conditions the establishment asserts control and won’t tolerate having that assertion challenged, even flippantly, by that most beautifully adept tool, comedy.

The jokes about Hugo Boss were not intended to herald a campaign to destroy them, they’re not Monsanto or Halliburton, the contemporary corporate allies of modern-day fascism; they are, I thought, an irrelevant menswear supplier with a double-dodgy history. The evening though provided an interesting opportunity to see how power structures preserve their agenda, even in a chintzy microcosm.

Subsequent to my jokes, the evening took a peculiar turn. Like the illusion of sophistication had been inadvertently disrupted by the exposure. It had the vibe of a wedding dinner where the best man’s speech had revealed the groom’s infidelity. With Hitler.

Foreign secretary William Hague gave an award to former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, for writing a hagiography of Margaret Thatcher, who used his acceptance speech to build a precarious connection between my comments about the sponsors, my foolish answerphone scandal at the BBC and the Sachs family’s flight, 70 years earlier from Nazi-occupied Europe. It was a confusing tapestry that Moore spun but he seemed to be saying that a) the calls were as bad as the Holocaust and b) the Sachs family may not’ve sought refuge in Britain had they known what awaited them. Even for a man whose former job was editing the Telegraph this is an extraordinary way to manipulate information.

Noel, who is not one to sit quietly on his feelings, literally booed while Charles Moore was talking and others joined in. Booing! When do you hear booing in this day and age other than pantomimes and parliament? Hague and Johnson are equally at home in either (Widow Twanky and Buttons, obviously) so were not unduly ruffled, but I thought it was nuts. The room by now had a distinct feel of “us and them” and if there is a line drawn in the sand I don’t ever want to find myself on the same side as Hague and Johnson. Up went Noel to garner his gong and he did not disappoint: “Always nice to be invited to the Tory party conference,” he began, “Good to see the foreign secretary present when there’s shit kicking off in Syria.”

Noel once expressed his disgust at seeing a politician at Glastonbury. “What are you doing here? This ain’t for you,” he’d said. He explained to me: “You used to know where you were with politicians in the 70s and 80s cos they all looked like nutters; Thatcher, Heseltine, Cyril Smith. Now they look normal, they’re more dangerous.” Then with dreadful foreboding, “They move among us.” I agree with Noel. What are politicians doing at Glastonbury and the GQ awards? I feel guilty going and I’m a comedian. Why are public officials, paid by us, turning up at events for fashion magazines? Well the reason I was there was because I have a tour on and I was advised it would be good publicity. What are the politicians selling? How are they managing our perception of them with their attendance of these sequin-encrusted corporate balls?

We witness that there is a relationship between government, media and industry that is evident even at this most spurious and superficial level. These three institutions support one another. We know that however cool a media outlet may purport to be, their primary loyalty is to their corporate backers. We know also that you cannot criticise the corporate backers openly without censorship and subsequent manipulation of this information.

Now I’m aware that this was really no big deal; I’m not saying I’m an estuary Che Guevara, it was a daft joke, by a daft comic at a daft event. It makes me wonder though how the relationships and power dynamics I witnessed on this relatively inconsequential context are replicated on a more significant scale.

For example, if you can’t criticise Hugo Boss at the GQ awards because they own the event do you think it is significant that energy companies donate to the Tory party? Will that affect government policy? Will the relationships that “politician of the year” Boris Johnson has with City bankers – he took many more meetings with them than public servants in his first term as mayor – influence the way he runs our capital?

Is it any wonder that Amazon, Vodafone and Starbucks avoid paying tax when they enjoy such cosy relationships with members of our government?

Ought we be concerned that our rights to protest are being continually eroded under the guise of enhancing our safety? Is there a relationship between proposed fracking in the UK, new laws that prohibit protest and the relationships between energy companies and our government?

I don’t know. I do have some good principles picked up that night that are generally applicable; the glamour and the glitz isn’t real, the party isn’t real, you have a much better time mucking around trying to make your mates laugh. I suppose that’s obvious, we all know it, we already know all the important stuff like: don’t trust politicians, don’t trust big business and don’t trust the media. Trust your own heart and each another. When you take a breath and look away from the spectacle it’s amazing how absurd it seems when you look back.

Read the origonal article  at The Guardian

— By Akira The Don on Saturday, September 14th, 2013

By Akira The Don on Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

From Red Ice.

— By Akira The Don on Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

By Akira The Don on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

WOW. Steve Heller of Design Observer has only gone and dug up Hitler’s brand guidelines - a 70-page, full-color style manual for the proper use of Nazi insignia, graphics, and typefaces. Forsooth:

Designers and design historians told me over the years that they had heard about the existence of a Nazi graphics standards manual. No one could say they actually saw it, but they knew of someone who had. So it grew into something of a Big Foot or Loch Ness Monster tale, until one day I actually saw it too – and it had been right under my nose the whole time.

I had envisioned a manual of the kind that Lester Beall did for International Paper or Paul Rand did for IBM, showing acceptable logo weights and sizes, corporate typefaces and colors. I was so familiar with these standards manuals, that it never even occurred to me they were postwar formats — and decidedly modern. Maybe the Nazis did theirs in a different way.

The policing of all things Swastika was the responsibility of Dr. Robert Ley, the head of the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF) and the Strength Through Joy (Kraft durch Freude, KdF). Known as much as anything for his heavy drinking, this former editor of the anti-Semitic newspaper, Westdeutsche Beobachter, was not a designer or art director, but garnered considerable power owing to his intense loyalty to Hitler. One of his most ambitious design initiatives was taking over the development of the Volkswagen (people’s car) from Porsche.

Perhaps a lesser, though significant, responsibility was developing a NSDAP handbook that detailed the organizing principles and mechanics of building the Nazi movement. It is this 550 page, red cloth-bound book titled Organizationsbuch der NSDAP, with the symbol of “Greater Germany” embossed in silver on the front, which turns out to be the elusive standards manual. The DAF was also responsible for typesetting guides and other graphic arts handbooks, but this is the graphic masterpiece of the Master Race.

Published in 1936, The Organizationsbuch der NSDAP (with subsequent annual editions), detailed all aspects of party bureaucracy, typeset tightly in German Blackletter. What interested me, however, were the over 70 full-page, full-color plates (on heavy paper) that provide examples of virtually every Nazi flag, insignia, patterns for official Nazi Party office signs, special armbands for the Reichsparteitag (Reichs Party Day), and Honor Badges. The book “over-explains the obvious” and leaves no Nazi Party organization question, regardless of how minute, unanswered.

Read the rest here.

Via Disinfo.

— By Akira The Don on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

By Akira The Don on Saturday, September 11th, 2010

From Bad Science:

This week the pope is in London. You will have your own views on the discrimination against women, the homophobia, and the international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape. My special interest is his role in the 2 million people who die of Aids each year.

In May 2005, shortly after taking office, the pope made his first pronouncement on Aids, and he took the opportunity to come out against condoms. He was addressing bishops from: South Africa, where somebody dies of Aids every 2 minutes; Botswana, where23.9% of adults between 15 and 49 are HIV positive; Swaziland, where 26.1% of adults have HIV; Namibia (a trifling 15%); and Lesotho, 23%.

This is ongoing. In March 2009, on his flight to Cameroon (where 540,000 people have HIV), Pope Benedict XVI explained that Aids is a tragedy “that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.” In May 2009, the Congolese Bishops’ Conference made a joyful announcement: “in all truth, the pope’s message which we received with joy has confirmed us in our fight against HIV/AIDS. We say no to condoms!”

This is not a remote problem. The pope’s stance has been supported, in the past year alone, by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster. “It is quite ridiculous to go on about AIDS in Africa and condoms, and the Catholic Church,” says O’Connor. “I talk to priests who say, ‘My diocese is flooded with condoms and there is more AIDS because of them.’”

Some have been more imaginative in their quest to spread the message against condoms. In 2007, Archbishop Francisco Chimoio of Mozambique announced that European condom manufacturers are deliberately infecting condoms with HIV to spread AIDS in Africa. Out of every 8 people in Mozambique, one has HIV.

It was cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo of Colombia who most famously claimed that the HIV virus can pass through tiny holes in the rubber of condoms. Again, he was not alone. ‘The condom is a cork,’ said Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Spain, ‘and not always effective.’

In 2005 Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, explained that scientific research has never proven that condoms ‘immunise against infection’. He’s right, they don’t. They stop the virus which kills you from being transmitted during sex. Which is very, very useful of them.

How effective are condoms? It’s wise not to overstate your case. The current systematic review of the literature on this question published by Cochrane found 14 observational studies (because it’s unethical to do a randomised trial where you actively stop people using condoms, since you know that they work, but just want to find out how well they work).

These studies generally looked at HIV transmission in stable couples where only one partner has HIV. Many of them looked at transfusion patients and haemophiliacs. Overall, rates of HIV infection were 80% lower in the partners who reported always using a condom, compared to those who said they never did. 80% is pretty good. I’d like 100%, for everyone’s sake. I have 80% (although condoms do also protect against cervical cancer, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and more).

In fact, there is no single perfect solution to the problem of Aids: if things were that easy, it wouldn’t be killing 2 million people every year. Telling people to abstain doesn’t make everyone abstain, and telling people to use condoms won’t make everyone instantly and consistently use condoms.

You do everything all at once, urgently, because 2 million people are dying every year. ABC is a widely used prevention acronym in Africa: abstain, be faithful, use a condom. Picking one effective measure out and actively campaigning against it is plainly destructive.

Ratzinger has proclaimed that “The most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is in fact the Catholic Church and her institutions.” This is a ludicrous claim. They’re the only major influential international political organisation that actively tells people not to do something that works, on a huge scale.  Their own figures show that their numbers are growing in Africa, even faster than the population does.

I don’t mind what anyone believes, I’m happy for you to suggest abstention. But sabotaging an effective intervention which prevents a disease that kills 2 million people a year makes you a serious global public health problem.

07 Thanks For All The AIDS by Akira The Don

— By Akira The Don on Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Friday, January 29th, 2010

— Friday, January 29th, 2010