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Human error


This video is worth watching through. It’s a heartfelt statement against nuclear power in a country that has experienced some of the worst effects of our obsession with splitting atoms. Interesting particularly as a political statement being expressed through the form of a live concert.

I don’t know, I guess I have a thing for political music.

The Fukushima disaster has certainly provoked a massive global debate about the safety of nuclear power and the alternatives. When I wrote about the subject in the special issue of New Internationalist on nuclear power, I got the sense from many people I spoke with that the legacy of Chernobyl was starting to fade and that the nuclear industry was starting to enjoy a resurgence, especially as concerns about climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions have come to the fore.

Now, sadly, we have a more recent disaster to focus the mind on the dire consequences of going down the nuclear path. Recently, it has emerged that during the peak of the crisis, authorities were even considering evacuating Tokyo even as they were trying to reassure the public and do damage control. Crazy.

Read Greenpeace’s latest report Lessons from Fukushima for more info.

Climate disobedience

First published on the New Internationalist Blog – 3 July 2009.

Last summer, 29 people stopped a morning train carrying 1,000 tonnes of coal on its way to Drax power station in Yorkshire. Drax is the largest single source of carbon dioxide in the UK and the largest single producer of the acid-rain-forming nitrous oxide in Europe. If it were a country it would be ranked in the top 100 greenhouse gas polluting nations. It burns coal – a lot of it. Like 13 million tonnes of it every year.

So it is for these reasons that 29 people, concerned about climate change and frustrated by government ineptitude felt obligated to take direct action. They stopped the train with a bright red flag on a stretch of track which only went to Drax. Careful to follow standard railway safety rules, calmly boarded it as some people spoke to the driver, and began shovelling the coal off the train. Continue Reading →

Kicking it Pyongyang-stylie

First published in New Internationalist – Issue 422 – May 2009.

The British ambassador to North Korea, Peter Hughes, came under heavy fire recently for posting what has to be the rosiest-ever depiction of life in one of the world’s most closed and authoritarian societies. Hughes, blogging for the Foreign Commonwealth Office, waxed lyrical about the recent ‘elections’:

‘There was a very festive atmosphere throughout the city. Many people were walking to or from the polling stations, or thronging the parks to have picnics or just stroll. Most of the ladies were dressed in the colourful traditional hanguk pokshik and the men in their best suits. Outside the central polling stations there were bands playing and people dancing and singing to entertain the queues of voters waiting patiently to select their representatives in the country’s unicameral legislature. The booths selling drinks and snacks were very popular with the crowds and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The list of successful candidates was published on Monday. There was a reported turn-out of over 99 per cent of the voters and all the candidates, including Kim Jong Il, were elected with 100 per cent approval.’

After much criticism, Hughes was forced to clarify that the 100 per cent approval was due to there only being one candidate fielded for every post and that the songs people were singing were political songs praising the nation and the leadership. Hughes, however, insisted his intention was to show the human face of Pyongyang. The fact of the matter is that Hughes wasn’t even able to blog from Pyongyang because ‘the technology to set one up is not available to us here’. Perhaps because the people are too busy singing and having picnics in the park to bother blogging about how happy they are…

Star Trek – Episode I: The G20 and the B.O.R.G. Supremacy

First published in New Internationalist – 2 April 2009.

G20 communiqué goes boldy nowhere where everyone has gone before…

Wide-angle shot of Starship Capitalist Enterprise. Captain James T Kirk Narrating.

Kirk: Captain’s Log Stardate 54352.9: This is our second mission to escort leaders from the Federation to planet G20 just on the edge of the Neutral Free Trade Zone. Unfortunately, the Enterprise has been in dire need of repairs after several entanglements with a mysterious mercantilist species from the derivatives quadrant known as the B.O.R.G. (or what Ship Doctor McCoy has cynically come to call the ‘Banking Oligarchs Ruining the Galaxy’). To date, we’ve tried to make peace with the B.O.R.G. but all attempts at communication have resulted in assimilation. Starfleet’s standing orders are to appease the B.O.R.G. on sight while the G20 leaders attempt to deal with the ongoing intergalactic economic crisis by having dinner cooked by universally renowned celebrity chef Jamie Oliver from the planet Pukka. A fragile truce holds as both the dreaded Romulan empire led by Praetor Sarkozy and the Klingons ruled by Chancellor Merkel are also attending, and both have suffered heavy losses to the B.O.R.G. as well, though they still blame the Anglo-Saxon United Federation of Planets for violating the Sub-Prime Directive. Continue Reading →

CIA enlarge their presence in Afghanistan

First published in New Internationalist – Issue 420 – March 2009.

Facing an impasse in their intelligencegathering activities in Afghanistan, the CIA have resorted to more potent methods for acquiring Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Having found that traditional methods of bribery and ‘persuasion’ weren’t getting them the results they desired, agents have found that the sex wonder-drug Viagra is proving a big hit with the warlord set.

According to The Washington Post, agents have found particular success with ageing male clan leaders, many of whom have multiple younger wives. After the benefits of the pills were explained and offered, CIA spooks would come back several days later with the newly invigorated elders beaming and eager to help.

CIA agents have a long history of bribery in the region, having originally recruited insurgents to fight against the then Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with machine guns, grenade launchers and money. But they are now finding it difficult to get their expense claims approved when trying to arm battlehardened warlords with further US military surplus. This may have something to do with the fact that those same weapons are now being used on US forces, or maybe it’s just because the economic crisis means arms giveaways are not as easy to come by. Either way, more creative solutions are now required.

‘Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people – whether it’s building a school or handing out Viagra,’ one CIA official told The Washington sPost. He went on to say that the blue pills could put chieftains ‘back in an authoritative position’.


2008 US election hijinks

First published in New Internationalist – November 2008 – Issue 417.

True tales of a mixed-up world

As the US elections are almost upon us, our team is watching intently to find out who is going to be the next source of Seriously column fodder for the next four years. In the meantime, there is a rich vein of pre-election posturing and gaffes and general scariness that we can, and shall, shamelessly mine.

Palin is on a mission from God

‘Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending soldiers out on a task that is from God.’

McCain offers his wife to topless beauty contest

‘I told her [that] with a little luck, she could be the only woman to serve as both the First Lady and Miss Buffalo Chip.’

Obama sees dead people

‘On this Memorial Day, as our nation honours its unbroken line of fallen heroes – and I see many of them in the audience here today – our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.’

Biden puts foot in it

‘I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.’

The baying mob at the gates

Baying Mob


If you live in Britain or read the British media, you would have no doubt heard about the controversy surrounding the broadcast of The Russell Brand Show on Radio 2 which has dominated the headlines for nearly two weeks now. Brand and his guest, fellow comedian and broadcaster Jonathan Ross, had obtained the mobile phone number of veteran comedian and actor Andrew Sachs who was due to appear on the same show, but hadn’t shown up. Sachs is much loved by the British public for his role as the waiter Manuel in the 1970s hit show Fawlty Towers. Brand and Ross proceeded to leave messages on Sachs’ answering machine that were perceived by many to be rude and obnoxious including comments about Sachs’s grandaughter, burlesque dancer Georgina Baillie, who later admitted to having slept with Brand. So far, so yawnworthy. In fact, only two people had bothered to complain to the BBC after the show was broadcast. Continue Reading →

Autumn cannibalism

Autumn Cannibalism by Salvador Dalí

A recent farewell letter by famed hedge fund manager Andrew Lahde, gives an interesting insider’s perpsective into the financial crisis. Lahde’s fund, Santa Monica-based Ladhe Capital, made headlines when it produced over 1000% returns for its investors in 2007. How did it achieve this? By betting on the sub-prime mortgage market. The more it fell, the more money was made through clever use of ‘short selling’ – borrowing assets such as stocks, then selling them on with the assumption that their value will drop, and then buying them back cheaper so they can be returned to the lender, with the profits pocketed by the short seller. Continue Reading →

Bang your head

First published in New Internationalist – Issue 416 – October 2008.

A US defence contractor, Sierra Nevada Corporation, is claiming to have developed a technology that allows sounds to be beamed directly into people’s heads. According to the New Scientist, the kit, dubbed MEDUSA (Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio), uses microwave pulses to heat tissue inside people’s skulls, causing a less than charming audible effect. The pulses can be manipulated to transmit particular sounds, potentially voices and eventually Eurovision song contest runner-ups. The technology is designed for crowd control and psychological warfare, making it appealing to the police, military and nutjobs.

Imagine a situation at the next G8 Summit, whereby a phalanx of police wielding MEDUSA ray guns, fire a volley of Cliff Richard’s greatest hits at an unsuspecting group of protesters. Because the sounds don’t travel through the eardrum, they can’t be blocked out and are also not constrained by normal audible limits. The victims would be forced to hear Sir Cliff singing ‘Summer Holiday’ at an inhuman volume. However, police and military forces that use such technology should be prepared for inevitable escalation as it would only be a matter of time before activists got their hands on the technology too, opening up the possibility for retaliatory attacks of KRS One’s ‘Sound of da Police’ or Rage Against the Machine and NWA’s various heartfelt tributes to the police services.

KRS One:
Sir Cliff:

Life on Mars

First published in New Internationalist – Issue 415 – September 2008.

The web is abuzz with speculation about an as yet undisclosed ‘discovery’ made by NASA’s Phoenix Lander which is currently exploring the arctic region of the planet Mars. Scientists behind the mission are reported to have personally briefed US President George Bush about some ‘provocative’ data collected by the Phoenix Lander. The NASA team and the White House are keeping tight-lipped about their findings, though they are expected to hold a press conference in a month’s time.

The Phoenix mission has already confirmed that there is water-ice on the planet and tests on the soil suggest that it is remarkably similar to Earth’s. The secrecy surrounding these new undisclosed findings and the fact that the scientists personally briefed the President suggest that something potentially quite, er, earth-shattering has been uncovered. But what can it be?

We asked Seriously’s own panel of scientific experts what they thought it might be. Here are a few of their more plausible theories: there’s intelligent life on Mars but no sign of it in the White House; the Phoenix Lander is really in Phoenix, Arizona, surveying someone’s back garden (though still making some profound discoveries of extra-terrestrial life); oil, big gloopy oceans of the stuff which would also mean that there was life, but hey, did we forget to mention the oil, Mr President?; Saddam’s WMDs; Martian WMDs which therefore means we need to invade post-haste. Osama Bin Laden reclining in a beach chair and sipping Mai Tais with Elvis; Mars is really made up of a milk chocolate exterior with a soft nougat centre; the Phoenix Lander was denied an entry visa and is being deported; a large black stone monolith; the Statue of Liberty half-buried in the Martian soil; Le Petit Prince; or the remnants of what looks to be a Large Hadron Collider eerily similar to one that’s just about to be turned on in Switzerland.

In all likelihood it’s something incredibly mundane like a dull reddish-brown rock or a new car advert. What we do know, though, is that the truth is out there…