Archive for July, 2008

OFCOM, Channel 4 and that film – causing more harm than good

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Below is a letter from someone (Mark Dowd) who used to work in television – for Channel 4, in fact.  Mr Dowd wrote his letter to the Guardian in the light of the UK Commmunications Industry regulator’s (OFCOM) ruling about the film, the Great Global Warming Swindle, shown on Channel 4 in 2007. He was none too happy with the film -

So serious is the climate threat that I gave up TV after that film last year to work with Operation Noah, a faith-based campaign that calls for leadership from religious and political figures on global warming. I have done more than 30 public meetings so far this year and am in no doubt that the Durkin programme has given many people a fig leaf for carrying on with business as usual.

Ofcom’s report showed that Wag TV treated David King, Professor Carl Wunsch and the IPCC unfairly. Yet mysteriously it also found that “there is no evidence that the programme in itself did, or would cause appreciable potential harm to members of the public”. Just when are we going to stop this denial? As a species, we put 26bn metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year: three times the amount of 50 years ago. The correlation between CO2 and global heating was established in 1896 by the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius. But then they said there was no correlation between tobacco and lung cancer, didn’t they?
Mark Dowd
Operation Noah

Operation Noah’s website is here.

The Wild Driveway Story

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Copyright Franke James.  Read the full story here.

The Prime Minister sticking to his promises?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

From today’s news -

A campaigner against Heathrow Airport’s third runway has attempted to glue himself to Gordon Brown at a Downing Street reception.

Literally.

A word from the wise – JK Rowling’s Address to Harvard Graduates 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An excerpt on how imagination facilitates empathy -

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind. I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares about some of the things I saw, heard and read. And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before. Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places. Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise. And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid. What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

The view from my window

Friday, July 11, 2008

Featured on Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, one of the more influential blogs in US politics; Sullivan is also a regular columnist for The Sunday Times.

Land (and ecological) rights will be the new frontier

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Who owns land? Indeed, can one rightfully claim ownership of what were originally, before the rise of homo sapiens, ‘neutral’, ‘free’, or ‘unclaimed’ places? These are profound questions, ones that go right to the root of Western, industrialised, secular society.

You may have read in the media recently about the ‘previously uncontacted tribe’ in the Amazon (although the organisation that campaigns on their behalf, Survival International, never claimed the tribe was ‘previously uncontacted’).

Survival campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, one tribe of which, the Amazon Makuxi Indians, lives on a specially demarcated reserve. The official recognition hasn’t stopped a local farmer from using his political muscle and resources to intimidate them, however.  Here is troubling footage of what is happening to the Makuxi, conveying in a small way what has been happening for centuries all over the world; don’t watch it if you’re squeamish or young.

No doubt, rising oil prices, biofuels, the cost of food etc. are all playing their part in pressuring farmers and landowners. But what’s been happening in the Amazon, in Zimbabwe (land grabbing farmland ‘back from’ whites), Botswana (diamond prospecting ousting the Kalahari Bushmen) and elsewhere could just be the thin end of the wedge.

I suspect that people’s rights in relation to what some call ‘ecological services’ – healthy water, air, soil and, I’d perhaps add, experiences of wildness – will be the next frontier for those interested in society’s development, i.e. coming historically after democratic, women’s and civil rights progress in European and US social trajectories.


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