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An anarchist May Day April 30, 2007

Posted by Andreas in anarchism, History, Politics, Work.
3 comments

The 1st of May is celebrated as worker’s day in most countries around the world, but few people are aware of the fact that the tradition began in commemoration of four anarchist trade unionists executed in the United States.

On the evening of May 3 1884, a rally was held in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, a busy commercial centre at the time, as part of a nationwide campaign for an eight-hour working week. The event and speeches were calm and orderly until police attempted to disperse the assembled workers.

A bomb was thrown towards the advancing police, killing a policeman by the name of Mathias J. Degan .

bomb

The police opened fire immediately and in the fighting that ensued seven more policemen and at least four workers were killed and many more injured.

The bomb-thrower was never found, but eight men (August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe) connected directly or indirectly with the rally and its anarchist organisers were charged with Degan’s murder.

The trial, which is often described by legal experts as one of the worst cases of miscarriage of justice in United States history, resulted in a 15 year jail sentence for Neebe and the death penalty for the other seven.

Fielden and Schwab’s sentences were subsequently commuted to life in prison and Lingg committed suicide on the eve of his scheduled execution.

Spies, Parsons, Fischer and Engel were hanged on November 11 1887.

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Molotov Cocktail – a new South African magazine April 28, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Magazine Reviews, Politics, Society, South Africa, Southern Africa.
2 comments

Aimlessly looking over a CNA magazine rack the other day, I was quite excited to find a new South African mag called Molotov Cocktail. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the independent media in this country and have long thought there is glaring gap in the otherwise glutted magazine market for a progressive, even radical (heaven forbid), edgy, locally-produced title.

Personally I’d be especially excited by anything along autonomous, anti-authoritarian or anarchist lines, but this looked pretty good at a first glance – the provocative title, the cover art of a hand poised to throw a lit petrol bomb and the subtitle, Dismantling the Master’s House Brick by Brick, were all very promising.

molotov

All started reasonably well. The editorial talked about “inclusion not exclusion”, celebrating SA history, not fearing it and confidence trumping despair. But then this:

Molotov Cocktail broadly backs the principles and policies of the African National Congress. We believe that discussing the ANC with insight and generosity will be more interesting and productive than condemning the party out of ignorance.

Huh…! My heart sunk. You see, last time I checked, the ANC was having nothing to do with dismantling any master’s house. Quite the contrary, they were struggling to provide decent housing for the country’s poor and had in fact moved into the master’s old servant’s quarters at the back of the garage. This did not bode well.

I’m afraid to say that my fears were well founded. Having read my way through the whole issue, I realised that I’d been had by clever marketing. I had judged this book by its cover and was suffering the consequences.

I found Molotov Cocktail surprisingly conservative, predictable and for the most part just plain boring. I had hoped for an analysis of society’s current situation and progressive suggestions for a better world, but the magazine provided non of that.

There were some reasonably interesting contributions, such an organogram of “Money and Power” in South Africa, a good excerpt from Peter Hallward’s upcoming book Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment, and an enlightening short history of the 1808 Slave Rebellion in the Cape by Richard Gott. On the whole, however, this was mostly quite stale stuff.

The low-lights include an interview with Eeben Barlow which astonishingly manages to make this professional soldier, 32 Battalion veteran, DCC and CCB operative and former head of mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes look like a paragon of virtue and morality, and a rather pathetic homage to a young Thabo Mbeki, who, we are told, used to be a good, democratic communist in the 60’s and 70’s.

The second issue of Molotov Cocktail is due in June. If No. 01 is anything to go by, I suggest you save the 30 bucks and have a half-hour discussion with your conservative parents or colleagues – you’ll learn more about the problems in SA society and what needs to be done about them…

Consume, consume, consume April 26, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, renewable energy, Sustainable Living.
4 comments

Some time ago, in describing how renewable energy sources and energy efficiency are capable of reducing the effects of global warming without the “help” of nuclear power, one of the several reports I referred to was the American Solar Energy Society’s “Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.”.

I still think that the report is valuable in proving that we need atomic energy as much as a butterfly needs a parachute, but I just read this really good critique of the approach taken in the report by Don Fitz, in which the author insists that the underlying problem is society’s mad and ever-growing rate of consumption and growth.

I agree with him (see my previous posts on this here and here).

Here are a couple of excerpts from Fitz’s article:

Solar power, wind power and energy efficiency (EE) play vital roles in reducing CO2. The rub is the role of conservation, or reduction of total production. For “deep greens,” the most basic goal is social change that would foster the reduction of energy. For “shallow greens,” conservation is, at best, something to give lip service to while tunnel visioning on eco-gadgets.

[…]

The most important difficulty for EE is the market economy, which corporate environmentalists love so much and understand so little. Corporations do not compete to make less money. They compete to increase their profits. Market forces compel each corporation to expand production as rapidly as possible. When more efficient heating is available, corporations selling it will encourage customers to turn up their thermostats and run around in their underwear in the middle of winter.

[…]

This is not to say that EE plays no role in preventing the planet from frying. It is to say that EE must be accompanied with an intense program of conservation, economic redesign and governmental regulation. Without these, EE in a market economy is not merely worthless, but will likely result in expanded production and increased global warming.

[…]

Perpetual motion machines, biomass and biofuels will not halt species extinction caused by climate change. Again, efficiency and solar and wind power are critical components of a sustainable society. But focusing on them diverts attention from the real issues that need to be addressed — how to dramatically reduce energy production while improving the quality of life. This is the basis for the hard questions that corporate environmentalists avoid.

[…]

The global economy is increasing production of high-energy goods such as roads, cars, airplanes, fast food, meat and endless mountains of consumer crap. How do we change this to production of low-energy goods that people actually need, such as locally grown organic food, preventive health care and clothes and homes that endure?

[…]

The most basic task for stopping global warming is having a moral, ethical and spiritual revolution based on the belief that excessive crap is bad. Reduction of unnecessary production is the antithesis of what corporations are all about. However destructive it is for the planet, corporations must seek to convince people to consume more and more.

To bee or not to bee April 25, 2007

Posted by Andreas in bees, Environment, News, Sustainable Living.
1 comment so far

The worldwide Bee Cluedo continues. Honeybees in their billions are mysteriously disappearing from Colorado to Guatemala and from Brazil to Germany. “Colony Collapse Disorder” or CCD is laying waste to commercial hives around the globe and so far, scientists are in the dark as to the causes.

The New York Times puts it thus:

As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted, the rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven? Researchers have heard it all.

“Rapture of the bees” – that’s really funny in a tragic sort of way…

At least the cellphone connection seems to be bogus. The researchers who were quoted by The Independent as having shown that radiation from mobile phones may mess with a bee’s sense of direction are trying to set the record straight:

– they were using cordless phones, which work completely differently and have very short range;

– their studies cannot indicate that electromagnetic radiation is a cause of CCD.

According to them,

Ever since The Independent wrote their article, for which they never called or wrote to us, none of us have been able to do any of our work because all our time has been spent in phone calls and e-mails trying to set things straight. This is a horror story for every researcher to have your study reduced to this.

Green family superbikes April 24, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Life, Parenting, Society, Sustainable Living.
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I’d really love to own one of these:

moederfiets

clever cycles

family bike

I’m sure the kids would love it, but I’m a bit concerned about how safe these would be on SA roads…

Quote de jeur # 3 April 23, 2007

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", History, Politics, Quotes, South Africa.
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I’ve cobbled together a couple of quotes about African and Third World debt from Patrick Bond’s book Looting Africa.

In absolute terms, Third World debt rose from US$580 billion in 1980 to US$2.4 trillion in 2002 […]. In 2002, there was a net outflow of $340 billion in servicing this debt, compared to overseas development aid of $37 billion. As Brussels-based debt campaigner Eric Toussaint remarks, ‘since 1980, over 50 Marshall Plans (over $4.6 trillion) have been sent by the peoples of the Periphery to their creditors in the Centre’

[…]

[…] Africa now repays more than it receives. In 1980, loan inflows of $9.6 billion were comfortably higher than the debt repayment outflow of $3.2 billion […] by 2000, only $3.2 billion flowed in, and $9.8 billion was repaid, leaving a net financial flows deficit of $6.2 billion. […] By the early 2000s, the debt remained unbearable for at least 21 African countries, at more than 300 per cent of export earnings.

Nuclear power is dirty April 20, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Nuclear Power, Sustainable Living.
9 comments

Advocates of atomic energy love touting nuclear power as a source of clean and green electricity, but how clean is it really?

Below, is some information from the December 2006 issue of Elements – An International Magazine of Mineralogy, Geochemistry, and Petrology, which is published jointly by several North American and European scientific societies. The issue is entitled The Nuclear Fuel Cycle – Environmental Aspects and contains a series of articles by scientists who are described as “recognized leaders in their fields”.

Manufacturing fuel for nuclear power stations produces radioactive waste at every step of the process, but the largest volume of waste consists of mine and mill tailings (i.e. material that’s left behind after uranium ore has been mined and processed).

Mining of about 17 000 tonnes of 1% uranium ore is required to produce enough uranium to fuel a 1 GW(e) nuclear reactor for one year. To date, worldwide mining of uranium ore has generated approximately 938 million cubic meters of tailings from more than 4000 mines. In most cases, the tailings are disposed off by “near-surface impoundment” (i.e. burial) near the mine or mill.

With levels of radioactivity ranging from less than 1Bq/g to more than 100Bq/g, catastrophic or continuous release of contaminants from these disposal sites can have substantial impacts on the environment.

The principal radiation risks from uranium tailings are radon gas, windblown radioactive dust dispersal and gamma radiation. Mill tailings are also frequently associated with elevated concentrations of highly toxic heavy metals which are a major source of groundwater and surface water contamination.

Improper disposal of mill tailings in the past has led to substantial water and soil contamination and disposal sites with no effective containment of the tailings are widespread. Hundreds of incidents of containment failure, resulting mostly from slope instability, earthquakes, seepage and overtopping, have been reported (here’s an example that’s been in the news recently).

The most notorious of these sites is probably at Mailuu-Suu, the site of a former soviet uranium plant in Kyrgyzstan, which was recently voted to be one of the world’s ten most polluted places.

A typical 1GW(e) nuclear reactor generates approximately 20 metric tonnes of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel waste per year. In the USA, the current “inventory” of this type of material stands at about 62 000 metric tonnes and is projected to at least double by the end of the operating life of currently active nuclear plants.

At the moment, there are 443 atomic energy plants in operation worldwide (with some 24 more under construction). The current global inventory of spent fuel is about 270 000 metric tonnes.

Proponents of nuclear energy argue that for atomic power to have a significant impact on greenhouse gas reduction, a three to ten-fold increase in worldwide nuclear electricity generation is necessary by 2050.

The ten-fold increase scenario requires about 3500 new 1GW(e) atomic power stations to be built, which would produce some 100 000 metric tonnes of radioactive spent fuel every year.

The three-fold increase scenario would involve a new 1GW(e) plant to be constructed every several weeks and the high level waste generated would necessitate opening a waste storage site similar to the one proposed at Yucca Mountain in the USA every three to four years.

There is currently no long-term disposal site for high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world. About US$7 billion have already been spent on researching the viability of the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain (with an envisaged capacity of 70 000 metric tonnes equivalent of spent nuclear fuel), but the US government has not yet granted a license for this facility.

The point I’m trying to make here is, of course, that even though we are regularly told that nuclear energy is a very clean source of energy, this is certainly not the case if one considers the industry in its entirety.

The atomic energy industry generates wast amounts of toxic and radioactive waste that has already contaminated parts of our planet and much of which we have no idea what to do with as yet.

Doesn’t sound all that clean to me!

Are cellphones killing honeybees? April 18, 2007

Posted by Andreas in bees, Environment, News, Sustainable Living.
3 comments

The other day, I wrote about how genetically engineered crops have been suggested as a possible reason for the massive die-off of honeybees that has been documented around the world recently. I thought that was quite a scary scenario.

It seems, however, that scientists are pretty much in the dark about the actual cause of increased cases of Colony Collapse Disorder (a phenomenon that can occur naturally between late summer and early spring as older bees die, leaving behind the queen and a few immature workers incapable of sustaining their colony).

A new, small-scale German study now claims that “radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets” may be a possible answer to the mystery.

According to The Independent,

[…] a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause.

Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: “I am convinced the possibility is real.”

while the Telegraph reports that

[t]he researchers placed cordless-phone docking units, which emit electromagnetic radiation, into bee hives.

[…]

In some cases, 70 per cent of bees exposed to radiation failed to find their way back to the hive after searching for pollen and nectar […].

Until someone comes up with more conclusive evidence, I guess we shouldn’t get taken in by all of these rather speculative, but worrying, stories.

At the moment, this seems to be a case of Bee Cluedo – Dr. Monsanto in the apiary with a Motorola 3116.

Mercury in energy-efficient light bulbs April 17, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, News, Sustainable Living.
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I didn’t know that energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury, which is of course toxic, until I read this article in the Tennessean.

According to the story, each of these light bulbs contains about 4 milligrams of mercury (over 100 times less than in those old-style fever thermometers).

A nerve toxin that accumulates in the body, mercury can cause developmental delays in children. It’s needed as the catalyst to make the bulbs glow and glow brightly.

Officials say the bulbs should be disposed of as household hazardous waste — not in the trash — and, if they break, the debris should not be vacuumed.

They’re still better for the environment than conventional bulbs, though:

They need 75 percent less electricity than an incandescent bulb, which means less mercury as well as less carbon dioxide coming from coal-fired power plants.

[…]

Fossil-fuel power plants […] are a large source of and the top emitter of mercury, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

[…]

[…] the electricity for an incandescent bulb puts about 10 milligrams of mercury in the air, while about 2.4 milligrams results from a compact fluorescent light bulb.

I’m not sure that energy-efficient light bulbs sold in South Africa are marked as containing mercury (I’ll certainly check next time I buy one). Surely we need better customer education on their safe handling and disposal.

Book Review: Looting Africa by Patrick Bond April 16, 2007

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", Book Reviews, History, Politics, South Africa, Southern Africa.
5 comments

My rating: 6 out of 10 – lots of very valuable info, but quite academic.

I’m a big fan of Patrick Bond and have read several of his books, including Fanon’s Warning, Talk Left, Walk Right and Against Global Apartheid.

He has been one of the most consistently outspoken progressive voices and establishment critics in South and Southern Africa in the last few years. He combines grassroots activism with cutting-edge political and economic analysis and constantly illuminates crucial connections between the global north and south.

His books are, however, very technical, academic and dry and if you are not a political economist, you may find them rather heavy going. I’m left to wonder how much more impact and influence his work would have if it was more accessible to ordinary people. To people like myself the economic jargon tends to obscure rather than clarify matters…

Having said that, his latest book, Looting Africa – The Economics of Exploitation should be required reading for anyone who’s concerned about Africa’s future. In it, Bond basically addresses the question “Why is Africa still poor?”.

At the beginning of the book, Bond presents two opposing answers. The first, which is widely pushed by the liberal press and establishment, is that “Africa is poor, ultimately, because its economy has not grown…”. The second states that “Africa is poor, ultimately, because its economy and society have been ravaged by international capital as well as by local elites who are often propped up by foreign powers…”.

Obviously Bond is a proponent of the latter answer and he proceeds to present data and analysis to demonstrate that Africa’s poverty is not only a result of historic evils such as slavery and colonial-era extraction of resources and profits, but that comparable processes do in fact continue today “in an amplified way” via debt repayments and “African elites [who] have transferred their society’s liquid reserves to oversees accounts on an even greater scale […]”.

Among other issues, Bond discusses the continuing African foreign debt crisis, unequal and unfair trade and investment relationships, the role of the Bretton Woods institutions (International Monetary Fund and World Bank), China’s growing influence on the continent and South Africa’s increasingly sub-imperial role.

Looting Africa concludes with an assessment of the two predominant views on how to fight Africa’s continued impoverishment, either through paternalistic mainstream efforts (Global Call to Action Against Poverty, Make Poverty History, “Live 8”) or through radical grassroots civil society movements.