Thursday, December 3, 2009

Immigrants Wronged

Update: The Office of Foreigner Affairs has stated that Ben Frost's application for permanent residence was denied, but that he can continue here on a renewed temporary residence permit The fact that there was that much confusion surrounding the issue kinda proves my point, and I can't help but think that if Mr. Frost were less well known and the story hadn't been published he would likely not have gotten to renew his temp permit either...

It’s one of those situations that would make Kafka ask “Are you all high or something?”. More than a year on from the collapse of the Icelandic economy, hardly a charge has been brought, nary a report published regarding what has to be counted as one of the biggest, most blatant con jobs history.

The institutions responsible for figuring out what happened, why it happened, and who profited from it happening all claim to be under funded and swamped, and any information they do have is kept secret, either locked in the offices of Parliament or banned from publication because of bankaleynd. The only information released this week was the announcement that much of the information gathered will not be released for up to 80 years because it involves “personal information” i.e. salaries and bank statements.

Meanwhile young people, many of them well-educated family folk, are leaving the country to look for greener pastures in the outlands, causing the media to bemoan the brain drain and shrinking size of a country which just recently managed to spawn its way over the 300,000 mark.

At the same time an organization has sprung up that vows to physically prevent people from being evicted from their homes due to repossession orders, and the papers are a buzz with tales of how Icelandic immigration laws are being used to keep non-EU immigrants trapped in abusive marriages.

So people are bailing, and the people who caused them to bail are protected by banking laws that prevent their financial information from being made public, or even being made readily available to the people investigating the collapse. People facing the likelihood of loosing their homes are being offered a radical form of help, and women victimized twice over, once by their spouses and once by the state are finally getting a fair hearing.

At the same time, buried in the back section of Mogginn, we learn that a tax-paying, self-employed (he runs a recording studio amongst other things), home owning Australian father of an Icelandic child by the name of Ben Frost is being deported after he was denied a renewal for his residency.

The reason?

He didn’t earn enough money his first year in the country.

Now, this begs the question, if the banksters that sunk the Icetanic are protected by laws that make it massively difficult, expensive, and time consuming to get at their financial data, how come this poor guy’s finances are an open book to the Office of Foreigner Persecu…I mean “Affairs “?

And why would said office move to deport a tax-paying, home-owning, Icelandic child-raising man who has actually managed to make a living as an artist (and hence, as he states in the article cannot be accused of “stealing jobs from Icelanders”) who wants to stay here? Why further decrease the State’s tax base, let alone deprive a child of access to their father? Isn’t it a tad odd that the same government that wails about Icelandic families being forced to move abroad for economic reasons sees fit to expel someone who wants to stay and is contributing to the tax rolls? Where are the people offering to defend him from being evicted not only from his house, but from his business, his family, and his work? Where is the media buzz about this guy being fucked over by immigration law?

The only answer I can come up with is the same one I’ve ranted about before, namely that the Office of Foreigner Affairs, formerly the Office of Foreigner Surveillance, has an unwritten policy of using any means at its disposal to deport as many non-EU immigrants as they can. I don’t know if it’s because they’re miffed at not being able to easily deport EU immigrants, or if they just figure that non-EU equals “dirty brown people”, or if they’re just balls-out equal-opportunity xenophobes. Either way, it’s not just wrong, its stupid.

Predictable, but stupid.

One of the first symptoms of economic downturn tends to be scapegoating foreigners for “stealing jobs” or “free-loading on benefits”. As for the first, most of the immigrants that are still here are working at the same kind of jobs we had during those flat-screen colored Hummer-scented days of yore, i.e. the jobs Icelanders didn’t want, and judging from the problems the Social Services and other organizations that pay low wages for under-appreciated work are having rehiring after thousands of foreign workers that left the country over the last year, they still don’t want.

As for “free-loading on benefits”, no matter what the published regulations say, non-EU immigrants can’t even apply for social benefits, like rent support, unemployment, or student loans, without calling down the full fury of the authorities on their heads. Even EU immigrants, who legally have the right to benefits are regularly denied them via various bureaucratic means (like a couple I know that was denied rent-support because the apartment they rent “did not fulfill the requirements” despite the fact that it did last year, when it was rented out to Icelanders).

So what should we do about this? Essentially we have an institution that collectively acts to persecute people for violations of rules that they do their damnedest not to share, or even write down, who’s decisions are made in nigh-secrecy and who’s rulings cannot be appealed, backed up by a long tradition of official xenophobia (including everything from the “special understanding” that kept black servicemen off the NATO base for years, denying Jewish refugees asylum during WWII and then denying “Arab” refugees asylum due to the wars the government pledged support for, or even the fact that the law legalizing the murder of “Turks” was still on the books until the 90’s).

In an ethical society, such an institution would be shut down; it’s ethically defensible functions shifted to a new organization unpolluted by its predecessor, and all the cases, laws, and regulations reviewed. The very fact that this institution operates under the offices of the newly renamed Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is so full of irony that you could make nails out of it.

But that’s not going to happen here. Leaving aside the fact that the ministry in question once (and for all anyone seems to know still does) served as a cover for a domestic intelligence operation (something which no elected official with an ounce of sense or a hint of bone in the closet will tangle with), the fact is that their actions are viewed by a large segment of the population here as not only useful, but right.

There is xenophobia here, even though few will admit to it. I mean, look at the news over the last few years. There have been many reported cases of tax-paying law-abiding immigrants being deported on a technicality, and likely a great many that went unreported. There is the fact that Iceland as a rule simply will not accept asylum-seekers, no matter the justness of the refugee’s claims. Foreign activists have been placed under surveillance, deported or threaten with deportation for protesting, while Icelandic hate-groups with ties to violent skin-head organizations are written off as “just confused teenagers”. The media continues to make sure to report the nationality of anyone accused of or charged with a crime, unless they’re Icelandic (as special exception is made for “technical” Icelanders, they get reported as an “Icelandic citizen of such-and-such descent”), giving the impression that all criminals are foreign, and hence all foreigners criminal.

This sort of engrained thinking is not going to change overnight and revamping and or totally overhauling the Office of Foreigner Affairs is nowhere near a priority in Parliament or society right now.

So what to do?

I have a cunning plan.

We put the rabid xenophobic bureaucrats to work for us. All we have to do is revoke the banksters citizenship, and maybe change a few names. Next thing you know the cops will be kicking down their doors, handcuffing them, taking all their money and documents as “evidence”, (after all, foreigners have no right to financial privacy or due-process in open court, at least when they are being persecuted by the Office of Foreigner Affairs) and before the banksters can say “boo” they’ll be deported to one of the don’t-call-it-a-concentration-camp asylum shantytowns in Greece, although they might have just enough time to hunger-strike in front of the police station.

Good riddance to bad rubbish and all that.

But of course, because the banksters are well connected to the powers that were and the powers that are, such an action would inspire a tidal wave of criticism and investigation, in all likelihood resulting in a top-to-bottom overhaul of the office, if not the creation of a totally new one. After all, we can’t have a state institution running around willy-nilly looking into people’s finances, detaining them at whim, or expelling them from the island at a moment’s notice. Such behavior would be roundly condemned and major changes made.

See, everybody wins in my world…

But we don’t live in my world. Which is sad, and not just due to this world’s worrying lack of Salma Hayek look-a-likes.

So the Aussie musician will probably be deported. So will I, eventually. So will a lot of good people who came here to try to make a life for themselves, who skimped and saved, got by on less than their Icelandic peers, with less support and more opposition from a government that does its damnedest to regulate us into a powerless pool of cheap labor and convenient scapegoats.

The stupidity of expelling productive people, whether for reasons of xenophobia, economics, politics, or simple bloody minded bureaucracy galls. The fact that it is accepted by so many, and actively pursued by the powers that be calls out for correction.

Ministry of Justice and Human Rights my ass…

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Aiming High

So what the hell. I'll post a Xmas list. Who knows? Maybe I'll get lucky and some bored rich person will see fit to pity-gift me.

Naw. I mean, I've got most of what I need. Those things that I want I can probably get on my own, and frankly, I'm learning that large amounts of stuff just isn't the way I roll yo.

That being said, this Xmas I have a couple of things I really want, namely a portable hard-drive thingy that you can hook up to the TV (with a remote). I want this because it will allow me to put all my DVD's into a little easy to access package, hence opening up lots of room for more books.

I'm not going to hold my breathe for that one.

So cheap and nerdy it is:

DVDs:

Second season Dark Angel
Buffy the Vampire Slayer box set
Stargate SG1 seasons 2-7
Watchmen

House Stuff:

Black or steel electric kettle
Black, dark blue, dark green bed sheets, pillow cases, duvet covers
Roll up yoga mat
IKEA gift certificate

Clothes:

Dark snow boots size 46
leather gloves

Books:
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher except "Small Favor" (have it all ready)
Any Brian Jaques Redwall books to come out in the last two years.
"The Hanged Man" by Francesca Lea Bloc
"Waking the Moon", "Aestival Tide", and "Black Light" by Elisabeth Hand


Random geek stuff:

A sporran
Sword, spear, axe, shield anything that says "I read way too much fantasy".
a bodhrán

I reserve the right to amend this list if it starts to look like anyone is buying this stuff for me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Immigrant Song


When I first came to Icelandic back in ´94, everyone and their mothers insisted on informing me that Led Zeppelin´s 'Immigrant Song' was about Iceland.

Hence this silly little parody...

Ahhh ahh ahh ahh!

Ahh ahh ahh ahh!>We come from the land of the snow and ice

Where they sell the beer for too high a price!

The failure of our banks

Will drive our youth

To new lands

Flat screens and Hummers

Borrowing and buying

Glitnir I am blaming you!

And so we shop

At the discount store

Our only goal to leave these

Bankrupt shores!

Ahhh ahh ahh ahh!

Ahhh ahh ahh ahh!

We come from the land of the ice and snow

Where the market suck and bankers blow!

How soft their heads, so dumb

Those banskter boys of yore,

Of how they claimed to know their shit,

We all went overboard!

And so we weep, as we leave these shores

Our only hope to work Canadian stores!

Or maybe we’ll rise up, reclaim all these ruins

Cause pots and pans could win the day, despite the useless choosin!

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
Ahh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Who knew I needed to learn Chinese?


So even though there is little or no mention of it in the course catalog, it turns out that for at least two (possibly three or four) of the required classes for the MA program I signed up for require a working knowledge of calculus.

So, yeah, FAIL!

Now, I know I'll be accused of being over-dramatic, or people will continue as they have been to tell me that it will "all work out" and that I "just need a little help".

Bullshit.

It's not that I'm ungrateful for the attempts at pepping me up, its just that I am aware of my own failings.

Math is one of them. A big one.

In every other subject I've ever studied, I've always had that "eureka" moment, that moment when things fell into place and suddenly I understood what I was learning.

Not so with math.

Ever since I can remember it has been immensely difficult, from my multiplication tables up to the basic trig I got forced into in high school. Math has always been a struggle, a constant reworking of problems that I constantly got wrong, wrestling with concepts that slid away from my comprehension like ice off a hot griddle.

That would have been ok, I guess. Everyone has something they find difficult, nigh impossible to get. For some its literature, for some its history, for others its science, and for some its languages. Fine.

But the thing is, because I was an exceptionally good student, not only was I not allowed to simply coast through math with a high D (I was one of those kids who if I went home with an A got asked why I hadn't managed an A+), but it was simply assumed that not only would I be good at math, but that I'd like it as well.

I don't. I have full on panic-attacks when faced with equations. Hell, I've given up asking people to tutor me because I always wind up yelling at them.

Which just piled shit on top of the dung sandwich I had to chew every time a required math class raised its head.

After failing (miserably, repeatedly) at the last basic algebra class I had in 1997, I purposely and successfully avoided all math-related study, and I did very well.

After all, its not like math is something I use a lot in my daily life. I've never encountered an instance where my fiances were complicated enough to justify the use of a spreadsheet, and hence never learned how to use one. I've never (outside of mandatory math classes) had to solve an equation for anything.

And now its come back to haunt me.

Thing is, I'm still getting the same assumptions. "Oh, you're a smart guy, this will be no problem for you!" they say. "Don't worry, with a little extra help you'll do fine!"

Don't even get me started on how much I hate it when people say "just..." and "simply...." before launching into a spiel of what for me might as well be Mandarin.

I mean, yeah, you can learn Chinese literature without speaking Chinese, in translation. But you can't just expect someone in a Chinese lit class to then magically be able to compose poetry in Mandarin.

Which brings me to my point.

If you are going to have upper-level math a pre-requisite fine. But you should FUCKING TELL PEOPLE BEFOREHAND!

If I had known that calculus was a requirement for this program, I would have either A: not gone into this program, or if I thought it worth the time and effort B: gone back to some remedial night-school for 4 years or so until I could at least fake competence in the subject.

Instead I've essentially wasted most of my tuition and book money on a course of study that I cannot complete to any sort of decent standard without a further massive investment in time, money, and effort.

All to learn enough math to pass a required course so that I can go on to pursue studies in largely non-mathematical fields.

So...

If we let "x" equal my chances of passing this class as things stand, and "y" equal the amount of effort necessary to ensure passing the class, we get

[(x+job+stress+failure)/(y+costs+stress+years of study to the power of N)}

if we then graph that on the chart, you'll find the answer is right between "fuck"to the power of "ing" and "no" to the power of "way".

Adding a z axis to locate this point in three-dimensional space yeilds a location right next to a snowball in hell.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Corporate concubine...


Its one thing to be a corporate whore.

Sure, I oppose to whoring one's self out to a corp (FYI, as opposed to wage slavery, corporate whoring implies a servile, ass-kissing sort of debasement), but there is something worse.

I call it being a corporate concubine. That's when you are force to work for (i.e. "blow") a corporation/for-profit institution for free.

Like in one of the classes I'm taking right now.

5 groups of graduate students are all working on creating a sustainability plan for Landsvirkjun (the private/public corporation responsible for almost all dams and power plants in Iceland), meeting with officials of the company and then trying to sell them our ideas, which they will get copies of, for free.

They aren't paying us. They can use our ideas at will. And if we refuse to take part, we may fail the class.

In other words, we are giving valuable time, effort, and product to a for profit organization in order to receive a numerical estimate of our abilities, based on the judgement of someone who sees nothing wrong with such an arrangement.

How much does that suck?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The paper I turned in...


Samuel Levesque
Position Paper 1: Taking Sides

On the issue of whether or not sustainable development is compatible with human welfare my answer is a resounding “yes”, though not for any of the reasons put forward by Dinah M. Payne, Cecily A. Raiborn, or Ronald Bailey. While the authors question if sustainable development is compatible with human welfare, they fail to ask if industrialized capitalist corporatism is compatible with sustainable development.
Both articles are based on the premise that Globalist corporate capitalism and the so-called free market are inevitable, unchangeable, and therefore a given. While Bailey argues that continuing the current course of development will result in the system curing the very ills it produces, Raiborn and Payne argue that while the system produces ills, it can be reformed from within and without into a higher-minded force for ecological and social good. In essence Raiborn and Payne argue for the physician to heal himself, where as Bailey argues that smoking cures cancer.

It is my contention that any system in which a relative few control the vast majority of available resources in order to further profit those who own shares of said resources will never lead to a socially just, ecologically sound, and economically prosperous future for the vast majority of humanity. Instead the continued accumulation of resources necessary for life (land/soil, water, food, etc) into the hands of a select elite will result in a continuance of manufactured scarcity (which drives up profits) and manufactured needs (which increase consumption and drive up pollution) with all the human and ecological degradation that such a system entails, no matter how sustainable the practices of individual institutions become.
Far from accepting the argument that industrialism, let alone capitalist industrialism is a boon to mankind, and that somehow if left unchecked will correct the very problems it causes, I contend that by their very structures industrialism and capitalism (in particular corporatism) are themselves detrimental to human welfare and therefore have no real role in sustainable development.

In my view what is needed is not a tweak to the existing system, but a fundamental shift in how humanity supplies its basic needs, with an aim to meet those needs (as well as most of our less destructive wants) while repairing or restoring as much ecological vitality as possible. This happy situation can be realized not by simply changing the goods mass produced and the technical processes that produce them, but by changing the very nature of production. As E.F. Schumacher once put it, want is needed is not more mass production, but more “production by the masses”.

Small-scale, decentralized local production of the sort championed by Schumacher, Jerry Mander, Kirkpatrick Sales, and even Gandhi is far more likely to be ecologically sound (as it does not “export” its pollution over the horizon), egalitarian (see Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred), and adaptable than massive corporate structures, not to mention more profitable to those involved (if one counts profit as production for one’s own use) as there are no capitalist middlemen harvesting the fruits of other’s labor. The kind of top-down profit-driven “development” championed by the authors of both articles will only lead to continued ecological damage, just as top-down ideologically driven “reform” could very well lead to the sort inequality and enforced poverty that Bailey fears. Global sustainability must begin small-scale, decentralized, and free of hierarchal institutions to be adaptable to local ecosystems, populations, and economies.

Schumacher, E.F. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Harper and Row, New York. 1975.

Mander, Jerry. In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survial of the Indian Nations. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco. 1991

Sales, Kirkpatrick. Rebels Against the Future: Lessons for the Computer Age. Perseus Publishing, Cambridge. 1995.

“Gandhian Economics” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandhian_economics

The paper I wanted to write...


>Samuel Levesque

Position Paper 1: Taking Sides

On the issue of whether or not sustainable development is compatible with human welfare my answer is a resounding “yes”, though not for any of the reasons put forward by Dinah M. Payne, Cecily A. Raiborn, or Ronald Baily. While the authors question if sustainable development is compatible with human welfare, they fail to ask if industrialized capitalist corporatism is compatible with sustainable development.

Both articles are based on the premise that Globalist corporate capitalism and the so-called free market are inevitable, unchangeable, and therefore a given. While Baily argues that continuing the current course of development will result in the system curing the very ills it produces, Raiborn and Payne argue that while the system produces ills, it can be reformed from within and without into a higher-minded force for ecological and social good. In essence Raiborn and Payne argue for the physician to heal himself, where as Baily argues that smoking cures cancer.

It is my contention that any system in which a relative few control the vast majority of available resources in order to further profit those who own shares of said resources will never lead to a socially just, ecologically sound, and economically prosperous future for the vast majority of humanity. Instead the continued accumulation of resources necessary for life (land/soil, water, food, etc) into the hands of a select elite will result in a continuance of manufactured scarcity (which drives up profits) and manufactured needs (which increase consumption and drive up pollution) with all the human and ecological degradation that such a system entails, no matter how sustainable the practices of individual institutions become.

From my point of view, the authors of both works are simply engaged in greenwashing a toxic rainbow of capitalist dogma. Capitalism, at least in its current corporate form, works on laws that stand in stark contrast to those of sustainability, requiring infinite “growth” within the confines of a finite planet, requiring profitability no matter what the ecological cost, and concentrating wealth and power into tiny pockets, leaving a vacuum of the sort nature abhors everywhere else. Payne and Raiborn try to skirt this issue with a bit of semantics, using the word “business” when most often they mean “corporation”, the difference being that a business owned by a single individual, small cadre of partners, or cooperative members can legally take actions that are unprofitable if they feel the ethical need to do so, a corporation answers to its shareholders, who are legion, and is required by law to make decisions based not on the general good, but on how to maximize profits for their shareholders. If that can be achieved with sustainable practices, fine. However, if an ecologically unsound but more profitable option opens up, they are required by the rules of the market to take advantage of it.

Under capitalism “human welfare” is defined primarily in monetary values, and we humans are factored in as just another resource. True sustainability would (within the limits of human ability) strive to ensure that an empowered, prosperous humanity lives within its means as part of the nature world. Any system founded on the idea that some should gorge while others starve, that a distant elite should have the “right” to dictate local livelihoods based on their supposed ownership of local resources, and that “a rising tide lifts all boats” (which ignores the fact that it drowns all the boat less) cannot achieve the sort of sustainability that I feel is necessary for a just and fulfilling existence.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

To be or not to be...


...that is the question.

Whether it is nobler in Iceland to suffer the slings and arrows of second-class membership or apply for citizenship, and by so opposing, end it.

Ok, ok. Enough with the Bard.

Thing is, I want to be eligible for student loans, but as I am a non-E.U. permanent resident, I'm not.

Period.

End of story.

It doesn't matter that I'm a graduate of HÍ.
Doesn't matter if I've paid at least 10 years of taxes into the fund.
I'm a second class non-E.U. resident, so I can just fuck off.

Now, I'm eligible for Icelandic citizenship. This is no way means I'd get it if I applied. In all likelihood (judging from the tales other immigrants have told me) I'd have to apply several times, at 10,000ISK a pop, with all the bureaucratic BS it entails. Not to mention the possibility of the Office of Foreigner Surveillance (recently renamed Office of Foreigners, nor 'immigrants' mind you, 'foreigners) would suddenly discover some flaw in my residency and send me packing. After all, I'm stealing jobs from Icelanders.

If I was from an E.U. country, applying for student loans (not to mention housing assistance, disability insurance, unemployment payments, and a host of other services I help pay for but cannot apply for) would be no problem.

The hypocrisy of it really galls.

I mean, it effectively amounts to the State and all institutions thereof actively discriminating against me and others like me based on national origin, something they claim to be against. After all the 7 article of the Icelandic constitution bans discrimination based on national origin. (allir skulu vera jafnir fyrir lögum og njóta mannréttinda án tillits til kynferðis, trúarbragða, skoðana, þjóðernisuppruna, kynþáttar, litarháttar, efnahags, ætternis og stöðu að öðru leyti“).

Then there's the question of my U.S. citizenship. I may not be a big fan of the U.S. government but I do want to be able to go home at a moment's notice if my family needs my help, and while one is not required to give up their US citizenship if they gain citizenship in another country, they make it hard to keep, revoking one's citizenship if they can show "intent" on one's part to do so.

Meaning that if you've ever talked about it, written about it, or made less than "loyal" statements, poof, no more citizenship for you.

Add to this the fact that I am at heart against the very existence of the nation state, it bugs me to think of groveling for the supposed "right" to be essentially made the property of an institution that I have no real say in.

So its rock or hard place for me.

Damn

Jú sé jú vant e kónstitúsjón?


During the pot-and-pans pandemonium this last winter I for one wasn't protesting for new elections.

I was protesting, at my most stupidly optimistic, for an honest-to-goodness-wipe-the-slate-clean-declare-year-zero revolfuckinglution.

However, I was willing to settle for constitutional reform.

Remember that?

Remember the idea that it had become high-time to rewrite the overly long, overly complex, and totally unworkable Icelandic constitution?

Somewhere along the line, the whole idea just disappeared.

Poof!

No more constitutional reform.

Looking back at it, I remember a plethora of articles pointing out just how expensive it would be.

After all, highly paid experts would have to be fed (on food worthy of such worthies) and housed (in houses worthy of such worthies) for months at a time in Reykjavík (you can't expect anything of this magnitude to happen anywhere else, það er bara svo lómó út í sveit...) each with a cadre of highly paid assistants...and after all, the country was broke and so of course we can't afford it and blah blah blah.

Now, thinking about it, this was a very slick bit of PR. By convincing people that a new constitution was too expensive, the powers that were and the powers that were to be managed to torpedo one of the most popular and radical demands that all us skríl were out pounding our pots for.

But the argument that we couldn't afford a new constitution because its too expensive is based on the same sort of 2007/old school political thinking that got us into this mess to begin with. I mean, come on! The delegates can't keep in touch via teleconference? It's not like it's a good thing that they should all be huddled together in Rvk, far away from the people they are supposed to be representing. And who the fuck says they should be paid??? If you pay the delegates a buttload of money to write a new constitution you'll wind up with the longest, most convoluted constitution of all time because the so-called experts will be sure to keep writing and debating for as long as they keep getting paid.

Why would we even want a constitution written by a bunch of tie-wearing stuffed shirts sitting around their tax-payer provided luxury homes debating issues of rights and justice over snifters of tax funded brandy and tables of tax funded catering?

I say we make good use of the internets, and call for a citizens constitution, a document that anyone residing in Iceland can have a say in one and one that must be ratified by the people by national vote.

It would take a long time, the debates would be many, the arguments heated, but it wouldn't cost a dime and in the end, when we work out a set of simple ground rules that we can all agree on, we implement them.

Regardless of what that bunch of self-serving incompetents and ideologues in Alþingi say.

Think of it as the political version of citizen arrest.

I mean, seriously, what have we got to loose?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Boring, busy, and long


Seems to me that much economic thinking is buggered and blinded by prevailing myths about what life was like before the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. Which is why articles like this, drawing heavily from Sahlin's brilliant Stone Age Economics should be required reading.

An increasing consensus among anthropologists that hunter-gathers did not live lives that were "nasty, brutal, and short", in fact they tended to live lives of relative plenty, prosperity, and leisure.

We modern, industrialized consumer types, buried under a landslide of labor and stifled by a false sense of scarcity are in many ways far worse off, living lives that are busy, boring, and long.

One would think that with the increase in human knowledge over the course of history we could find a happy medium, but even amongst those that are working on major societal changes (sustainability, social justice, labor rights, etc) seem unable or unwilling to stare the truth in the face, namely that for nearly every wonder "progress" has wrought, said wonder has birthed a legion of evils.

This is not to say that I advocate the sort of return-to-Eden primitivism that certain lefty-greens seem enamored of (especially a lot of "deep" ecologists). What I advocate is the movement towards a society that enjoys the benefits of Sahlin's stone age economy along with the liberating (as opposed to enslaving, but that's another blog) technologies developed over the last few centuries.

Thinking that industrialized capitalism is going to solve the problems caused by industrialized capitalism is like thinking that tobacco cures cancer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sugar do do do do dudu ahhhh honey honey....


So the government passes a "sugar tax". The idea is simple: Increase government revenue, decrease the over consumption of unhealthy and empty calories, and make healthy foods more competitive vis a vis the consumer's wallet.

The result is predictable: The tax winds up applying to only some sugar-filled products but not to others (super sugary yogurt and skyr drinks for instance) and somehow winds up applying to sugar-free products like chewing gum. The over all effect is to raise food prices and increase inflation to the point where the increase in state revenues equals out to nil.

Icelandic lawmakers remind me of a chef who never washes his pots and then wonders why his creme brulee tastes like steak...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Still alive, more so than usual in fact...

I just haven't been bloggin cause I'm getting stuff done! YAY!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Posting term papers as blog entries is the height of laziness


If Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman are wrong, and the path to hell really is paved with good intentions[1], its worth noting that on our drive to Damnation we have to take a stop in Limboville. Limbo is the waiting place, reserved for those stuck between salvation and damnation, and while not all good intentions lead us into the pit, some certainly lead us round in circles.

Animal liberation, and its most visibly public offshoot, veganism, are two examples. While both are based on admirable intent, all too often they serve to do little more than preserve our status quo, and sometimes provide us with an off-ramp to the abyss.

This may sound harsh, but good criticism usually is. While there are facets of the Liberationist movement that I can whole-heartedly support, there is as much, or more of the movement that I feel bound to condemn.

It is hard to argue against the “goodness” of Liberationist intentions. The movement to secure legal and ethical consideration for animal well-being, to prevent cruelty, suffering, and waste, to reduce environmental damage and increase ecological well-being are all noble aims. The problem lies in that great contradiction called life, wherein even the most carefully aimed bolt occasionally fires wide, wounding without intent. Whereas I agree with the anti-vivisectionist stance of the animal liberation movement, I find that veganism is a bolt fired wide, or, to continue the metaphor, a detour towards heck.

Pragmatism versus Dogmatism

My primary problem with the Liberationist stance is that far too many people have accepted it as a kind of dogma. I have no issue, and I think one would be hard pressed to find any thoughtful person that would have issue, with an individual making the decision to adjure the use of any and all animal products. Personally, I maintain that one of the most basic rights anyone has is the right to control what they put into their own bodies, and what they reject. As a personal choice, I see nothing wrong with veganism, but as I will point out later, as a blanket solution or dogmatic demand, it can become very objectionable, if not subtly dangerous.

By the same logic, a blanket condemnation of vegans or liberationists is equally objectionable, and it is not my intention to condemn individuals but rather to point out those flaws I see within the movement they belong to.

One of my first objections to veganism is simply that I find it terribly impractical. I do not find it impractical because it requires a great deal of time and thought to search through labels to determine what one is really eating, clothing oneself with, or applying to one’s skin. On the contrary, I find it admirable. Rather I find it impractical because veganism claims to be solving the faults of an impractical system from within the confines of said system.

Liberationists decry industrial factory farming of animals, and with good reason. Factory farming is wasteful, cruel, and as a rule very damaging to the environment. But then again, so is the industrial farming of vegetables and other crops. While the vegan decries the terrible quality of life that the factory pullet or veal calf suffers, they rarely spare much thought to the poor people who pick their fruit, raise their cotton, and harvest their vegetables for poverty wages, in harsh conditions, whilst being slowly poisoned by pesticides. Nor do they take into account the amount of pollution spewed into the atmosphere to ensure that fresh fruit and vegetables can be had year-round at the local market.

The problem is not factory farming of animals. The problem is factory farming period. Take away the industrialization, make farming small-scale, decentralized, less mechanized, and local and farming in general becomes less wasteful, cruel, and environmentally damaging.

Yet veganism or at least the “shallow veganism” addressed by Dr. Michael W. Fox in his essay “Deep and Shallow Vegetarianism and Animal Rights” does not differentiate between animal products from vastly different sources, say between free-range poultry and factory-farmed, but instead rejects all animal products. Add in the rejection of animal labor, and veganism begins to work against many of the movements stated aims in regard to the environment and the elimination of word hunger.[2]

Perhaps a hypothetical is in order. Let’s say we have a small family owned farm of perhaps 60 acres in a relatively fertile area with a temperate climate. Now, many a vegan will tell you that this farm could feed a great many more people if planted exclusively in vegetable crops.[3] If that were the case, then the farmer would likely need at least one tractor to till the land, which would cost him in repairs, fuel, and replacement. Even with multi-cropping and other organic methods of pest control, he would likely loose a sizable amount of each harvest to pests, primarily insects, but also deer, rabbits, feral pigs, and other creatures. Even if all the vegetable wastes were composted and returned to the soil, he would likely have to bring in artificial fertilizer after a decade or so, as the soil begins to loose nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphates. After each harvest, the farmer and his family would have a lot of vegetables for sale and for their own use, though they would have to sell most of them to be able to afford clothing, fuel, machinery, fertilizer, and pesticides.

Now take the same farm and introduce a few animals. Start with free-ranging chickens and ducks which help aerate the soil with their scratching, and eat up scraps as well as insects, fertilizing the soil as they go. The birds would also provide eggs, meat, and feathers which could be used to stuff pillows and quilts. Then add a small herd of cattle, perhaps only five head, one bull, two cows, and two oxen. The cows would provide milk, and their manure could greatly offset the farmer’s fertilizer bills. Also, rotating his crops to allow the cows grazing on the fallow fields would greatly increase soil fertility. The calves could provide meat, and one or two male calves could be castrated for oxen, which would replace the farmer’s need for a tractor and expensive polluting fuel. Slaughtering the cattle would also provide the farmer with leather for clothing.

Finally, the addition of a few pigs, fed on household scraps and the gleanings from harvested fields would provide even more food and fertilizer. What’s more, using animal waste produced on the farm to create methane for cooking and running machinery would further reduce the farmer’s costs both in energy bills and fertilizer.

This is not an exhaustive list of the animals a farmer might choose to raise on such a farm. He could have a few goats or sheep, and get milk, meat, wool, and leather in the process. If he grows rice, he can have fish and crustaceans in the paddies. He can also choose to use the meat of some of the pests (up to and including insects, as is the case in many non-western cultures) that are attracted to his crops, rather than poisoning them, or sterilizing them as suggested in Animal Liberation.[4]

Veganism and Cultural Imperialism

Now, there are many places in the world where farms like this exist, mainly in developing countries and isolated rural areas that fall off the map in our increasingly metropolitan world.

And therein lies the second problem with veganism. Despite all of its best intentions, veganism is very much a product of the industrialized urban world complete with meta-narratives of Progress and Consumerism. When Peter Singer discusses farming in Animal Liberation his discourse very nearly rejects the existence of farms like those discussed above. Singer focuses almost entirely on factory farms, both because they obviously provide a more visceral backdrop to his arguments, but also because as a product of an industrialized urban society, that is the kind of farming that he is familiar with and sees as normal. While he points out that that factory farming is a relatively recent invention, he conveniently glosses over that in many if not most parts of the world agriculture still resembles the example above. Singer portrays the idyllic family farm as a mythology, something lost to the past. This betrays a wealth of assumptions and prejudices about the world especially when paired with phrases like “simple country folk”[5] implying intellectual superiority on behalf of the enlighten vegan. Factory farming of animals is taken as a given, an unchangeable aspect of speciesism, just as mechanization is seen as standard. After all, why would a farmer use oxen, horses, or mules to till his land when there are perfectly good tractors to be had? The answer is that very many people could never afford a tractor, let alone the fuel to run it. Dr. Fox explains:


Even if, and hopefully when, we see the end of all factory farms and of an agricultural system in the US that uses some seventy percent of the good land to raise feed primarily for livestock, farm animals -- or some other wild herbivorous species, such as buffalo -- will be needed for the nutrient cycling of grasslands and of crop residues in many ecological farming systems. So-called ''green manure,' where certain plants are grown specifically to be mulched as fertilizer as an alternative to animal manure or chemical fertilizers, cannot be produced in sufficient quantity in arid farming and rangeland areas. Also chickens, ducks, geese, sheep and goats play an important role in insect and weed control in organic orchards, vineyards and other ecologically diverse and integrated farming systems.

Without the draught-power provided by oxen and other animals like water buffalo, third world people would have great difficulty cultivating the land. Peasant farmers cannot afford tractors, which are environmentally and ecologically less acceptable anyway. And without the dried manure from their animals, these peoples would have insufficient fuel to cook their food and boil drinking water, especially in arid and deforested areas. Livestock provide the main, if not the only, financial buffer against famine for the poor when their own crops fail, because they can trade their animals for basic staples such as cassava and grains, or they can kill and eat them.[6]

While Dr. Fox’s “deep veganism” can see the necessity and utility behind animals on farms, the shallow dogmatic vegan view does not take this into account.

The same could be said for food culture. As has oft-times been noted, the last vestige of an immigrant’s culture to fade is their food. They may lose their native language, religion, or clothing, but food culture stays. But food culture is not as important to the vegan movement as food politics. I have lost track of how often I’ve heard vegans say something along the lines of “people have to learn that a meal doesn’t have to include meat”. While that may be true to a person who is raised in a culture without strong food traditions, if one replaces “meat” in the previous statement with the word “rice” and then proclaims this to a gathering of South East Asians, you would be considered culpably culturally insensitive. Likewise, like many raised in a community of “simple country folk” I never had any questions as to where and from what the meat I ate came from, no matter the Anglophonic semantics that in Singer’s view serve to “conceal its origins”[7], and find it slightly insulting that he assumes this would cause me to abhor the food of my childhood. As Peter Gelderloos puts it in “Veganism is a Consumer Activity”:

For all these reasons, vegans can come off as particularly insulting and racially exclusive when they insist that a vegan diet is healthier for everyone (not true, some people are healthier when they eat some meat) or when they propagate the peculiar mathematical view of food that a vegan meal, as a lowest common denominator, is the only dietary option that is inclusive to everyone.

It is also worth noting that the emphasis placed on health by the vegan movement is itself a very western construct. In the affluent west, where starvation and malnutrition seem all but nonexistent, and where obesity and other dietary disorders are rampant, it makes sense that vegans try to sell their ethos on the grounds that it is healthier. But in many places around the globe, where the most pressing concern is simply getting enough to eat, this focus on healthy eating (more often than not defined as being thin) seems insensitive at best, and downright racist at worst.

But it is when shallow veganism is applied to cultures far removed from the industrial world, in places like the steppes of Mongolia, the taiga of northern Eurasia, the Artic, or any small island in the midst of vast oceans that its true potential for cultural imperialism, or what Paul Driessen has taken to calling eco-imperialism, the “forceful imposition of Western environmental values”[8] on indigenous peoples and developing nations, really comes to light.

For example, the vast Eurasian taiga provides little in the way of plant-based foods, and its poor soil and short growing season make agriculture immensely difficult. What’s more, for any large-scale agriculture to take place vast areas of forest would likely be cleared, which can hardly be good for the global environment.

The Sámi and related peoples, living a semi-nomadic lifestyle herding domesticated reindeer have managed to survive in this harsh landscape for centuries, inflicting little in the way of environmental damage in the process. Shallow veganism demands that in order for these people to live moral lives, they must give up this ecologically sound lifestyle, along with all the cultural knowledge and practice tied to reindeer, and instead feed themselves on soy, grains, vegetables, and fruit, not to mention cloth themselves in petroleum based artificial fabrics likely imported from hundreds or thousands of miles away. So in order to free the reindeer from the supposed Sámi cruelty it becomes necessary to disrupt, displace, and likely destroy a culture that has managed to do an admirable job avoiding the sort of environmental damage that the industrialized world is guilty of.

What then of the Sámi, the Inuit, Polynesians, Mongolians, etc? Most they rely on imported food stuffs and give up millennia of cultural traditions to live moral lives? What will they trade for these goods? Will they simply leave their homelands behind (perhaps as eco-resorts for wealthy vegans) and join the masses of humanity already punching the clock in the bulging megalopolises of the world?

Protecting Animals to Death

Speaking of environmental damage, another instance where the good intentions of the Liberationist movement run up against the complexity of the world has to do with invasive species. Very often when a non-native species is introduced to an existing ecosystem, the invasive species can do a great deal of lasting damage. One need only think of the plagues of rabbits and mice in Australia, or the damage done to New Zealand’s bird population after the introduction of the brown rat to realize the terrible damage exotic species can do. Yet, because Liberationists view each individual animal as having the right to live and not suffer (at least not at human hands), campaigns to eradicate feral and exotic animal populations are often met with howls of disapproval, if not sabotage. The only vegan-friendly options then become either the humane capture and separation of the invasive species (a highly expensive and inefficient option,), or the application of some form of sterilizing agent which would be slow, expensive, and likely unsuccessful, and would ironically require a great deal of animal testing to develop. What’s more the practice of liberating non-native species or even unnaturally large numbers of native species into an ecosystem can do immense harm. Such short-sighted actions can often lead the liberationist who just freed 400 mink from a fur farm to wonder where all the songbirds and trout have gone. This conflict between the health of entire ecosystems and the well-being of a particular population of animals, or even individual animals is one that the Liberationist movement must solve. As an article on The Wildlife Society Blog so succinctly put it:

One can perhaps understand concern for the fate of individual non-native animals expressed by animal rights advocates who oppose such control programs. However, such opposition further demonstrates the inherent differences between animal rights and conservation philosophy. Animal rights philosophy gives equal moral status to individuals of both common and rare species and native and non-native species, while the goal of conservation is to conserve populations of threatened or endangered native species, even if it means the lethal control of common or invasive species.

Focused solely on the “rights” of individual animals, animal rights philosophy does not take into account the intricate interdependencies between species in functioning ecological systems. This is a fundamental difference, which makes animal rights and conservation largely incompatible. Animal rights advocates also suggest that nature will take care of itself if we just simply “let it be”, when, in reality, humans have already altered the landscape so much that such laissez faire attitudes can only be described as “benign neglect.” In a world dominated by human influences, wildlife must be managed if it is to survive.

Capitalizing on Good Intentions

As Peter Gelderloos points out it is unlikely that simply boycotting meat will ever lead to the abolition of factory farming. As Gelderloos puts it “The crux of the matter is, veganism is a consumer activity. It is ultimately an attempt to change capitalism and human civilization through the exercise of one’s privileges as a consumer. This is an impossible approach.” Addressing the effectiveness of vegans boycotting meat to truly change the system of factory farming, Gelderloos states that:

I know of no general, unlimited boycott, in the long history of the boycott tactic, that has been able to eliminate an entire industry at the magnitude we’re talking about, nor do I know of any partial victories that suggest it may be possible with improved efforts. Targeted boycotts can be effective, especially when backed by sabotage actions, but when the boycott is not levied against a specific target—a product or company, but against an entire industry and huge class of goods, it simply cannot work. [9]

One could say that veganism, in boycotting the meat produced by industrialized capitalism, is much like the passenger in a car, boycotting the air conditioning because it is wasteful. While as a matter of personal conscience such a boycott is understandable, it fails to address the larger issues.

In Dogma We Trust

This brings me to my final criticism of veganism. While it may work as a personal belief system, in institutional settings it can become dogmatic and authoritarian, becoming in effect a religion as opposed to spirituality. Going back to Gelderloos :

Veganism dismisses personal and emotional considerations by declaring what is acceptable for everyone. This is a religious characteristic. Secondly, veganism takes moral prohibitions that are not logical within nature but only within a specific historical context and universalizes and mystifies them. Thirdly, veganism is missionary.

Or as Fox states:

The ethics of vegetarianism that some people embrace seem to go beyond biological and ecological reality, incorporating the mythic vision of the Peaceable Kingdom where the calf and the lion and the wolf and the lamb lie down together. In this vision, both lion and wolf are implicitly vegetarian. ... A 'deep' vegetarian would not impose his or her values or judgment on other species or cultures without first being biologically informed, and understanding the complex interdependencies in human-nonhuman animal relationships in other cultures and economies… From a deep bioethical perspective, a call for global vegetarianism may do more harm than good to people, animals, and Nature. It is not a panacea for all cultures and contexts.

My personal take on veganism in particular and much of the animal rights movement in general is that not only is it impractical, it is burdened with an internal logic that furthers many of the ills it seeks to cure. It all has to do with what William Cronon in the introduction to Uncommon Ground calls our “profoundly human construction” of nature. The vegan vision of “nature”, or at least of the animal portion of said nature, is an Edenic one, or as Fox puts it, a “Peaceable Kingdom”. It is a world where human interaction with the animal world is seen as detrimental not only to the lives of the animals, but to the moral standing of humans as well. It is part of what I call the hands-off ethos wherein humanity seeks to save the non-human world from ourselves by further separating ourselves from it. It’s the kind of thinking that leads people to protest berry-picking and mushroom hunting, fishing and game hunting in national parks on the grounds that such activities are “spoiling nature” because “we can get that stuff at a supermarket”.[10]

Yet there is a contradiction there as well, as the rights, a profoundly human concept, that vegans seek to grant (or simply recognize) in nonhuman animals in effect domesticates or at least humanizes them all. This from a movement that places the blame for animal cruelty on speciesism, on looking at animals solely in light of what use humans may take from them. It’s a bit like saying one is against racism or cultural imperialism, and then working to make sure minority groups conform to the standards of the ruling class. It seems to me that at the very least, the vegan view point still views animals in light of what is to be gained from them, but that gain is no longer material, but spiritual and political.

And because it is a spiritual and political activity, it can be taken to ridiculous extremes. As Fox points out, and I myself have witnessed, there are those who go so far as to force vegan diets on their carnivorous pets, despite the patent illogic of such a move. What’s more many self-described vegans keep pets, which according to the commandments of the movement is a form of animal servitude and ownership. Now, I have no qualms with pet ownership, after all the two most common companion animals (dogs and cats) have been in a symbiotic relationship with humanity since the late stone ages, but a biological omnivore that forces a carnivorous species to eat an herbivore’s diet should really take a moment to consider his or her actions.

Gelderloos points out another contraction in the vegan ethos when he brings up the “embarrassing heresy of freeganism[11]”. If the vegan ethos is truly concerned with the well-being of animals, then it must be concerned with the well-being of humans as well. We are after all nothing more than relatively hairless apes. But far from making an exception for the use of animal products that would otherwise be thrown away and left to rot, many vegans not only shun such products themselves, but attempt to keep others from them. I am reminded of a time back in 1998 when I helped gather dumpstered food for a chapter of Food Not Bombs (an organization that hands out free food, usually exclusively vegan) in the Olympia area in Washington State. On finding a dumpster full of still-chilled milk only a few hours past its sell-by date, I suggested we use it to make soup, or cheese. The flabbergasted response I received from a fellow dumpster-diver was to the effect that she would “rather see people hungry than drinking the puss-filled products of slavery”, at which point she began to punch holes in the milk jugs.

Finally, it worth noting the oddly self-defeating tendency of many vegans to also belong to organizations or espouse ideals whose stated aims would have the practical effect of making veganism a much more difficult proposition. Opposition to world-trade/globalism would be one such ideal. Without global trade in many food products, in particular soy, rice, and fruit, many areas of the world would not be able to support a healthy vegan diet. Likewise, the demands made by both the Deep Ecology movement and the Social Ecology Movement for “decentralization, small-scale economies, local autonomy, mutual aid, communalism, and tolerance”[12] run afoul of the vegan ethos, at least the shallow one.

Global trade in vegan-friendly products is only possible within a centralized and global trade network, one made up of large economies. Likewise, local autonomy demands that localities be able to meet their needs at the local level, and as discussed before, this often precludes veganism. Finally, the call for mutual aid and tolerance is tricky, given that the vegan ethos demands that one not support any use of non-vegan products, or those who use them.

Local Omnivorism versus Global Veganism

I am an unapologetic omnivore, but not an unethical one. I try to eat local, which currently means products produced in Iceland. I try not to eat factory-farmed meat or eggs, and instead choose to pay a bit extra for free-range eggs and poultry, when I can’t get eggs direct from friends in the countryside. I try to include wild foods in my diet, berries, mushrooms, self-caught fish, and what little in the way of wild greens are on offer.

I try to dress local too, as much as it is possible, making use of Icelandic wool and leather, which I see as a far more sustainable option than petroleum based fleece or imported cotton.

The Local Food movement is in many ways an answer to many of the problems facing the world today, including some of those central to the vegan argument. Small-scale local farming not only encourages free-range techniques, but has the added benefit of increasing diversity in crops and livestock, as instead of being raised on a massive scale whereby it behooves the farmer to alter the environment to suit his crop, the small-scale farmer has to tailor his crops, herds, and flocks to the environment. Likewise, local production for local use brings people in closer contact with the food they eat and the manner in which it is produced. Much of the cruelty that occurs in factory farms, or research labs for that matter, happens because it is out of public sight. With no one to hold the farmers/researchers accountable, they begin to loose sight of just how cruel their actions are. Likewise, to know where one’s food comes from is to reconnect on a very basic level with the land and environment where one lives, an important step in narrowing the man/nature divide.

Finally, the local movement, far from imposing one over-riding standard in diet, dress, and production, encourages not only a diversity of products, technologies, and lifestyles, but a diversity of cultures as well.

If the Liberationist movement and veganism in particular are paving the road to Limboville, then Localism (if I can be so bold to capitalize the term) presents us with another option: We stop paving roads and just stay home.

Sources:

1. Pratchet, Terry and Neil Gaiman. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophesies of Agnes T. Nutter, Witch. New York: Workman Pub, 1990

2. Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. London: PILMCO/Random House, 1995

3. Fox, Dr. Michael W. “Deep and Shallow Vegetarianism and Animal Rights” http://tedeboy.tripod.com/drmichaelwfox/id17.html 20.03.2009

4. Gelderloos, Peter. “Veganism is a Consumer Activity”. http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20080604153638368 19.02.2009

5. Wikipedia. “Eco-Imperialism”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eco-imperialism 10.03.2009

6. Hutchins, Michael. “Removal of Invasive Species Results in Santa Cruz Island Restoration”. http://wildlifeprofessional.org/blog/?cat=19 04.01.2009

7. Cronon, William (ed). Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 1996

8. Bootchin, Murray. “Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology”, Socialist Review 88 (1988):11-29. Reprinted in Environmental Ethics: What Really Matters, What Really Works. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.


[1] And not as they claim with frozen door-to-door salesmen.

[2] It bears pointing out that the cause of world hunger is debatable, with some placing the blame on scarcity, others on unequal distribution, and others on wastefulness, racism, capitalism, etc.

[3] Singer, pg 165

[4] Singer, pg. 223

[5] Singer, pg. 97

[6] Fox, Dr. Michael W. “Deep and Shallow Vegetarianism and Animal Rights”

[7] Singer, pg. 93: The fact that English often has separate words for an animal and for the flesh of that animal can be traced back to the Norman Invasion, when the ruling class (and hence the class that did most of the eating) spoke French while the ruled raised the animals. This is not the case in many, if not most languages, which says something about the cultural baggage Singer unwittingly carries. What’s more, Singer brushes over English’s single word scheme when it comes to the meat of birds, most game, and fish.

[8] Wikipedia: “Eco-Imperialism”

[10] I am paraphrasing an argument here that I had when a mentor of mine and I went mushroom hunting in Itsup National Park during my teens. The hiker who accosted us accused my mentor, a lifelong wilderness buff and environmentalist of “damaging priceless nature just to save a few bucks on mushrooms”.

[11] Defined as “only eating animal products if they are stolen or dumpstered”.

[12] Bootchin, Murray. “Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hey there black pot...


So Saturday Icelanders went to the polls and elected themselves a couple a new people and a lot of the same old pack.

Whoopdeefuckindoo.

I spent the day cleaning up both "my" garden and the upstairs neighbor's garden, put a second coat of paint and some more plaster up in my kitchen, studied for my tests, did laundry, and cleaned the place up.

All this after putting up a sign about the futility of elections in the driveway right across from the polling station.

I spent the day with a slightly guilty feeling of moral superiority.

After all, I don't vote. I don't vote because I hate having to choose the lesser of multiple evils, and because taking part in such a system legitimizes said evils. Basically, I have to go with Ol' George Carlin on this one. Its not people who don't vote who "can't complain", its the people that do. After all, they took part in and helped legitimize this bullshit.

I had planned on the sign reading "The definition of irrationality is to do the same thing over and over but expect different results", 'cause really, in the long run, that's what politics is. It didn't quite fit.

Then later that night, Ragnar unexpectedly arrived from Caracas looking to hit the town. So I met him at Rosenberg, listened to a great concert, started blowing money on beer, went with him to friggin' B5 of all places (where my intense hatred of all things Yuppie nearly got me thrown out), then English pub (where I blew 3000+ krona on the magical beer spinny thingy) and finally wound up on my own at Dubliner, where I proceeded to get my Capt. Ahab on*.

It didn't work.

I wound up tired and cranky and broke at 7am in friggin Amsterdam of all places before finally deciding to haul my ass home.

Now, going out to see a friend I rarely get to see is one thing. Going out a concert, ditto. But I don't even like going out when I'm shizzle-faced anymore.

But I keep doing it.

Following exactly the same pattern.

Hoping beyond hope that this time the result will be different. Some heavenly creature will fall into my arms and all will be hearts and orgasims.

Just like the voters I quietly mocked earlier that day.

Hey, I'm black kettle...

* C'on! If you can't figure that one out, you're reading the wrong blog...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

When in Rómaborg...


I'm in a pissy mood.


Not angry, not enraged, not activated.


Just pissy.


Early Icelandic "spring" tends to bring this on. It teases you with a few fine days and then dumps more snow on your sunny dreams, while assignments and finals loom like storm clouds over the month of May.


It makes trivial trials harder to bear, like getting cussed out by my corpulent upstairs neighbor for keeping my recyclables, or in his words, trash, in "his" part of the heat-room. Never mind that I keep that place so much cleaner than before I moved in (what with removing the rank and rotting rubbish that my landlady tended to throw in there, being to lazy to take it out herself), sweeping regularly, and all that. Never mind that I cleaned up the building scrap he threw out of his second story window into the front lawn. Never mind that I keep the walkways and driveway snow free so his elderly mother doesn't break a hip getting to her taxi, or that he's left an old TV on my porch, keeps a rusty old car packed full of boxes in his driveway, and has never lifted a figure to help clean the place up.


I moved my recyclables out to the garage. I'd spent weeks getting it cleaned up and organized last summer, so I could use the covered space for remodeling work. Its now full of my landlady's daughter's stuff.


All this is annoying. But what has finally pushed me over the edge is, as usual, politics.


As usual.


The revolution is dead.
Actually, it was still-born.
As soon as the old government fell, everyone seemingly gave up. After all, we have the chance to elect the same old parties into power under the same old corrupt rules! Yay!

And while folks continue to struggle, while unemployment grows, banks continue to crash, businessmen award themselves bonuses while cutting employee pay, the "revolutionary" government of red/green beaurocrats passes laws to re-criminalise strip clubs, makes noise about re-criminalising boxing, and continues to "work" with the IMF.

The police, bless 'em, focus on expelling asylum seekers, hunting down marijuana farms, and confiscating poker tables, while the útrassavikingar continue to drain the country dry, siphoning cash off to tax-paradises while the powers that be argue about gender quotas.


Það er vont en það venst.


Oh sure, the peacenixs still got out to protest the 60th anniversary of NATO, and (here I'm not criticizing in the least) a series of protests has pointed out Iceland's self-serving and stealthily racist policy on asylum seekers, but is anyone planning anything in solidarity with the G20 protests?
Apparently just me.

So I sent out the call on the internets. And showed up to find the square empty. Walked around, listening for the rhythmic sound of pots pounded with spoons and the clang of house-ware revolution. I stood over the spots where you can still see the scorching from January's fires, now slowly filling in with half-frozen spring grass. I sat down with my pack full of improvised noise-makers and folded up signage, smoked my pipe, and fought the urge to just give up.

I don't blame anyone for not showing. Its not like I made a particularly coherent or moving call. Its not like I gave folks time. I sent the thing out last night around 9.

Hell, I showed up an hour late.

Because my corpulent neighbor needed me to shift my recycling so he could fit his fat ass into the boiler room and fiddle with the valves.

Apparently 45C wasn't hot enough for him.

I'm starting to see why Icelanders are so prone to self-serving stoicism. Its so much easier to roll with the punches than try to punch back...