Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Layer 403 . . . Sunlight, Medicine, Music, Piano Red, Dr Feelgood, Billy Bragg, Student Protests, Monbiot, Berlusconi, Italy, Internet Democracy and Intelligent Debate

I heard this on Radio 4's Book of the Week this morning -

"Sunlight is said to be a beneficial treatment for at least 165 illnesses . . ."

Book of the Week - 'Chasing The Sun'.

Roll on Springtime.


"Music is medicine." - Piano Red

I'd like to say a personal thank you to Frances Wood for turning me on to the music of Piano Red, aka Dr Feelgood, during her session on Desert Island Discs last week. There's lots of his tracks on Spotify, including Ms Wood's choice, "The Right String Baby, But The Wrong Yo-Yo".

This is the good doctor's spoken spiel that begins a track called "Blues, Blues, Blues":

"Music is medicine. The kind of music you're listening to now is the kind of medicine that the doctors don't recommend. Because they use shots and pills, and I use the straight-out music. Music with feeling. The kind that's good for you, good to you, and good for what ails you. Believe me - you can't go wrong when you listen to music with feeling. Blues was the creation of American music."


More synchronicity. Last week I got round to watching a two-hour documentary on the life and times of the British band called Dr Feelgood.

You can check it out here:

Oil City Confidential

A lot of sadness . . . and a lot of badness in the deep south, in the Thames delta.


One of the best things ever to come out of Essex is Billy Bragg. He wrote this piece for the Guardian:

Student protesters: teaching the left's old guard a thing or two

The new generation seems determined to avoid the ideological nitpicking that has for so long blighted the British left

The student protesters of this winter of discontent are my heroes. Instead of giving up on politicians who failed to deliver their promises on tuition fees, the students have been galvanised into action. Their demonstrations and occupations are the antidote to the cynical bile that is spewed out on internet forums against anybody who dares challenge the notion that free-market capitalism is the answer to all our problems.

The ubiquity of the camera phone among the young has turned every protester into a citizen reporter, capable of accessing images that instantly refute the claims of the authorities. Those same handheld devices allow the protesters to communicate so swiftly that they are able to avoid being corralled by the police and unlawfully detained. They know their rights because they can Google them.

This was supposed to be a generation of slacktivists, willing to stop Simon Cowell from getting the Christmas No 1, but not prepared to take things any further. Instead they have taken the initiative, not waiting for the Labour party or the TUC to tell them what to do, making their own connections with others in society facing painful cuts and demanding that tax avoiders take their share of the pain, too.


I made a comment recently on CiF about being pissed off with right-wing trolls stinking the place out. This week's George Monbiot column deals with the issue head on:

These astroturf libertarians are the real threat to internet democracy

As I see in threads on my articles, the online sabotaging of intelligent debate seems organised. We must fight to save this precious gift

Reading comment threads on the Guardian's sites and elsewhere on the web, two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there's little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

Articles about the environment are hit harder by such tactics than any others. I love debate, and I often wade into the threads beneath my columns. But it's a depressing experience, as instead of contesting the issues I raise, many of those who disagree bombard me with infantile abuse, or just keep repeating a fiction, however often you discredit it. This ensures that an intelligent discussion is almost impossible – which appears to be the point.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend to be more willing to discuss an issue than these rightwing libertarians, many of whom seek to shut down debate.

So what's going on? I'm not suggesting that most of the people trying to derail these discussions are paid to do so, though I would be surprised if none were. I'm suggesting that some of the efforts to prevent intelligence from blooming seem to be organised, and that neither website hosts nor other commenters know how to respond.

For his film (Astro)Turf Wars, Taki Oldham secretly recorded a training session organised by a rightwing libertarian group called American Majority. The trainer, Austin James, was instructing Tea Party members on how to "manipulate the medium". This is what he told them: "Here's what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in 'Liberal books'. I go through and I say 'one star, one star, one star'. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars … This is where your kids get information: Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster. These are places where you can rate movies. So when you type in 'Movies on healthcare', I don't want Michael Moore's to come up, so I always give it bad ratings. I spend about 30 minutes a day, just click, click, click, click … If there's a place to comment, a place to rate, a place to share information, you have to do it. That's how you control the online dialogue and give our ideas a fighting chance."

Over 75% of the funding for American Majority comes from the Sam Adams Alliance. In 2008, the year in which American Majority was founded, 88% of the alliance's money came from a single donation, of $3.7m. A group that trains rightwing libertarians to distort online democratic processes was, in other words, set up with funding from a person or company with a very large wallet.

The internet is a remarkable gift, which has granted us one of the greatest democratic opportunities since universal suffrage. We're in danger of losing this global commons as it comes under assault from an army of trolls and flacks, many of them covertly organised or trained. The question for all of us – the Guardian, other websites, and everyone who benefits from this resource – is what we intend to do about it. It's time we fought back and reclaimed the internet for what it does best: exploring issues, testing ideas, opening the debate.


Italy's fucked. Berlusconi remains as Prime Minister. Oxzen's boycott continues.

Riots break out in Rome after Silvio Berlusconi survives confidence votes

Hooded protesters set up flaming barricades as police baton-charge demonstrators in several parts of capital's historic centre

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