Monday 23 January 2012

SOPA bites the dust but how did the Chinese view the US firewall?

With a mixture of sympathy, schadenfreude and amusement, it seems.

Evan Osnos writes in The New Yorker:
After several years in which American diplomats have inveighed against Internet censorship in China, the proposals have inspired a bit of snickering. 'The Great Firewall turns out to be a visionary product; the American government is trying to copy us,' one commentator wrote. A Chinese message making the rounds on Thursday said: 'At last, the planet is becoming unified: We are ahead of the whole world, and the ‘American imperialists’ are racing to catch up.'

On Weibo, "a commentator known as Dr. Zhang wrote: 'I’ve come up with a perfect solution: You can come to China to download all your pirated media, and we’ll go to America to discuss politically sensitive subjects.'"

Ah well. At least the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act managed to achieve one good thing: uniting global netizens in their distaste for the clampdown. Netizens of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your keychains.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory: Foxconn

An illuminating, amusing and very moving podcast from American performer Mike Daisey who visited the vast Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, that makes Apple iPhones among other hi-tec crap for us, posing as a businessman.

Foxconn is the suicide centre of tat. At least fourteen workers stepped off the planet through its labour-camp portals in 2010. Workers now have to sign a contract obliging them not to commit suicide. Presumably all 800,000 of them. Probably a world first.

If you can get past the gun-toting guards, you'll see the suicide nets fixed to the base of the huge buildings. Thirty-four hour shifts and cramped cement dormitories may play a part.

Foxconn also makes the Microsoft X-Box. The factory hit the news recently when it promised workers that it would recompense any workers who wanted to resign while employees staying on would be receiving no pay-rise. They reneged and the promised compensation never materialised.

As a result of all the above, industrial relations at the electronics battery farm are not good. Latest in a series of strikes, some 300 furious X-Box workers in the Wuhan campus who had been promised $450 per month to compensate for the move away from Shenzhen and were only paid two thirds of that, threatened a mass suicide. As this wouldn't be good for the company profile, which you'd think couldn't sink much lower, Foxconn settled this week. With some of them.

Labour laws in China are undergoing a rehaul but Daisey's experience shows that it's not happening fast enough. Wages at Foxconn are barely above the minimum rate. Workers are being injured by hazardous chemicals, long hours and machine accidents. When they complain, they find themselves on employment blacklists. And yet fortunes are being made at the top. How did we get here in the first place?

It was ironic to see frustrated Chinese customers protesting and throwing eggs at the Apple Store when sale of the voice-activated 4S iPhone was stopped due to health and safety concerns over crowding at the launch.

Desperate Foxconn workers did write personally to Steve Jobs to beg him to step in. They never received a reply, although Apple have demanded suicide counsellors be made available and forbidden the use of some chemicals. More here.

I am writing this on an Apple MacBook Pro. I do not feel good about this. Unfortunately, I can't afford to replace it. But I have vowed never to have an iPhone or an iPad until they clean up their act. However, given the number of electronics companies who get their products from Foxconn, where are the clean machines?

Podcast extract, Mr Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory, from Mike Daisey's The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Thanks to Chris Bulow

Apple, iPads and Chengdu explosions.

UPDATE 16 MARCH 2012: The show is pulled due to "fabrications". This is so bad. This American Life investigation podcast here

Apple at fault with Foxconn. Fair Labor Association's findings on Apple and Foxconn

Wednesday 11 January 2012

The Steampunk Opium Wars extravaganza at the Greenwich National Maritime Museum 16th Feb 2012

Britain's craving for chinoiserie in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in a trade imbalance that threatened to empty the treasury. To pay for the tea, silks, spices and porcelain we liked so much, the East India Company sold enormous quantities of cheap Bengal-grown opium to China, turning an aristocratic vice into a nationwide addiction.

The profits from the opium trade made fortunes, earned revenues for the British government, paid for the administration of the Empire in India and even financed a large slice of Royal Navy costs. When the Chinese tried to halt the import of the drug, the narco-capitalists persuaded Foreign Secretary Palmerston and Lord Melbourne's government to go to war in 1839. The first military conflict, lasting a bloody three years, resulted in the Treaty of Nanking and the transfer of territory including Hong Kong to British rule.

Want to find out more about this dark period in Anglo-Chinese history? To celebrate Chinese New Year and mark the opening of the National Maritime Museum's new Traders Gallery, I'm presenting The Steampunk Opium Wars extravaganza with songs poetry and music from legendary writer Charles Shaar Murray; The Plague's Marc "The Exorcist" Jefferies; Deborah Evans-Stickland performing her Flying Lizards mega-hit "Money (That's What I Want)"; Gary Lammin of The Bermondsey Joyriders; and DJ Zoe Baxter AKA Lucky Cat from Resonance FM.

Historical characters will be slugging it out in verse to persuade us of the pros and cons of waging war to push drugs: with John Crow Constable, Paul Anderson, Hugo Trebels, John Paul O'Neill and Louise Whittle.

The evening is centred around Farrago Poetry's History Slam where the audience will have a chance to write poetry on the theme in workshops led by the historical characters, and then perform them in the slam.

Come and play with us.

Free entry but places have to be booked in advance.

Anna Chen presents "Traders"
National Maritime Museum, Sammy Ofer Wing
Thursday 16th February 2012
Tickets: Free but book in advance
Tel: 020 8312 6608

The Steampunk Opium Wars Facebook and webpage

SU flags up the event here.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Liam Byrne & Labour: A Christmas Story

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. 'Cause Pontius Cameron had kicked them out and put Mary and Joseph on workfare. "'Tis good. 'Tis the Lord's work," saith Liam Byrne and took all the flak for what the Romans did hoping to get himself a little governorship somewhere nearer Rome.

And so it came to pass that Jesus wept and grew into a fine young man, if a bit chippy. He overturned the money changers' counters in the Temple at Bankside but Fred the Shred escaped to spend more time with his millions. Jesus gazed upon Goldman Sachs, Lehmans and the rest and would have asked his Dad — his real Dad — to smite them a bit but he was an absentee father and off elsewhere leaving his son to sort it out while they made £35 billion profit when they were supposed to be bust. "'Tis a miracle", saith Jesus unto the Lord but was told to call back later as he was spending quality time with his other kids.

Some of Jesus's mates tried to camp out at the Temple, but whereas the money changers had been greeted with open arms and fat guts, the janitor set the dogs onto them.

Finding the priests at Labour Party HQ useless and hungover anyway, Jesus tried to chivvy up the troops but was told he was a troublemaker. "Look what you did to the Temple," they said. "Jesus Christ, you've made a right mess." "But it wasn't me," saith Jesus. "It was the money changers." "Of course it was you," saith Liam Byrne, again jonesing for a promotion. "You haven't got a bean and you and your skint pals are a drain on the state." Which was wicked for he was no slouch himself when it came to eating all the state-subsidised pies. "Besides, Dusky, you ain't from around here."

"'Tis another miracle", saith the Sunday Times when their Rich List revealed the creation of even more billionaires despite the country supposedly being on its uppers. "Ain't no miracle" saith Jesus, "and those uppers are pure Christian Louboutin – they've just lost their red souls ... and replaced them with our souls".

Jesus tried to explain to everyone that the riots were just the meek inheriting the earth as they were fed up with pie in the sky and wanted something a tad more substantial before they died, but was all but crucified for saying so. "Phew, that was close", he muttered. "No wonder they call me Twinkletoes because I am fleet of foot, unshod as they be except for these here Birkenstocks, and they will never catch me." Some say that Dad got wind of that message and set the hubris police onto him.

Before they stop'n'searched him on suspicion of possessing principles, he threw a couple of parties. At the big rave, he tried to prove you can't feed a mass of people on a tin of sardines, a Wonderloaf and a tin of Carling, but the scribes got the wrong end of the stick and said they'd all had a slap-up lunch. The scribes had, but at Chipping Norton, and they were all pissed by the time they arrived.

At his Labour Party farewell do, Jesus prophesied that someone would betray him before the cock crew, and they all trampled each other in the rush to prove Jesus right with Liam Byrne issuing several screeds applying for any top job that would have him.

The next day Jesus was run out of town but was such a nice guy that he told his Dad not to hold it against them. "They're arseholes, Dad. They haven't got a clue. They're not worf it." He was supposed to come back a bit later, but he took one look around and was off again, this time to move in with his Dad who'd promised to take him fishing.

FACT FILE: The collective wealth of the UK's 1,000 richest rose 30% in 2009 in wake of economic crisis. The combined wealth of the top 1000 rose by over £77bn to £333.5bn, biggest annual increase in 22-year history of The Sunday Times rich list.

The cost of benefit fraud is £1bn. Unclaimed benefits amount to £16.5bn.

Estimated tax owed to us: £70bn

Monday 2 January 2012

Ed Miliband's brave new war on the poor

O brave new year that has such people, innit? Well, that was a lovely festive season. I hope you all had a good one, too, even if it turns out to be the last one we enjoy if the Tories carry on with their policy of pillaging and both enabling and enobling the pillagers-in-chief.

With a hot new scriptwriter on the team, as splashed all over the media, you'd think Ed Miliband would have found his mettle, put on his big-boy pants and shown some sign that he is on top of the economic and social crisis unfolding like origami in a storm. I don't know what speech guru Asher Dresner is bringing to the table but it sure isn't renewed Labour principles.

Ed Miliband's Big Idea in the Daily Mail is to deflect anger away from the feral rich and their sticky-fingered bankers and politicians, and onto the poorest in society by declaring war on "benefit scroungers". He's exercised by one billion lost on poor benefit cheats yet forgets about the £16.5 billion that lies unclaimed by those who are entitled to it. How many billions lost on rich cheats? The subsidised rich? On recapitalising the banks? Tax breaks? Tax cheats? The top one percent have doubled their share of the national wealth in the past 30 years. Can we please have that back to pay off the deficit?

All the above and yet, according to the Guardian, Ed's going to be banging on about:

• How the deficit is tackled needs to include a proper plan for growth and jobs. He will highlight the five-point plans crafted by Balls, including a temporary reversal in the VAT rise to help guarantee 100,000 jobs for young people.

• Improving the kind of country today's leaders leave for their children will involve reversing, or softening, government decisions such as the trebling in university tuition fees.

• Labour will focus on "powerful vested interests", such as energy companies, to relieve pressure on the squeezed middle.

Tinkering at the edges, barely smouldering among the ruins while the rich fiddle like fury, we're going to hell in a handcart steered by Ed. Still, at least he's noticed the playing field is far from level.

Meanwhile, New Labour just won't give up and sod off to play with their millions. Tim Allan is doing his best to drag the beleaguered Ed to the right like a puppy on a leash, accusing him of being anti-business. 'Fonly! I'd like to see a strong Ed challenge the social engineering going on: hardwiring us via the mainstream media that the business class has the only game in town and to meekly accept that they wield more power than our democratically elected governments. A boy can only be so supine before he fights back. Can't he?

Harpy Marx on Ed Miliband's war on the poor.

UPDATE: It appears that Liam Byrne is pushing the Blairite line of attacking "benefit scroungers" while he claims over £2,000 per MONTH state subsidies. There's a name for people like him but I'm far too polite to say it here except that it starts with a "hypo" and ends with a "crite".

Labour, "benefit scroungers" and rightwing fool's gold by Willard Foxton in the HuffPo