Flight Papers

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Archive for the ‘activism’ Category


Saturday, June 20th, 2009

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Today, Ali Khamenei has ordered the killing of protesters. There are tanks rolling into Tehran right now.

Today, my aunt has decided to die.

I understand my aunt’s decision. I understand that she can’t keep fighting. I understand that the story of a survivor, a strong woman, a loved woman, beating the odds—I understand that was a fairy tale.

I will never understand the thing that makes soldiers hear an order to kill people who are speaking their hearts, and do so. I will never understand what keeps them fighting. I will never understand why those Iranian freedom fighters had to die. Why women and men asking for something as tiny as a vote had to die for it. This is a thing I cannot understand.

But they will overcome. They will win, and they will make better.

This isn’t a fairy tale. This is truth. This is inevitable. This is necessary.

There are things you—we—can do.

At the protests today in Denver, in solidarity with the protesters in Iran, a woman said that the organization, the access to information, it’s making all the difference. It’s letting Iranian activists know they aren’t alone. It’s helping them communicate and coordinate.

It is why this will succeed. It is why this is different. Information is the foundation of the revolution, she said.

Of course, that is a terrible thing, and it must be stopped. The Khamenei regime has tightened Iran’s firewalls—second only to China’s—in an attempt to prevent protest, organization, dissent, collaboration, rebuilding.

You can do something. For once, the Internet actually can actually fucking help.

I’ve set up a proxy server to run about the supreme leader’s firewalls. You can, too. You should. Here are the windows instructions. If you’re using Linux, apt-get squid and edit /etc/squid/squid.conf as the instructions say. Also add and to the ACLs so @austinheap can verify your server.

It’s a small thing. It can help.

Find out where there’s a protest near you.

It’s a small thing. It can help.

And maybe there’s more. More small things, that can help. More large things, that can help. More things that can keep more women, more activists, more people, from getting slaughtered.

Tell me.

The Doctor Will Sue You Now

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

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I have once again been demonstrating enormous lackadaisicality in keeping up with my writing. In penance, I’m taking advantage of the Creative Commons license on the recently released final chapter of Ben Goldcare’s book.

It’s a horrifying look at the ways in which a kind of eco-romanticism—properly blended with colonial and racial privilege—can end up supporting oppression. He touches on the ways in which we westerners export not just suffering and death, but also denialist modes that just cut genuine activism, and, briefly, kill millions of people. After all, it’s easy to demonize Thabo Mbeki, a man who saw millions of people in his country dying of AIDS and encouraged them to eat more potatoes. It’s harder to see the western denialists standing behind him; harder still to look at the hundreds of thousands of prostitutes killed not just by AIDS or by men but by health policies and social structures that marginalize them, sometimes very, very literally.

This is an extract from
BAD SCIENCE by Ben Goldacre
Published by Harper Perennial 2009.

You are free to copy it, paste it, bake it, reprint it, read it aloud, as long as you don’t change it – including this bit – so that people know that they can find more ideas for free at www.badscience.net


The Doctor Will Sue You Now

This chapter did not appear in the original edition of this book, because for fifteen months leading up to September 2008 the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was suing me personally, and the Guardian, for libel. This strategy brought only mixed success. For all that nutritionists may fantasise in public that any critic is somehow a pawn of big pharma, in private they would do well to remember that, like many my age who work in the public sector, I don’t own a flat. The Guardian generously paid for the lawyers, and in September 2008 Rath dropped his case, which had cost in excess of £500,000 to defend. Rath has paid £220,000 already, and the rest will hopefully follow. Nobody will ever repay me for the endless meetings, the time off work, or the days spent poring over tables filled with endlessly cross-referenced court documents.

On this last point there is, however, one small consolation, and I will spell it out as a cautionary tale: I now know more about Matthias Rath than almost any other person alive. My notes, references and witness statements, boxed up in the room where I am sitting right now, make a pile as tall as the man himself, and what I will write here is only a tiny fraction of the fuller story that is waiting to be told about him. This chapter, I should also mention, is available free online for anyone who wishes to see it.

Matthias Rath takes us rudely outside the contained, almost academic distance of this book. For the most part we’ve been interested in the intellectual and cultural consequences of bad science, the made-up facts in national newspapers, dubious academic practices in universities, some foolish pill-peddling, and so on. But what happens if we take these sleights of hand, these pill-marketing techniques, and transplant them out of our decadent Western context into a situation where things really matter?



Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

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I don’t know anything about Ethan Zuckerman, really, but I’m happy to have stumbled across an old post of his on the importance of pointing, rather than speaking, in activist works.

That is, don’t tell us, in Zuckerman’s case, about the plight of a detained Chinese blogger—carry his words, and his family’s words, far and wide. Don’t, yourself, speak out about sexism in Indian culture—work with Indian women, supporting them and their words.

Don’t, in short, center your words, actions, desires, and experiences. This isn’t about you.

This is the core of media justice: Everyone has a story. We are obligated to make the world such that everyone can speak them.

This applies to more than activist work; this applies to all storytelling. Over here, talking about narrative appropriation, I said,

But I think they first have to love both the stories and the people. They need to know them. And the stories, even and especially in a white storyteller’s mouth, need to writhe and dance and move towards liberation as we would expect and hope them to.

That is, specifically, you can’t tell a story like it’s the story of those quaint primitive people over there who wear funny hats. You can’t, equally, tell this story as if it were your own, as if you knew it from when you were a child. You have to tell it as it is, breathing the air that it breathes, loved by the people who love it, rooted in the earth it came from. You, the storyteller, have to point.

That’s not just the nature of being a good ally. That’s the nature of being a good storyteller.