The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for Your Makeup?

The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for Your Makeup?

RT (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about mica mining in the Jharkhand state in India, which produces 60% of the global mica supply. In addition to its use (as glitter) in cosmetics, mica is used to manufacture joint compound (for filling and seams in drywall), drilling fluids (in fracking), plastics, synthetic textiles and as an insulator in the electronics industry.

Although mica mining is technically illegal in India (owing to serious health risks, eg lung cancer and potential mine collapse), mica “processing” is legal and immensely profitable.

Rough 20,000 children (some as young as 3) are employed in mica mining in India. Adults can earn up to $3 per day, with lower caste workers earning less. They sell the mica they mine to processing plants or to the “mica mafia,” which sells it directly to exporters.

Poisoning the World: The Companies that Profit Big from Exporting Banned Chemicals

Circle of Poison

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about the US export of toxic pesticides that are banned in the US. This is ironic. Despite these domestic bans, heavy dependence on food imports means that most Americans end up ingesting these toxins in imported produce. In fact the only way Americans can avoid pesticide-laden food is to buy certified organic food from local farmers.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order banning the export of toxic pesticides. The order was revoked by Reagan a few months after his inauguration.

The US controls 75% of the global pesticide market via five notorious companies: Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow and BSAF. Although Bayer, Syngenta and BSAF are European companies, they produce their toxic pesticides in the US, where export regulations are more lax (ie non-existent). The pesticide industry has one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. Thanks to the courage of Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate has passed several bills banning pesticide exports. However because members face re-election every two years, they have no hope whatsoever of winning in House.

Most of the film concerns the epidemic of cancer and horrendous birth defects in India, Mexico, Argentina and other countries that continue to use US-produced pesticides that are banned in the global North.

Surprisingly it ends on an optimistic note with news about the growing organic food movement in Argentina, Kerala India and Bhutan. Rather than pressuring their governments to ban toxic pesticides, activists are learning chemical-free organic soil building techniques. In doing so, they also significantly increase their yields. In replacing monoculture techniques with crop diversity, organic farming methods are far more productive per unit land than traditional agriculture.

The full video can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Circle of Poison

Tomorrow We Disappear: The Human Price of Development

Tomorrow We Disappear: New Dehli’s Kathputli Slum

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This is one of the saddest and most beautifully made documentaries I’ve ever seen. It concerns a 60-year-old artist colony in a New Dehli slum called Kathputli. The film follows the artists’ futile struggle to block government plans to evict them to make way for a shopping mall and high rise commercial and residential buildings.

The 1500 artists who have learned their craft from parents and grandparents, consist of magicians, puppeteers, musicians, carvers, acrobats, fire eater, dancers and jugglers. Most earn a meager living as street performers in the crowded streets of New Dehli. The documentary follows their fruitless negotiations with government officials and property developers.

In the end they organize a series of colorful protests featuringde giant puppets, stilt walkers, jugglers, acrobats and magicians in brilliantly colored costumes. Their goal is to call public attention to what is being lost.

Their colony was bulldozed in late 2017, and they were all moved to temporary “transit” camps (they look more like concentration camps) at considerable distance from Dehli.

The Middle Ages: More Hidden History

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages

By Frances and Joseph Gies

Harper Collins (1994)

Book Review

This book debunks the prevailing misconception that the Middle Ages was a Dark Ages and that all knowledge and technology was lost when “barbarian tribes” caused the collapse of the Roman Empire. The authors do this very convincingly by identifying a number of key medieval technologies (most from the Far East) without which the 15th century Renaissance would have been impossible.

These include

  • the heavy plow
  • open field agriculture, water powered machinery
  • Hindu-Arab numerals
  • double entry bookkeeping
  • the compass and navigational charts
  • clockwork
  • firearms
  • moveable type
  • stirrups
  • the horse collar harness
  • paper
  • canal locks
  • underground mining

The barbarians themselves (ie Germanic tribes) also provided European civilization with several key inventions:

  • soap (the Greeks and Romans never used it)
  • socks
  • laced boots
  • clothing made from multiple pieces of cloth sewn together
  • wooden barrels (replacing fragile clay jars and animal skins previously used for food storage).

The book maintains that China was far more important than Rome as a source of medieval technologies. In most cases, technological innovations filtered into Europe along Arab trade routes. It devotes specific attention to the horizontal loom (the Romans used a vertical loom), moveable type (adopted by Gutenberg for his printing press), the water wheel, the wheelbarrow, the odometer, mechanical clocks, gunpowder and the crossbow.

Europeans gained access to Hindu-Arab numbers, the cotton gin and the windmill via India and Persia.

Given the extremely Eurocentric education I received in school, I was extremely surprised to learn about all the inventions Europeans take credit for which originated elsewhere.

 

 

 

Kidney Valley: Nepal’s Thriving Organ Black Market

Kidney Valley

RT (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns Karnali Province in Nepal, where approximately 10,000 kidneys are illegally harvested every year by traffickers. Most are smuggled into India, where patients buy them for $15,000-20,000 each. Filmmakers visit one village where roughly one person per household has sold a kidney.

The traffickers take advantage of extreme poverty and low education levels to coerce villagers to agree to surgery. Although they are promised $5,000-6,000 for undergoing the procedure, “donors” typically receive $500-1,000 at most.

Nepal’s illegal kidney trade has been in operation for roughly 20 years report Karnali residents are much more willing to up up their kidneys since a 2015 earthquake made tens of thousands of them homeless.

Pipelinestan: The Taliban, Unocal and 9-11

Taliban Oil

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Taliban Oil is a documentary about secret negotiations between Unocal and the Taliban to build a pipeline transporting natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India – via Afghanistan. It features interviews with the former president of Unocal (who entertained Taliban leaders in his home in Sugarland Texas), a female Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) operative who lost her security clearance for a report warning the Clinton administration for a against US collaboration with the Taliban.

This film contradicts the conventional wisdom that the US invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban refused to build the Unocal pipeline. Filmmakers maintain it was Unocal who canceled the pipeline project. Already by the late nineties, Afghanistan was suffering the ravages of a 20-years of civil war – the Taliban were extremely keen to use the $400 million/year transit fees for reconstruction. The Clinton administration was also heavily promoting the pipeline deal, arranging for Taliban leaders to meet with the State Department, CIA and NSA.

Unocal reportedly withdrew from the deal in 1998, after suicide bombers blew up US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania. Clinton blamed the suicide bombing on Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, who was operating jihadist training camps in Afghanistan.

In addition to attacking various training camps with cruise missiles, Clinton made 30 separate requests for the Taliban to extradite bin Laden to the US. Although supreme Taliban leader Mullah Omar opposed the training camps, bin Laden was a national hero for his role in expelling the Soviets. It would have brought great shame on the Taliban leadership to hand him over to the Americans. .

In 2001 George W Bush and Dick Cheney reiterated the requests for bin Laden’s extradition, while simultaneously making deals for their own petroleum companies to build the pipeline.

Rejecting the Taliban’s offer to expel bin Laden to a third country, in summer 2001 the Bush administration made plans to invade Afghanistan in mid-autumn. One source* quoted in the film states the jihadists were aware of the impending attack and decided to launch a preemptive strike on the Twin Towers.


*For documentation filmmakers provide an old YouTube clip from Adam Gaddan, the Jewish-born “American” al-Qaeda spokesperson. Gaddan has long been suspected of either Israeli or US intelligence links.

Offline is the New Luxury

Offline is the New Luxury

VPRO (2017)

Film Review

This documentary is about taking back control of our Internet connectivity. Ironically it starts by recommending a new app that allows you to identify increasingly rare “white spots” – areas of the earth that aren’t blanketed with WiFi signals. One MIT psychology professor, who bans cellphones, laptops and tablets in her classes, is part of a movement to create sacred spaces in these white spots – areas where people fully engage with each other instead of their electronic devices.

The filmmakers also talk about the late Steve Jobs and other prominent Silicon Valley moguls not allowing their kids to have cellphones and tablets and sending them to low tech Montessori and Waldorf schools. Increasingly the well-to-do are seeking out expensive retreats and detox facilities to cure their Internet addiction. While growing numbers of law firms and security agencies patronize a highly successful Dutch firm selling Faraday cages and microwave shields to protect clients from electronic snooping and damaging microwave radiation.

The Amish, of course, have a cheap low-tech solution to Internet addiction – namely a value system that rejects most advanced electronic technology.

The video concludes by explaining the concept of “surveillance capitalism,” in which our personal information is “monetized,” ie in which the data Google, Facebook and Amazon collect on us is sold to advertisers.

A key strategy of surveillance capitalism is to use drones, satellites and giant balloons to expand connectivity to remote areas of the developing world. At the time of filming, Facebook was pressuring the Indian government to allow the introduction of Free Basics (free Internet connectivity) to all Indian residents, with Facebook retaining control of their Internet access. Google, meanwhile, is pushing to extend 100% connectivity to Sri Lanka by launching giant WiFi balloons.

According to one analyst, the drive to acquire massive troves of Indian personal data is a ploy to placate shareholders. The latter are understandably concerned about a drop-off in Facebook users in the developing world – due to privacy concerns and the recognition that most Facebook content is meaningless drivel.