Does any good news come from Pakistan?

When one thinks of Pakistan, images of terrorism, poverty and natural disasters are usually what come to mind. Given what Australian television news usually reports from that state, this is hardly surprising. After all, there is a lot of bad news to report. One of the most prominent stories to come from Pakistan are the repeated drone strikes conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency and the disproportionate amount of civilians who are killed along with senior Taliban and Al-Qaeda commanders. Of course, violent attacks by the Taliban have also dominated the headlines in western states. This was been exacerbated by the Taliban’s targeting of polio vaccination workers, an atrocity deemed unthinkable by most.

Image courtesy of thehindu.com

Image courtesy of thehindu.com

The idea for this post came from a conversation I was having in the car with my parents. “Well, Pakistan’s going down the gurgler. It seems like nothing good can come from there.” said my mother. Considering that both my parents get most of their news from the first half hour of SBS World News and The Australian newspaper, this isn’t surprising. In response, I told them that the news isn’t indicative of what actually happens. According to Ray Williams writing for Psychology Today, bad news stories can outnumber good ones by 17 to one. To explain this, Williams says,

 “The answer may lie in the work of evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists.  Humans seek out news of dramatic, negative events. These experts say that our brains evolved in a hunter-gatherer environment where anything novel or dramatic had to be attended to immediately for survival. “

Back to the car ride, I decided to issue myself a challenge to my parents. To prove that the nightly news and Murdoch-controlled press do not paint an entirely accurate view of Pakistan, I went searching through online news to find examples of good news from Pakistan. So, here’s what I found.

Iran set to sign 1,000MW export deal with Pakistan

According to this report from Tehran Times on December 29, the Iranian and Pakistani governments are about to sign a memorandum of understanding on electricity export to Pakistan. This agreement will precede the construction of a power station in Iran’s Zahedan province specifically to generate electricity for export. This is a significant news story for two reasons. The first is that Pakistan is currently facing an energy crisis and any extra source of electricity is badly needed. The second reason is that this deal was possible even after several turbulent attempts at economic cooperation. There was an agreement to build a gas pipeline between the two states. However, Iran decided to stop funding the Pakistani side of the pipeline because of problems that the Pakistanis are having with financing their own $2bn contribution to the project. It should also be noted that that such deals between the two states run the risk of economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union, meaning that Pakistan had to tread very lightly when dealing with Iran. Despite these problems over the past month, the two states have managed to overcome these to sign an energy deal which is crucial to helping Pakistan’s energy crisis.

Indian company agrees to build power plant in Pakistan

Another source of power is coming from another one of Pakistan’s neighbours. On December 25, The Economic Times from India reported that the governments of Pakistan’s Punjab province and India’s Punjab state were keen to cooperate on energy projects. Four days later, the Indian-based Deccan Chronicle reported that the Indian and Pakistani governments had signed an agreement allowing the Indian firm Universal Biomass Energy to help set up a power plant in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The memorandum of understanding between the two states also allows for the construction of additional power plans in Pakistan. According to the Pakistani publication The News, Provincial Minister for Agriculture Dr Farrukh Javed claims that the plant could generate 1,277MW of energy from 10.94 million tons of waste from the province’s crops.* Like the energy deal with Iran, this news story is significant because the deal with India will also help alleviate Pakistan’s energy crisis. However, what is far more significant is that these two states are engaging in economic cooperation at all. Keep in mind that these two states have gone to war several times since their independence in 1947 and maintain a highly militarised border. Any small step away from conflict towards cooperation is most definitely a piece of good news.

Indian and Pakistani school students partake in exchange program

Continuing the theme of warming bilateral relations between these two states, the Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan (CAP) has been organising student exchanges through the Exchange for Change (EFC) program. The third phase of this program will begin in January 2014 and will see 2,500 from both India and Pakistan exchange communications such as letters, postcards, collages and oral histories. A total of 3,500 students took part in the first two phases of the program. Last year, 24 students and 12 teachers from Pakistan visited their counterparts in India. Cross-border dialogue is something that the students are very keen to partake in. According to one student, “I always prayed for India and Pakistan to be friends and now my prayers are answered.” One of the most important steps to ending transnational disputes is to rid the next generation of the ‘sins of the fathers’ mindset. Programs like this are essential for India and Pakistan to overcome their decades-long animosity.

UAE to fund $1.2m clean water project

In January 2011, in response to the devastating Swat River floods, the UAE government founded the United Arab Emirates Pakistan Assistance Program (UAE PAP). Since then the UAE PAP has funded dozens of development projects throughout Pakistan focussing on four areas, infrastructure, water, healthcare and education. On December 28 2013, President of UAE PAP Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed ah Nahyan announced that an extra $1.2m was to be spent on a clean water project. While this may not seem like a lot of money, it is enough to provide clean water to 12 villages in Northern Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s poorest and most remote areas. This funding is the start of UAE PAP’s second phase of development projects. The first phase saw more than $5.7m spent on 64 projects in Southern Waziristan, Khyber Pakhtuntkhwa and Bajuar. However, when all UAE PAP projects are added up, including expensive projects like bridge construction, the total amount of money spent is around $300m.

IMF sends $554m loan to Pakistan

In a story by The Economic Times of India on 24 December 2013, Pakistan has received the second tranche of a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund. The total bailout will be $6.7 billion. Like the energy deals with India and Iran, this money will be crucial to solve Pakistan’s energy crisis among others. After the first tranche of $540m, IMF officials approved this second loan after witnessing good economic progress during their visit to Pakistan in November 2013.

In the interests of not going on for too long, these were only a few of the good news stories I found on Pakistan. What’s more, the span is these stories is a little less than a week and were collected over a period of 12 hours or so. Granted, there were also a lot of bad stories from Pakistan as well. These is simply an indication of the truth that there are a lot of bad things going on in that state at the moment. Also, some of these good news stories relate overarching bad news stories such as the energy crisis and harsh poverty in the remote areas. However, what I have shown here is that, contrary to what the news might tell you, good things do happen in Pakistan. And this is the same all over the world. Yes, a lot of bad things do happen as well. Mainstream western news (most of the news stories in this post were sourced either from Indian or Pakistani publications) does not lie about what happens. It simply selects which stories are to be told (this process is called ‘gatekeeping’ in the journalism world). However, if you look beyond what is served up to you on the nightly news and daily newspapers, you will find that some supposed basket cases are in fact capable of producing pieces of good news.

* To me, these numbers seem very high. However, I wasn’t able to verify these.

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Moonsorrow Live at the HiFi Bar

Moonsorrow: Image courtesy of xpressmag.com.au

I firmly believe that Things are more enjoyable when they’re free. This is certainly true of concerts. After leaving the Korpiklaani concert several weeks ago, I noticed a poster for Moonsorrow’s Australian tour outside The Zoo. I went home, listened to them and cursed my bank account for not letting me see this amazing band. Generally referred to as pagan metal, Moonsorrow’s music is very dark, with a combination of distorted guitars, harsh vocals and synths on top of it all. Cut to a few weeks later and I got a message from my friend who’s the bass player for local death metal band Inhailed. He was permitted to get one person in the door for free and he offered me the place that evening. I quickly closed my laptop, got in my car and headed straight for the HiFi.

Inhailed were the first opening act that evening. I had seen them once before when they opened for the Blaze Bayley/Paul Di’Anno concert in 2012. As with that show, Inhailed managed to pull off a very tight set. This was quite a remarkable feat considering that their vocalist Ryan Farago has sliced his knee open at work that day. Despite his limited ability to walk around the stage, he delivered his vocals just as well as the rest of the band played their instruments. However, the band experienced the usual problem of people not showing up early on in the show. Inhailed played to a rather small audience but that didn’t stop them from giving it their best.

The next support band was Fear the Setting Sun. Having never heard this band before, the thing that struck me most about them was the fact that they could come up with such interesting sounds with only three musicians. This included a period of a few minutes where the guitarist/vocalist Henry switched to the clean channel and took the whole band’s sound down a few levels of intensity. It may seem like a small thing to remember, but the drum kit was a defining feature. The kit appeared to have only two tom-toms, a regular one and an absolutely enormous floor tom. The sound of their drummer Samuel beating both toms as hard as he could seemed to shake the whole building. Overall, I was impressed with Fear the Setting Sun’s performance and would definitely listen to them in future.

As Moonsorrow’s equipment was tested the venue began to fill up quickly. Before too long, the lights went out and their eerie intro music began to play from the venue’s massive speakers. Fog started to fill the stage and I wondered whether the air conditioners had deliberately been turned to a lower temperature to give the venue the cold feeling of Finland. The intro music went on for a while but the band finally emerged and began their set with Sankarihauta (which was actually the first Moonsorrow song I ever heard). However, almost as soon as they started playing, a rodie ran out on stage and began desperately fiddling around with some of the cables on the front of the keyboard. This went on for a bit and I’m still not certain what the technical problem was. Undeterred, the band then went straight into Ukkosenjumalan Poika, which they delivered with equal intensity. After that, well, they were the only two songs I could really remember. This was due to the fact that I hadn’t been listening to them for very long. But that didn’t matter. A few more songs into their set I decided to leave my place at the front of the crowd and head further back.

While standing towards the back of the venue I made note of several things about the show. The first was the lack of a moshpit. No circle pits, no crowdsurfing, no people slamming into each other. Just a group of people casually headbanging towards the front of the crowd. It was a strange site considering I had previously seen bands like Cannibal Corpse at that same venue. But, the thing about Moonsorrow’s music is that you don’t need to be in a super-aggressive moshpit to enjoy it. Due the atmospheric nature of their music, one can easily enjoy the live experience just by standing back and letting the soundscape consume them. Of course, headbanging can help during the band’s heavier moments, but it’s not the sole purpose of Moonsorrow’s music.

Something else that really stood out was the stage presence of the band. Specifically, that of one of their guitarists. With his white Gibson Flying V, guitarist Mitja Harvilahti spent a great deal of the show displaying guitar moves that would seem more appropriate at a Van Halen concert, including swinging his whole right arm around in circles when striking chords. Some may call this being a rockstar poser. I prefer to think of it as the guitarist enjoying the fact that he’s playing in front of an audience. His on-stage persona leads me to the band’s final song for the night. Their bass player/vocalist Ville Sorvali mournfully announced that everything must come to and end, including life itself, before playing their epic 15-minute closing track Kuolleiden Maa. The end of this song featured a drawn out period of the open strummed chords and drums being pounded every five seconds or so. Harvilahti then raised his guitar into the air, detuned his lowest string to a full octave lower than the chord that was being played, left his guitar in front his amplifier to feed back and then walked off stage. The other guitarist Henri Sorvali (I think) then left his guitar in front of his amplifier and left as well. The rest of the band acknowledged the audience and left the stage, leaving it to the roadies to pick up their guitars and switch off their amplifiers which by now were deafening the audience with feedback.

Before heading for the show I expected a lot from Moonsorrow. What I expected, I got. Despite the technical difficulties of translating a studio effort to the live venue, they managed to put me in the same mood that I get in when listening to their music from my speakers. Their live show still presented at atmosphere of darkness and coldness, something that metal bands from Finland are very familiar with. Overall, I was very impressed with Moonsorrow’s first ever Australian show and I anticipate their return in the near future.

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German Heavy Metal and the Cold War

Rammstein were the very first metal band that I ever listened to. As a teenager, not only was I fascinated by their blending of electronic music, heavily distorted guitars, pounding rhythms, but also the fact that this music was coming from a country other than the U.S. (this being a novelty in the largely American-dominated music industry).  Since first listening to Links 2 3 4, I’ve listened to literally hundreds of bands of all different metal sub-genres from many different places around the world. After several years, I noticed a distinct trend. The fact that Rammstein was from Germany was not strange at all. In fact, there appeared to be a disproportionate number of bands from Germany across all metal sub-genres.

Though an empirical study of the number of metal bands in each country would be almost impossible to achieve, for what it’s worth, Wikipedia has 100 pages of metal bands from Germany, compared to 38 from France, 35 from Italy and 29 from Spain. The other three countries’ populations are not as high as Germany’s but the difference is nowhere near as great as with the number of metal bands (Germany 82 million, France 66 million, Italy 62 million and Spain 47 million in 2012). With (somewhat) conclusive proof of the greater popularity of metal music in Germany, it got me thinking – what exactly makes metal music so much more popular in Germany than in other countries in continental Europe? Being an enthusiast of metal as well as history, I decided to answer this question.

What you see in this picture what Germany was like during the 1980s. A country torn apart by two opposing ideologies and saturated with military forces, which could lay waste to the entire region with the most destructive weapons that mankind has ever produced. In short, if war broke out between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, Germany would bare the brunt of the destruction. This fact was always present in the minds of the German people until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. What I’m arguing here is that this has everything to do with the popularity of heavy metal in Germany.

From its inception in England in the late 1960s, heavy metal has always had a very anti-war statement. This can be seen in Black Sabbath’s 1970 song War Pigs. With the rise of thrash metal in the United States in the early 1980s, this trend became even more prominent. The theme of nuclear holocaust was shown in songs such as Fight Fire With Fire by Metallica, Skeletons of Society by Slayer and Set the World Afire by Megadeth. These bands inspired countless others across the world, especially in Germany. Not just musically, but the anti-war theme was taken up as well. Here’s an example from Accept’s 1979 song Sounds of War.

Sounds of chains we hear from far behind
Mechanic noises of magic kind
Mighty war machines are on their way
I’m knowing here no place to stay

Time will come – we’ll have to pay
An evil war will come some day
I feel frosty atmosphere
Don’t you see that the point is near

Another example is the song Under Friendly Fire by Tankard.

The Yearning! For Conflict, I am a Cowboy from up ‘nigh
I’ve got my Go Pills-I’m a Winner
On the way up I’m gonna get high
I’m speeding! Do I care?
The military orders us to fly
Amphetamines have made us Killers
Ooops! British Troops! Was that a Crime?

This song refers to an incident during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when an American fighter pilot, under the influence of sleep-deprivation drugs, accidentally dropped a bomb on a group of British soldiers. Sodom are a band who have a very strong anti-war message in every album they have released. In their song Remember the Fallen,

Honour the fallen heroes
See their last resting place
Perished in the battle of nations
Where they found eternal peace
Do you know the use of their decorations?
Awarded for patriotism
They left their life in fire
But don’t know even why

To the command of despotic dictators
They marched to fight in a senseless war
Most of them were just puppets and children
The battle was lost before it began

In an interview with metalkings.com, Sodom’s vocalist and bassist Tom Angelripper states that

“Why are we writing about war? Because we don’t want war. We wanna describe how bad the war is. If I write about it I gonna dream that I’m a soldier in the Vietnam conflict or Afghanistan. It would be very bad, you know, just to be in the war, to be a soldier in the war. This is a really bad thing. Now when Americans are bombing Afghanistan hundreds of thousands civilians die and everybody knows about it. So we are going to write about it. But I have to write about it in a lyrical way, I won’t write any newspaper article.”

When looking through their lyrics, it can be seen that most German heavy metal bands have written songs with a strong anti-war message. This is quite understandable due to the fact that this style of music was born during the Cold War. Heavy metal has always been a very rebellious form of music, with many musicians questioning their governments’ official doctrine that war is necessary to preserve freedom. This is my explanation for why heavy metal is far more popular in Germany than other continental European countries.

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Problems with the Fourth Estate – Part 1

As a university graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Arts, I have fairly strong opinions about journalism as a profession and the industry itself. Because of my interest in the the media, I can’t help but notice several problems that journalism as a whole is facing in this country. The one which I am going to focus on in this post is none other than the richest woman in Australia, Gina Rinehart.

It’s not uncommon for very wealthy people to acquire media companies as part of their financial empires. In fact, according to Dr. Harminder Singh from Deakin University, the last few years have seen a considerable increase in media takeovers both in Australia and around the world. However, Rinehart’s interest in media assets have constantly raised alarm bells in the journalism community.  Her first foray into media ownership came in late 2010 when she purchased a 10% stake in the Ten Network which led some commentators to question her motives. A few months after this, conservative commentator and columnist Andrew Bolt was given his own show on Channel 10. Though many including federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy claimed that the creation of this show was done under the orders of Rinehart, these claims were denied by Chairman of Ten Network Holdings Brian Long in February 2012. This may be so. However, acquiring a stake in Channel Ten and the creating of a conservative TV show are just the beginning of the story.

In June 2012, Rinehart’s company Hancock Prospecting increased its stake in  Fairfax Media, the company which own such publications as The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, to 18.7%. Shortly after, Rinehart made a bid to not only to gain three seats on the Fairfax board but also to become the board’s deputy chairman. The Fairfax board informed her that she could only have these seats if she agreed not to interfere with the editorial process of any of Fairfax’s publications as dictated by the board’s charter. On June 27 the Fairfax board decided to reject Rinehart’s application for membership of the board, citing her apparent refusal to commit to not interfering with the editorial processes of its publications. Whether this was the actual reason for the board’s refusal is subject to claim and counterclaim made by both parties.

As I have shown here, the past few years have seen Rinehart show a very keen interest in acquiring media assets. However, it is not just the board of Fairfax which she has had a dispute with. Just last week, Rinehart’s attempt to subpoena Walkey Award-winning journalist Steve Pennell were dismissed by Justice Janine Pritchard. Rinehart was attempting to force Pennell to reveal his sources and hand over all notes regarding Hancock Prospecting and a legal battle with her son John Hancock. Justice Pritchard cited Western Australia’s shield laws that protect journalists from being forced to reveal sources. As well as this attempt, Rinehart is now attempting an identical subpoena on another journalist, Adele Ferguson. Ferguson is a columnist for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald who published an unauthorised biography of Rinehart earlier this year. Clearly, Rinehart does not want the general public to know too much about her business affairs.

Rinehart’s dealings with the Australian media show a clear pattern; she is attempting to have the media publish and broadcast her views and her views only. This trend becomes rather scary when put into the context of ANDEV (Australians for Northern Economic Development and Vision). Founded by Rinehart herself, ANDEV is a lobby group which aims to raise political awareness for the development of Northern Australia. ANDEV’s website claims that “Governments are making Australia less competitive by putting in place new taxes that hit North Australia hardest, by tying entrepreneurs in red-tape and placing upward pressure on input costs for Northern industry.” Somewhat understandable coming from a mining lobby group. However, it then goes on to say “If government gets out of the way, we can build a better future for North Australia.” That last line sums up Rinehart’s intentions in a nutshell. Rinehart has always been very critical of any government effort to place any form of tax on the mining industry. In fact, she has always been very critical of the Labor government, period. Whether the two are directly related or not, it was only after Rinehart bought a 10% stake in the Ten Network that Andrew Bolt, a vehemently conservative right-wing, anti-Labor commentator, was able to get his own show. The same can be said about her apparent refusal to promise not to interfere with the editorial processes of Fairfax’s publications leading to her not gaining her desired seats on the board. Her efforts at buying into segments of the Australian media and taking legal action against individual journalists are a clear sign that her ultimate aim is to control the Australian media for the purpose of influencing voters with her political views.

From what you’ve just read, it would seem that the Australian media is in a bad way. However, despite Rinehart’s efforts to reign in the Australian media, there are pieces of good news scattered across this whole story. When Rinehart took Steve Pennell and Adele Ferguson to court, the Australian journalism community stood by their colleagues. Even the editors of the West Australian wholeheartedly supported Pennell during his court case. While Rinehart and many other wealthy business leaders would love to see the media spout their political views to influence Australian voters, it is the journalists themselves who must write the stories. Therefore, so long as journalists have the will to stand up to people like Gina Rinehart and continue to write stories despite protestations from the wealthy and powerful, the Australian people can be somewhat safe in the knowledge that their news is not entirely corporate propaganda and spin.

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