Monday, February 19, 2007

Most people believe common ground exists between the West and the Islamic world

...despite current global tensions, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

In a survey of people in 27 countries, an average of 56% said they saw positive links between the cultures.

Doug Miller, president of polling company Globescan, said the results suggested that the world was not heading towards an inevitable and wide-ranging "clash of civilisations".

"Most people feel this is about political power and interests, not religion and culture," he said.

Commodified generation

I was in a clothes shop in Soho yesterday. Quite a small one, probably room to swing a cat but not much more. It was one of the new styles of trendy clothes shop which seem to becoming more and more common, where you can buy only about 3 different designs of each type of clothing (i.e. t-shirt, jeans, jackets, etc), but each one in lots of colours. So there were about 20 t-shirts on sale, 3 designs, 4 colours each. The designs, with graphics and slogans, were all bafflingly but trendily random - why write Mexico dolphin 1972 on a t-shirt, and equally importantly, why would I, or anyone else in London, choose to wear one with that written on it? Seemingly it's a post-ironic transcendence of having a message of any kind on one's shirt, whether an explicit (e.g. political) one, or a brash statement of one's colourful personality ("eat my shorts") - which has of course become naff - or even an allusion to a lifestyle, as in a surfer slogan or brand, etc. It's garb for people who live in an urban environment, a free-wheeling, post-industrial spectacle which processes memes and garbles them, so that they become entirely free from their connections or roots, affectless. Consumption is now the lifestyle, rather than surfing - cerebral/internal consumption - I wear in the text space on my chest, the contents of my head, my completely contingent diversion. And - the feeling is, by disposing freely of these memes and tropes, we control and own them all. We, the savvy consumers and (this was Soho) creators of consumption culture, at the cusp of the reproduction of culture, its endless progress, have transcended and now own all the dolphins and Mexico (because we can visit them on YouTube) and other real referents further out in the centrifuge of the world system, which relate to real, warm bodily, productive, historic things subject to a neurological processing according to the predicates of diversion, titillation, novelty, by people in the centre. We are comfortably, knowingly, post-ironically, insulatedly sure of our selves and our position in the world.

Three staff in the shop just wide enough to swing the cat, one young and two not-so-young, the latter with shaved heads, all in the same hip-lite gear. On the wall, a widescreen plasma TV, playing the football match. The oldest chap, perhaps forty or so, probably the owner, solemnly chews on a Taste The Difference (i.e. a luxury-lite brand) yoghurt. A pair of jeans goes for up to £85, but much of the stock's on sale (hence me being in there). One other customer browses the scantily stocked rails. The guy behind the counter, cosseted in a Shoreditch fringe and beret, implacably trendy, tucks into a £5 grilled panini sandwich. There's an atmosphere of bored, aimless comfort. It's hard to resist the urge to say, "it's a hard life isn't it?" to the guy behind the counter. I don't want to take anything away from the achievement of running a successful small business, an independent clothes shop, but what unknown distortions elsewhere (in terms of exploitation of people and resources) must be underwriting this experience of comfort and surplus, this situation where a shop that offers such a paucity of distinction, invention, diversity, and energy and effort and substance, can thrive and prosper?

Here in the north, and I experience this in my own workplace too, we're not only supercomfortable but we're so to the extent that production and consumption overlap to an increasing degree. While we consume we produce. If we're engaged in reproduction of cultural product, then of course, consumption of same is effectively work, because it's research, developing and refining the senses and judgments by usage of which we make our living. Reading a blog, watching videos on YouTube is part of our work. The inverse is that much leisure time has to be devoted to these activities in order to be able to have the right set of marketable knowledge assets, to exude the right cultural air to be able to secure work (in this time of diversity in recruitment, in forward-thinking industries there really might not be - much - discrimination on the basis of gender and race which is of course to be celebrated, but there is on the basis of cultural identification; one can be black, white, Muslim, gay, straight, so long as one is into 24 for example; this might be the reason for the lag of Muslim or older recruitment behind other 'categories' in becoming genuinely (by which I mean internally, within attitudes, not just legislation) widespread and accepted - because this potentially constitutes a cultural difference. This is where important work needs to be done, from my perspective, in highlighting the negative and unacceptable aspects of our commodity-based culture in order to make those who live and work within it more open to, accommodating to and understanding of those who both come from outside it and furthermore choose not to embrace it fully, who maintain different values and identifications, which I'd argue is the only sane thing to do, and something which could save us all if we could all do it). So a seemingly benign bargain is actually pernicious - in order to have a career between 9 and 6, one must give over all of one's time, and one's consciousness, and one's identity and one's politics.

We tweenagers for whom the twenties are the new teen years, the office is the new living room, blugged into our computer work machine-cum-games consoles, spending at no exaggeration one-third of our remunerated time discussing music and outside activities and gossip and the social obligations of the office, are truly the cosseted captives of capital accumulation in the centre. We don't reproduce capital so much through production, though we do with our highly over-valued creative skills, which are really just the recycling of tropes from this culture, and the processing of ones from outside it to create novelty; but we do by consuming as we produce, and by holding captive ourselves and each other, nullifying politicisation, neutralising citizenship and the demos and maintaining a useful swathe of inertia across our generation, among the voters of the capital of a leading imperialist country. Our contribution is not the extraction of resources from or exploitation of people in the South (that duty falls to our peers in the primary industries), but the anaemification of politics in the electorates of the north, by replacing awareness with commodified memes, which we can wear on t-shirts and in our heads.

An addendum - I was also in Brick Lane, in the east end, yesterday - a more promising area, of communities with roots and action and groups, where Asian Muslim and white subcultures intersect and encounter each other usually with acceptance, and putatively a locus of a creative if not political alternative - but every shop, every offering involved only either wonderful earthy lunches (homemade pies, salt beef bagels, organic burgers), or, more significantly, consumption of images - fashion shops and 'galleries' and photobook shops abound; I saw one outlet where one could reasonably expect to be able to buy a book about politics or history, and none where one could borrow one, in the entire area of hundreds of shops.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The fiction of a thinkable world - Michael Steinberg

I've just started reading this wonderful book, and it's joining many dots for me and feels like a culmination for me of a time spent processing certain intimations, which I didn't have (but have been acquiring, slowly) the apparatus to sort out and describe (memories of scribbling things about "no subject and object divide" years ago!)

I've scribbled down the following in condensation and interpretation of some of the ideas (which I may be mistransmitting so take w/ a pinch of salt)-

Instead of a subject-object divide, they are in a sense one. The borders between beings, and between them and the world is porous and subject to a process of continual mutual evolution and creation. our bodies are records of experience manifest in the world they belong to and which belongs to them; there is no thinking, conscious subject apart, in the interior recesses of the mind, which is us, which perceives and controls the rest. Our body moves before we have the conscious experience of deciding to move.

This situates us as a subject grounded in the universe; the universe forms the substance of our body, as well as encompassing it; our consciousness perceives their interactions, yet is not favourised within the relationship. The body moves, the universe moves in synch, the conscious mind perceives the adjustment; from here its attachments are equalised; we use reason to do the best we can (effective instrumentality; clever use of feedback loops of intentionality in order to best further the being to and through constructive experiences).

So we are returned to our true possibilities as mutual creators, in every new second; within equalised-out constraints of certain continuity of our bodies and of the circumstances, attended also by discontinuity, by change and evolution, and the results of feedback loops.

So consciousness does not encompass all our experience, nor all our choosing, nor all our thinking. Instead it is an alert arbiter and calculator assisting and adjusting. Neither do "we" confront the world as subject-object, input-output, perception-action choosers; despite that this is the prevalent experience put about by capitalism (and hence, Steinberg notes, a reason for latter's success - it doesn't propagate an ideology, but an experience). The latter leads to the iniquities we know about. Instead we have the joined-up continuum of being and creating; of movement and response in parallax play; a treasure to be recouped (and which remains in modern life perhaps only in the experience of falling in love).

In relation to this, then, capitalism is a simple endless dry cycle of commodities, power of market over life (free rein for wealthy to enrich selves), compartmentalised and isolated "user experiences";

In relation to this, spiritual training is another refinder of this experience of the primacy of the welling being within us, which is us. And it's a bath of experience feedback which allows us to know the parallax of mutual self-determination with the universe, which leaves the conscious mind again as arbiter, from an equalised-out position of dynamic truth participation.

Given our access to this experience, and to the reality it conveys; and the understanding of its usefulness and acute relevance in confronting the system/situation which substantively opposes it and which is hegemonic today, ruinously so; and also our understanding of the brittleness of the constraints which oppose me, subjectively, acting, as a micro individual, as a collection of circumstances, implanted into a material-political superstructure; in other words knowing latter are contingent and also prone to effective manipulation and moulding, by understanding how intentionality works in this context (a positive feedback); and also how perception works (self-fulfilling, in a positive feedback loop) - given this, we have an apparatus (joining our motivation) by which to work fruitfully, directedly, positively, for change.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Subjective feelings, world realities

The subjective feeling for so many: - stretched on the rack of endless labour in capitalism, with no prospect of self-determination, expression, stability, fruitfulness, respite. despair, crushedness, powerlessness; endless and worsening ills; no security; no saviour.

While at the other extreme, a minority "enjoys" individualistic, necessarily materialistic and reality-contradicted solipsistic superficial elations or satisfactions (a happiness that must be so - must be solipsistic and contradicted - because of global situations, which by definition affect all of us and all our descendents).

A blinkered, shallow, brittle state, which cannot countenance the reality in the world, for the horror - above all existential - that it presents: that there is no "big other" guarantor of security and well-being, nor of the validity and meaning of our lives; and indeed our alcoves of temporary stability and security and comfort are guaranteed at the expense of these attributes, for others now, and for us all in the future. Our corporate-created consumer ego-armoured separated refuge-seeking individualities cannot truly face this or do so in yawing moments of clarity which might send us scuttling to conservatism or liberalism, unless chains of experience or a plank of empathy don't let us.

The means by which we might combat the ills of the real world situation - socialisation, socialism, community, communism, cooperation, democracy, are also the ones which offer the salve to the brittle, painful, isolated, ego individuality; by reconnecting us with our neighbours, and our talents, which revalorises our innate propensities, our selves (not understood in an imaginary individualistic sense). They're the ones we can least contemplate for we cannot or do not wish to do away with the narcotics, pacifiers and screens which let us not face the world situation - air-conditioned offices, advertising-coated walls, job satisfaction, consumerism, coffee, superficial contact etc;

Mixed up in it all and overdetermined by capitalism are shards of humanity, real social relationships, experiences of nature (bird song in a suburban dawn), which keep us going, but which are simply coopted to favour and favour the reality of ongoing imperial capital accumulation and subjugation of other peoples, life and the future of the human race to this objective.

For a decreasing minority to have an increasingly unviable life of enhanced material well-being, security, mobility and accumulation prospects, the increasing majority is denied self-determination, denied their livelihoods and their lives.

For illusory image shrouds, for status symbols, for the ego experiences of western consumerism, people everywhere are denied real human contact and growth and warmth.

In our social relations people find respite; in and through and despite and in deliberate ignorance or neglectfulness of the reality of social relations, we accept ephemera, accept images and hollow cracked surface.

For this civilisation, we choke the planet; we suffocate peoples' lives, without their choice; we've done this throughout, from the first colonisers onwards, through slavery, through indigenous holocausts, through imperialism, and continue to, through debt chains and wars for geopolitical control.

All capital accumulation's moments, presented and acquiesced to and carried by people, are hollow and ruinous; stories of business takeovers, of political interference by the imperium, the products we buy each day from supermarkets, the tasks in the work we do, are the shells of this actual relation.

An authentic spiritual feeling confronts this and experiences it as an offense, as a distance, as an imperative to revalue it;

We're all coopted into reproducing this logic, this linear motion, which irrupts into contexts; this mode of working, which is linear, which converts nature and earth goods into commodities, and thence into capital. to which living rainforest is fodder; and the people who cultivate it an obstruction. this drive which knows no end, and which cannot be reasonable; irrupting into modes far wiser and richer, and overpowering them. How that must feel; the terrible merciless pulsing of an alien force.

And we are its living vectors, people at the centre; alive, anesthetised and comatose in a time of unimaginable drama. To be alive, let alone relatively young, relatively healthy, to have time to contribute, to have anthropophile energy to enact. To have integrity to practise. What a gift in spite of it all. The price of a reflex ego insurance is greater than people imagine; may the latter crack and run bankrupt, painfully so, ever.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

News at 6

switching from news of haditha to football report as if there's nothing wrong, as if the tragedy and horror of the first has no connection to the material prosperity and cultural complacency of the second.

Joel Kovel, author of Enemy of Nature, on capitalism and ecology

Reflections on September 11

November, 2001

The grim shadow over our future cast on September 11, 2001 occurred between the composition of The Enemy of Nature and its release, and could not be incorporated into its argument. Yet its significance is such as to call for some brief observations: First, because much of this book was written during a period of rampant economic growth, its main theme, of the relentless expansive pressure of capital, might seem less important given the current brutal downturn of the world economic system. However, the same basic principles hold. For the pressure itself is what counts, whether or not it succeeds in imposing growth. Capital is a crisis-ridden system, and although there is never any clean correlation between crises in the economy and those of ecology, the integrity of ecosystems is sacrificed at either end of the economic cycle. When the economy grows, sheer quantity becomes the dominating factor; while when, as now, it heads downwards, the diminution in growth acts as a signal causing environmental safeguards to be loosened in order to restore accumulation. Second, the crisis posed by fundamentalist terror and that of global ecological decay share certain basic features. As we will see in the following pages, the ecological crisis is like a nightmare in which the demons released in the progressive domination of nature on a world scale come back to haunt the master. But something of the same holds for terrorism. Fundamentalism�s rebellion is often seen as against modernity, but this only begins to matter in the context of imperialism, that is, the progressive domination of humanity on a world scale. In the species of imperialism known as globalization, the dissolution of all the old ways of being is part and parcel of forcibly imposed �free trade.� Fundamentalisms arise within disintegrating peripheral societies as ways of restoring the integrity of ravaged communities. The project becomes irrational because of the hatred induced by powerlessness, and as it does, turns toward a pattern of terror and counterterror in a cycle of vengeance. The dialectics of terror and ecological disintegration are joined in the regime of oil. This constitutes, on the one hand, the chief material dynamic of the ecological crisis, and on the other, the organizing principle for imperial domination of those lands where the conflict is being fought out. Petroleum fuels industrial society; and the growth of the West is necessarily a growth in the exploitation and control of those lands where it is most strategically located. As these happen to be largely Islamic, so is the stage set for the great struggle now unfolding. This is not the place to take up the conduct of this struggle except to say that it needs to be joined at the root of its causes. From this perspective, resolving the ecological crisis and freeing humanity from terror�including, to be sure, the terror inflicted by the superpower on its victims--are two aspects of the same process. Both require the overcoming of empire, which requires the the undoing of what generates imperialism over nature and humanity. It is an illusion to think that this can be achieved without a profound restructuring of our industrial system, and by implication, our whole way of being. The grip of imperialism, whether of oil or otherwise, cannot be broken within the terms of the current order. Hence what is required to overcome global warming and the other aspects of the ecological crisis goes also for terror. A world must be built that does not need the fossil fuel economy, a world, as is argued in what follows, beyond capital.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Manufacturing solipsism

(for the benefit of any poor, lost, misguided individuals who read me and not Le Colonel Chabert!)

The Individual, in a materialist perspective, is not the isolated Vitruvian man, infused with a demon intelligence, but the quantity (the commoner + the common). That is the smallest unit of human society. Only idealism concocts an abstract and impossible (dead, fictional) individual, a purportedly viable being, a subject, which is a human body without water and food but magically possessed of a mind and life nonetheless. This individual is not a living human being, but a cadaver. If it thinks and acts, it is a ghoul, a zombie, a phantasy. An adequate water supply is as indispensible a part of a person as blood, brain and lungs. Privatising water is no less an enslavement of the materialist individual than the privatisation of blood and bone which are distinctive features of legal chattel slavery.

What "keeps body and soul together" - soul perhaps being the wraith of the expropriated common, the phantom limb of humankind after the amputation that is property-right - cannot be eliminated from the concept of the individual, the indivisible.
Portia in the Venetian courtroom approached and evaded the question at once - no flesh can be collected without bloodletting, one bond (material) thus trumps another (phantastical, ideological).

In late capitalism we flail in vain for the roots of our condition, and for "sense", sense which consists in experience and meaning arriving at the same time, which we have been deprived of all our lives, so it's not a novel experience except on the evolutionary scale;
The thing which lies behind the divorce from sense, from meaning, and which therefore constitutes the underlying explanation for our existential ill, and for the sense of abstraction in the world, is something as basic as our continually reinforced (both materially and ideologically) separate individual identities, our atomised particulate subjectivities.
Which is the state of being an idiot (pace warszawa's comment to the above post) - "from [the Greek] idios "personal, private," prop. “particular to oneself,”". And this is the permanent state, as a consumer, deliberately created because it's profitable.

Capitalism and faith, some early thoughts

Following Lenin's, and John "Sweet Nothing" Pistelli's, fantastic pieces on this subject, here are some addled and scrambled thoughts on faith and liberalism.

The nature of real substantial oppositions in society is highly distorted in official discourse. There are a few real and ostensible oppositions-
  • One opposition is between imperialism and its victims (the intersection and necessary conflict between an International Relations realism (or foreign policy realpolitik) and human societies – the intersection of Britain furthering its strategic interests in the Middle East, and Palestine, circa 1917, is one example among so many).
  • Another is between secularism and faith, and even between liberalism (which in theory enshrines the ability to practise faith alongside secularism), and faith.
  • And the last one I want to consider is that between life and matter; or between humanity as a concern and identification, and materialism.

(let me run through the banal points quickly)
The ruling class uses the second opposition to cloak the first, and to obfuscate the issue, as a useful-to-itself distraction and distortion of its true project.
In this way, spreading putatively Enlightenment values (freedom, democracy, etc), has been the pretext for extending imperial control. When the response to the violence of the latter project has arisen, it has been vilified as a terrorism based on religious fundamentalism, and this has added further weight to the pretext for continuing the project.

It's wrongly described as religious fundamentalism, and to describe it thus can only rely on racism (not to see that the victims of material irruption into their societies will of course respond). It's a useful excuse (within the context of managing domestic opinion) for continuing, prolonging and escalating projects of imperial expansion and control and for the whole philosophy of realism in foreign policy (so we can conclude that the epithet “terrorism” is a purely ideological confection; describing non-state violence which is not morally worse than violence by states, and is much less lethal).

Both of which (the project and the philosophy) ultimately come down to materialism (covetousness, rather than materialism in the marxist sense) - to espousing material gain over human welfare.
Which, it’s a banal point, is the opposite of the teachings in religion, including (perhaps even most explicitly of all) in Christianity, the professed religion of the capitalists.

Rather than be explicit about it, the quest for resources and geopolitical dominion is framed as a confrontation of values, which is a necessary distortion to create the acquiescence of voters. We the voters confuse the enemies of our well-being. "Our" enemy is not Islam, but objectively, in terms of what is good for us as social human beings, consumerism. It's the fact that we have to go to work in jobs which contribute to leading us all to catastrophe.

If our career and our comfort are threatened by the spiritual conception, then to the extent we identify with the former two, yes the spiritual conception becomes the enemy, but one which we cannot fight, and which cannot fight us; it would be a velvet revolution occurring within us in our confession only.

This is the material usefulness of liberalism to the ruling class (occurring coterminously as it did with capitalism and with the neoclassical economics which also functions as apology for the latter).

A quick note about the brethren ideology of liberalism, scientific reductionism (which gives rise to the scepticism, faith in the empirical scientific method, etc, which make it only and only it seem rational). These seem to constitute the highest values from our point of view of unparalleled-to-date technological advance, but what we need to understand is that these technological advances, the advance of technology into life, have narrowed and cloistered our perspective, as well as given us amazing insight into material processes.

We live in societies of advanced abstraction, removed from nature, from the lessons it would teach us about cyclical processes, and in vulnerability and engagement and faith. Our perspective and horizons are man-made, which results in our leaders (and ourselves to the extent we support them ideologically and materially (the genius of capitalism, or rather the reason for its successful take and self-propagation is the way that peoples' interests become felt to be aligned to those of the ruling class to the extent they have power)), feel powerful, over nature, and over man - a very dangerous situation. It's a dangerous combination, that of a reductionist and materialistic logic taking control in peoples' perspectives and incentives and feelings and decisions, in their subjective being, and being allied with their increasing material (military, economic) potential for dominion over human and other natural life; their inability to steward this linear power and to restrain it from being objectively harmful and threatening to all life.
This leads us to our current position of advanced danger.

Meanwhile, Islam, other religions and spiritual movements, indigenous wisdom, concepts of ecology, have a more holistic perspective.
If we accept the potentially reductionist, negative premises of liberalism (freedom of individuals and groups to practise their beliefs separately) the debate has been framed in a way which has made certain assumptions, and which leads to certain conclusions.
We judge other ideologies in terms of how they measure in terms of the positive values we have arrived at in the course of our society's development.

How about if we approach from a different angle?
Opposing the materialistic, reductionist, individualist viewpoint, is a conception that is holistic and whole, which spreads as a feeling from the centre of the being, encountering the experienced material universe and enveloping and relating to it in an motion which can only be described as love. It can't be measured, or really judged; it sounds foolish and frail and contingent. But as it's experienced (and its experience arrives in billions of forms any second to all living beings - when not actively prevented, because systemically occluded) - it's undeniably the greater truth.
When we say opposing, it is as if we are pitting rival ideologies against each other; and this leads to the conclusion that for one to win, they must engage each other in a fight. But this isn't the case. The spiritual conception, which knows and respects no names, which is available to all, which could be found for example in the firmest atheist, and not at all in the most professed religious person, flees like dew from grass from the project of fighting or asserting material ascendancy. The latter project can only belong to its substantive opposite.

We can see the tragedy in the current situation; people professing to be Christian fight in the cause of Mammon, utterly contradicting the teachings of Christ. People professing Enlightenment values of tolerance and liberty institute the polar opposite following illegal conquests.

The responses of their victims to these aggressions wouldn't need to be religious, but because in many cases the victims are religious, naturally their responses are expressed in religious terms, which adds (from the point of view of imperialist domestic audiences) fuel to the fire of a 'clash of civilisations' thesis.

Thus we have the lunacy of hell becoming true on earth; of American soldiers calling their Iraqi victims 'hajis', a blessed and sacred epithet signifying someone who has experienced heaven on earth, in the form of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Of reading news reports of Palestinians killed by capitalist invasion, with the given names of prophets and peace.

The materialism embodied in capitalism, which has gained objective existence in our social processes and subjective ascendancy in the hearts and minds of those who lead and travel in our social vehicles (e.g. imperialist nation states), brings everyone with it; it constitutes an objective evil, which threatens us all not just materially but spiritually too. This might ultimately be the greater tragedy - that all of us people, encountering the objective material situation in the world (in all the different ways - needing to make a living; experiencing and witnessing the terrible and mortal effects of capitalism which arrives precisely coterminously with the ways we have to make our living), find our faith precluded from existing and being developed, have our faith coopted into vehicles which bear the same names but none of the content; find our faith and our holistic conception, which must always and non-negotiably value human life above matter, and always and non-negotiably knows all human life to be of equal value, offended and occluded and evaporated in myriad ways every moment. Not just human bodies are wrecked and tortured by capitalism and imperialism; human minds are lost in mental illnesses and despair and depression; and souls burdened with the "sins" borne of the illusions of particularity and reductionism, of the continual profitable hiding of holistic realities, of the system.

That the truth of life - an unending opportunity to experience and express grace and serendipity and beneficence, in the form of creativity and cooperation and experience - is equally unendingly, continually, simultaneously precluded from ever occurring, by the objective existence of the system.

So it might be that in liberal societies, tragically, for all the sometimes emancipatory potential and intent of liberal ideas, that spiritual values are excluded, to the profit of materialism. This because the innate and throughout-patterned opposition of spiritual life and matter is not understood; or understanding deliberately removed; the opposition continually misassigned (as an inheritance of the scientific enlightenment; or rather, of the deliberate intent of capitalist ideological production). So that capitalism can spread like a parasite on a host which is no longer fighting it, to exclude that which is of life within the body - viciously attacking it anew for all it presents opposition to it.

So in sum, it's a necessary conclusion of having a faith, or a spiritual confession, an ecological vision, or an identification with fellow humanity, with the social conception which predates our civilisation, to counterpose capitalism.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lebanon photos

From Flickr

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Immortal Technique on Revolution

Speaking at the South Central farm. Part I is available here.