Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bees and Sex sans Benefits

At the time of writing this Brentford FC are at third place in Coca-Cola League Two after drawing 1-1 with Gillingham, with a game in-hand (exciting!). Although only twenty games into the season (about halfway) things might be looking up for The Bees, especially as they are, currently, in the promotion zone (oh yes, they could be heading up to Coca-Cola League One at this rate). For this to take place, however, every goal counts, and to be sure for every shot scored, there will be an overflow of enjoyment attained by he who shoots.

Allow me to work my magic here; The Bees will gain an excessive reward of pleasure (or a benefit of some sort, perhaps money) for every time they shoot successfully! But where might this not be the case? Well, those of us, like myself, who hold a certain soft spot for football and botany, will already see the antagonism here, and it rests in the obvious; pseudocopulation in the bee population.

But of course, in usual pollination a mutual benefit is achieved by plant and animal, whereas in pseudocopulation, no such benefit is attained by the pollinator, in this case our poor bee.

Allow me to explain pseduocopulation; in basic terms it is the attempt at copulation by a male insect with a female flower. The bee, attracted to the scent or sight of the flower, may well try to have his end away with it, knowing little or nothing about its being a flower at all. The flower is involved in a matter of deception.

The bee himself is wooed, in the case of the orchid, by the release of osmophores which are identical to the pheromones let-off by the species. Common, too, is the occurrence of visual mimicry in plants where a flower might appear like a sexually receptive female, in the case of the orchid it might appear as female Hymenoptera so as to be inseminated by an unlucky male of this order, only for him to find that he has been duped, probably humiliated and will, no less, carry a stigma (those of us, like myself, versed in botany and paronomasia will be truly grateful for the play on the word ‘stigma’ here, noting the reference to the stigmatised bee, and, of course, stigma as in the reproductive part of a female flower).

The most taxing taxonomic unit of orchid, especially for a seduced wasp, surely must be the Drakaea. Their labellum, or flower lips, contains calluses that have evolved into the shape, colour and touch of a female wasp in waiting. The male, probably red with delight, after some complex knocking manoeuvres involving his thorax and the flower’s pollinea, picks up the pollen and delivers to the next flower, who also deceives him (this bee just goes round being screwed over by these pollen hungry lady flowers).

We might be tempted to call the female flower’s systematically complex, and perverted deception here a form of body language, and if so, I call for this language to be identified as copulatic language. My reason for this name is that it obviously looks to relate with the word copulate. But, also, it is very reminiscent of Coptic Language, which is a minor spoken language in Egypt, of the Hamito-Semitic language family. It uses the Greek alphabet in its written form, but also borrows additional characters from Demotic script, which in turn has roots in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, which in turn has variations such as Cursive Hieroglyphics, and Cursive Handwriting is a type of handwriting more commonly referred to as joined up (give it a chance!).

Allow me to work my magic here; Cursive Handwriting, a root in Coptic Language, is a written word constructed using a single stroke, from the latin cursivus for ‘flowing’. Another term for this is, crucially, joined-up writing - that is to say, the joined-up set of symbols used to formulate language! And is this not what the flowers do to the bees? Do they not precisely form their own body language to join-up with bees, who in turn carry that element of the flower’s communication, in the form of pollen, to another deceiving, sex perverted flower?

As the Bee Gees have rightly pointed out on this very same topic, in the form of song, "Its only words, and words are all I have, to take your [pollen] away." Like the victimised bee, I feel that my message has now been sufficiently communicated.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why I am not an agnostic

“If God did exist”, asks the advert for the Alpha course that I see on a regular basis in London tube stations and across buses “what would you ask?” After spending a couple of minutes deciding what I’d ask God (namely, why am I an atheist?) I wonder why Alpha has chosen to present the question with the indecisive subordinating conjunction if. The atheist bus advert, too, adds its own measure of uncertainty: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” (I’ve added my own italics for emphasis). (Read on)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

German Economy waits for Gold, Frankincense, and Merkel (A Modern Day Keynesian Controversy)

Despite criticism from leading bankers and other European leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains defiant on her refusal to spend her way out of the recession, criticising the short-term initiatives employed by Britain, the US and France. Proof of her distinct agitation and non-compliance, if proof were needed, reverberates in her recent joke during a cabinet meeting: “What’s the difference between Communism and Capitalism? Communists nationalised companies first before running them.”

Her blows were swung at the US who she accused of using “cheap money” as a means of fiscal boost and French President Nicolas Sarkozy who voiced his aggravation with Berlin, saying, “While France is working, Germany is thinking.”

The motive for Merkel’s and her Coalition’s’ rebellion is not simply contrarian as might be suspected from the apparent stubbornness of German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück “we are not obliged to copy what all other countries are doing,” when he unveiled plans to insert 31 billion euros to help boost the downturn. Rather it is her way of remaining loyal to the “Stability and Growth Pact” (SGP) originally proposed by the former Finance Minister Theo Waigel at the beginning of the 1990’s and agreed at the EU summit in Dublin in 1997.

The purpose of the pact – that has the backing of both Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Steinbrück’s Social Democrats – was to tune the euro so it would be able to compete with the US Dollar and strengthen the stability of the euro-zone. It has strict criteria which is the fountainhead of the present dispute.

Merkel also contends whether the aid for Commerzbank – the first commercial lender to seek Governmental capital - meet the terms of the 500bn euro rescue fund, approved by the EU, adding "Europe must, I say this clearly in relation to the German bank rescue package, act speedily".

The way other European leaders have tackled the financial crisis and the nature of Merkel’s rebellion should provide analysts with lessons of a modern day battle of Keynesian economics and its antagonists (It will be of no surprise that the SGP has its roots in the Keynesian-Monetarist controversies of the 1960’s-1970’s). The picture painted of Merkel by her critics as “faint-hearted” has been due to the perceived weakness of her stimulus plans, which amount to €11bn over two years, a mere pinch on the €480bn used by the by government as bank rescue.

Whereas the fashion is to stay true to Keynesian economics, namely book IV of Keynes’ General Theory entitled “Inducement to Invest” which instructs a reduction on interest rates and allowing a minimum of capital efficiency in order to promote governmental investment, Merkel has put Germany’s brakes on.

To critics that appeal to the lack of quick and effective relief in 1929 such as Peter Coy of Business Week, Merkel has claimed that the crisis cannot follow “an old script we can turn to”. Save for the extraordinary parallels Merkel’s plans have with the SGP and the clear reaction to the neo-Keynesian approach taken by her European peers – plans akin, in other words, to a script – the dispute does make for an interesting battle of economic theory in practice, and could be a decider for future crises.

Like Ela Soyemi for The Guardian has rightly pointed out “it is worth taking a good hard look at Merkel’s point.” In spite of financial hard times, conclusions may be drawn for the most appropriate action a government should take – fiscal boosts or hands on heads.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holes and Hot Air: What can be done for the North America-sized hole in the Antarctica?

Scientists from the United States government agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released figures regarding the size of this year’s ozone hole over Antarctica. It is now around 10.5 million square miles wide and four miles deep, the fifth largest size since 1979. (Read on)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Project Shows Obama Doesn’t Do Hot Air

In his victory speech President-elect Barack Obama declared to combat “a planet in peril” in the same breath as he outlined other plans on issues such as the two wars and the financial crisis. The need for a “green recovery” as he calls it rates very high for the President-elect, which is why he will fund his $150bn (£93bn) “Apollo Project” to awaken a new alternative energy economy.

Kenny Farquharson for Scotland on Sunday earlier this month drew the comparison between the name of Obama’s project and the NASA mission to emphasise the significance of the plans.

The project, as Geoffrey Lean and Leonard Doyle in the Independent on Sunday explained, aims to expand renewable energy use insulating a million homes and putting a million rechargeable “plug-in hybrid cars” on the road by 2015. As an extra incentive green car consumers will also receive $7000 in tax credits.

Proposals to create five million “green collar” jobs have come at a time when American unemployment is at its highest in 14 years. Peter S. Goodman for the New York Times showed that the figures for unemployment had risen to 6.5 percent from 6.1 percent after 240,000 jobs were lost at the start of the month.

Catherine Brahic in the New Scientist foresees Obama embracing the cap-and-trade plans where a limit is placed on how much of a pollutant can be emitted, so in order for a company to emit more than their limit allows they must buy credits from companies that pollute less. This initiative will overturn President Bush’s long opposition to capping the amount of emissions a country produces and be among many of the present administration’s weak policies on climate change that will be scrapped.

Barack Obama’s presidential win is generating optimism among the top ranks of green activism. John Vidal in the Guardian mentioned Rodger Schlickeisen, the President of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, who welcomed Obama’s words stating that now is a time when we can look forward to a future when the health of our planet “will not be sacrificed to appease polluting industries and campaign contribution.”

The other main green initiative outlined in Obama’s manifesto - and most optimistic of them all - are plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to the level they were at in 1990, vowing to cut 80% of emissions in 2050, matching Britain’s aims and outdoing Europe by 20%.

The first task for Obama will be to produce clear results when sending his green representatives to the UN’s climate change talks in Poznam, Poland. Will they be able to convince the world that his plans on climate change are changes we can believe in?

Further Embarrassment for the Government as More Personal Data is Lost

An inquiry was called for after a memory stick with information of millions of people was found in a pub car park in Staffordshire. The information contained confidential passwords to the Government Gateway system, the online system that offers services including self-assessment tax returns, council tax records, pension entitlements, and child benefit claimants.

The BBC reported that this was one of the most high-profile cases in the spree of missing data cases including the personal details of 100,000 of the armed forces in October, and the entire child benefits records affecting 25 million personal details in November of 2007.

Daniel Boffey in the Daily Mail reported that security of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – the department responsible for the Gateway website – had not been breached in this case and that the personal information of Gateway users was not at threat as the data was encrypted. Boffey also noted that a computer expert told the Mail on Sunday that if the memory stick had fallen into the wrong hands it could have enabled them access to 12 million peoples personal details and passcodes.

The loss of the stick has been attributed to Daniel Harrington, an IT analyst at private computer management company Atos Origin, the company in charge of supplying IT systems at the 2012 Olympics. Harringotn, 29, according to the Telegraph earlier this month, had broken the firm’s rules by downloading the information onto a USB stick and leaving the company premises.

Jimmy Burns of the Financial Times has stated that the Government will “consider” ending a contract with the private company. A spokesperson for the DWP said, "This was a serious breach of rules and we are currently considering what action to take."

This is not the only recent incident to embarress the DWP. Press Association reported that James Purnell, Secretary of State for work and Pensions, was forced to apologise for leaving confidential correspondence on a train including letters relating to the case of a constituent of Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman. Passengers clamied he left his ministerial ‘red box’ unattended whilst taking phone calls during a journey from Macclesfield to London Euston in October.

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown, during a visit to the Gulf told ITN News that the incidents demonstrated “unacceptable behaviour” and that measures should be taken to “prevent these kind of things happening in future”. On a bleaker note the PM also commented that “we can't promise that every single item of information will always be safe, because mistakes are made by human beings."

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment

Popular culture has created many fictional forms of the cyborg, from Rachel in Ripley Scott's Blade Runner to The Terminator. But for some, the cyborg is not simply a fictional myth. Foremost cyborg theorist Donna Haraway in her Cyborg Manifesto has defined it as a cybernetic creature of both lived society and fiction. Since there are no indicated boundaries between the two, there is a struggle to define and control the cyborg properly, this "border war" being fought vie an "optical illusion" (149). Modern Medicine, Haraway continues, is already full of cyborgs. Indeed the possibility of a complete scanning of the human body in order to replicate a digitized 3-D figure for digital slicing, an effort known as VHP (Visible Human Project), will be made common medical practice in the near future (for more see Hayles). The cyborg, also, is not defined by gender; "it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis [...] or other seductions to organic wholeness [constituted by] all the powers of the parts into a higher unity" (150). For some who are anxious of those who, like Haraway expresses in her Informatics of Domination, embrace genetic engineering, such as R. Klein who Nadia Mahjouri in her paper on Techno-Maternity quotes as saying "[g]enetic and reproductive engineering is another attempt to end self-determination over our own bodies" (para. 4) Haraway is keen to show that techno-science has already begun the process of such engineering, and the feeling of being mediated by it already exists. (Read on)

Documentary Aired in Praise of WWI Australian Fallen

The Australian History Channel has commissioned a documentary that marks the 90th anniversary of WWI. It is a companion to the 2005 documentary commemorating the fallen in Gallipoli.

The film will be a tribute to the soldiers who fought during the battles of the Western Front from Frommelles (July 1916) through to Montbrehain (October 1918).

The award-winning writer Jonathan King, whose book The Western Front Diaries the film is based on, has also co-written, co-produced and presented the documentary.

The Gallipoli campaign in the peninsula of Turkey from 25th April through to 9th January 1916 was an endeavour set by the British Empire, including the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC’s), and France to take hold of the Ottoman capital of Istanbul and create a secure route through to Russia for the troops. But the mission was caught by fire and suffered heavy casualties. 8, 709 Australians were killed.

Australia’s Naval and Military Forces arrived on the island of New Pommern, later called New Britain, on September 11th 1914. Other than being highly instrumental in Gallipoli, the Australian and Canadian corps led the Battle of Amiens during the Hundred Days Offensive which began 8th August 1918. With the Fourth British Army to the left of them, the First French Army to the right, the corps that day helped set the beginning of the German Downfall, only a few months after Wilhelm the II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, had anticipated a German win by scheduling a national holiday on the 24th of March.

Dr. Jonathan King, who has been awarded with Australian Achiever of the Year in 1988 for his achievements in remembering the Bicentennial First Fleet of Tall Ships from London to Sydney, and the Outstanding Achiever’s Award Medal by the Australian Prime Minister in 1989, is a respected journalist, author and historian. His book The Anzacs’ Own Story Day by Day was released in 2003 in time to commemorate the 85th anniversary of remembrance.

His efforts have been to re-enact and balance the history on the lives given by the ANZAC and to reinvestigate the often forgotten 250,000 Australians who made up the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

No more Australian survivors of the war remain since the death of Alec Campbell in 2002, who was the last link of Australians with the Gallipoli campaign. The challenge of this film, therefore, is the survival of those men in the form of diaries, letters and postcards read out by family members, recording interviews and relative memories.

The documentary premiered on the Australian History Channel 11/11/08.

Bali Bombers Executed in Indonesia

The perpetrators of the 2002 Bali Bombings have been executed on the prison island of Nusakambagan, Indonesia.

The members of the South East Asian group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) Amrozi bin Haji Nurhasyim (Amrozi) 47, Ali Gufron (Mukhlas) 48, Imam Samuda 38, were tied to wooden poles and shot through the heart shortly before midnight Saturday, five years after they were all given death sentences for their crimes which killed 202 and injured a further 209 in the tourist district of Kuta.

Among the dead were 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 28 British, and 7 Americans.

Supporters of the bombers and of the creation of an Islamic Caliphate (political leadership of an Islamic Ummah or nation) chanted songs and slogans as the bodies of Mukhlas and Amrozi were carried through the small village of Tenggulun in East Java.

Agence France-Presse described one man in Serang as saying “the bombers’ “jihad” was wrong”.
The British Foreign Office sent a clear message to travellers to avoid Bali in case of repeat attacks. The Australian Department for Foreign Affairs were even more explicit advising citizens to reconsider travel to Indonesia in this time of high threat.

Police were forced to block radical Islamic enthusiasts from the coffins but other than this crime was minimal. There are no reported retaliation acts.

The attacks on the night comprised of a suicide bomber detonating a bomb in the nightclub Paddy’s Pub, those who survived quickly fled the building into the street where approximately 15 seconds later another bomb was detonated, this time inside a parked van.

In April 2003 Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged co-founder of Jemaah Islamiyah was charged with treason for trying to overthrow the Government for an Islamic State. To the dismay of the Australian and the US Governments he was freed on the 14th of June 2006, serving only a small amount of his original sentence. He had his conviction overturned December 21st 2006. Bashir led the funerals of the bombers and was stated as saying that the bombers families “must be happy because the two died in the way of Allah in order to fight against evil in the world."

Melbourne Barrister Julian McMahon earlier this month called for the Bali Bombers not to be executed, stressing this will create martyrs of them. As the bombers were ever closer to their deaths they never showed remorse, even going as far as mocking their victims’ families in court.

There will be optimism among those who seek to see Hamboli, the ringleader behind the Bali Bombings, brought to justice as it has been reported that despite the pressure put on President-elect Barack Obama to close Guantanamo Bay, a trial for the evil mastermind, who has been in the prison camp since 2003, could be as soon as the end of the year, prosecutors say.
Bomb maker and suspected leading JI figure Noordin Mohammed Top, however, is thought to still be at large. Analysts have suggested he may be involved with an active splinter group.

Indonesia is a secular democratic state and it has the world’s largest Muslim population, most of whom abhor and condemn the extremism carried out by the JI.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Annie Hall and the Challenges to Romantic Comedy Convention

Alvy's Classmate: For God's sake, Alvy, even Freud speaks of a latency period.
Alvy Singer: Well, I never had a latency period. I can't help it.

Although a lot has already been said of Woody Allen's Annie Hall the full weight of its "Freudianism" has been left out, especially regarding the later writings of Freud. Woody Allen was no stranger to the works of Sigmund Freud, indeed this knowledge played a very important part in his films, so it is forgiveable to call Allen himself a Freudian filmmaker. In order to show the depth of Allen's Freudianism and how it challenges certain established conventions it is necessary to pinpoint what exactly Woody Allen’s screen persona is, using Annie Hall (1977) as an example, then to locate what conventions of the Romantic Comedy it is a challenge to.

Film critics are ready to accept Annie Hall as a romantic comedy and no popular film website or book challenges this film belonging to this genre. But when watching the film it is obvious that the typical optimism of a RomCom is disturbed. What Annie Hall does which this sub-genre of comedy would usually erase is denote the impossibility of love. Or rather it shows the impossibility of love for a “Manhattenesque” intellectual pessimist. Indeed this impossibility is furthered by Woody Allen’s character Alvy Singer being a self-conscious Freudian undergoing analysis. As Socrates said ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ only for Alvy he is not able to live for he is forever examining. Even more relevant is Kierkegaard’s quote ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but... it must be lived forwards’ though for Alvy Singer his (Freudian) obsession with analysing his childhood to understand why he is the way he is, condemns him to a life that cannot properly be lived forwards. Indeed this is aptly summarised by Alvy’s theatrical play about his time with Annie, as he says himself “you know how you’re always tryin’ t’ get things to come out perfect in art because it’s real difficult in life”. It’s as if the only way to psychically patch things up with Annie and experience a proper closure is to rectify his relationship outside of reality – something he says he has always confused anyway.

Steve Neale and Frank Krutnik identify in Woody Allen his ‘incurably incompetent character’ which is not as challenging to Romantic Comedy convention as the questions about love Alvy Singer cries at the people on the street of New York. When the young couple tell Alvy that shallowness of the mind is “love’s only guarantee of durability” then he realises that love is his impossible project. Implicitly in the answer that the young couple give Alvy, they tell him that unexamined love may or may not be worth living, but its the only thing that keeps it alive. Alvy is at the point of his analysis where examination is no longer an option, deeming the durability of his love with Annie as improbable. And indeed this is their loves fete. As such, his incompetence does precede his challenge to Romantic Comedy convention.

As Geoff King points out, Alvy Singer encapsulates the notion of romance as ‘complex, frustrating and elusive’. For Alvy, if romance could just simply be romantic then he would bypass all his pent up anguish, however his tension concerning romance is a reluctance of commitment to a post-feminist heterosexual union. It seems his main battle is to synthesise his fantasy of the old-fashioned couple and the “Manhattenesque” female independence. In comic fashion, his inability to find a synthesis between the two sees him spy on Annie after she has just finished a class, where it is she begins to find his paranoia intrusive.

Alvy’s paranoia demonstrates the same vulnerability which Annie previously found affection for. However, in trying to craft in Annie his perfect woman – one who takes classes at Columbia and who takes analysis – Alvy helps provide Annie with the necessary confidence for her to leave him. At this point, Annie is also able to examine her own life, and she envisages, as Babington and Evans call it, her ‘“second sex” status’.

Another element to Woody Allen’s screen persona which precedes his being a challenge to Romantic Comedy convention is his preoccupation with stereotypes. This also relates to his being an exemplary Jewish humorist – a point I shall come back to further on. On Alvy’s first meeting with Allison Portchnik, he labels her as a typified New York, Jewish, Liberal intellectual after she tells him the subject of her thesis, to which she replies ‘I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype’. In a way, Woody Allen’s screen persona is a reduction to a cultural stereotype. One critic has suggested that telling jokes about the racial/religious group one belongs to is at once a knowledge of the negative stereotypes others have about that group, whilst it not being an affirmation of that negative stereotype. Alvy’s complaint “I distinctly heard it. He muttered under his breath, “Jew”” is at once Alvy Singer being paranoid about his Jewishness, and Woody Allen’s portrayal of the stereotypical paranoid Jew.

Indeed there is something rather unique about Jewish humour. It was Freud who distinguished humour (or as the title of his study suggests, wit) from jokes and comedy. The difference is that anyone can tell jokes or churn out prescribed forms of comedy if they chose to, humour on the other hand is something inherent in ones psychological make-up. So what is inherent in Woody Allen’s humour? His pessimistic, self-deprecating humour is characteristic of Jewish humour. With even a limited knowledge of Judaism one can identify why Jews have needed a psychological defence against persecution. Freud himself recognises humour as a defence mechanism used by the Jews in times of hardship. Martin Grotjahn explains the self-deprecating joke as ‘taking the enemy’s dagger, splitting a hair in mid-air, stabbing himself and giving it back with the query ‘can you do half as well?’’ The self-deprecating Jewish sense of humour seems like a distinguished way of causing psychological trauma to the enemy, by querying whether the enemy can do half as well at denigrating Jews. Amid this, it also underpins a defiance against the Romantic Comedy conventions.

Other than being too intellectually neurotic for love, pessimistic, preoccupied with Semites and stereotypes there is one other thing that is indicative of his screen persona which deems him dissimilar to the conventional Romantic Comedy character. When Alvy Singer announces that he ‘never had a latency period’, whether intentionally or not (as this is a Freudian critique, intention is not important here), he proclaims something which has troubled Jews for centuries: Moses and the latency period.

The latency period in Freudian psychoanalysis is the fourth stage of psychosexual development during which the child develops a libido – that is to say discovers pleasure from being fed (oral phase) and defecating (anal phase) – and when years later on the child begins to go out of its way to control the movement of its bowels. Freud in his text Moses and Monotheism asserts this same period as an analogy to Moses’ relationship with Judaism. So, looks back Freud, Moses was not Hebrew but an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten (Effective spirit of Aten). He furthers by saying that the Jews killed him in despair of his Monotheism, but later historically felt guilty and formulated a religion acknowledging him. Moreover, by killing Moses, the Jews sacrificed the use of historicising – something Freud attributes to the peoples of Egypt. Without a history of these events, there remains an unexamined period of around 150 years of Judaism, which Freud termed the Jewish latency period. In addition, Freud declared that the guilt of killing Moses has remained in (and is the reason for) the Jewish faith - to make Jews feel better.

What then, now, is significant about Alvy’s confession that he never had a latency period. Is he not saying that he didn’t kill off the Moses in his Jewish persona because having a latency period, and being Jewish is, for Freud, the equivalent of accepting the killing of Moses. And so this is relative because by keeping that kernel of Judaism alive in Alvy, has meant that his persona is characteristically Jewish (without actually having the guilt of being a religious Jew for killing Moses – as it happens Allen, like Freud before him, is Atheist). And it is this characteristic, as I have detailed, which constructs him as a challenge to the conventions of Romantic Comedy.

Babington and Evans describe Alvy as ‘struggling ... to detach himself both from Madison Avenue taste and the trauma of an ethnic minority childhood’. And this vulnerability is very public. Indeed it is what makes him attractive to Annie, and also what ends up repulsing her about him. Babington and Evans also talk about the contemporary comedian who must declare a distance between his comic persona and himself. This is precisely what Woody Allen does not do. Critics have convincingly commented on how autobiographical the film can be seen. If this is true, Alvy’s pseudo-intellectualist-Manhattenesque-Atheistic Freudianism, which is attributed to him not being a conventional Romantic Comedian, is Woody Allen’s own.


Babington, Bruce and Peter William Evans, Affairs to Remember: The Hollywood Comedy of the Sexes 1989, Manchester University Press, UK

Bailey, Peter J., The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen 2001, University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky

Davies, Christie, Exploring the Thesis of the self-deprecating Jewish sense of humour in Zajdman, Anat and Auner Ziv (eds.) Semites and Stereotypes 1993, Greenwood Press, US

Grotjahn, Martin, Jewish jokes and their relation to Masochism in W.M. Mendel (ed.) A Celebration of Laughter 1970, Mara, LA

Freud, Sigmund, Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays 1974, Hogarth Press, London

King, Geoff, Film Comedy 2002, Wallflower Press, GB

Neale, Steve and Frank Krutnik Popular Film and Television Comedy 1990, Routledge, London

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Note on Wyndham Lewis

A Note on Wyndham Lewis

The years between 1912 and 1915 were important in the history of British art. In lieu of an authentic avant-garde artistic style, British artist Wyndham Lewis formulated and maintained the energy behind “Vorticism”. Lewis’ contemporary Ezra Pound invented the word Vorticism in 1913 which Lewis would remain linked to until 1915 when he joined the army, after which Lewis’ work had a definite sense of the anxieties of war and destruction.

The etymology has been the subject of some confusion amongst academics and critics. The strongest claims highlight the word ‘vortex’ emphasising Lewis’ imagery of the descending whirlwind of ideas with a concentration of artistic energy at the centre. Otherwise the term vortex conjures images of art finding its referent in the eddy of emotions. Whatever one fancies there is a definite sense of an organisation of artistic and creative energy that may have hitherto been lacking in the British art scene, something that the Vorticist movement had the potential to fill.

An understanding of ones communication with the external world made a deep impact on the materialism of Vorticism to the extent that the style itself as could be perceived as being “dogmatically external”. Although this might appear to be Vorticism’s trepidation of nature this wouldn’t be quite true. Indeed Lewis had a terrific respect for, and anxiety over the artistic recreation of, the natural world. For Lewis, an affirmed humanist, there is a real risk for artists when they take to a recreation of nature and the sense of its conveyed emotion. The true essence of nature cannot simply be found in its representation alone.

Vorticism was able to demand more legitimacy in its short-lived magazine Blast written and edited primarily by Lewis. The first edition opened with the Vorticist Manifesto detailing the elements that needed to be either ‘Blessed’ or ‘Blasted’. The second (and final) edition of Blast was entitled The War Number and dealt further with Vorticism’s epochal aesthetic.

The post-Blast Lewis developed a style that was more intimate and more becoming of an era ravaged by world war. Lewis would still stick to his guns in the main elements of his art namely a style which is “[n]ot vulgar, not bourgeois, not parochial”. It was only so long before his intimacy would find expression in portraiture. He dealt explicitly with critiques of portraiture in his writings and demanded of himself and his audience a proper understanding of the surroundings of portraits. Lewis had said of this subject “accessories in portraiture … involve special problems” and the artist himself should go to lengths in order to take “particular care over them”. It was clear that for Lewis ones surrounding environment and the “line, rhythm and volume” meant just as much as the subject himself in its ability to convey meaning and direct the particular essence of that painting.

Early on in Lewis’ writing life he felt the need to express his thoughts on the definitive relationship that should exist between a work of art and its critic. Everything crucial to the genesis of an art piece, its essence and self-enclosed homage to its environs, has the potential to be translated by a competent critic if that critic extracts elements of that art as though they were objects to be found in everyday life (which is what the production of art should definitely focus upon). The artist, however, should not attempt their own translation because of the intricacy one has with the essence of the thing, which is potentially unattainable even by ones own senses.

These propositions may not be totally original (which was the Vorticist’s primary raison d’etre) but they do give a certain insight into the hubris that was to permeate the future of art in general. Indeed Lewis’ deep feelings towards art and environment did predict some of the problems with art in the post-theory age, namely the illusion that the artist enjoys the mastery over the symptomatic readings of his own work, which simply has no consideration of an individual’s own relationship with the essence of the thing. In our present historical situation where it is widely considered that appeals by hard materialists to the physical dynamics of the brain meat which can function and alter at the level of psychosis in a much more concrete way than the abstractions and speculative activity of Freudian psychoanalysis, there is a big mistake among artists to perceive analysis itself as self-enclosed, that it is possible to properly know thyself relative to the environs that inhibit oneself. This, I assert, is the true lesson (or, rather, reminder) of Wyndham Lewis; that it is entirely the case that nature’s imposing manner unto its human subject is defiant of sense-perception of that subject himself and the only way to truly quantify oneself with ones environs is the put oneself up for scrutiny in the same way as one might translate and extract from a piece of art.

One hopeful appeal to academia in this argument is perhaps directed towards Thomas Kuhn; the interplay and acceptance of scientific theories are paradigmatic, but truth itself is not paradigmatic, rather, beyond human clarity. Our pursuit of truth emanates from hypotheses both sound and unsound, still truth remains indefinitely whether apparent or not. This, I argue, is the lesson against the artist’s futile attempts at self-translation, and here we should not forget its relevant root viz a viz Wyndham Lewis.


Handley-Read, Charles (1951) The Art of Wyndham Lewis, Great Britain: Faber and Faber

Wilhelm, J.J (2008) Ezra Pound in London and Paris, 1908-1925, US: Penn State Press

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A New Political Subjectivity

Many top politicians have exposed and fought against voter ambivalence, concerned that uncertainty could be exploited by the far right. The economic crisis may have woken something in the political consciousness that asks new and exciting questions of current and future politicians. This new surge I call the "New Political Subjectivity". (Read on)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Iran-Bolivia Investment Deal

Perhaps amid the war cries and the warmongering, and amongst the condemning and condoning, the blockheaded blockaders and the desperate defenders of Bolivia will meet on one single point: is this the right time to introduce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the political mix? The energy sector is a violently dissentious issue in Bolivia - stirring US ambassador to Bolivia Phillip Goldberg to announce "US institutions should interfere in Bolivia's internal affairs." Subsequently energy is what Morales' undemocratic opposition want to target, with aims to interrupt oil exports into dependent neighbours like Brazil.

The timing from the perspective of the Iranian President is less ambiguous. There is the prospect of an Iran-Russia oil relationship. Dick Cheney, while in Kazakhstan, expressed considerable interest in building new export pipelines that bypass Russia from Central Asia. His central message, by symbolically avoiding a Russian visit, is to weaken the power of the nation, and highlight America's interests. Russia will look to relations with Iran as a prosperous investment.

As well as this possibility, Iran, keen to remain a chip on the North American shoulder, will try and drum up the support of other oil-rich, anti-imperialist nations. The oil and gas industry ties, established in September 2007, shaped by Morales and Ahmadinejad in Tehran are said to promote economic development and welfare for both nations. Their joint statement drawn up last Tuesday, declared importance to "political struggles against Imperialism."

The diplomacy with such an unsavoury political figure (to say the very least) like Ahmadinejad - whose reputation stands as being one of anti-Semitism, anti-women's rights, and not just homophobia, but one who denies the existence of homosexuality in his country - may initially cause grave concern for any ardent Morales supporter. But why, one might reflect, shouldn't Morales allow this investment deal? At least for now.

ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America), the economic model set up by Hugo Chavez to resist the relentless pursuits of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is still in its early stages, and is still reasonably small (Honduras, in Central America, recently joined making a total of 6 countries). Investment from Iran, as well as the joint loan with Venezuela for a state cement company to ease profit concentration, is necessary until ALBA can assuage reliance from foreign investment. Iran may be politically virulent, but there is nothing to suggest that it will have any ideological influence.

Despite what some sceptics may say, such as Israeli commentator Isi Leibler, the commercial relations Venezuela has with Iran has not affected the political persuasions of either country. Liebler accuses Chavez of anti-Semitism on account of favourable comments made about him by Ahmadinejad, even after Chavez's recent talks with the World Jewish Congress where he condemned "all forms of anti-Semitism, discrimination against minorities and anti-Muslim sentiment." Liebler even appeals to Chavez's opposition to Israel's foreign policy though Chavez himself has stated "criticisms of Israel aren't meant to demonise Jewish people."

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and its left wing measures have made it possible for the country to keep up to 85% of its gas profits, making it possible to redistribute that wealth to provide the basic needs of its inhabitants, who were, before Morales' presidency, very much disregarded. With the limited choices of investors who are not at the beck and call of the US, supporters of Morales will just have to resign themselves to the fact that Iranian investment is a necessary evil. And lets hope a temporary one. To be sure, Morales is not a soft touch, he is a man of equality and will not be swayed by Ahmadinejad’s disreputable ideas.

If one still finds the deal disagreeable, then it is important to remember that it is precisely this kind of economic model - where a country has to rely on the ideologically unsound for investment - which, in the final analysis, Morales seeks to overthrow. As revolutionary as Morales is, and as much as his heart is in the right place with regards to the economy, unfortunately for him and his supporters, at this moment in history, this pocket of imperialist resistance exists within the global framework of neo-liberal capitalism and will have to, to some extent, entertain this framework in order to survive. Indeed, if this settlement alleviates some domestic economic pressure, for the time being supporters should view it as a small price to pay and conditionally vindicate it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The God for atheists

In the latest attempt to disclose Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams' personal attitude towards homosexuality a series of letters dated from 2000 and 2001 have revealed Dr. Williams having paralleled that "[a]n active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness."

Continually acting as ombudsman between progressive and traditional Anglicanism he is susceptible to hostility from either direction. But while two opposing sides of the Anglican church battle it out among each other over who has rightful understanding and belief of their holy script, an argument is impending which supposes that belief should not be maintained for the conventionally religious at all. Or rather, put with a hint of grandiloquence, it is only atheists who can truly believe.

For a complete history of an atheists relationship with God, or, God for atheists would be far too monumental to print here. As an important component of it certainly one should consider the rationalist philosopher Spinoza's use of the word God as synonymous with nature, rather than keeping with the orthodox view as directly in the image of man. Such a subversive view subsequently led to Spinoza's cherum, or excommunication by the Jewish community. To liken someone to Spinoza was to liken them to an atheist.

The Jewish-atheist psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, influenced greatly by the works of Spinoza, himself tried to change the conventional manner in which Judeo-Christianity was perceived, most notably in what was to be his last major work entitled Moses and Monotheism. The fact that it appeared in 1939, at a time of great ferment for Judaism was given careful consideration by Freud. The premise of the text revises the history of Moses including the formerly neglected detail that Moses was not a Hebrew but an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten (Effective spirit of Aten). He goes on by saying that the Jews killed him in despair of his monotheism, later remorsing and formulating a religion acknowledging him. Freud declared that guilt has since remained core in the Jewish faith (guilt, also, is a key feature of psychoanalysis, a deeply religious tinted practice).

Materialist re-readings of the bible have been a commonplace in the texts of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris recently. Works focusing on the place Christian ethics has in radical politics has been a feature of authors such as Terry Eagleton, Frederic Jameson, Giorgio Agamben and Alan Badiou. Ken Schei, a self-confessed "atheist for Jesus" and founder of the group "Atheists for Jesus" argues for a denial of any deity, but to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus exemplified by his sermon on the Mount. Against the kernel of Paulist interpretation, Schei is influenced by the Ebionites who were followers of the original apostles, and unlike Paul had met Jesus in person. Here it is stressed that Jesus was a teacher of moral and ethical guidelines without contradicting the great knowledge we have, and will increasingly improve in the future, of science.

The current most prominent philosopher reinterpreting Christian ethics against today's New Age and Gnostic religious vista is Slavoj Zizek. As the title of his 2001 study poses, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? he details why it is imperative that atheists consider the legacy of Christianity for themselves. Zizek's human subject in today's religious landscape battles with a conflict in what he knows and what he believes. He elucidates this religious problem with a comparison found in the oncoming global warming scare; we know of the earth's warming, but we cannot really believe it. He asks that the materialist reading of the incarnation be considered the same way, that man is forever condemned between knowledge and belief. To use the more familiar experiment shown by Richard Dawkins, a spectrum of ideas ranging from 1 - Strong Theist (I know God exists), 2 - short of 100%, 3 - higher than 50%, 4 - exactly 50%, 5 - lower than 50%, 6 - short of 0%, 7 - Strong Atheist (I know God does not exist). Since knowledge is trapped in a parallax (another Zizek book title) then belief is vital.

One common element to the above efforts is to retrieve religion from less generous hands, namely the fundamentally religious or the politically far right. Freud's motive was to, rather than join the resistance and speak out for Judaism, suggest the true legacy of the Jews. Yielding an indirect jab at the Nazi's, for whom the message is you think you know your enemy, you don't. For Ken Schei we should acknowledge Paul had never met with Jesus and his so-called vision of Jesus' teachings on the road to Damascus to arrest Jesus' followers, was wrong. A rather more difficult position to summerise is Zizek's, who insists for the materialist and atheistic core of Christianity whilst also exposing a creationist's initial problematic trying to pass off what has hitherto been a faith system as science - for someone of faith Zizek argues - the language of the enemy.

As a response, these atheists may respond to Archbishop Williams that Christian love is not a reflection of God, but God is a reflection of Christian love, or that our ethical imperatives are borne in the world, and not from a divine intervention in our souls.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Voice of Palestinian hope is buried in Ramallah

"I have learned the words of blood-stained courts in order to break the rules.
I have learned and dismantled all the words to construct a single one:Home"

"I Come From There"

Landing in the presence of mourners numbered in their thousands around the streets of Ramallah, a helicopter carrying the body of the Arab world's best loved poet Mahmoud Darwish arrives for the first state funeral to take place in the West Bank capital since Yasser Arafat's in 2004. His coffin, mantled in the Palestinian flag and olive branches, was soon driven through streets overlooked by gatherers on a hilltop that will shortly be named after him, near the Ramallah Cultural Palace.

While the faces of the city were filled with tears, the poems - bursting from loudspeakers - were filled with both isolation and ambition. Later, after the burial, commenced the sound of 21 gunshots and the eulogising words of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, "master of the word and wisdom, the symbol who expressed our national feeling, our human constitution, our declaration of independence”.

Darwish was born in the city of al-Birweh 7 years before the Nakbah in 1948. In the 1960's he achieved prominence for his poems in leftist publications critical of the Israeli occupation. In the years between 1961-1967 he spent 5 occasions in jail before exiling himself, firstly to the Soviet Union, then Cairo, Beirut, Tunis, Paris, and then back to the West Bank in 1996. Exile would prove to be a staple of Mahmoud's work, ensuring his canonical status amongst those who, too, felt the full weight of his words in the occupied lands.

His politicisation began when he returned illegally back to the city of his birth a year after it had been occupied. He joined the Israeli Communist Party and later the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) where he was on the executive committee before resigning in protest at the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Preferring to focus more on his literary work, he brought back from obscurity the journal Al Karmel which had been pushed aside by the Israeli invasion of Beirut a year after its original founding in 1981. Efforts were then taken by Darwish to promote the poetic voices of other Palestinians who were exiles in their own country.

In 2000, an Israeli Minister proposed including Darwishs' poems into the national curriculum, spurring outrage from rightwingers who subsequently went on an offensive to oust the Ehud Barak government through a non-confidence vote. The following year Barak, now Minister of Defence, was defeated by Ariel Sharon's Likud Party. The topic of Darwishs's poetry in schools is still an area of debate, recently former Education Ministry director-general Zevulun Orlev told The Jerusalem Post that the poetry 'would arouse sentiments against Zionism, Judaism and the country.' Dismissing this, former Education Minister Yossi Sarid stressed the benefits of teaching arab students about Israel's national poet Haim Nahman Bialik, so why not the Israeli students about Darwish.

Last year, in a momentary return to the political stage, Darwish condemned Hamas's violent takeover of Gaza, following that statehood would only be effected by unity. A pity it is that he won't be able to cast opinion on Israel's proposal to withdraw from 93% of the West Bank, as reported on Tuesday from Israel's leftist news source Haaretz.

In April of 2002, away at a poetry reading, Darwish was informed that the office where he edited Al Karmel had been turned over during a series of Israeli army operations to uproot suicide bombers. Regarding the viciousness of the attack, Darwish was quoted as saying "I took the message personally. I know they're strong and can invade and kill anyone. But they can't break or occupy my words." This last sentiment rings especially true, as the volume of people who took to the streets to observe his coffin would seem to suggest.

For those who mourn the poet as someone who shared in their sense of being ostracised, the struggle continues, but, hope shall too remain.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bolivia no longer has Shell to pay for

With Shell out the way, and the recall referendum under his belt, Morales can now start to get things moving

Latest figures on Venezuela Analysis show that Morales's result in Sundays recall referendum topped 63.1%, over 10% more than he scored in the December 2005 presidential election. The result has prompted surprise calls from the US for other Bolivian parties to launch a 'unity of dialogue' hoping to score a role in relaxing the political tension present in Bolivia.

Celebrations within the Evo camp should be consorted with a dose of profuse planning, especially concerning matters of national wealth. Last Friday Jose Maria Linardi of Anglo-Dutch Company Shell signed an accord with Bolvian Hydrocarbon Minister Carlos Villegas to compensate the oil conglomerate for its share in the nationalised company Transredes. The compensation figure looks to be in the ballpark of $120.57 Million, but reports are yet to be confirmed.

The deal is set to validate the Bolivian state-owned Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) with a 98% stake in Transredes with the remaining 2% in the hands of private partners. The situation regarding Ashmore Energy International (AEI), the British company based in the tax haven Cayman Islands that was sharing a 50% stake with Shell, still remains unfinished. The company filed for International arbitration when the Morales government seized the stake of the company - which previously controlled the operations of 6,024km gas pipelines - after weeks of inconclusive talks.

It is of no surprise then that the gas-rich departments - otherwise known as the "Half Moon" areas - are also the departments that have given Morales his strongest opposition, the Tarija department, where governor Mario Cossío will keep his job after the referendum, contains 85% of Bolivian total gas reserves. Santa Cruz, the first department to back regional autonomy, contains 10.6%. It is clear that the eastern rich of Bolivia fail to see the imperatives of the poorest country in South America being able to keep 85% of its national gas profits and the push for Morales' redistribution plans.

But of course why would they when they have the likes of Branko Marinkovic as their spokesperson. Marinkovic is a known promoter of separatism in Bolivia where he is a member of the Federation of Free Entrepreneurs of Santa Cruz. A descendent of Croatian Immigrants, like so many of the corrupt and rich in Bolivia, he is also a big landowner who once pulled strings at Transredes. As a leader of the Santa Cruz autonomy movement, he is an avowed supporter of nesting gas wealth exclusively to the privileged.

Of course Marinkovic and other regionalists appeal only to the greed and short sightedness of the "Half-Moon's" rich population, but there are perfectly equitable reasons to advocate the nationalization of the gas fields. Firstly public revenues are on the rise, by fivefold according to one report. An increase in the number of children who once worked the streets have returned to school, illustrated by the teaching of the autochthonous languages Aymara and Quechua in schools. The health sector now caters freely to half of the population, there has been the introduction of a dignity pension for the over 60's, the inhabitants of the altiplano are due to receive 24 hours of solar panel energy from the existing 3-4 hours of energy they have now.

In other plans to better the existing conditions of those who live in the high plains, Venezuela along with its commercial ties to Iran, are due to loan Bolivia 225 Million to create a state cement company. Bolivia’s vice minister of medium and large businesses, Eduardo Peinado, has said that “The plant will have the capacity to produce 700 ton[ne]s of cement per year, and this will be destined principally for the construction of roads and houses for Bolivians”.

If left to private interests and the NAFTA-pandering consortium of overt fascists and white nationalists still disregarding Morales's attempts to reorganize Bolivia for the better, then the likelihood of any changes on the scale of those written above seeing the light of day would be rather slim.

Comments like that of Enrique Mendizabal demonstrate the extent to which some observers interpret Evo Morales himself as blame for the political unrest in Bolivia, but its these very same observers who want a return to the "democracy" where the most vulnerable communities are without artificial light during the night hours, where children don't receive educations, where healthcare is promised the rich before the poor, where pensions are non-existent, and where the "Cruzano heavies" come before the 63.1% of Bolivians who want Evo to push through with his waiting initiatives.

His legacy should be one of glory and hope for the Bolivian people, not intimidation and destitution. Exactly how democratic would this be?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Victory for Morales

A concerted effort to destabilise the government of Bolivia's socialist president Evo Morales looks to have failed after the indigenous leader took on opponents in recall referendum. (Read on)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Guardian Clippings

The Guardian has a clippings section which profiles each time a reader makes a comment regarding an article written. Here is my profile which has links to my clippings.

Coverage of the Jamaican Elections 2007

In the coming elections on the 27th of this month the Jamaican people will be deciding on whether to reinstate current Prime Minister Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica's first female Prime Minister of the leftist People's National Party (PNP), or whether to elect main opposition leader Dr. Bruce Golding of the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP); 18 years out of office and considered more to the right of its opponent. (Read on)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Evangelical atheist

Dawkins, in choosing a form of firebrand fundamentalist atheism over the discipline science, is no longer the champion of reason but rather a kind of evangelical against religion. (Read on)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The True Face of Modernisation

Just as the term becomes silently accepted, I am starting to understand the meaning of the words “Conservative” and “Modernised” when they are used together. The true essence of it cannot be found in David Cameron’s new given pledges (which do include maintaining the current tax system, reconnecting politicians to people, fending off rightwingers etc.) but appear, rather less obviously, in the unique means in which he reaches his conclusions.

This is best exemplified in his support for Barack Obama’s comments concerning absent black Father’s (incidentally, if Governments in the UK and the US change, will this expose the inherent differences in Obama’s progressive use of popular rightwing policy and Cameron’s rightwing use of popular progressive policy? Will this stand to be as good a relationship as Blair’s progressive conservatism and Bush’s conservative conservatism?)

“What Obama is doing is very brave. He is saying, yes, of
course black people in America have had appalling
discrimination, economic disadvantage, and deprivation and
all that follows from that. And that needs to change. But at the
same time we will never solve the long-term problems unless people
also take responsibility for their own lives. That is right.”

The first thing to say to this is, we need a clearer explanation of who isn’t taking responsibility of their own lives, to save transmitting a complete unfounded generalisation (for a more in depth analysis of this notion, see Lester Holloway’s comment).

It is much more dubious than so-called Toryism with a conscience, it is more a Liberal means to a Tory ends, in the sense that, yes of course economic inequality is apparent, poverty is a disgraceful reality, but one has to sort ones own home out, a Tory Government cannot help you now, put another way, Cameron cares enough not to care.

So the Liberal progressive bit is the I care way of analysing the problem, the bulk of Cameron’s policy is I care, but this is the extent to my help, best of luck.

Deductively, we can see that the traditional Conservatism which Cameron is the revolutionary guard against is the one which does not care before it pursues its usual Tory, small state initiatives. As Cameron says himself

“The point of modernising the Conservative Party
was not so that we could then, under the cloak of
respectability, introduce even bigger privatisation
programmes. This is not the point. This
modernisation wasn’t just so we could produce
unpalatable rightwing policies and stuff them
down the throats of the unsuspecting British public.”

The key difference, therefore, being that Toryism must produce a minimum of liberal tolerance, a minimum of perception to crime and the causes of crime, to the needs of minority groups, to bettering solutions for poverty which do not simply mask it. All of this before formalising small state, old-Tory solutions, this is otherwise known as a wolf in a sheep’s clothing. My initial response to Cameron’s “point of modernising the Conservative Party” was – Nonsense! – of course it is populism, modernisation’s only change was to force the Tories to care before they did nothing at all about Britain’s problems, at least the old-Tories were honest.

Is this not the task of Boris; to (pretend) respect for minority groups and tackling poverty in spite of his history of careless racial slurs, comparing homosexual marriage to marriage with dogs, and the countless other occasions which should turn the stomach of any non-prejudicial human. It is obviously quite peculiar when lists of Conservative Diary bloggers commented that the sacking of James McGrath was nothing but loony-left-esque PC madness, but this is a means to an end for the nu-Tories. I care, but you’re on your own.

The need for “modernisation” in the Conservative Party is limited to Cameron’s gut feeling that Britain will vote for someone who cares, hugs and so on. Only, we hope that voters will vote for someone who can produce real change, not for someone (like Cameron) who not only expresses the limits of his progressive policies, but also cares not to care, best of luck.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Comment on Morales´article on The Graudian website

I blogged an Evo Morales article on Comment is Free here

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Latest in Bolivia | The rich want it their way

Carl Packman / Beatriz Iglesias Tolosa

Two more Bolivian departments since Santa Cruz have now voted yes in referendums to be autonomous. Beni and Pando voted yes in the illegal referendums by 78% in the former and 83.2 in the latter. Tarija will be the fourth department to hold a referendum on 22nd of June.

Some believe that in 2 months there will be an election by Morales' own decision. Even though his Presidency should last until 2010, by his own admission, with the conflict of opinion in Bolivia, he must let the people decide his fate as President. ''I am not afraid of the people, that they tell the truth and judge us,'' Morales said on hearing the results.

One person we spoke to summerised the yes vote as, not because the rich are rich, but "because Morales is giving too much money to the poor, by those, once poor, who have managed to make something of themselves". This couldn't be more wrong, 2 months ago Santa Cruz, Bolivia's richest district voted yes in a referendum to be autonomous, feeling it wasn't their duty to pay more in tax to bring more people out of marginalisation. But more than this, Santa Cruz, by being autonomous, were allowed to feel distinct from the marginalised districts of Bolivia and drew an affirmative line across solidarity with them. The separatism in the other districts falls in to the same hands. The oligarchs know it simply isn't possible for the people to be free when they hoard a high proportion of the wealth. If the person we spoke to was right, that Morales' policies do not favour those who were once marginalised and find themselves within a higher tax bracket now, then those people should feel some sympathy towards those who are only now being looked out for since Morales' election win in 2005. But he is not right, the rich feel that their wealth does not have a knock on effect on the marginalised, and forget that concentrated wealth is paid for in the marginalised departments, who lack the privileges of the rich. The rich have also managed to use their status as influence on the voters of this referendum.

Another person we spoke to, Waldo, a Tour driver, pointed out the benefits of Morales' policies. The small villiages of the altiplano (South Bolivia) have around 3-4 hours of energy in their town due to solar panel systems. Morales plans to make it possible for 24 hours of energy in these towns, and also to pave their mountainous roads with concrete. "These are happy people" Waldo told us, and so long as Evo Morales remains premier, needn't be felt sorry for anymore. Policies the rich are opposed to are ones like these, 24 hours of energy for the hard working, distant Indiano communities. And if the other person we spoke to realised the hard work that these communities put in, he wouldn't have told us that some people "make something of themselves" deserve not to be taxed fairly, hard work does not obviously mean things pay off, Morales realised this, informing his condemnation of the plans for some districts to be autonomous.

Morales and his team are going to have to work hard to keep their governance, but the President realises that 4 districts cannot remain isolated. Bolivian Socialists are going to have to try their hardest to challenge the influence of the rich on the elections, justifying the rights of communities who have been downtrodden in the past by Governments who don't have their interests at heart. Morales does have their interests at heart and doesn't ask a lot to provide basic needs to his people. It is in the interest of us as Marxists to support Evo Morales as President and endorse his radicalism, discouraging short-term reformism with a complete overhaul of the capitalist system which only aims to curtail the voice of the people.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Will New Labour ever learn: One more PFI project gone awry

In March it had been revealed that Billions of pounds of PFI projects, which includes the new Home Office building, have been moved to tax havens, perhaps on the Channel Islands.

90% of the UK registered company in charge of the completion of the said building, running the Private Finance Initiative, transferred the company’s accounts to avoid paying tax.

This project, and others alike, are all part of Gordon Brown’s trust in Private-Public Partnerships (PPP). Brown’s input – and consequent embarrassment – was to avoid risk in such projects, and alleviate responsibility on the taxpayer. However, it is the taxpayer who suffers most on two accounts; firstly, that while the taxpayer is obligated to pay on account of these flawed, capitalist beneficial projects, the companies themselves are given the charter to flee their accounts and avoid putting any money back into public service whatsoever.

Secondly, these projects are destined to fail, as was the case earlier this year with the London Underground project. Gordon Brown’s determination to impose a Private-Public solution on the Department for Transport cost the taxpayer £2bn, despite opposition from the then Mayor Ken Livingstone. The Department and Ruth Kelly agreed to pay off the debt owed by Metronet, the company charged with a £17bn upgrade of the tube network, which went into administration.

The Keynesian system which Brown seeks much faith in is so obviously at the detriment of the tax payer and public services in general. But what’s more is that Brown’s project shows the inherent charter for capitalists to, at their own legalised discretion, move would-be public money into an unaccountable domain.

Will this be another leg of Brown’s obvious Blairite legacy, along with the unique British nonsense of the non-domicile rule, where the super-rich can claim their domicile elsewhere and be alleviated UK taxation on their money (these issues even being looked down upon at by the Uber-huckstering of Germany and the United States). Are the symptoms of recession surrounding Northern Rock and the failed attempts in harmony between our Public Services and Private Initiatives not enough for the ex-Chancellor. It is time for better on Britain’s Public Services.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Ballad of Hugo y Cristina: Will it be decision time?

A rapport had already been established between Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Argentina’s ex-President Nestor Kirchner before the latter became the first First Gentleman in the history of Argentina. He confirmed "integration" between the two countries and nothing until the talk of Chavez re-nationalising SIDOR had threatened this. That is to say nothing until this had contradicted who both Kirchners’ had in their close circle.

Last Friday Lady Kirchner met with the powerful Businessman Paulo Rocca who is the President for and top shareholder of the Techint Group - the Group which had a majority stake of 60% in the steel merchants SIDOR – to discuss how to carry out their part in the re-nationalisation process.

Rocca - whose personal interest would have been to secure a minority share in the Argentine-Italian company, so it can maintain access to the US market - is still close to Nestor Kirchner. However since Chavez’s part in the Orinoco Declaration in late 2005, which saw Chavez buy a large amount of Argentina’s debt so as to, in his own words “help Argentina end its dependence on the IMF,” the Kirchners have remained faithful to him.

Chavez had curried support from Cristina Kirchner, among others, when he struck up a humanitarian accord with Columbia in securing the release of hostages taken in by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Earlier on this year, Kirchner united with Chavez when he accused the Columbian Government of committing a ‘war crime’ around the time the Columbian military raided a rebel camp inside Ecuador.

The two leaders also shared a defensive last year against the Miami court who accused the Venezuelan Government of secretly funding Cristina Kirchner’s election campaign the sum of $800,000 (£392,000).

The re-nationalisation of SIDOR has come at a fragile time for Kirchner who, though originally opposed to any change to the steel firm, must decide to do one of two things; be seen to defend the national capital as Rocca sees fit (as he addressed in a letter for Kirchner before their meeting) or be seen to favour a Venezuelan Government majority stake, along with a compensation fee Chavez and Rocca accept on during their negotiations.

For Chavez, he must risk upsetting the Argentines and going against Kirchner’s wishes in order to deliver his promises of nationalising “all that was privatised” which means securing wage increases of 55%, pension deals and winning back support for his “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fernando Lugo - Who he is and what he can do for Paraguay

Sunday 20th April - The Paraguayan electorate have relieved their country from the party which brought them 35 years of General Alfredo Stroessner, the Colorado Party's Military Dictator. His rule ended in 1989 with 43% of the 6.5 million population living in poverty. On the 15th of August this year, the leftist Patriotic Alliance for Change candidate Fernando Lugo will be sworn in to his position as President for the next five years. (Read on)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Pound recently hit a low but the conditions are not ripe for a union of economies

It is a Double Standard of the Left to support a common market in the current conditions of the economy

The current state of English football is a useful simile for the common market in Europe. Rob Williams recently summed it up perfectly in the following quote; “It's not just the likelihood of [Watford FC] being relegated immediately that is depressing. In the Premiership, there is no real competition any more. There are the big four - Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool - in with a chance of winning the league: the rest have no chance. A total of 40 clubs have competed in the Premier League, but only four have won the title - Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, and Chelsea.” This is precisely the point; the big four have so much money they can create a super team that involves the best workforce and remain unstoppable forever.

The reason I use football as a simile for the common market in Europe is that when a football team has more than its fair share and can afford the pick of the market, the competitive element becomes nullified since the conditions have been created that no one else gets a look in. The same implicit reality which binds the European Union together is that the big rich countries stay rich and the countries in their shadow suffer as a consequence.

When a relatively poorer country - let us take for our examples Bulgaria (73rd highest GDP, 14.1% below poverty line) and Romania (50th highest GDP, 25% below poverty line) - enters into an economic union with - let us take for example United Kingdom (5th highest GDP, 17% below poverty line) - the gap which divides rich and poor will inevitably grow. Although in the former two, a short-term economic shift will put a smile on the Europhiles' faces, the long-term effect will without doubt show that market bullying and industry wipe-outs become a certainty.

Four examples highlight some uncomfortable truths of the EU; firstly, Fiona Hall noted in October last year that 76 of the world's poorest countries in the ACP group (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) were to sign an EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) with the EU, ridding those countries of 80% of their tariffs imposed on EU imports. If those countries did not sign by the end of 2007, they risked higher tariffs on their exports to the EU. Some members of the ACP group, especially in West Africa, were unable to sign the agreement before the end of the year, which meant the outcome saw 35 ACP countries sign a watered down version of the EPA to avoid the tariff increases. It is expected that the Caribbean Community (Caricom) will sign a new trade agreement by the end of June. Can this bullying not clearly be summerised by Fiona Hall's own admission "Unfair Trade?"

Secondly; it has been detailed by one left-wing eurosceptic that in "1984 there were 450,000 jobs in the European steel industry. Now there are only 250,000, and this will have to be reduced still further." For one hard-line Pinochet supporter (aka Maggie) Britain, not a colonial power any longer, had to make a name for itself in the common market. Shutting down the mines was one thing, but the philosophy as a whole relied on a complete transformation of the workforce from an industrial one to a post-industrial one - hence the advent of importance on such things as the “Mcjob.” Of course the post-industrial job spurred on a need for extra labour from abroad. There was a dark hint of irony when Thatcher warned of "flooding" and Powell gave his "Rivers of Blood" speech, when it was precisely their economic philosophy which demanded the extra labour (incidentally, whenever I walk into a supermarket and see that it has replaced at least 3 jobs with a "Self-Service" machine, I do stop and think, well this is exactly what Thatcher would have wanted).

As the EU philosophy generally is a cut down on industrial jobs and subservience to monopoly conglomerates, the new second-class member states will edge further and further into the laps of the Laissez-faire looters, exposing the truth of the EU and their bullying motives.

Thirdly; Professor Margaret Blunden of the University of Westminster in her paper ‘The European Union and Cuba: Not so Constructive Engagement’ notices that Cuba is the only Latin American country without a bilateral agreement with the EU, whilst highlighting a contradiction by comparing this to Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia who do enjoy EU partnership agreements but are ranked lower on Human Rights according to (a hardly sympathetic) American based Organisation, Freedom House. It’s this academic’s pursuit that Cuba be more integrated with the EU. Implicitly, it is the view that Cuba be opened up to the EU so it can also be bullied with blackmailing on tariff controls, leaving the small island at a huge disadvantage.

Finally; the attraction of migrating to richer European countries is based on a simulacrum (in the Baudrillardian sense). The examples of immigrants being used as cheap labour, working many jobs, overqualified workers limited to only unskilled and low paid work are numerous. But work is a key element in the liberal left's embrace of the economic union. How many times have we heard the argument "immigrants are an enormous benefit to the economy?" And how true this is, but at what cost to the immigrant her/himself? It seems not only unfair to those immigrants who prop up a certain portion of the economy through being exploited in the most terrifically dreadful conditions with low pay and no union options, but also absolutely necessary in order for the rich countries to remain rich and the economy generally to remain at a massive imbalance.

Strangely enough, this has not been quite enough to mobilise a credible left-wing eurosceptic platform. The No! vote in the UK goes to one of three right-wing parties (Tories, UKIP, and the far-right). This kind of scepticism of a common market under the current economic conditions, which I have presented here, seems to come from the most unlikely of candidates, like the right-wing Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding who expressed his fears in that CARICOM had only redistributed poverty - wiping out industries such as biscuit manufacturing in Trinidad.

An economic union can only work fairly when the rich/poor imbalance has been curtailed, and not before. The EU in its present climate only redistributes poverty. It is unashamed of the bullying techniques that give to the rich and take from the poor (example 1), it is unashamed of its anti-union, industry killing philosophy (example 2), it is unashamed of its opposition to nationalisation in Cuba which allows every Cuban her/his daily calorie allowance, free healthcare, and free housing (no other rich country can promise these - example 3), and it is unashamed of the exploitation it afflicts on migrant workers (example 4). And what surely is most unpalatable is that a lot of "left-wingers" embrace it with open arms.

Returning to the football simile, a competition is only a competition when all teams have an equal chance of success and prosperity, might an economical union embrace a similar philosophy?

Cuba after Castro: An Obvious Perspective

The moment has now passed: Fidel Castro has resigned his premiership of Cuba. But it is a moment which has been talked about by both opponents and supporters for many years. The future of Cuba has been analysed by strategists arguing for a system which best suits either the needs of Cuba itself, or market Capitalism. Of course its important here to distinguish the two. Concerning the latter, it is important to divide the analysis into three more categories; a system which suits the European Union; Washington (particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement); and more Libertarian Institutions such as the Lexington Institute – the American free trade think-tank.

Professor Margaret Blunden of the University of Westminster reminds us in her paper ‘The European Union and Cuba: Not so Constructive Engagement’ that Cuba is the only Latin American country without a bilateral agreement with the EU, whilst highlighting a contradiction by comparing this to Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia who do enjoy EU partnership agreements but are ranked lower on Human Rights according to (a hardly sympathetic) American based Organisation, Freedom House. Its this academic’s pursuit that Cuba be more integrated with the EU – the Globalized Big Business charter.

For Washington, “regime change” is a taboo topic, even Condoleezza Rice conceals the true intention by saying further enforcement of the embargo is preferable to overthrowing the Cuban Government. It is this very enforcement which Washington had hoped would spur on “regime change”. It seems here that, according to Rice, Washington cannot rid a foreign power simply because they don’t like it (as the Constitution decrees), but they can try to cripple the economy for the people of Cuba. Herein lies the ultimate contradiction of the US and its policy on Cuba: Bush, like so many other Presidents before him, will urge the people of Cuba to overthrow Castro so as to appear within the law, organise CIA operations and restrict trade. The implicit hand of trying to overthrow leaders not palatable with American hegemony.

One organ of the market-centric divide who do at least see the contradictions inherent in the sanctions imposed by America is the Lexington Institute, particularly Philip Peters. A former State Department appointee of Reagan and Bush, he opposes the State sanctions on Cuba on the grounds that a free trade pact with North America can be beneficial for both, calling this Post-Castro change an “American Perspective”. Further, Peters has also said that ‘Centralisation, collectivism, state control, bureaucracy, and restrictions on private initiative are fundamentally to blame for the hardships that many Cubans face in their daily lives’. It seems that the very thing Peter argues against - the embargo - is the one thing he fails to see as the bigger problem. Centralised Government is not inherently problematic, but it can become considerably weaker if a super power next door persists in knocking at its infrastructure.

The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 prevents the President from reducing sanctions until sufficient (for Washington) reform has taken place in Cuba. This, consequently, precludes a reduction in the event of a Raul Castro replacement, Carlos Lage or any other of the leading candidates. Even a return to something like the Torcelli Law (1992) – a reduction or increase on the embargo according to the President’s own terms – seems unlikely to change anything due to the lack of appropriate pressure by any Presidential candidate in the forthcoming American elections.

Having said this, Dr. Stephen Wilkinson, Assistant Director of International Institute for the study of Cuba at London Metropolitan University, has noted in his paper ‘US Cuba policy after Bush: Succession or Transition’ that there are eight bills in Congress regarding aspects of embargo lifting which include repealing restrictions on American travel, Agriculture and Medicine.

It is imperative not to ignore the true motives of Washington with regards to Free Trade with Cuba. The record of the US is tarnished enough concerning the fairness of trade, and Cuba will be no exception to such exploitation. The lifting of the embargo could potentially be the first stage into America using Cuba as a charter for hegemonic Capitalism.

This outcome of embargo lifting can be avoided, so how best to? On the advent of the revolution in1959, Cuba was able to be a dependent of the former Soviet Union, however after the Cold War Cuba was virtually isolated. What Cuba needed was allies, not just on an economic level, but for legitimacy against an emerging re-think on US-Cuba policy. Venezuela, Bolivia and other Popular Leftwing shifts certified the possibility of Cuba’s regional integration. A positive change would be an emphasis on the trade and economic co-operation agreement with Caricom and Mercosur.

Effectively, an opening of Inter-Cuban trade the way Washington, the EU, or the Lexington Institute would like to see would immediately play into the hands of Washington Imperialism and Capitalism. Cuba should immerse itself entirely within the new Socialist alternatives spreading in Latin America and embrace the characteristics of this revolution. Reformist agenda should only be insofar as Cuba is compatible with the emergence of opposition towards North American Imperialism.

On this very subject, I criticised an article on The Guardian's Comment is Free section here (Carl4Sparta)