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