mercredi 30 avril 2008

Gas gas gas

Another 5% gas rise is quietly announced. (See below). This is quite a smart move. Back in January, the idea that gas would be raised by as much as 10% was 'floated' in the ever compliant media. In February it was made clear to a much relieved population, that they would 'only' go up by a measly 5%. This recent further rise has the advantage that it will get conflated with the previous rise and so few will notice. Beautifully, this double five percent rise, is more than the 10% 'getting away with it' figure - since (5% of 105) + 105 is greater than 110. True they only make this over two months - but it's a good wheeze.

Getting away with it

Is the crisis over? But the belief that it is, is part of the crisis.

Movement


I saw some children dance/I watched my life in a trance

I'm just looking for a new England

Sentimental old nationalists get all offended when you tell them to stuff their Englishness, or Welshness or Frenchness up their Coriolanuses. See Billy Bragg yawning on yet again about it (that link works - soz about the others like). What he doesn't get is that socialists see all nationalisms a bollocks per se. It's not that we want to cede the idea to the BNP, it's that we should throw both them and the idea of nationalism in the bin. He really should stick to writing songs.

Retirement

On the eve of her retirement a teacher examines all the educational statistics of her students from over the past forty one years. She looks at what level of knowledge they arrived with, how they progressed and what they finally achieved. At two in the morning, she realises that every student who failed she could not have helped and every student who succeeded would have done so irrespective of her efforts. She has been a ghost all her working life. She dies the day after her retirement and is lauded in that week's staff meeting. Then forgotten.

Opportunities


When one door shuts - you're locked out.

Corny old anus

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's last plays and one of his best. He based his work on Plutarch's history of a warrior patrichian from a town called Corioli in Latini, Italy, some 2500 years ago. It is the story of a fighter who cannot play his political role and who is forced into exile where he is eventually murdered. It is an intensely political play. From its opening scene of plebian revolt, through its epicentral confrontation between Corialanus and the tribunes, to its bloody denouement the work ploughs through the historical events and throws out political ideas and debates in its wake. It is a play I will intermittently return to.





It has not been interpreted too many times, though it was played at Stratford last year and there is a memorable 1984 BBC DVD. It formented a riot when it was played in 1935 in Paris and was banned in Germany during the 1930's. Whilst not wanting to yank the play out of its context (the Freudian interpretations of Coriolanus during the 70's and 80's did enough of that), its central theme of democracy and war cannot but through contemporary events into a different light. Much is made of Western democracy's debt to Greece for its political ideas. But there is a a harsher reaction to democracy than even Plato's in the work that captures an unchanging facet of the ideological and political outlook of the British ruling class.



The play's main democratic political forces are the people's tribunes Brutus and Sicinius. The names are enough to indicate how an audience is meant to perceive them, of course and it is they that indirectly percipitate Martius (the main character's name before he is honuored for his bravery and renamed Coriolanus) first bought of apocalyptical rage. It is a focused political rage aimed at the people - the "rabble" that occupy the stage in the first scene. He hurls abuse at them calling them 'curs' 'hares' 'scabs' and so on, sneering at them for their lack of knowledge, "They say? They'll sit by th'fire and presume to know What's done i'th' Capitol...making parties strong and feebling such as stand not in their liking Beow their cobbled shoes" for being untrustworthy "You are no surer, no, Than is the coal of fire upon the ice" and dangerous, "[They] will in time Win upon power and throw forth greater themes For insurrection's arguing." whilst in passing calling for them all to be hanged four times before the first scene comes to an end. The first rant ends with the great line "Go get you home, you fragments".



Martius is furious at the people's gaining representation and his rage pushes him to accept war with neighbouring Antium. This decision, though excellent in the short term for him and the ruling class he represents, initiates the tragic events that will end in his being cut off. The people's forces intervene throughout the play as they scheme and plot to be rid of what they see as a potential tyrant. They help overturn the peoples' 'decision' to elect him consul and goad him into another fit of rage which culminates in Coriolanus' banishing himself from the city. In the second half of the play he is exiled and his 'psychological' and political disintegration accelerate until, after taunting his erstwhile rival in the Antium Parliament, he is stabbed to death by him.



In nearly all interpretations of the play, Brutus and Sicinius are represented in dark clothes, speaking conspiratorially and epitomising all the terrible insults poured on the people by Coriolanus himself. These representations and emphases, though, do not represent the opinions of Shakespeare, of course. His political opinions are totally obscure to us. The interpretations of the main characters in this political play reveal only the political context within which the play has been played and the directors' own political slants. Thus, the 1984 BBC version reflects to some degree the political victories of the Conservative government five years before. the film, though tremendous in many respects, portrays Brutus and Sicinius as villanous brutes. 1984 was the near zenith of Thatcherism and it is interesting to see an eighties interpretation of a work by Shakespeare who was writing about his interpretation of Plutarch's perspective on this monumental series of events nearly two millenia ago. It is as if one is viewing something ". . .on the Tarpeian rock, That the precipitation might down stretch Below the beam of sight".



But more contemporaneously, it is a reminder of how arrogant politicians override the people and throw their countries into pointless wars. Blair in some ways is like Coriolanus only the former is too slimey a shit to shuffle of his mortal coil as any half-self aware failed politician/tragic character would. Blair, the political pugilist, despised the people too - I imagine him as we all trudged past Downing Street on Februaru 15th 2003 saying "Go get you home you fragments". Only the duffer probably hasn't even read the Reader's Digest version. Hang im.

smile of a cat


It is easy to forget sometimes, that cats would look at you in the same way even if you where on the floor bleeding to death in front of them.

Work smile die

The current drive by Western governments to get the chronologically challenged back to work has manifested itself here in France where the government has eased rules preventing old people from returning to the workplace. The medai guard dogs are happy to play their role. On the main TV2 channel, they cut to a story of a happy looking sixty year old in Britain who is earning his keep in a plumbing business. They interview other spritely looking OAP's who confess in a chipper manner that yes they've had to take a cut in salary but that's the way it is.

What's definitely not mentioned is why these people have to keep working so late on in their lives. The answer is simple and so has to be effaced. They work because they have no choice. Professor of the Obvious has recently written a paper on it, which was published recently in a Ukranian Folk Dancing journal. The old have to work because all the pension money has been blown away and the state pensions are virtually worthless. No one wants to work past 60 but this is part of the process of getting everyone used to providing for their own old age or face the prospect of working until they drop dead. If it had been put like that - there might have been some people on the demo tomorrow.

The depression of the short distance gambler

I am in the bookies awaiting provider of illict subastances. He arrives looking glum. "I put a monkey on the 2.30 and it came in at five to one', he tells me. Lucky you, I say, what's the problem? Two hundred and fifty quid! "Yeh but I nearly put two hundred on it. A grand would have sorted things out back home. Shit."

Gambling is a form of losing - if you lose you regret the lost money if you win you regret not putting all of it on.

I put fifty pence on the 3.10 because I like the name, 'Found at last'. It is an honest looking horse and does, indeed, come in behind all the others.

Recyclage

On the stations of the metro in Lille - the brilliant virtually free train system - there are always dozens of orange dressed distributors eargely thrusting copies of the free Le Metro newpaper into the hands of passing commuters. If this is insufficient, there are always copies of three other papers in stands dotted about le gar (one called "Twenty Minutes" Q. - Why is "Twenty Minutes" called "Twenty Minutes"? A. Because it takes twenty minutes to read. No, because it takes twenty minutes to write.) They are unavoidable. They are rubbish. They are left on seats, they fall on the floors and get blown about all round the station. At the terminus of the line I get out and two orange clad cleaners get on and start putting all the left over papers in plastic recycling bags. The journals are then sent to a paper recycling usine where they are born again as the day after's newspapers.

With fifteen minutes of a class left and all the material exhausted I resort to recycling an old joke - What is the longest word in the English language? i) 'Elastic' because it stretches - they groan and protest ii) 'Smiles' - because there is a mile between the two 's''s to further outrage, and finally iii) 'antidisetablishmentarianism' - to puzzled silence. The longest word in the English language is, of course, 'work'.

I return home at the same time as a distributor of advertising magazines reaches our door. I explain, in my dog French, that it would save time if he just threw them into our recycling bin since that is their immediate destination. He is forbidden from doing this, he tells me, on pain of getting sacked and hands me half a kilo of brightly covered cheap paper which I throw into the recycling bin. He shrugs and heads towards next door.

The desert of the real



In class, I am interrogated as to what I mean when I say "real". Fortunately I have read Michael Devitt 'Realism and Truth' the month before. His idea is that what is real '. . .is that which is independent of our epistemological descriptions'. The students look blankly at me, as well they might. I try to explain - 'Take Santa Claus - he's made up. He doesn't exist outside what we say about fat men in red suits. Money is the same. It is what we say it is and what we say it should do'.

One student then says that since money is not real, then I should give the class all the money I have in my pocket. Twenty one pounds forty five pence as it turns out. 'Ah', I improvise, ' - but since money is not real it is nothing true either. Since it is not true, it is a lie. I am a philosophy teacher here to tell you the truth thus to give you money would be to tell you lies' I smile and depise myself for the rest of the day.

Selfishness and self-interest


It is easy to confuse 'selfish' with 'self-interest'. Apart from the fact that the two words sound similar, under actually existing capitalism their elision serves an important ideological purpose. An individual acts selfishly when their behaviour secures for them the main part of a limited resource at the expense of other parties. The selfish individual aims at maximising his (it is a feature of political thought that it is dominanted by masculine personal pronouns) gains and to seek to win. This type of 'individual' is the the 'rational' unit at the centre of choice theory and liberal political thought, from Lockle to Rawls. It is the main idea at the centre of neo-liberalism. The term 'self-interest' is used synonymously. But it is relatively straightforward to see that this is at root a philosophical error. Self-interest is something that we ought to always act upon. Don't drink alcohol, don't smoke, do more exercise etc. The self's interest is, fundamentally, to endure and to flourish.

The idea of 'flourishing' is a political idea that by extension includes others.

One cannot flourish independently of others. Firstly, selves are immeditaly thrown into relations with others - in villages, towns, communities, unions and so on. The success or otherwise of these organisations largely determines the success or flourishing of the individual selves that it is made up from. Whilst there are 'heroes' that escape their historical conditions (see 'The Poor List' below), these individuals are not indicative, not everyone can 'make it' and their success only serves to haunt the contexts they escaped from (take a trip round Liverpool and see the ghostly remnants of The Beatles, for instance - whose members never returned to the city that they came from).

Secondly, individuals flourish in joint efforts with others. An element of flourishing stems from the recognition of other selves. The other's interpretation of your actions - in Sartrean terms to those others you owe justification for your actions to - is an indispensable part of a self's interest. Not to be interested in the reacions of anybody else would be a lonely place indeed. The self is implicitly bound up in the intersts of others, your actions and your socially perceived well-being are of concern to others - if no one is interested in you, then, again, you would occupy a lonely and unflourishing world. Finally, self-interest inescapbly involves the idea of social conflict. What is in the interests of your village, community or union is going to involve the equal loss to other likeminded organisations. A team wins - one team has to lose, a strike is won, shareholders are forced to share some of their illgotten gains, but the individuals that constitute these organisations act against their self-interests in so far as they act selfishly.

I go to a party and drink all the beer, eat all the food and am copiously sick outside. I am never invited to a party in the town again and I am shunned by mine hosts. I have acted selfishly but not in my self-interest (being invited to parties is, of course, part of self-flourishing). Members of a union pay their dues to their organisation - in a way, they act selflessly - they attract no immediate gain from this - yet their solidarity (unless they are condemned to be part of the British and French union system for ever) ultimately triumphs. A wholly selfish life is unsustainable.

Under derilict capitalism, it is sound, from an elite perspective, that these two ideas are conflated. The self, imagined on its own, cannot be thought to have a collective aspect nor be seen to take part in struggles not obviously in its immediate interest. To have imposed the thought that to buy SUV's, electronic goods and luxury items by the ton and to think, at the same time, that this is in your self-interest, is to play a role in the hijack of a conceptual term that is fundamental to the way we think about politics and society. We erroneously think that to consume is to flourish, yet wonder why the dead congealed things we end up with make us feel depressed. (Try it, take a look at the computer you had ten years ago, under the stairs or the old mobile in the drawer).

Internetless

The internet here at REL offices crashes and we are left for four whole days without access to the outside world. 'It is a conspiracy', the cleaner says. 'I told you the secret sevices wouldn't like what you write.' A back of deep grey cloud passes overhead and blocks out the sun. Maybe she is right. Perhaps the remaining land line is being tapped as well. There is a conspiracy. But it is a much smaller, apolitical and, so, far more dangerous type . A wire inside a connectal portal amidst a hedge of leads and junctions that connect the various electronic boxes and devices has disintergrated over time and shorted the whole setup. Calls are made, and the piece is replaced and the fault fixed.
But each day, all the other wires bide their time and wait whilst the new component joins their slow inevitable slide to rupture and oblivion.

samedi 26 avril 2008

Buddy can you spare a dime

They just don't have any shame these Alpha-gorillas do they? This one, the CEO of Countrywide the (once) top US mortgage lender, remembered to trouser £66m last year despite the fact that his company went nozzles up and left thousands of homeowners in tent city. How long can this sorry spectacle go on before someone decides to pull the plug on the whole see through charade?


It is with relief to learn that after six months of turmoil he is expected to "go have some fun". Bless.

There's a ghost in my house

A spectre is haunting the financial cities of the world. According to the economic forecasters over at GEAB, who were predicting the current crisis over two years ago, there are over ten trillion 'ghost' dollars in circulation substantiated by nothing at all. These dollars were created in order to sustain the never ending economic boom promised back in 2000. They now float around the world in search of the next speculative bubble - hence the disproportional rises in food prices we are witnessing - but ultimately they are just worthless bits of paper.

GEAB writes, "Most of these « ghost-assets » are made of US mortgage loans, US dollars, and more generally US dollar-denominated assets, as well as British Pound Sterling-denominated assets (10). They were created from nothing in the financial euphoria of the past decade by the “sorcerers' apprentice” of Wall Street, the City and the other major financial places of the world. . . . . They are “ghost-assets” no longer capable of being “embodied” in real assets. "
The sketch seem to be that there's nothing the G7 can do about this - all those meetings in April were just panic fests. What it means for the little people is austerity and revolt. Well, every cloud has a silver lining.

vendredi 25 avril 2008

Bidonville


Part of the wasteland on the outskirts of Lille station has become 'home' to some of the kind of ghosts that haunt every urban centre. Their tents made from blankets and propped up by branches are warnings of what awaits. The police arrive and demolish the settlement. It's not good for tourism says the small news story hidden away of page seven of the local paper.

Fuel madness

The strike at Grangemouth is about pensions entightlements. Its the kind of dispute that has grown in recent years - the French train drivers got ripped off in a similar way by the toadstool's government (see below) - and one that is going to get more intense as the crisis rolls on.
Best of Scottish to the strikers of course. This saga also shows the madness of British transport policy and, more generally, the Western adiction to the auto. No I'm not a tree hugger - but when politicians say ""People will have to be sensible and rational. I cannot guarantee that every garage forecourt will have petrol at that precise moment." I can only laugh. People are rational a lot of the time - but not when it comes to cars. The speeding, drink-driving, undertaking, mobile-using road raging frenzy of today's car journeys has arisen through the lack of transport choice. Car adverts present their products as free flowing 'virtual objects' that have open roads before them, governments subsidise road building at the expense of other modes of transport (one motorway layed in Britain recently cost £1000 a yard) and that's even before you get to the question of just why so much movement is required in the first place.

I am no different, I have an irrational hatred of the damned things, as if you couldn't tell, and can't even face learning how to drive, have you seen the madness on the roads lately? I hate being in the passenger seat too. There is a debt to be repaid at the end of the journey, but there never seems the means to pay it. The car taps deep into contemporary notions of what it is to be a modern functioning person. People are surprised, even, horrified when they hear I am 'handicapped' in this self-inflicted way. "But it's so useful", they say. I reply "Ah, but what is 'use'?" in pseudo Socratic way, but it gets me nothing but troubled smiles. It is there as plain as a jumped light, 'You are not a man if you don't drive'. Even the chap, recently, who was speeding through a built up area and ran over a baby and rendered her brain damaged for life, gets a lenient sentence. The aura of the car cannot be seen to be damaged.

I like to keep death of the roads and take the train.

Sarkozy on the box

TV 1 and 2 was given over to Sarkozy for near enough two hours last night. According to Marianne, a left leaning political weekly, this is unprecendented and near unconstitutional. One trouble being an exile, everything appears as 'normal', at first, simply because it is happening. But he didn't seem to have a lot to say and nor did he have much of an impact amongst the students I teach. They just smile enigmatically. 'He's just a puppet' one says. 'He's just embarassing' says another. They just shrug when I say he could be a French Thatcher or Blair. To them, I am a strange English relic.
Even the sympathetic papers, the adsheets they give away outside the metro an the odious Figaro, can't drum up very much enthusiasm. "Let's go to Work!" one front page exhorts. . .at seven of a morning doing just that it seems a rather tautological message. Closer to the marrow is one paper that quotes the tiny talking turd as admitting that "Yes I've made some mistakes". Getting elected for one I guess. Perhaps the most absurd guff he came out with, was his claim that the French finances are all fucked up because of the price of oil and the food crisis. So, the Prince of Capitalism sweeps to power, gives away 15 billion Euros in cash to the top richest 30000 people in France (honestly they all got a 50k cheque in the post last Christams - who says St.Nick was a myth?), takes away workers' benefits and then blames his plummeting popularity on....capitalism.
He blamed his poor popular showing recently as a message from the people that they are impatient at the slow pace of reforms. They can't be rid of their pensions and jobs quick enough n'est pas? Pass le vin si vous fucking plait.

jeudi 24 avril 2008

Storm

The atomized 'revolutionary' had so discounted the idea of capitalist turmoil and uprisings that even when the signs were unmistakable, instead of joining in the movement it swept him aside.

Three steps forward one step back

It's a boring old see-through trick, but the political élites just have to do it. they have a plan to reduce expectations, cut benefits and put the squeeze on. They know how it will go down. The people are hard to fool all the time - it must be such a nose ache to dole out the propaganda on a daily basis - but ends must be met, champagne bills and luxury goods bills paid - so ideas are 'floated'.

Like the gas price hike in January over here in France. It was huffed and puffed all over the media that the price of gas was going to go up 10% but then gradually it got changed to 7 then only 5. Phew we are all supposed to think - it could have been worse - c'est mieux que rien. Similarly, the ten pence tax storm will die down now a few bones have been chucked about. The backbenchers have salved their consciences and can forget about the poor for the next year or so. The government probably pretty much got what it hoped it would get. Besides, there's always next time. The millions who still lose out? They are far away but their actions accumulate.

Les Manches gauches


I came here to escape from England (well some of its debts anyway (soz)) - but it may well claim me anyway. Apparently (one must say that, it is in the torygraph) the EU has come up with a dastardly plan to rearrange EU state borders. This will involve a drastic change to the idea and indeed status of Britain. The new area will be called The Manche (after the French for 'The Channel'). Eew and on St.George's day too. The predictable nationalist whinge follows (see below for, yawn...)
Professor of Predictions at Hardcoast University laughs and says it'll never happen. But given capitalism's paradoxes and ironies, it probably will.

Hard rain

Millions of tiny events far away

France 1 Pirates 0



Honestly, is there no honour among theives these days? The looting of Africa is what the West does best and they don't like any competion from the locals. The French luxury yacht seized by a team of Somalian pirates was liberated by the French navy two weeks ago. The French paid the ransom and then tricked the pirates into a gun battle which the latter lost. The pirates got away with a lot of money, though, but the Western governemts don't like it up 'em. France and America have both called for UN authority to steam into other countries territorial waters they suspect pirating is going on there. Hmmmm. . . .
Meanwhile the stories behind the pirate excitement are more familiar - they are the 'heroes' gone 'bad' again [see 'Poor List' below]. This from AP

"Siyad said his decision to become a pirate was a matter of survival. Impoverished and with no job prospects, he saw two options: risk his life by fleeing Somalia in a leaky boat to the more prosperous countries across the Gulf of Aden, or join up with pirates who were flush with cash.
Now, $35,000 richer after hijacking two vessels, including a Japanese tanker seized in December, Siyad said the best, most profitable choice was clear.
He plans to use his spoils to try to escape the poverty and instability of Somalia. "I want to go abroad using a safe route, using my money," he said.
But Muse — the pirate who spent all his money in one go — had second thoughts a few years ago, blaming the easy money for the loss of his wives and other personal misfortunes."

Muse gave away most of his gotten gains - which shows a generous spirit, more than can be said of the bourgeois state pirates Siyad and co. are up against on and off the high seas.

Strike, striking, struck


One swallow does not a Summer make, as tedious old Aristotle laments in his worthy Nichomachean Ethics, but it is difficult not to be encouraged by the decision of the Public sector workers to go on strike today, in what's being described by Socialist Worker as 'Fightback Thursday'. The government, as pointed out by Lenin's Tomb, have been busy on the offensive - doing what they do best ie arguments ad hominem. Since inflation is round about 4% (though, face it, the true figure is much higher given what is going on at the moment), the pay award (good presentation of the term) is in fact a pay cut. The government's whinges is that it is all 'unfortunate'. Here's Brown, " "It's unfortunate that the teachers have taken action in this way. It's regrettable for pupils, it's regrettable for parents, it's obviously regrettable that a minority of teachers are out on strike today." If true, it is regrettable that there is only a minority out on strike - it would be great if they all were - but I expect that's not what he meant. The message is as mealy mouthed as it is cynical. He doesn't expect teachers to do anything else, they knew this was coming and decided to do nothing about it. It is mealy mouthed because of that insistence on "regrettable". Like he gives a shyte about any of the people he mentions, really.
I haven't seen the BBC et al's take on this, but do we really need to? There will be an attempt at bablance, but the overall media message-impression will be the one that 'the teachers are selfish and greedy', a perspective agreed to in editorial circles and the one pushed by the chimps in charge. As the swallow speeds into the distance, Aristotle's metaphor needs some more of the same. Which is slowly gathering everywhere. Here in France there are thousands of students out on the streets every week, car workers have just 'won' a three week dispute in Romania and there are strikes throughout the Americas. It's not much to go on, but for the moment, it'll have to do. Like Ludwig said, you have to plough through a lot of rubble sometimes to get to the gold.

mercredi 23 avril 2008

St. George's Day


Vincent Denis' gigantic A History of the French Identity 1715-1815 comes under scrutiny from S. Jahan in today's L'Humanité. In it Denis develops a complex story of a state machine that gradually extended its social control until, after the Revolution, an early form of social panaptican had been created. It was the Ancien Regime that created the sans papier but it took 1789 to create a uniform and homogeneous population. Whilst that seems a bit of an exaggeration (France, like most other Western bourgeois 'states' has its cultural and 'ethnic' variations) the concept of nationhood goes less challenged here than it does in Britain.
This is dangerous, and ultimately intensely boring, terrain I know - but the spasms of national (which is meant mediatic) debate which surround St.George's day (for instance this morning on Sky there was a Natfest special called 'Disuntied Kingdom' - - "disunited" geddit?) are things which prompt the thought as to why July 14th (not exactly a national day I suppose - more the evocation of its violent past) is a national festival in France but in Britain there is (rightly) a sense of ennui and futility surrounding the whole tedious charade. Even the debate about 'What Britain means' along with all the handwringing about, yawn, 'Britishness' has become a defining part of what that (elusive because non-existent) entity is.
If one can be bothered to think about nationality, nationhood and all the rest of the weasly lexical field, at all one would have to start from class oppression, examine the educational and linguistic roots of the idea before moving on to war. Because it is their that the nationalists find their bone.
If Britain's identity is propped up by the thought "Two World Wars and one World Cup.", a definite aspect of modern French nationhood is the resistance movement against the fascist occupation. It fills the magazines on a regular basis, is on the TV in one shape or another every week and is remembered in monuments scattered all over the country. (The picture is of the lonely place where Guy Moquet was murdered by the Nazis in Britanny). The 'heroic resistant', idea, the British equivalent is, perhaps, the plucky Spitfire pilot, helps people to forget or not ask questions about the massive collaboration that took place in France during WW2. Its replaying creates or helps sustain the myth that France stood up to tyranny and protected the ideal of liberty. It gives something to believe in no matter how complex the reality was at the time (Guy Moquet was a communist and thus, for the rightist government not wholly the hero he has subsequently become) and no matter how disparate today's politics has evolved from those concepts.
However, as the recent riots in the Paris suburbs showed, the homogeneous and uniform French citizenry has itself become more complex. Further, class divisions are becoming more pronounced and the government's immigration policies are not creating the solid electoral support the UMP anticipated. Hence, Sarkozy's increasingly shrill pleas for 'nation, family and work'. He even used the anniversary of Guy Moquet's death as a platform for such nonsense in a speech under the monument in the picture. It embarassed everybody and his idea that every teacher should read Guy Moquet's last letter to his mother out to their classes every week, was quietly dropped. In Britain we have the same sort of squirm inducing cam from Gordon Brown.
The political class see nationality as a good wheeze - but its one that is fading away. Nationality is a tricky and ever changing narrative to pull off for the weary politicians and their media guard dogs. But that is the trouble when you try to define something that is not that owes its unexistence to that which its excludes from its unself. On the fire with the whole puny debate.

Pleasure in the flesh



What to make of the Prescott's 'revelation' that he has suffered from bulimia. It would be easy to stick the boot in like Mark Steel did in the Independent recently. Steele lampoons Prescott's 'linguistically challenged' way of expressing himself, urges that we should no more feel sorry for him than Mugabe if he had piles and half-believes it is all just a publicity stunt, on Prescott's behalf, to promote his biography. Where Steel is more 'serious' his article has weight enough. He writes, "But the real tragedy of this man is that for much of his life he was full of fire and spirit, helping to lead a campaign for better pay and conditions for his fellow seamen and becoming a powerful voice against the bullying of the Conservatives. And he chucked it all in to become a bully himself. . .". In other words he was a 'hero' [see below] who went 'bad'.

It may well be a publicity stunt. In the contemporary context, confessional autobiographies in which the reader is not spared any too personal detail, it may have even been a condition of publication. Still, it is always honourable to give the accused the benefit of the doubt. Besides, if the bulimia is a fiction, Prescott has more to lose in 'revealing' it than in making up something nearly as bad. On cannot make generalisations from one case, since all generalisations are false, of course, but there is the temptation to think of Prescott's (ex?)condition in a more philosophical way than Steele has done (though it is difficult to disagree with what Steel actually does say). Prescott was a working class boy made good. He was born in Wales and had a working class background (his father worked on the railways, his grandfather down the pit), moved around a lot in his early life, failed the eleven plus and became a merchant marine. Yet he moved on up and received some qualifications from Oxford and a degree from Hull.

It is no coincidence, politically, that his problem started in the early eighties. This was the time New Labour was being formed and nutured. The party shuffled off its committment to public ownership and socialism and made its bid for the middle ground. Somebody with an intelligence like Prescott could not have failed to have appreciated the dissonance involved in thinking about the politics he was endorsing and his own personal memories of his working class background. But it was a choice he made. He chose political success over less well paying 'principle' and bit the Blair bullet. Professor of the Obvious speaks: 'Our choices have ramifications of which we are not aware or that we sheild ourselves from'.

A long running consequence of this political decision must have been (and, ok, this is just speculation) a palbable feeling of 'disquietude'. Prescott, after the Labour victory, now rubbed shoulders with some of the richest and most powerful people in the country. He was now as good as them. 'I have fucking well made it my son. I have dragged myself up from the gutter. If I can do it so the bloody hell can you!' he may well have said to someone at some time at some Islington dinner function. But he will have felt the class divide, the condesencion and the patronisation. His political allies were from a different league altogether and they represented constituencies far different from his - he was merely homage to the betrayed roots of the party that had nowhere else to go. The disquietude stuck. He took his anxiety out on himself, in true Nietzschean fashion. The anxiety had its psychological roots in the betrayal he felt he had made in joining Blair's (ill fated) neoliberal crusade. The punch he famously threw during the 2001 election campaign, perhaps, was an expression the psychological violence needed to deal with this absence of peace of mind.

The word bulimia, comes from the Greek with the prefix meaning 'Ox' the suffix, 'hunger'. Yet the etymology does not capture the significance of the 'disease' (here more in the sense of 'not at ease'). It is good to have the hunger of an ox. At breakfast or after a royal walk in the countryside or a mammoth swim in the sea - the condition, though, involves vomiting it all back up again. It is an acceptance then a period of digestion and then a rejection of what you have just eaten, Professor of Obvious Studies at TVU might have added.

Would it be too far fetched to see this symbolically? He took the Blair mediceine but he just couldn't keep it down? He felt that there was something unjust about Blair was doing but he swallowed it anyway and the public side of the disease revealed itself in his inarticulatelessness and the private in throwing up? (Whereas it just made the rest of us sick?). It is too gross to contemplate.

However (and opportunistically on my part) it does have the occassion to bring Epicurus (On Hapiness) closer to our world. On his political choice "No one when he sees evil delibertely chooses it, but is enticed by it as being good in comparison with a greater eveil and so pursues it"Prescott chose Blair and fame rather than political obscurity but ended up damaged by it - "The just man enjoys the greatest peace of mind, while the unjust is full of the utmost disquietude". New Labour politics is ajustice [sic] and, without romanticising too much, we can give Prescott the benefit of the doubt in thinking of him recognising it as such and in a convoluted way reacted to it with his disease. Further, and, er, closer to the bone "Pleasure in the flesh admits no increase when once te aim of want has been removed. . .The limit of pleasure in the mind. . .is reached when we understand the pleasures themselves and their consequences - which cause the mind the greatest alarms." Watch what you eat - but not that much or at least only once.

(Maybe Epicurus with his emphasis on sensory knowledge, his relativism and his belief in a metaphysical freedom is not so far from our own age as I thought [see below]).

Moral? Is there one? Perhaps, 'Don't betray your roots - but if you do, keep away from the biscuit tin'. Besides, with basic food prices up 15% in a year and famine increasing throughout the world, bulimia should be a long way down the list of priorities. Change the bloody subject.

mardi 22 avril 2008

Presentation, presentation, presentation

A lot of nonsense has been written about Brown being different from Blair. Don't believe it. In one vital respect, at least, they are tediously alike. Take, er, its presentation of things. The recent tax reforms are a case in point. They are ideologically presented as an abolition of tax, something that, up to a point, sounds good. The 'abolition of the ten pence tax rate' has become the way this tax reform has been described. All the media describe it as such. On further investigation, though, the tax change is really about lifting up five million people to the 20 pence thresh hold - thus their tax rate will almost double. But "Doubling the tax rate on the poorest" wouldn't sound New Labour enough. Hence, 'abolishing the 10 pence tax rate'. The presentation is all.

"I blame the scapegoats"



The French Government's refusal to grant legal status to undocumented workers (some of whom have worked in La Belle France for over ten years) is an obvious scandal and disgrace. The odious Hortefeux, the minister of the (ridiculous yet sinister sounding) Immigration and Nationality department hasn't even the front to show his grotesque geule and defend his decision to take each exile on a 'case by case' basis. Presumably his wretched office is too busy trying to meet its 2008 target of 28000 'illegals expelled. The ghost workers have gone on strike. Good on them. Some work in the same luxury restuarants frequented by the beleaguered toadstool presidenté himself and have gone on hunger strike in protest. Unfortunately for them, they have the French 'left wing' union the CGT on 'their side'. I do hope they have stocked up well beforehand.

Stock market rallies



The ends are only temporarily hidden from us

Protest and Survive


Febuary 15 2003, London
A 'decent' quasi-friend chortles that "[a]ll that protesting against the war did nothing!" and goes on to say that all protests are a waste of time. But the demo is so enormous, that, as if in a dream, I meet four people I haven't seen for a long time. Stories and addresses are exchanged. The dozens of people we meet along the route are eclectic, funny, interesting, the route a fascinating history tour of the nation's addiction to war and the near anticipation that perhaps something is about to happen make it a day that stays luminous in the memory. Alas, something does happen. A few years later I meet the acquiantance again. He still lives in the same disintegrating area, same job same declining pouvoir d'achat. I get the urge to say 'All that voting did nothing! Voting is just a waste of time!', but his answer would have been far less interesting. On the TV, the huge demos in France against the CPE and the Prime Minister withdrawing the proposal.

Ëtre ou pas être


Many years ago, my wife's (French) family clubbed together to 'buy' a hotel near Ruffec, their adopted home town, with a view to convert it to a block of social housing. The thinking was that they could enjoy a rentier life whilst giving something back to society in helping the area's poor find lodgement. A true third way. Thus architects were convened and plans drawn up, politicians persuaded and bank loans finalised. Then the lawyers intervened.
Seven years later, the loan is still being paid off, no progress has been made and the building carries on it slow disintegration. This morning we receive a letter asking our permission for the premises to be used as a backdrop for a film. The company specialises in les films noirs. A political metaphor.

Religion and Rationality







God save us from this pointless debate in the Guardian. In a way 's/he' does. It is so predictable and worn out - both rationality and religion have failed so whether one is an enemy of the other is neither here nor there - that no one reads it.

The Poor List

The Sunday Times 'Rich List' is published every year, which seems a little pointless given how little it changes. The quest to find the richest people in the country can hardly be an exacting task. Here's the top three, as if you didn't know already: Lashmi Mittal who earns his keep controling Mittal steel - he has worked his fingers to the bone to get his 19.25 billion, followed by Roman Abramovic a long way behind darning his sock to keep his measly 10 million bernies in and, at last a damned Britisher, the ever popular Duke of Westminster who slaves all day over his property empire which has generated some seven billion quid.






A rich person yesterday







The point is not to whinge about these geezers getting rich off the sweat of poor people's toil (something which, though, is certainly true) but to wonder at the amount of investigation required to create the list and at its political and ideological function. As for the first point, there can't be that much effort needed to put this sort of thing together. Given the social stasis in Britain, the same names will keep appearing year after year. True, the amounts neded to make the cut, increase each year by around 10 million pounds, but you or me aren't going to be on it any time soon. The reasons for this are not too difficult to explain. Firstly wealth generates wealth. Like the interest on a debt, but the other way round, the amounts just keep getting bigger. Also, on the political front, there is no challenge to their fortunes. The ('left wing') government in Britain has been 'business friendly' from since before it got elected - who can forget Manleson cooing that, "New Labour is totally relaxed about the extremely rich."? - British tax policies get more regressive as time goes on (see the 10 pence tax rate being abolished) and there are few signs that any kind of political counter-reaction is about to set in (despite the strikes in the public sector coming up). Thus next year's list will be that much more predictable. (On the same lines - Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal will be in the top four Premiership Teams next year. It is no coincidence that Derby were mathematically relegated in early March - the earliest a relegation has ever happened).

Secondly, the reporters themselves will not even have to leave the office to conduct their enquiries. Previous biographies and stories will be archived and easily accessible. Philip Beresford the compiler of the 1000 long name list says he draws up the list through "voraciously" poring through newspapers (gasp) and magazines and although the disparities in their wealth are astronomical, the investigators will inhabit the same upper bourgeois class world in which certain things are expected and taken for granted. Plus, the members on the list all live, coincidentally, in the capital itself, home, of course, to the Sunday Times as well. So, Beresford's quip that he has a network of spies "...better than the KGB." that find it all out, is his way of saying that he doesn't need to do any hard 'sociology' at all. He can write about them almost at will. They will not have to overstretch their imaginations too much.

Finally, they must find it fun to get to see the rich at work and at play, enjoy a sliver of their largesse maybe and to write about it. They know its successful, Ian Coxon is quick to point out that publication of the list always boosts circulation, its a list and lists are in a sad sort of way intersting and admits that the subject, for him, is fascinating.

This fascination is political. There are far more intersting things in the world to be fascinated about after all - nature, stars, poetry, the list is practically endless. This sort of fascination this sort of list, though, goes deep into our 'social conciousnesses'. The fact that the second name on the list owned a house in Chelsea Square and liked it so much he bought the house next door, whilst not exactly 'touching', triggers a profound emotion in people. A lot of us will never really own our own homes - if we do at the end of the mortgate - it deosn't contain the word 'mort' for nothing, of course - it probably won't be for very long. Of course, many people who live in their own homes have problems paying this debt off. More of us rent - and some will see their money heading into the Duke of Westminster's pocket - and have long since shrugged off the 'dream' of owner occupation (which sounds like American foreign policy anyway) and so the idea of just buying a house like that needs some further reading. How do they do it? Where does the money come from? Why can't I have a house like that? The fact that these people employ conscierges, butlers, chaffeurs enjoy luxury hotels food and holidays and who posses power over others reveal assumptions, emotions and maybe aspirations in a lot of people, maybe even the most hard line revolutionaries. Even to think, just for a moment, about 'what you would do if you won the lottery', is to be taken in by its hallucinatory narratives.

These thoughts are entrenched in the set of political, economic and ideological perspectives which are themselves historically linked to the current system of economic production and its past and the representations of that past. These perspectives centre around the vanishing point of economic striving and gain. Whether one looks at education, law, the media, news, religion or entertainment, we are, of course, continually assuaged and inculcated with the unquestionable assumption that to get rich marks you out as specail, is admirable and is a vindication of a person's worth. (One memory from school suddenly occurs to me. We are sat in Assembly and are read a story from the Bible. The one about the three sons who each get a pot of gold, unbeknownst to them, as a test. the first squanders it, the second buries it but the third goes out into the world, 'invests' it and makes a fortune. "Which one is God pleased with everybody?" 'The last one of course'). The examples are everywhere all ready. But the point is not that of 'Décroissance'. There is no point castigating anybody. It is a social given for the moment. What is the point is that this fascination with the rich - naturally the Rich List relies on the fascination the former does not create the latter - this seeming to be 'always ever present' need felt by millions to emulate them has a political and ideological basis.


Marx once said something along the lines that a happy man will become unhappy if a prince builds his castle next door (though he could feel richer if it increases property values around the area). The once happy man, it is supposed, compares his, hitherto perfectly respectable, dwelling, then at the prince's, and feel bitter. A political situation has been created. From this one, plausible enough, example one could build an entire city and one in which the princes themselves will face the same sort of challenge. Aranovich buys two houses in Belgravia does he? Well I shall buy an entire office block! The list itself generates its own resentments and ambitions as well. Seven hundred and thirty first last year, six hundreth and twenty third this!


What does the poor man do in the meantime? He can shrug his shoulders and plough on regardless; 'Why be resentful?' - 'nature will provide' or he may think to be motivated at all would be akin to shaking your fist at the rain. He could sustain and harbour his rancour and turn it into ambition. He could let it develop into anger and overthrow the prince of course, but instead, for many reasons, he may settle for a resigned jealousy and sense of inadequacy.








Some money early this morning

The first option is Epicurean. It withdraws from the public world of acquisitions, fame and success and settles for domestic quietude - babies and other vegetables. To this figure, the rich list is forgettable, even risible, though, admittedly, it may be accompanied with a sentiment analogous to Aesop's fox (after his failure to secure the highest, sweetest grapes) and schadenfreude when the hyper-rich fall from grace and into penury. But it is impossible for millions of urban people, to live like this. There is no retreat possible and one gets one's face rubbed in it all too often and for too long to rise above it like a saint.

The second response, the 'heroic' response holds our attention. Even when it is a tragic anti-hero ( at random, Delboy, Blackadder, John Self in Money) we are asked, sometimes very powerfully, to give these guys a break, to give them the benefit of the doubt they are just like you all after all. The ghostly accompianiment to this indulgence is the idea that go getting is there, your family, your friends your neighbours are all at it and it really is an option. It could be you after all. Maybe at times, this ambition is motivated by similar 'sentiments' in the third example. So much the better. But thousands try, few get lucky. Poor people's ideas, like grandpa's dream of collecting thousands of oranges in Grapes of Wrath, are (often) products of despair not of sustainable business propositions.

The third option is poltically and pychologically of more interest. Feelings of resentment and inadequacy are two intensely political sentiments. Political in the sense that they can and often do disrupt otherwise 'rational' proceedings that characterise the operations of capital. The list makes this poor(er) man sneer and wish for unfortunate turns of events to do away whole thing, in some way or other. No truck here to the idea that 'socialism is motivated by envy' - not all jealous people are left wing, (nor, perhaps, vice verca).

Jealousy and resentment and their related emotions, are the essentials in the cement that hold social inequalities in place, guarantee 'order' and maintain social stasis. They shape behaviour (death rates for the rich and poor are, by definition, very different, as are rates of disease and educational success and the confidence it brings) and, so, attitudional development.

These possibilities merge and disintegrate into one another. One person could experience them all in a single day one 'hero' can feel bitter one day which serves to fuel his ambition the next and so on. They mingle like paint on a canvas - but for the moment, away with them! For this is but an introduction for those who would dare to take the opposite route, the more taxing direction and make life harder for themselves. These people are the ones who leave the city's bright lights behind and travel into darkness to create their lists. Could we face, though, their observations and conclusions of their 'sociology', the products of their "KGB agents" with the same fascination - those who set out to create the poor list?

lundi 21 avril 2008

Happy Capital Day


In the interests of balance, since Labour Day on May 1st. is coming up, people need reminding of the other side of the story, that the people who take the risks to ensure we all have meaningful jobs to go to don't get forgotten and that the 100 billion of tax payers' money they'll be getting (in compensation for all that borrowing we've foolishly let ourselves in for) is such a burden of responsibility here are a couple of downtrodden souls who really need your support in these arduous times.
So why don't you take an apple along to work to give to your selfless superior, offer to wash his car or just kneel down and shine those shoes?

Make every day a Happy Capital day.

dimanche 20 avril 2008

Bashing

There is a shrill little website out there called Harry's Place whose authors, K-Punk alleges are allied with New Labour. The site is busy and its targets seem to be people on the left who it sees as joining forces with Islamists, fundamentalists and such like and hence, 'giving succour to the terrorist enemy'. Thus one writer embarks on a (convoluted) criticism of David Edgar's recent piece in the Guardian. Edgar's lengthy article is a fairly tame lament about the lefties and 'radicals' in the past, though especially the 68'ers, who have shifted to the right and who have used Islamism as a shield for the process. Thus Cohen, Amis and Mel Phillips are invoked. HP's writer makes a confused point about what he sees as Edgars slurring the good name of Nick Cohen. His point makes no sense. Further down he takes on Edgar's suggestion that those ex-left traitors are abandoning those at the bottom of the social heap and that someone of Muslim parents can be expected to earn less than £300000 than expected. Edgar's relatively inoccous points get such a lambasting that it would be easy to think HP has been altogether taken in by the propaganda onslaught against Muslims over the past ten years.

Then, further down the page this , a dubious looking story in the Daily Mail. . . of all places. Its a 'story' about two white people being turned away from Clissold Leisure Centre in Stoke Newington, London on the grounds that there was a Muslim only swimming session going on.
The HP blogger purrs his/her satisfaction with the outrage 'generated' by the story despite "a few minor factual inaccuracies" in the piece and concludes the entry "So, all in all: well done the Daily Mail. I never thought I'd say that! " One 'minor factual inaccuracies' in the story turns out to be that there is no muslim only swimming session. The Mail's 'leaflets' could be anyone's - there is no mention of it on the Centre's website. Also, the story has a fakeness about it: "Mr Toube joked: "I asked him whether Clissold Leisure Centre would institute Whites Only swimming for racists. His answer was that they would if there was sufficient demand."
He added: "I spoke to a number of Muslim friends, and none of them had heard of a religious prohibition on swimming with non-Muslims" The paper is trying to tell us something with the 'joked' 'muslim friends' and 'none of them had heard' of course. The story is just baa baa black sheep black bin bag propaganda. But the comment box is long and the story gathers momentum.

This adulation of a fictional story casts the Edgar's article in a new sympathetic light.

Dissonance


Gordon Brown March 2008 - “Rising food prices threaten to roll back progress we have made in recent years on development. For the first time in decades, the number of people facing hunger is growing.”
One would be forgiven for thinking that the British Prime Minister's, surely ironic, words were said precisely not to be believed. The real message is that growing numbers of hungry has been the point all along.

Shame


Back in England in a run down pub in Wigan, I fall into a discussion about people of the past with a cousin. He mentions I name I remember. "Gary Fairhurst! I remember him!", I say. He was a bad tempered pupil but he was good on the rugby pitch. I recalled the day he leant me 50 pence, of breaking through some opposition lines and of him laughing at a teacher. My cousin frowns and says that he died last year. I am taken aback - he was only my age. I ask what happened, "They don't know. They found him at the bottom of his ladder one morning. He was a window cleaner." I ask whether he had just fallen off or had a heart attack or something. "No apparently not." He finishes his pint. "The autopsy couldn't tell what had happened." He shrugs. "It was a big funeral." After a pause, he gets up to buy another round.
Later, we walk down a road toward the old school. But instead of the 60's building, the doorway with ' Manners maketh Man' engraved over it, and the two acres of playing fields, there is a small estate of semi's with gravel drive ways and neat compact lawns. "That place?" He looks at me quizzically. "They knocked it down years ago." We drift past the houses and their well trimmed hedges. I tell him that I can't quite believe the school is not there anymore. "I still have a half finished cloth mouse I was supposed to finish for art homework from here. And I don't think that Fairhurst got his fifty pence back either." Then, like seeing someone's face for the first time in years, the memory is over ridden, that is how it is, the houses have always been there. A twin engine plane drones faintly somewhere over head. I am left with a void. "It wouldn't happen to an Oxford college.", I say but he just half laughs through his nose.
Autoposies can only find physiological causes of death - how would you search for 'boredom' or 'shame'? How could you conduct an autopsy on a ghost?

samedi 19 avril 2008

At least the placebos work





The fact that the anti-depressant Prozac does not work and has about as much effect as sugar pills or a placeboe comes as no surprise. In the current 'economic conditions' what news is there in a story that multinational companies make tens of billions of dollars profit selling imaginary products to the public? Sub-prime mortgates, CDO's and all the brightly coloured financial derivatives are the prozac of the people. Every age gets the gods and drugs it deserves.

Spring fades


Every day in the decrepit l'Humanité there is a little message on the front page. Today's, continuing the paper's seance with May 1968, reads "Ils pourront couper toutes les fleurs, ils n'êmpecheront pas venue du printemps" ['They can cut all the flowers but they can't stop Spring from coming.'] Today, under the leaden Northern skies, the flowers have been cut and Spring is cancelled.
But what if

vendredi 18 avril 2008

Professors of the Obvious

At some university conference a few years ago in Glasgow there was an hour long paper on the media and politics. One paper from a serious academic spent an hour proving that the Daily Mail and the Express were predominantly right wing newspapers. There were no questions asked at the end of the talk. The one on everyone's mind was surely, "Why did you bother with this?" but people must have been too polite. Similarly this report from the Pentagon, ". . .written by Joseph Collins, a former senior Pentagon official, and was based in part on interviews with other former senior defense and intelligence officials who played roles in prewar preparations.".

It says the war in Iraq was "a major debacle" and the outcome "is in doubt".

One thing about this whole tragic charade is that there can be no response from the war supporters about "Well in hindsight of course. . ." because it was all too obvious what was going to happen. Khwaga's defence of the war (see part 1 below) is that 'might is right'. But like the bloody Israeli 2006 fiasco in Lebanon, if the self-styled defenders of civilisation are hell bent on a civilising military crusade, at least win the moronic wars they set out to fight. Or else, the 'might is right' argument looks ridiculous empirically as well as conceptually. An obvious statement.

Love thy enemy


What to make of this? Nato forces dropping supplies for the Taliban. It was all 'human error' according to Nato's General Carlos Branco, but Afghan politicians think it was done purposefully.
The veils separating the 'real' explanations from conspiracy get thinner and thinner. What if NATO were supplying their notional enemies? The war could then be sustained indefinitely. The aim is not to win. Both sides have a vested interest in keeping the conflict going.
In the next story down, we read that a suicide bomber has blown up a mosque a hundred miles away in the same country. But the one minute update on the web version of the paper erases and replaces a story of Nato forces 'accidentally' blowing up the same mosque. The war in Afghanistan has not taken place. We are the ghostly spectators of a fake spectacle.

Epicurus



The adjective epicurean is the inverse of what Epicurus' philosophy means. In modern usage it means luxury and excess.

In his 'Fragments' we read, "Nature's wealth at once had its bounds and is easy to procure; but the wealth of vain fancies recedes to an infinite distance."

There is a guileless simplicity about his philosophy. The 'work' is short and is itself comprised of short almost gnomic aphorisms. There is no mystery to life once its pared down mechanisms are understood, an understanding that will create justice and well being.

In the west we are as far from Epicurus as we are from the next nearest star. In the hypermarkets, the stocked aisles recede to an infinite distance, surplus technology supercedes surplus technology, stupendous wealth generates yet more wealth. The conditions of 250BC Greece shine obscurely through his fragments. A contemporary equivalent could never be written. There would be no book big enough to contain its babbling excesses.

Still


Daylight keeps the terror of some places at bay.

Redistribution

In Britain, another threat of a back bench 'rebellion' this time over the abolition of the 10 pence starting rate of tax. The principle is quite clear. Money is to be taken from the poorest in society (here about 5 million of the porest people in Britain) and effectively given to those 'better off', earning over £18500 by cutting the next tax band down from 22 to 20 peance. On Sky news over here, the people who will lose out are dismissed by a presenter as 'just young single people' who obviously don't need any money and only spend it on beer and fags anyway when they are not busy shooting eachother. It is a scandal pure and simple but one which passes by without to much protest. A government minister threaten to resign and then denies it, the other wings of the establishment, the Tory and Liberal leaders make some tired remarks and Polly Toynbee writes something in the comment section of the Guardian. Gordon Brown tries reassure and assuage any bad consciences by saying that the tax credit schemes will assist those most in need. But the tax credit system has broken down, families who try to 'work their way out of poverty' have had money taken back off them leaving them bereft and hundreds of thousands simply don't apply for what they are entitled put off (reasonably enough) by the bureaucratic complexities they would face.

That election day in 1997 was a day I will never forget. 11 years later, disillusionment has not set in, for there were no illusions in the first place, but a shame lingers at the memory of all the leaflets and canvassing done on the estates of the people the party now so blithely robs.

Bank bench rebellions? It is a bit late for that type of thing isn't it?

jeudi 17 avril 2008

Creation

A friend declares he is agnostic, to our surprise. His reason is that some one must have created the universe. When posed with the idea that creation itself is a human phenomenon, he repeats, somebody created the universe. But what creates the idea that the universe has been created? It is eternal and so has no begining. His irritation at this is positively religious.

War and International law 3





This will be a developing study of a review of two books, one called 'War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict', the other, Of War and Law by David Kennedy that I came across in democratiya, by Irfan Irfan Khawaja instructor of philosophy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. . I intend to come back to the review in numbers 2 and 1.


The books to be reviewed are just a cover for the author's intention to attack, what he sees as, a left wing argument against controventions of international law, more specifically in terms of war. Khawaja overall point is that the left is naive if they think appeals to international law carry any weight in criticising actual wars. The left and the books under review, ultimately". . .reveal invocations of international war law as a rhetorical bluff." The unsaid throughout the piece, of course, is that crying "But The Iraq war illegal!" is not an argument against the (what?) justifiability of its unrolling.



My first impression of the reviewer's argument was one of quizzical incredulity. It is true, I have read it hundreds of times, that left wing writer's do indeed use the "It's illegal!" tactic. I think a lot of stuff in the Socialist Worker took this line in the build up and aftermath of March 2003. Pilger and others also cited it as a reason for marching in Febuary of that momentous year. So it is a valid target, I suppose. There it is in the open - The left opposes the war because it is in contravention to UN, International or old style religious regulations, these laws are unsustainable and wrong, thus a large part of the left's argument is flawed. Thus (by implication) it's OK to support the war, at least if this was the only reason one was opposed to it.



Khwaja spends a inordinate amount of time and energy is disposing of the efficacity of the "It's illegal!" argument and feels satisfied enough at the end to give the strong impression that he feels he has done sterling work in defending the Empire's careering forary into the middle east. In the end, of course, he has but, it is at a heavy cost. We are familiar with the observation that the bourgeosie feel uncomfortable in discussing politics. Especially politics of a bare knuckled variety. The dwellers of leafy surburbias do not with to explore the history of what is on the end of their forks, for instance or just what it takes to keep the price of electronic goods down or the nature of wars fought in their name. For the thesis that Khwaja defends is an ugly one, but in the end one that the majority on the left are well aware of and have the experience of somehow 'flying over it' when it comes up mid dispute. If this is what passes for dinner table conversation in the decents' households, then desperation must have crept in quite a while ago.


Khwaga's argument against the notion of an international law acting as a bulwark against unprovoked aggression contains a number of parts, some more of which will be discussed above. For the moment, I will examine his critique of Lockean self defence theory and his domestic law analogy. It is clear to this writer at least, that under current historical conditions, there is indeed no international law or 'ultimate morality' which can underpin an enforceable law that would prevent or forestall armed conflict. Armed conflict is one important way that modern states or conglomerates of states behave. This, which Khwaga holds up in triumph does indeed mean that ". . .appeals to international war law are at best the beginning of a long argument, not the end of one." but as far as the decents go this postmodern argument has more than one edge.



But first, his argument against the traditional self-defence argument. Kwhaga mentions Locke as a source for this argument but does not cite where in Locke's writings this argument appears. But no matter. The self defence (SD) argument is as plain as its name suggests: only attack if you have been attacked. Kwhaga doesn't say this but by extension if this were somehow established in the minds of human kind as a 'law', it would be crystal clear to everyone that the invasion was illegal. The argument has to be liquidated.

Thus, Kwhaga believes that 'strict adherence' to the SD argument " would oblige a country to prefer annihilation to pre-emption of a threat even in the face of conclusive evidence of an imminent attack." There is no absolute justification for not doing this, though, - one might equally say to the threat of another power "It is better that I do not retaliate.", (Kwhaga raises this point in mock horror, but it is not so far fetched and after all 'Socrates' himself defends it in the Republic. But this is philosophers playing hard ball godammit. States have interests to defend and the icy mechanics of diplopmacy and war have no such time for any such whimsical ideas).

Kwhaga, also believes this impossibility of not retaliating implies the further relataed point that, "[i]t would likewise oblige a country to forswear the use of weapons or tactics deemed ‘disproportional’ even if this meant the difference between victory and defeat over an aggressor.". The ideology is poking through here a bit too much. The point is being stretched. To say 'If I do not attack you, then I myself will be anihilated' is one (disputable) thing. To say 'If I do not attack you with all the means at my disposal and blew the consequences' is quite another. (True, in this section of the review, Kwhaga does not go so far as to say that collateral damge is 'regrettable but inevitable' - but finally concedes the point in a section discussing the lack of differentiation between combatant and non combatant). This second part of his 'refutation' of the SD argument is nothing more than a defence of unprovoked aggression. It is not even a step from saying all is 'fair game in peace and war'. At this precise point, Khwaga's discussion spills over from 'philosophy' to rank propaganda. The philosopher turns pure rhetorititian. Kwhaga's aim, in the end is the defence of this (see graphic). Or rather not its defence but its keeping quiet, its obscurence, it effacement and forgetting-its-there-ness: a kind of looking without seeing. Even things like this don't alter the perspective much.


In the next section still focused on Byer's book, Kwhaga takes on he latter's evocation of Catholic Church's rules for limiting the extent of carnage whilst war takes place. He criticises the idea that international and domestic law are somehow analogous. He wafts awaty Byer's suspect ideas thus,


"Though Byers elsewhere makes use of analogies from domestic law enforcement, he doesn’t remark on the oddity of this arrangement. Imagine police officers and criminals being legally obliged to obey the same rules during violent confrontations between them — with the police expected to obey the rules despite the moral asymmetry between criminals and the police, and obliged to obey them even if the criminals routinely got away with violating them. Almost anyone would call this an absurdity, and yet in the context of international war law, it has the status of an axiom. "


The question begging is quite stark. It is assumed that the decents are the cops, the middle east other the criminals of course. But that aside, the most telling aspect of this is the breathless "Imagine" at the start of the second sentence. Imagine if police officers had to obey the rules! What not be able to let suspects fall down stairs in a southerly direction? Not be able to rough a crim over before getting him to cooperate in a bit more of a citizenly spirit. Well that would never do - all that "asymmetry" you see.

Besides, if Khwaga's argument is extended this far - if force and power go "all the way down" - what then for his cosy little decent world?


To be continued

Music and Chance


A relative is moving and I help her clear things out. There are relics of the eighties, ancient wine bottles and a vinyl collection. In a box about to be thrown away, I find three cassette tapes, those fossils of early postmodernism. "Take them", she says, "I haven't listened to them for years". 'Schoenberg Verkarte Nacht' I read and think nothing of it. Later I play it. Nietzsche says, somewhere, that one may not be ready for certain examples of art. And how, of course, is it possible to write about music. The first thing about it, though, is that there is no melody, or there is no repeated melody. The tune does not exist. Melodies appear, but flow, transmute and disintegrate into one another. There is no repition. The baby hates it and cries. Perhaps bored or even frightened, like she behaves sometimes with objects and people. I swap the tape for some electronic guitar music from the late eighties early nineties. The bright, sharp tunes hold her attention as they loop about themselves. Modern music is infantile. The classical was mature and thus some fall from grace is proved. But it is nothing of the sort. The dualism is inverted, it is the pop that is the adult music. Its repition alludes to, copies, even when it thinks it mocks, the mature world of travel work sleep, discipline punish obey, eat consume die. Schoenberg's music aims somewhere else. The almost frightening absence of repitition calls to mind the chaotic outline of the everyday. But even this dualism breaks down.


mercredi 16 avril 2008

War on Terra


It's a musty topic - but one that won't die a death. The "war on terror", though officially dissolved last year, is back in the 'news'. On the beeb's Today programme we hear that some 300 new anti-terror police are going to be ghosting around parts of Britain sniffing out terror plots and saving our sorry behinds. The whole propaganda fraud of the war, centres around the fact that it is a 'win-win' situation for the melting wax work caracatures that rule under us. If there is a genuine terror outrage, then the whole anti-terror apparatus rises from its slab and lumbers after the suspects, the undesirables and the in the wrong place and the wrong timers. The ministers get their testosterone boosts, their glow of self-importance and further extensions to their already South American detention limits. More pointedly, they get to say 'I told you so' to those who are too damned sceptical of the whole charade. And any further inquiries will be dismissed as being those of conspiracy nuts.



On the other hand, the less satisfactory outcome of a long lull in the "war" also makes them look quite good. It means that their policies, no matter how anti-democratic they may appear, are in fact working. And so, further such measures should be introduced forthwith.


Since New Labour came to power just at the time when politics ceased to matter, they have to be seen to be doing something and to prepare for the non existent time when they fear the lumpen will turn ugly and on them. The war on terror with its limitless time scale (its been going on, in its current garb, for almost as long as the Second World War now), its shifting 'enemies' and its sheer flexibility is something the ghouls in Whitehall will never be able to move on from.

Here in my car

In an article in New Left Review, that graveyard of all hope, Baudrillard writes, "Fifteen hundred cars had to burn in a single night and then, on a descending scale, nine hundred, five hundred, two hundred, for the daily ‘norm’ to be reached again, and people to realize that ninety cars on average are torched every night in this gentle France of ours." ('The Pyres of Autumn', (Feb. 2006))


It is remarkable that the, now extinct, French intellectuals known supposedly for being 'radicals' and revolutionary deconstructionists of all that was once sacred, were in fact nothing of the sort. Derrida was little more than a social democrat, Foucault for all his bluster was deep down a conformist and even Sartre, the hallowed figure of contemporary French thought, was no more, really, than a clever, but spoiled, bourgeois individualist - and a Cartesian one at that. As for Baudrillard, what is disappointing about this article is that in it he didn't call for not only the burning of all the cars in France but all the wretched things in the world together with the factories that spew them out in ever increasing numbers and at an ever increasing rate.

Two steps back


At the end of every horror film there is the obligatory moment when the force of evil, believed conquered and dead, suddenly rises again to reconfront the living.

The wild expanse





The countryside in Bretagne is vast and green and sparkles with the reflections of the hundreds of lakes that intersperse the rolling farm land. The weather is wild. It maybe Spring and 18 in Marsailles, but here, an hour from the coast, there is a wind that gusts up to thirty miles an hour or so and Saturday is marked by fierce down pours that give way, in a flash, to bright sunshine. It is, or was, an intensely Catholic region. We speed along the road from Angers to our destination. Every kilometre or so there is a bright yellow and red bollard by the side of the route commemorating the path that the Allies took in 1944. More difficult to spot, though, are the religious crosses. Some are basic affairs, others slightly grander and there are many with a full blown Jesus in his unlikely pose. One of them, an ornate detailed thing, looks hopelessly anachronistic and incongruous next to the shining faux modernity of a 'U' Supermarket. Our host is almost apologetic about these sudden religious prompts. "No one goes to church anymore, though. Not even my elderly patients."

We join the main route and there to our right is a chain of wind turbines. Seven emmense towers with their huge propeller blades gently turning in the stiff breeze. "They generate enough electricity for 20000 people, though there was a lot of protest when they were put up.", our splendid host informs us. They are called 'éoliennes', in French ". . .after the French for the God of the wind." We stop and listen to their faint hum of the spinning crosses. "After they were put up, people came from all over to see them."

We are familiar with modernism's insistence that the religious 'tide' has receded yet here in the Spring countryside, it feels momentarily that it has only transmuted into something else. But the next day, the clouds that previously had scuttled across the sky in a mighty rush lie frozen as if painted on the blue background and the crosses are still. A political metaphor.