Saturday, January 29, 2005

Hierarchy of values

This is a heart warming story from the BBC:
UK Chancellor Gordon Brown has offered £960m ($1.8bn) over 15 years to an international scheme aiming to boost vaccination and immunisation schemes.
...If [Global Alliance for Vacines and Immunisation - GAVI ] could increase its funding for immunisation by an extra £4bn ($7.4bn) over 10 years, then an extra five million lives could have been saved by 2015 and five million thereafter, Mr Brown argued.
$7.4bn. 10 million lives. $7.4bn. 10 million lives. $7.4bn. 10 million lives.

UN Millenum Project has reported, with it's recommendations for practical resolution of the intractable issues of poverty (listed here in heart wrenching gobbet form - I'd reproduce them here in full, but I don't have the space - please read them. I'll probably add the link to my list in a while). These resolutions include such small measures as providing mosquito nets to help curb the spread of malaria.

Now, my point here, is that poverty is a breed of torture. The slowest and most wanton brutality that humans have ever inflicted upon one another. It is the worst of tyranny, the most brutal of dictators. Stripping people of decency, respect and turning them into little monsters of their own.

Pocket change could drastically cut it. What do we get instead? Bush to seek $80bn for war funds
Projected spending for 2005 tax year*:
$80bn request expected
$25bn already approved
Will take total cost of the two conflicts to almost $300bn
US costs in Iraq average $4.8bn/month
(*Tax year runs until October)
My point? Well, that for all the humanitarian language, even by the simplest of utilitarian thinking, without so much political capital being squandered, many more people could have been saved with that money that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars purprt to have done.

Indeed, if we look at defence spending generally, we see what a horrific squandering it is:
The [UK] defence budget for 2004/05 is expected to be £29.7 billion. Under the 2004 Spending Review, the budget will increase from £30.9 billion in 2005/06 to £32.1 billion in 2006/07.
Further, the US itself spent some $417.4bn on military affairs in 2003 (Source, British MOD). $7.4bn. 10 million lives.

Those who supported the recent liberations must also support this level of expenditure, this waste and misdirection, because it is the basis of the power from which the liberation was laucnhed. $7.4bn. 10 million lives.

Dreck mockracey

Just looking at the draft constitution when a copy came into our library, I accidentally found this wee section:
Article 46: The principle of participatory democracy

4. No less than one million citizens coming from a significant number of Member States may invite the Commission to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution. A European law shall determine the provisions for the specific procedures and conditions required for such a citizens' initiative.
Well, I think that's intriguing, at least the pretense of intitiative democracy, one million people out of some 400 million can press the commission to put proposals to the council of ministers and the Parliament. But, mark you, only to 'implement the constitution' so, say, a two million strong movement to prevent military forces going overseas, or to cut defence spending, would be ruled ultra-vires. Further, the real veto remains in the hands of the national governments.

As with most direct democracy laws, it really is a symbollic fig-leaf for concentrated power in the bureaucracy of state. The power to march and demand that the King do something, instead of putting the power of free association and labour to self active attainment of goals.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Treacle grinding

OK, back to normal workaday politics.

The European Constitution Referendum. Well, the question has been put:
Should the United Kingdom approve the treaty establishing a constitution for the European Union?
Well, there you have it. Many commentators have noted what a nice neutral question it is. Looking at it, I'd not that it avoids many constructions implying the UK adopting the constitution, or making itself subject. It asks not for adoption, but approval of ratification of the treaty. Further, it notes that the constitution is for the EU, not for Britain. At least in part, there is an attempt at dampening the issue, here.

The Constitution itself is turgid, excerpts are here - most significant is the injunction to comply with military co-operation and building the military capacity of the Union. That may cause a problem constitutionally for the Irish, who are committed to neutrality. At least it specifically states, though, that
...the member states confer competences [on the EU] to attain objectives they have in common. The Union shall co-ordinate the policies by which the member states aim to achieve these objectives, and shall exercise in the Community way the competences they confer on it.
unlike the US constitution, it clearly states that the EU bodies shall only have the power constitutionally enumerated.

This is not a receipe for a centralised federation, but a continued hodge-podging of different nation states with conflicting aims. It is remarkable that thus far the wheels haven't fallen off, but as it stands, there's more chance of that, especially if Britain rejects the constitution - which may well happen.

Truth be told, it is building unity from the top up, it is aligning the elites of Europe through common structures and social netwroks required to oeprate the giant bureaucracy, it is not the establishment of a true freedom of association from the bottom up, that will lead to the only true way of overcoming national divisioions. As with the former Yugoslavia, top down unity has the problem that if the elites fall upon one another, they drag everyone else into the fight.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Haway the Swazi lads, like...

Labour unions in Swaziland begin two-day strike

January 25, 2005, 09:30

Labour Unions in Swaziland begin a two day strike today in yet another attempt to force the government to bring multi party democracy to the Kingdom. Swaziland still has to adopt a new constitution. The country has been ruled by decree since 1973 after the late King Sobhuza II, banned all political parties.

There is a growing discontent that despite the poverty gripping Swaziland, the royal family is living a wasteful and lavish life. The recent purchase of an almost R4 million luxury sedan of King Mswati III, is one case in point.

Labour unions demands
Amongst the demands of the labour unions, they want government should stop their plans to privatise certain public enterprises, to stop the taxation of workers benefits, to suspend the constitutional making process and also to restore the rule of law.

Meanwhile, the Swazi government has moved swiftly to avoid police from joining in the strike, by promising to address their demands in salary increases. With schools opening for 2005 today, teachers have voted not to be a part of the strike action.
Via South African News

A good news story, with luck. I hope anyone reading this will wish our Sistsers and Brotehrs in Swaziland good look in their strike.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Shakespeare and South Park...

Oliver Kamm has been discussing Shakespeare as well - taking pot shots at cultural materialism (well, more like new Historicism to look at some of his targets) along the way. He calls upon the ghost of CLR James to shore up his tower with these fragments, or some such.

Anyway, I'm not sure that was a wise choice - I double checked my CLR James Reader - he was a Trotksyist of a particularly Romantic hue, eventually breaking with the Old Man over the issue of unconditional defence of the Soviet Union and the Theory of State Capitalism, he co-founded the Johnson Forrest Tendancy with Raya Dunayevskaya in Yankland back in the forties, when he was touring as an academic officially giving lectures on Herman Melville and 'Moby Dick' - enough of the background already.

Anyway, I read his take on Hamlet - did he assert the independence of literature, it's remove from all social concerns and a value in itself? Or did he see Hamlet in terms of its encapsulation of the conflict of classes going on in Shakespeare's time? A conflict contained and recognisable in society subsequently, and hence it's lasting influence?

No prizes, he asserted the contingency of art.

Further, he would talk of film products in tones of high art. Not art house cinema, but things like Gangster flicks and Charlie Chaplin, these too were serious art and literature to James.

So, I reckon he would agree with me, in saying that alongside Hamlet, the new creation of Parker and Stone - the creators of South Park - Team America : World Police.

I am convinced this is a piece of art every bit the equal of a Shakespeare, and only a little less crude.

Without giving anything away (as if there is much to give away). The film adopts an ironic stance to fervid American patriotism, with it's incidental score lyric 'America, fuck yeah!' playing in the background, as the team jets around the world to destroy bug-eyed arab terrorists, blowing up the world's cultural landmarks in a totally crass way.

Likewise, American stoppers (as I presume we must call them) are satirsed as stupid, vaina nd ultimately in league with the Bond villain-esque Kim Il Sung (who is really, really busy). Their depiction is crude caricature, virilent assualt, objectively the film's villains. But the villains to ironic heroes.

No-one escapes the swirling vortex of satire, no-one gets to escape this film with their values unchellenged, with positions unquestioned. Just as the film itself repeatedly creates humour by revealing itself as a puppet show.

Some humour is designed to re-enforce values. Racist humour, isnn't really very funny, it just works by using (a black feller with...' as a punch line, it doesn't question anything. In team America, the racist sterotypes are a question to racist stereotypists.

As a defender of literary realism, I would maintain this film achieves high artistic status because it encapsulates the truth, because it contains all the elements of the recent struggles over American military policy and terrorism.

As one reviewer has asked - Just what did Matt Damon do to piss these guys off so much?

Other blog reviews
Rotten Tomatoes reviews

Friday, January 07, 2005

Dead poet

Reading Privbate Eye this week reminded me of the Scottish Poet (deceased) Norman Maccaig whom I read in school. One particular poem has stuck with me - below is the way I remember it, which may be sufficiently different to count for not breaching copyright...
My country
Is only six feet tall
and whether I love it or not
I'll die
for its independence
Shame I'm only 5'8".

It puts me in mind, though, of a line from and ILP conshy pamphlet of the Second World War:"I was born owning nothing but my ability to work, and the only country I have ever known is called 'Tresspassers will be prosecuted'".

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The War on Crap Heuristics

Well, Lenin links to this piece of nonsense by Michael Rosen. First off, the conflicting ways of getting money in the play are not between finance and mercantile capital (which are basically the same thing anyway, both occuring in the sphere of circulation: financial capital being about the circulation of a special kind of commodity anyway, neitehr creates value, but merely transfers it from one place in the market to anotehr) but between trade and property. i.e. Antonio, who gets into his terrible scrape with Shylock is saved in the end by Bassiano marrying money - MARRIAGE is the sound way to wealth.

The division is between alienable wealth in commodities and inalienable wealth of privilige and aristocracy (hence why the happy ending comes about as part of discriminatory laws against Jews, rather than this dangerous equality before the law nonsense Shylock was exploiting).

Rosen is perhaps right in seeing Shakespeare identifying the mercantile class with Jewry - especially as, if I recall, Italian bankers were quite heavilly invested in England at that time. You play the game of merchandise, you have to deal with and become like these heathens.

It should be remembered that this play is supposed to be a comedy, and I have half an inkling that Shylock's powerful appeals for equality were meant to give rise to ironic howls of derrision, specifically when we compare how he is of the same Shakesperean pantomime villain mould as Iago et al in being bad for badness sake.

If it is a comedy, then we have a way out. Don't laugh. That is the power we mortals have over comedy, that destroys it's corrosive force, when Shylock is brought to heal by the majesty of state and law, feel sorry, don't luagh, bu remember, you're not not laughing with Shakespeare.

What is impossible...

Continuing the theme of interogating impossiblism, I came across this instructive piece on Noam Chomsky's 'blog', on his views on conscription:
I might add, for what it’s worth, that although I was actively involved in organizing and supporting resistance (including support for draft resisters) in the 60s, and was saved from a likely prison sentence only by the Tet offensive, I was never opposed to the draft. If there is to be an army, it would be best, I think, for it to be mainly a citizen’s army. In part for the reasons that the top command oppose that option.
A more concise distinction with the impossiblist position couldn'tbe clearer. Chomsky has long been a practitioner of radical pragmatism, he, after all, called for a Kerry vote in states where the election was close (though I suspect voted Nader in Liberal Massachusets where he lives, kinda like the old SWPers in the UK advocating a vote for Labour but themselves voting Communist).

I've heard talks where hje will say something along the lines of 'well, back then, in the nineteenth century, folks talked of abolishing the wages system, but that's not on the cards now, so we should' fight for whatever social-democrat reform is available.

hence his view on the draft, if we are going to have armies, then they should be citizens armies. He attempts to further flesh this vew out here, likening it to the concept of parcelling out the dirty work:
Then conscription is not a violation of basic human rights any more than parcelling out other unpleasant work equitably is. Say garbage collection. In a decent society it shouldn’t be “volunteer” in the sense that it’s undertaken only by people who are driven to it by need. Rather, it should be equitably distributed—which one can call “conscription” if one likes.
This solicits two impossiblist reposts.

First, we do not want an army, and should not counternance the ill of an army in any way and should work to abolish the conditions that give rise to armies. It is not enough to accept that they exist and that conditions are not ripe for their removal, that is a passive approach. Humans make history, and it is for us to drive towards the end of the waste of militarism in any form.

Secondly, I have had epic size battles over rota-ing the dirty work, and my fundamental belief that it wouldn't work. Largely, because the idea of 'from each according to ability' indicates that not everyone can do the same work, and very likely certain jobs will fall heaviest on those who feel the social duty or the burden of ensuring they get done and are able to do them. Surely our goal is the emancipation of labour, not the universalisation of enslavement. If we assume a rational free community, then we need not assume even the compulsion of handing out work to everyone, but the simple recognition of necessity by the members of that community.

We have here to strands of impossiblism, hopefully dem,onstated by contradictinction with a radical possiblist.