Political satire is obsolete - again

It was Tom Lehrer who coined this phrase when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. I was reminded of it twice in recent times (add your own examples). The first was in 2007 when Tony Blair was appointed Middle East Envoy for the "Quartet" (the UN, US, EU and Russia), and charged with "helping mediate Middle East peace negotiations". This was only four years after Blair had almost single-handedly enabled George W. Bush to wage war in Iraq, with the estimated death of one million people.

The second was today, when I heard that one of the leaders of the opposition in Venezuela has been awarded the Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award. Maria Corina Machado has received the prize from the excitingly-named International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a US-based organisation. While the foundation sounds like a doddery academic body of psephologists discussing the benefits of alternative vote over single transferable, in fact this is an institute which receives funding from USAID and celebrated democracy-lovers the US State Department.

So it's time for some faux-naif indignation: can they possibly not know that Machado is one of the people who signed the Carmona Decree during the brief 2002 coup attempt against democratically-elected President Chavez? The decree dissolved democratic institutions, such as the National Assembly and Supreme Court, and suspended constitutional liberties. Can they also not know that she runs a campaign of violent street protests demanding "The Exit" of Chavez' democratically-elected successor Nicolas Maduro, five years before the end of his term? Some of these protesters are so committed to democracy that they have strung wire across public highways to decapitate motorcyclists. Two people have died from this action alone. They have also attacked public transport, health clinics, social housing projects, and a kindergarten, and physically assaulted 169 doctors. And does the IFES really not know that Machado is currently under investigation for allegedly plotting to assassinate the Venezuelan President, saying that it was "time to take out the trash"?

What can we do? Is satire really dead, or can we give it the kiss of life?

Why Maria Miller should not have resigned

In the last few days I was more than once sent a request to sign an e-petition demanding the resignation of UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller. I didn't put my name to it for a very simple reason.

I loathe this government of the super-rich and their gleeful attacks on the poor and disabled with an absolute vengeance. If you share my opinion, let me ask you a question. Why would you want to help this government to clean up its act? As Chomsky argues, isn't visible, grotesque corruption a crucial factor for the wider public turning against not just a particular government but potentially the whole system? I ask you which you would prefer: a "clean" neo-liberal government that attacks the poor and sick and dismantles our great NHS with complete legality and efficiency. Or would you prefer one where corruption means no one can miss the stench of their rotten machinations?

It's the same argument with Ian Duncan Smith, surely in his role as Work and Pensions Secretary one of the most morally puny figures in public life. IDS's only redeeming feature is that he is grossly incompetent. Would you like him to be replaced by someone else more efficient, who could implement his cruel Universal Credit without a hitch?

No. Maria Miller should have stayed, and Ian Duncan Smith, stay right where you are!

 

Venezuela and the politics of Twitter

It's all over mainstream news outlets, and some outlying ones, so it must be true. The Venezuelan government has censored Twitter. Except that, when you look a little closer, this is by no means clearly the case.

The background to this is several days' protests by a segment of the Venezuelan opposition. Those who want the democratically elected President to leave office, not when his term is up in 5 years' time, nor after a possibly successful recall referendum in half that time, but right now, just after his party resoundingly won the latest local elections in Venezuela in December.

Reporting of this "censorship" story is strange to say the least. The proud sources of the story seem to be the correspondents of financial news outlet Bloomberg. They say that Nu Wexler, Twitter's PR man in Washington DC, confirmed in an email that "the (Venezuelan) government was behind the disruption." But they do not quote his email directly, so that the only statement by Mr Wexler in the public domain is one he made on his own network Twitter:

Feb 14

Users blocked in : Follow + receive notifications via SMS of any Twitter account. Send "SEGUIR [usuario]" to 89338 ()

Film Club Review 2013

For the last four years, I have run a film club where we programme the kinds of movies we might not otherwise "find the time for". The screening is usually a double bill, every fortnight. When we started, my fear was that we might run out of unseen quality films quite quickly, and become stuck in some sort of mediocre world cinema back-catalogue. This has resoundingly not been the case, and there are now a vast range of films champing to get into our Sunday nights. Below I've listed all the films from 2013 that I can remember. Last year was unusual in having a larger than normal number of contemporary films, owing partly to a friend bringing a preview selection from the Brussels Film Festival. A particular revelation was Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent classic as part of a "Joan of Arc" night. On my wish-list for 2014: more films from Communist-era Eastern Europe (might sound dull, but the almost unknown films from the Czech and Hungarian New Waves are extraordinary), more documentary, more Tarkovsky, more silents, more Chinese 5th and 6th generation, plus creepy David Cronenberg.....

(I will add review comments as and when...)

2013 SCREENINGS

Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) - Kechiche

I loved the almost Wagnerian intensity of this film, about all-engulfing "first love" such as you very rarely see depicted on film. The subsequent controversy around it I found essentially uninteresting (the supposedly "male gaze" in the sex scenes), though we did watch "Lesbians react...." on YouTube, which was quite entertaining and insightful. I agree with one of the women there, that the long sex scene is a kind of recipe book of love-making, and about as interesting.

Joan of Arc - Melies (1900) / The Trial of Joan of Arc (1963) - Bresson / The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - Dreyer

We moved from Melies hand-tinted frames, through Bresson's typically austere offering to Dreyer's extraordinary photography, full of intense close-ups, rendering the most expensive film set ever in Europe at the time almost redundant. One observation: the marvellous tracking shots - never say silent movies were static!

The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema (2006) - Sophie Fiennes

"Cinema teaches us how to desire" says Slavoj Zizek in 3 parts. Favourite moments: Zizek in Melanie's rowing boat in "The Birds": "You know what I want to do? I want to fuck Mitch!" - Zizek on "The Matrix: "I want another pill!" - Zizek on "Vertigo": "For Scotty, the only good woman is a dead woman." And his commentary on the hotel room kiss tracking shot, where the coordinates of Scotty's fantasy are finally aligned. Is this the greatest scene in cinema. I modestly ask?

To Live (1994) - Zhang Yimou / Lan Yu (2001) - Stanley Kwan

Zhang Yimou's film gives more insight into recent Chinese history than any number of Jung-Chang-style demolition biographies. Stanley Kwan's film is more interesting for its subject matter - the taboo subject of gay life in  China - than for its style.

The Secret of the Grain (2007) - Kechiche

Kechiche's film-making is so intense. This film has mesmerising scenes, burning close-ups and terrific acting to tell this story about a Tunisian family trying to establish a boat restaurant despite bureacratic hurdles and the family's dysfunctions haunting it.

L'Avventura / La Notte / L'Eclisse (1960-62) - Antonioni

Beyond the Hills (2012) / 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) - Cristian Mungiu

Festen (1998) / The Hunt (2012) - Vinterberg

Losing Your Mind (A Perdre La Raison) (2012) - Joachim LaFosse

Cyclo (1995) - Tranh An Hung

Die Welt (2013) - Alex Pitsra

Viva Belarus! (2013) - Krzysztof Lukaszewicz / Alphaville (1965) - Godard

Baby Blues (2013) - Kasia Rosłaniec

The White Ribbon (2009) - Haneke / Lancelot du Lac (1974) - Bresson

Blackboards (2000) - Samira Makhmalbaf

East Palace, West Palace (1996) - Zhang Yuan / Poetry (2010) - Lee Chang-Dong

Thousands of Venezuelan pro-government twitter accounts deleted

Around 7,000 Venezuelan Twitter accounts were deleted yesterday, including those of an elected state governor, three cabinet ministers, a radio station, a revolutionary daily newspaper, and the official accounts of ministries and other institutions. They all appear to have been pro-government accounts, and none of them of the opposition.

Twitter has been an effective means of communication for supporters of the Bolivarian revolution, since late President Hugo Chavez opened an account in 2010 and reached 4 million followers, making his the second most popular account globally for a political leader, after Barack Obama's.

This appears to have been a coordinated, politically-motivated attack, but we don't know yet how it happened. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler has flatly refused to comment.

There are basically three ways it could have occurred. Large-scale coordinated hacking and deletion of accounts by opposition supporters is a possibility. It could also be that a similar campaign of reporting accounts for spam triggered an algorithm in Twitter which automatically blocked the accounts (I'm being generous to Twiiter here!). Thirdly, and less likely in my opinion, it could be something much more sinister involving Twitter and for instance US Intelligence agencies.

As of this afternoon, some 50 accounts have been restored by Twitter, including those of Governor Aristobal Isturiz, which has 332,000 followers, and of Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez. However most accounts have not been restored, for instance of Minister of the President's Office Wilmer Barrientos and of the Women's Ministry and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela.

It is important to set this attack in social and historical context. After opposition candidate Henrique Capriles came close to winning the Presidential election last April, focus has shifted to the local elections coming on December 8th. Both the Venezuelan opposition and their supporters in the US State Department know that a good showing for the opposition would help build support for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro in 2016. Dirty tricks to derail the Venezuelan government now abound, principally in the form of economic sabotage, creating shortages in shops which the government is battling to combat. Some commentators therefore think the Twitter attack could be a trial for a much bigger taking-out of Bolivarian social media nearer the elections.

The corporate media at home and abroad play a crucial role in this destabilisation. The UK-based Economist had to print a letter from the Venezuelan Embassy in London refuting two erroneous articles on freedom of the press. The standard line, though, is of economic woes, though all social statistics disprove this absolutely. We can all do a bit to refute media distortions. Only last night I corrected the Bloomberg correspondent in Caracas Nathan Crooks (@nmcrooks), who had spouted an egregious error about the minimum wage. Distortion or carelessness? It's impossible to know, though in response he merely repeated the error. But the media lies about Venezuela, including in so-called liberal newspapers, are so blanket that they come to appear like the truth. Journalists don't expect to get called out, so we should.

The Venezuelan government has officially complained to Twitter, and although a few accounts have been restored, is yet to receive a reply. If Twitter PR Nu Wexler maintains this silence, and thousands of accounts remain suspended, it may be appropriate to observe that in his resume he has been in and out of the revolving doors of Capitol Hill, including time as the Communications Director for the House Budget Committee. I'm not suggesting anything nefarious, merely that he is part of a political elite which regards anything Bolivarian as bad. For that Washington 1%, gross interference in Venezuela's democracy, including its social media, is legitimate.

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