Vote now for most fatuous Guardian anti-Corbyn journo

THAT “CONFUSED” GUARDIAN JOURNO LIST IN FULL:

(This is getting ridiculous. When I started compiling these, I thought I’d max out at half a dozen – now there are 15, and some are repeat offenders. Thanks to all eagle-eyed contributors.)

Who would you vote for for most fatuous Guardian anti-Corbyn journalist?

1. Polly Toynbee for hand-wringingly revealing a secret dyed-in-the-wool radicalism which presumably also caused her to support the SDP back in the 80s.
2. Patrick Wintour for uncritically recycling anti-Corbyn propaganda from “a Labour source”.
3. Jonathan Freedland, leading member of the white liberal smuggerati, for dismissing young peoples’ enthusiasm for Corbyn as narcissism.
4. Jonathan Jones, for linking Corbyn to the crimes of Josef Stalin.
5. Daniel Boffey for arguing that Corbyn has distracted Labour from being an effective opposition, in other words, for not being able to see beyond the end of his nose. If only they could be liberated from this pointless contest so they could abstain!
6. Michael White for the penetrating observation that Corbyn possibly used to, if memory serves, wear sandals with socks.
7. Nick Cohen for being the mad dog, visceral left-hater in the pack, veering from the surreal (Corbyn threatens workers’ rights) to the shouty, accusing him of planting “kisses on the backsides of half the tyrannies on the planet.”
8. Martin Kettle for going beyond Jones’ fantasy of Corbynite communist atrocities, all the way back to the millennial Fifth Monarchy Men of the English Revolution.
9. Andrew Rawnsley for winning the alliteration consolation prize for “Labour downs a deadly cocktail of fatalism, fury and fantasy.”
10. Suzanne Moore for seeing Blairite splittism as inevitable via cod psychology, and for making it clear, a la Toynbee, that she would support Corbyn if she wasn’t so much smarter than all the rest of us.
11. Hadley Freeman, on day release from the “Lifestyle” section, for describing Donald Trump as “America’s answer to Jeremy Corbyn”.
12. Matthew d’Ancona for his version of the Freedland attack on the young (apparently they’re all living in the moment or something) via pseuds corner semiotics.
13. Nicholas Watt for his attempt to make Corbyn seem an idiot by attributing an interviewer’s question about “naughty people” to Corbyn himself. Good effort!
14. Sonia Sodha for her wise advice for the Blairites: “they need to explain why a Labour government – without spending more – offers better answers than the Conservatives.” You’ve cracked it, Sonia – join the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall team.
15. Jessica Elgott for the best headline: “Corbyn caught looking gloomy on night bus”.

Thanks for all the suggestions, and I know it’s really difficult to choose.

Boulez at 90

To celebrate the genius of Pierre Boulez in his 90th year, I created a video channel of all the works I could find. There are some rarities, and some short docs from key performers of his work, plus a few words from the master himself. The playlist is in more or less chronological order, as much as Boulez’ constant revising of earlier works allows!

 

The Beauty of Complexity

Here is a channel I put together of master of “neo-complexity” Brian Ferneyhough’s challenging work, a mixture of video live performances, audio recordings, and those so lovingly created versions with synchronised scores that make you realize that the internet is a better place than you even thought. If you don’t know Ferneyhough’s work, be prepared for extraordinary insrumental virtuosity and moments of unforgettable melodic beauty. Don’t believe the haters, who fill their empty spare time with barbed commenting about this being the music of a 1970s dead end. (I mean, I don’t care at all for the music of Arvo Part, but I don’t go around YouTube attacking it and its uploaders). This is music which shows there is still that old thing, an avant-garde, a cutting edge of music-making which searches out and finds sounds which are radically new. Modernism lives into the twenty-first century!

 

Film Club Review 2014

Every fortnight for the past five years, I have hosted a film club in our flat in Dalston, East London (projector / white wall / decent throw / blackout curtain). The criterion for film selection is simple: those movies that we might be too lazy to watch otherwise, and would really benefit from a quasi-cinematic sacralized space. Hollywood is banned, though not by me personally. When we started, I was worried that we might exhaust the list of quality art movies quite quickly, and soon be stuck in a second-grade world cinema back catalogue. This has emphatically not proved to be the case, and we feel we’ve only skimmed the surface of the history of this amazing, short-lived art form.

In 2014 we had a very strong year, from rarely seen classics to outstanding recent movies. If you’d like to come along one Sunday, let me know at richard (AT) visionon.tv

I will add commentary as and when….

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Omar (2013) – Hany Abu-Assad

Superbly made political thriller about young men on the wrong (Palestinian) side of the Apartheid wall. The climbing over the wall itself by the protagonist is an excellent metaphor for the drama. It becomes physically harder for him as the hope for his relationship with the young woman on the other side becomes more hopeless. As Cedric pointed out, the film is nevertheless curiously unmoving. Perhaps the main characters are a littel under-characterised.

5 Broken Cameras (2012) – Emad Burnat

Talking of visual metaphors, there are none better than Burnat’s decision to make a film around the occasions each of his cameras is broken by the IDF as he tries to record the abuses in his Palestinian village. Sometimes it shows a slight artificiality, with shooting to fill in the narrative, with the domestic scenes in articualr a little stagey. but this is carping. This is a first-rate, deservedly award-winning, doc.

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Rust and Bone (2012) – Jacques Audiard

*CONTAINS SPOILER* The magnificent Marion Cotillard again (we saw the superb Two Days, One Night in 2013) in a moving romance between the “disabled by shark” Stephanie and desperado kick boxer Ali. Is there a problem in Act 3, with the rather forced turnaround, where his son’s near-death makes Ali realize he should commit? Does it matter?

Read My Lips (2001) – Jacques Audiard

A nice “oddball romance” / crime thriller with excellent performances.

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The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) – Juan Jose Campanella

Uses gripping murder investigation to examine love. commitment, justice, and the legacy of the US-backed fascist coups in Latin America. And there’s THAT shot, the long tracking take into and around the football stadium as the police find and chase their man.

The Official Story (1985) – Luis Puenzo

Argentina’s only country to win the Best Foreign Movie Oscar twice. This first one powerfully presents the intersection of the personal and the political, showing how the “Dirty War” could even destroy middle-class families that saw themselves as immune.

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Something Else Brazilian….

Foreign Land (1996)

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A Separation (2011) – Asghar Farhadi

Divorce: Iranian Style (1998) – Kim Longinotto

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Audition (1999) – Takashi Miike

Dark Water (2002) – Hideo Nakata

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Andrei Rublev (1966) – Andrei Tarkovsky

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Nymphomaniac (2013) – Lars von Trier

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Rome, Open City (1945) – Roberto Rossellini

Germany, Year Zero (1948) – Roberto Rossellini

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Games of Love and Chance (2003) – Abdelatif Kechiche

Closely Observed Trains (1966) – Jiri Menzel

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A Touch of Sin (2013) – Jia Zhangke

The Flowers of War (2011) – Zhang Yimou

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The Conformist (1970) – Bernardo Bertolucci

Red Desert (1964) – Michelangelo Antonioni

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Contempt (1963) – Jean-Luc Godard

Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) – Alain Resnais

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Hospital (1970) – Fred Wiseman

In the Year of the Pig (1968) – Emile de Antonio

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Cries and Whispers (1972) – Ingmar Bergman

Summer Interlude (1951) – Ingmar Bergman

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Dead Ringers (1988) – David Cronenberg

Videodrome (1983) – David Cronenberg

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Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) – Tomas Gutierrez Alea

Medium Cool (1969) – Haskell Wexler

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Summer Palace (2006) – Lou Ye

Crisis – Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963) – Robert Drew

A Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema Part 3 (2006) – Sophie Fiennes / Slavoj Zizek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greece: a glossary for understanding the corporate media

Are you finding it difficult to navigate the complexities of the sensational events in Greek politics? This may be because you’re following the traditional, corporate media, which is using normally easy-to-understand language in new and mysterious ways.

To make life easier, here is a quick glossary for these media key-words, telling you what they really mean:

Media says Describing Should say Gloss
Moderates New Democracy / PASOK Right-wing OR extremists

The defeated coalition represents a group of hard-right ideologues with a commitment to the impossible, the repayment of the Greek debt, resulting in a brutal austerity policy which has only increased that debt. They are blindly wedded to a now outdated neo-liberal project from the 1990s.

Centrists To Potami (The River)

Centre-right OR right-wing wolves in liberal sheeps’ clothing

A number of liberal journos over here see this new, media-confected party as better allies of Syriza than the racist Independent Greeks. This is an extraordinarily confused position, given that the arrogant demands of The River would have destroyed the anti-austerity policies voted for by the majority of Greeks. It’s better to see To Potami as a way for conservatives to vote New Democracy without the accompanying embarassment.
Far OR Radical Left Syriza WE DON’T KNOW YET – could be left or centre-left/ in economic terms, moderates The far left position is to leave the Eurozone, which most Greeks don’t want, and Syriza is not espousing. How Syriza turns out depends a lot on what happens in the next few months. The Communist KKE is far left, refusing to enter coalition with Syriza, and wanting to ditch the Euro. Syriza by contrast takes the moderate position that the Greek debt is clearly both inhumane and unpayable, so at least part needs to be written off, as was very successfully done for West Germany back in 1953.
Dangerous brinkmanship / utter bankruptcy Syriza’s economic policy Re-negotiating of the Troika memorandum

 

Hope this is useful!

Why the Paddington movie does nothing for migrant rights

The new Paddington movie is witty, exquisitely acted and beautiful to look at. And in a welcome change from the usual more-saccharine-than-a-plum-pudding Christmas fare, it has delighted liberal viewers with its perceived pro-migrant message. “Bear baits UKIP with fluffy immigrant tale” headlines Xan Brooks in the Guardian. Author Michael Bond has long been on the right side on this issue, allowing Paddington’s image to be used in campaigns for migrant rights. An immigration lawyer’s commentary on the real difficulties which an anthropomorphic bear might face has been popular on social media.

In the film however, this radical potential is tightly circumscribed, as London is represented by a small area from Notting Hill to South Kensington. Ukippers might well scoff that the Browns, with their huge W10 home, can easily afford to take in a migrant. The film very deliberately positions itself as a tale of London rather than the UK as a whole. This allows Londoners to feel smug about their racial integration, while allowing Ukippers from outside the capital to harp on their constant whinge that a London elite doesn’t understand them or their issues. Even worse, Peter Capaldi’s nosey neighbour Mr Curry, the representative of UKIP ideas in the film, has second thoughts when Nicole Kidman’s evil museum director plans to stuff Paddington rather than report him to the authorities. Deportation of migrants is fine, we are left thinking, but killing them is not. Nigel Farage would agree. And all of this is tinsel-wrapped in a Mary Poppins London where non-ursine immigrants are represented by the best-groomed Caribbean street band you have ever seen. At the end of the film, the message is that in London everyone is different and can make a contribution. Note: London, not England or Britain. The UKIP mantra is effectively reinforced.

Sadly, it’s a sweet film that is utterly unchallenging to watch for the many low-level racists who will vote UKIP in May, and even endorses them.

Pirate Bay Down! Panic, Paranoia and Plain Speaking

It is now two days since a raid by Swedish police on the mountain lair of its server took down the world’s most attitudinal torrent tracker Pirate Bay. The internet is awash with rumours and claims about what has happened, and what will happen to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing in the future. Owing to my addiction to the obscurer corners of art cinema, I am an inveterate file-sharer myself, and therefore have a strong vested interest. Here’s my take on the responses to tpb’s outage so far.
The commentary up to this point has mainly reflected the two poles on views of the future of the net:

1. The Pirate Bay will always come back, and if not, something else will replace it, because of the nature of the internet. Copyright holders are pursuing an inevitably losing war against file-sharing, and only changes in their business model will reduce it.

This could be true. I’d like it to be. Today I have been downloading from another bittorrent tracker, which actually I find I prefer to tpb.

2. This is the beginning of the end for torrents. After blocking torrent trackers in many countries, the copyright holders have a coordinated take-down campaign to deal file-sharing a death-blow, to destroy the remaining trackers and to block torrent files from even appearing on google.

Although it veers towards conspiracy theory, and perhaps overstates the power of a few companies, it could also be true that torrents’ days are numbered. From my own experience as a downloader however, the torrent universe has never been brighter, populated with movies I could only dream of a few years ago. For instance, my partner and I have Rwandan friends, so wanted to discover more about the genocide on its 20th anniversary. I downloaded half a dozen feature films apart from the obvious Hotel Rwanda, including two excellent movies where white people were almost completely absent, made in local language Kinyarwanda.

3. A number of positions between these two extremes.

4. A generalised and impotent panic about the loss of a favourite website and the pleasure it provides.

This shows that even in the non-corporate web, people are remarkably passive, relying on a brand just as they rely on facebook for their social interactions. Sad.

5. If this is the end for Pirate Bay specifically this is a good thing, because it has sold its soul to the Mammon of porn ads etc. The major espouser of this position is one of the original founders of Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde.

Firefox’s ad-blocker means I miss out on the chance of a Russian wife unencumbered by bridal gown. People bothered by ads in their browser need educating. Sunde’s point about the demise of tpb as campaigning organisation is taken, however.

6. Further to this, Sunde argues, while the corrupted Pirate Bay persists, no innovation is happening in digital file-sharing, to move us on from the 13-year-old technology of the bittorrent protocol.

As someone concerned for the future of the open web, and the democratising of culture in general, I sympathise strongly with Sunde’s line. As a movie downloader, however, bittorrents supply everything I need, so I want them to carry on (see above).

As with almost every discussion about the internet (and almost nothing else!), I find I sit on both sides of the fence. If the next web needs different tech, I selfishly hope it’s a smooth transition.

Reports of the Death of the Latin American Left Were Exaggerated

On 27 September 2014, the Economist’s anonymised Latin American op-ed “Bello” heralded “a turning of the political tide in South America after a dozen or more years of leftist hegemony.” The writer was encouraged by the possiblity of defeat for Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and considered likely the victory of right-wing candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou in Uruguay. Two months on, and Bello’s crystal ball clearly needed some serious polishing. Rousseff won for the Brazilian Workers’ Party a fourth consecutive term in office, and yesterday in Uruguay Tabare Vasquez won an unprecedented third term for the leftist Broad Front by a massive 13%.

“Bello” had already conceded that Evo Morales of the Movement Towards Socialism in Bolivia was going to win (he did by a landslide 61%), but in the usual knee-jerk way of rightist commentators the writer describes Morales as an “autocratic socialist of Amerindian descent”. Dodgy, these indigenous people who come up through the social movements! They just don’t respect democracy in the way that the white-skinned oligarchy who ruled previously do, that same oligarchy that has consistently supported the fascist coup d’etats which stain Latin American history. In this manner, yet another Anglophone commentator echoes the endemic racism of the Latin American elite. A feature of nearly all reports on Latin American elections in the right-wing press, and much of the liberal press, is just how much they are bad losers. “Bello” of course recycles this, ascribing Morales’ victory partly to his “grip on the media”. In fact, in Brazil and Uruguay a very dominant conservative media campaigned virulently for the right-wing candidates. To their credit, the voters ignored them.

I must say that I am rather tired of friends repeating opinions to me which they have gleaned from the pages of the Economist in particular, so let me attempt to characterise this periodical. It is far from being serious advice about business risks and prospects around the world. For details of the magazine’s absurd errors in reporting Venezuela, see here, here, and here. If I were investing in South America, I would buy a subscription to the estimable Latin American Weekly Report, which has given accurate data for the last 47 years. Instead, we might describe the Economist as a readable mass-circulation magazine pitched at lower and middle managers, who wish to impress their bosses with their knowledge of world affairs. It represents not serious investment advice for the elite, but rather the ideology of that elite, enabling ambitious businesspeople a way of talking about the world  which will not challenge the dominant ideology of the boardroom. On Latin America it is frequently wrong, jettisoning facts and reasoned argument for dreams as wish-fulfilment. It is, to quote the outstanding venezuelanalysis, “the neoliberal ideologue’s favourite rag.”

 

Brazil: how does the left continue to be re-elected?

As expected, the Presidential election result was the closest since the end of the dicatorship (Dilma Rousseff 51.64%, Aécio Neves 48.36%). What does it mean for the leftist governments in the rest of Latin America, and for democratic progressive projects in general?

First of all, we need to understand a little of the history of the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT), so Ill sketch it very briefly. As a new party formed under the US-backed dictatorship, the PT was always committed to parliamentary or liberal democracy. These very limited democratic credentials were however enriched by direct, devolved democracy where the Workers Party had local power, principally in the form of the Participatory Budget, a parallel democratic system for the distribution and spending of local government money on capital projects. In a country rife with corruption, where half of state budgets never reached their intended destination, this was vital grassroots control, and made inroads into Brazil’s clientelist system (“vote for me, I tarmac your road” – not roads in general in the municipality, but the one outside your door!). After losing three elections to neo-liberal, right-wing opposition, the PT conducted a semi-secret internal coup in the late 1990s, where the people around presidential candidate Luis Inacio Lula da Silva jettisoned the more radical policies, arriving in government in 2003 with a policy to pay off the external debt rather than cancel it. The PT now had no commitment to extending participatory democracy, its unique radical feature, on a national scale. The results of playing the neo-liberal economic game were impressive, with strong economic growth able to weather the storms of the global recession of 2008. Socialist, grassroots empowerment was replaced by welfarism – the Bolsa Familia (Family Benefit) for the poorest seemingly making the Workers Party impregnable in the north and north-east.

It also enabled the party to reach out beyond its traditional base of the organised working class, which only gave them a chance of 25-30% of the electorate, to the poorest sectors – those who traditionally often “sold” their vote for $10, a T-shirt or a pair of glasses. Through this reaching down to, and providing for, the poorer and less organised, the PT could win a landslide majority. Partly because of welfare, the poorest now vote repeatedly for a Workers Party President. This is presented starkly in the extraordinary geographical split in the 2014 election results: red in the poor north and north-east, and blue in the richer south. Actually, a first glance at the map does not reflect how extreme the division was: Dilma won no less than 79% of the votes in impoverished Maranhão, and 70% in somewhat richer Bahia, while Aécio won landslides of 65% in Santa Catarina and 64% in São Paulo state. There was also a huge division between richer urban and poorer rural areas within states. There were only three states (out of 27) where Dilma gained a higher percentage in the state capital than in the state as a whole (Espirito Santo, Rondônia, and São Paulo). In other words, people in the countryside voted more left, and people in the cities more right (the stats are here). So much for the Workers Party’s roots in the industrial proletariat! (Lula was a metal-worker trade union leader). A barometer of Aécio Neves’ defeat was his loss in his home state of Minas Gerais, where he was previously a two-term governor, but while he only took 47.6% in the state as a whole, he took 64% in state capital Belo Horizonte. 

So here we have two expressions of the “two Brazils”: rural/urban, and north/south. There is a further split down the nation as campaigned on by Dilma with the support of the hugely popular Lula. Impressively, the PT constantly emphasised that there were two models of society in contention. Compare the dismal campaign to be run by the British Labour Party under Ed Miliband next year – exactly the same model, perhaps a little bit nicer, a conflict between managers of the same system. In some ways, during their campaign, Dilma and Lula sounded more radical than they were in government.

The 50/50 voting split between poor and middle-class should concern those of us who support the successes of the Latin American left in the last 15 years. Evo Morales in Bolivia won a landslide 60% two weeks previously, but Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela only won by a measly 1.5% in April 2013.  As Michael Albert writes so thoughtfully about the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, before the recent high inflation and shortages, why were the electoral victories not more like 80%, capturing the votes of many middle-class as well as inhabitants of the favela? In the UK as well as Brazil, there is much disaffection among the reasonably waged that the poor are receiving “something-for-nothing” via social security. Among the Brazilian middle-class, the Bolsa Familia is known derisively as the bolsa-esmola, the beggars’ benefit. This is where the lack of socially-transformative direct democracy in the PT’s adminstrations may be damaging, the absence of a community empowerment which is not purely economic, and is not merely passive, something which could potentially involve the lower-middle and middle class. Looking at Venezuela, Chavez’ governments made central the development of parallel, devolved democracy, without which, with the economic problems that Venezuela now faces, the government of Nicolas Maduro would be heading for certain defeat. But coming back to Michael Albert’s critique, how is that playing out? In the favelas, communal councils are still growing and in many places thriving, but the real test of them is whether they draw people in in wealthier, opposition-backing areas, and whether the cadres of the Bolivarian revolution have any real enthusiasm for trying to roll that out.

Having fought with an anti-neo-liberal banner, and won, Dilma Rousseff has started to make conciliatory noises towards the middle class. Exactly how this develops is crucial for the future of progressive government in Latin America.

 

Who will win Brazil’s second round?

Now that Marina Silva’s “independent” campaign has ended in her rejection by the voters, we need to analyse what this means for the deciding round between the Workers’ Party’s (PT) incumbent Dilma Rousseff and her right-wing opponent Aécio Neves. Silva herself has not declared her preference, but indications are that she might favour Neves, which is further support for my argument with progressive friends who were naively backing her in the first round.

Why does it matter? Has the PT itself not evolved into a hopelessly compromised Blairite neo-liberal party, so that the election does not make much difference? As I argued in my previous article, whether Brazil turns its back on leftist governments in Latin America such as the US State Department’s bugbear Venezuela is very important for the region’s poorest inhabitants. And Washington and Brussels will be taking a keen interest in whether “their” candidate Neves could begin to reverse the independence of Latin America achieved in the last 15 years. The election is also important for Brazil’s own poor.

A striking aspect of the first round of voting in the Brazilian presidential elections was the geographical split between left and right, red in the poorer north and north-east and blue in the richer south and south-east. A danger to the progress made in Brazil in eradicating poverty in the last 12 years is the attitude and electoral heft of the middle-class in those southern areas. The “bolsa familia” which provides a basic income to the poorest families is resented by this middle-class, and frequently dismissed as the “bolsa-esmola”, or beggar’s benefit.

After Neves’ impressive showing in the first round (33.6% vs Dilma’s 41.6%), the question remains whether his surge has already peaked, having taken votes from Marina Silva as her campaign sank. The right hopes not, and all progressives should hope that the mere 30% of Silva’s voters that Dilma needs in the second round will migrate to her. The first opinion poll is tomorrow (Thursday)…