An economical plea for Reallocation

Last Thursday The Telegraph reported comments by David Blanchflower who warned about a ‘lost generation’ of workers, which will be attributed no less to George Osborne and his plans for deep cuts in the public services. He said that such plans ‘could force unemployment up from its current 2.5 million to four million over the coming years.’ Gone, also, are the days where Labour can say with a grin that the Tories are the party hell bent on slashing spending, for Brown, just days before Blanchflower suggested that any changes should be put off until at least 2012, himself accepted the “need” for cuts.

To my surprise Ed Balls was one of the first high profile names to put a figure to the amount of cuts in public spending. Balls, earlier this year, was lambasted for his insistence that we avoid spending cuts, why the U-turn? From my own experience with working in schools I learned something very interesting about allocation of funds, namely that a school is allocated so much to meet the needs of the children it accepts, for example children requiring special educational needs, that require increased funding. A school, in knowing that it will need increased funding for the next school term or year may perhaps keep quiet about the fact that it doesn’t need as much funding in the present term, in order to secure that increased funding for the next, often resulting in unnecessary spending, that is to say the obligation to make it look like the school needed that money (the school I worked in had twice as many televisions as it had classrooms, and with the new term bringing a child with severe special needs, spending seemed like the only guarantee to match that same money again).

This can be seen as a kind of microcosm for local and national spending in general, that the wrong things are being prioritised, and silence is a safeguard for a rainy day. But with swingeing cuts looming, rather than waste that money to ensure it is matched next time, another system should be sought. The system I propose is called reallocation, which in other words is the renegotiation of necessity in spending, rather than huge cuts, that also protects provisions where necessary. So for example if one service in the public sector has enough money leftover after necessities to, say, build a state-of-the-art sports centre or visitor centre, but another is struggling with plans to build adequate social housing, the choice should be there for the former service to reallocate that money to its counterpart, but still be entitled to receive that same money from local government the next year.

What’s good about the idea is that when local government allocates the different sectors its varying amounts, if one sector realises that it has been allocated too much, or to meet its target it must spend unnecessarily, that sector can opt to reallocate that money to another, perhaps less off sector, or at least a sector of more importance. What’s unique about the idea is that the sector itself is responsible for the reallocation, dialogue with local government would most definitely be promoted in order for further decision making at the top, but more options would be delegated to the public sphere, while the state sustains a position of financial overseer, in charge of maintaining the established standard for what is necessary spending, and what can be shelved for the common good.

Reallocation is partly inspired by, this infamous turn of phrase, left communitarianism, in that the local authority, with necessary input from renewed civic institutions, takes a large portion of control over the way it spends its money, with the state acting as the bastion of sensible spending.

Some naysayers will say that those in central and local government haven’t got it within them to dictate what is and what isn’t sensible spending (I wonder where such an opinion could’ve ever been formulated?). However that is not true always. Many influential politicians have signalled to what is for keeps and what is frivolous and can be shelved in a time of economic struggle. Some rather idealistic commentators have pointed to curbing excessive pay, extending inheritance taxes, and even getting rid of the Royal Family, the latter apparently making the saving of £185 million. Though I’d be happy to see some of these put into action, we don’t even have to get that radical (though, obviously, sometimes it helps). The Trident missile programme is priced at £16bn, ID cards luckily are as good as shelved, why before almost the entire political establishment is in favour of cuts isn’t the 50p top rate taxation not set in stone, why are top earners able to get tax relief on pensions.

There are those who are always going to say that taxing the rich like this is akin to punishment, but if measures like this are not taken, then it is the poor who suffer, and why should they be punished?

The basic premise of reallocation is to take from extravagant spending – usually, as with Trident, mandated at a more optimistic economic period – and not draw anything away from the public sector, who at once have done nothing to deserve it, but will bear most of the burden. Furthermore, it is a way of re-engaging civil society back into decision making over how local authorities should best spend their money, as well as bringing authorities together and sharing – not wasting – money in hard times, without jeopardising the way in which central and local government allocates money in future.

Woolas and the problem of overproximity

Jason Parkinson’s article over at Comment is Free yesterday told some really uncomfortable truths about the way migrants in Calais are being handled by the French police, and this is even without watching his horrific video capturing the events. He rightly details the inhumane way some of the people were treated – which contradicts the official line by the French police, and doesn’t come across bombastic when he compares the events of the “jungle” to “German storm-troopers leading lines of Jews away to death”. Viewing this picture (and the many others), for example, draws us right into an emotional quandry.

But it is the question of this overproximity that I find spoils Parkinson’s article, namely on the subject of Phil Woolas’ actions. He says

It is easy for Woolas, back in London, to arrogantly state these men don’t deserve asylum in the UK. But in doing so he exposes his distance from the issue. If he had bothered to go to the camps and squats around Calais and talk to these people, hear their stories first hand – perhaps then he would remember they are human beings and not just a statistic or price tag on a government spreadsheet.

It worries me that by going to the camps Woolas would have been motivated by an emotional overproximity, rather than a rounded judgement based on objective criteria (rather like, I suppose, with the Ghurkas, only its quite obvious Woolas was pushed in the correct direction). Now this of course is not me saying I like the way those mostly Afghan migrants had been treated, but rather, it’s far easier to assert protest without fingering alternatives than it is to agree that someone is doing the best they can. The alternative could not have been to allow all of the campers asylum, since we don’t live in a perfect world.

So real complaints are directed at Woolas, but has he done anything wrong here? This element of a BBC article is what Parkinson is charging against

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said the migrants had no right to claim asylum in the UK, and he questioned whether they were genuine asylum seekers.

“If they were fleeing persecution they have the right to claim asylum in the first country of entry as they leave their own countries,” he told the BBC.

That is what the law states, that a persecuted individual should claim asylum in the first country he or she arrives. Parkinson states that

Turkey and Greece are notorious for making it almost impossible to file an asylum claim, and the refugees view Germany and France as little better

They may well view it as such, but its not true of the latter two, these nations are part of the EU and law states that a person under persecution from a dictatorial government should claim asylum in the country they enter after leaving their own. If those refugees do view Germany and France as a place that is notoriously almost impossible to file asylum, then Parkisnon, no doubt well informed himself, and as a resident photographer in the “jungle” is in the perfect place to correct this view.

What Woolas did was to say that without proof that these guys have real grounds as asylum claimants it is not his duty to allow them to cross the border. I always think that I’d hate to have to make decisions like the one Woolas made, which doesn’t make me prime candidate for his job, but it’s perhaps because I think emotion would get the better of me. For this reason thank goodness nobody allows me such roles, and moreover thank goodness Parkinson didn’t get his way, otherwise politics wouldn’t be grounded on what is right and wrong, but the depth of an emotional attachment.

It all rather reminds me of the example of Arjuna, the King who hesitated to wage bloody war when he recognised his own friends and relatives on the other side of the battlefield, a story that features in the Bhagavad-Gita, the Hindu holy book. He confides in Sri Krishna whom Hindus believe to be an incarnation of God that he feels it wrong to slay kinsmen. Sri Krishna warned Arjuna that it would be a sin to retreat as he is a warrior, a Kshatriya (bearer of authority) whose duty to God it is to serve in battle.

There is an obvious demythologised version, don’t let emotion obfuscate duty – would it not only be unlawful to allow claimants to ignore the established rule that one must claim in the country they arrive in after leaving, but unfair also? The pressure to condone the border cross would in turn deny existing asylum applicants.

Woolas, as controversial as it is amongst the liberal-left, is doing the right thing, and is being professional to boot, by which I mean not allowing emotion to trump. He’s doing the right thing by covering his back and sticking to addressing provable asylum applicants. Perhaps there is a flaw to asylum applications as a system, but one cannot fault Woolas for keeping to this line. Immigration, as I have speculated upon before, is a difficult subject for us on the left, and as much as I’d love to be able to condone borderlessness, I just can’t, and know that it would be to the detriment of that which those who pursue it want to achieve; liberty.

Woolas could’ve quite easily been possessed by proximity, but instead he was absorbed by a professionalism, and should not be vilified by the left for his decision, it’s better to have representing us somebody that will not purposefully shoot themselves in the foot than somebody who ignores the lesson of Arjuna.

the example of Arijuna,
the King who hesitated to wage bloody war when he recognised his own friends and
relatives on the other side of the battlefield, a story that features in the Bhagavad-
Gita, the Hindu holy book. He confides in Sri Krishna whom Hindus believe to be an
incarnation of God that he feels it wrong to slay kinsmen. Sri Krishna warned Arijuna
that it would be a sin to retreat as he is a warrior, a Kshatriya (bearer of authority)
whose duty to God it is to serve in battle.

An Introduction into the true character of Islam

I’ve not written for a while on my blog owing, not bitterly, to my new job, which requires of me many hours. Moments stolen in the daytime to ponder mean that I’m spending less time speculating on the current political landscape – which as we speak, as I understand it, is centred around a kind of factionalism inside the Liberal Democrat party with the left backing the mansion tax and continued scorn of tuition fees, whilst the right of the party can’t understand the mansion tax, and agree with Clegg on moves to back tuition fees – and rethinking my personal hot potatoes of old.

Islam has been on my mind for example. During a lunch break this week I caught a glimpse of Ali Etaraz’ 7-part series in the Guardian in 2007 regarding a possible sea change in Islam – a spell known as Islamic reformation.

Etaraz is sceptical of the way the term is used – owing much to the Lutherian and Calvinist sea changes within Christianity, which among other things, promulgated against biblical literalism. For him, such a reformation has passed, been and gone. As he notes “[t]he Muslim equivalent of nailing the 95 theses was the desecration of a graveyard and the stoning of a woman for adultery.” He cites Abdul Wahhab (1703–1792) as the forerunner of a Islamic reformation, influenced greatly by Ibn Taymiyya (1263 – 1328) who had broken away from Sunni traditionalism.

In reponse to Taymiyya’s legacy, and by Etaraz’ own admission, “Wahhab was a rebel; his ideology was intolerance, patriarchy and violence. It coloured what kind of ideological direction Muslim dissenters of the future would take.” His further dissemination claims to demonstrate how Islam came to be Islamists own, and why “extremists came to dominate Muslim dissent”. To this, Etaraz issues three things which need to be done

First, reject all juvenile calls for so-called reformations.

Second, consider the necessity of a Sunni pope.

Third, consider the possibility of a liberal literalism (a sort of ideological inverse of extremist literalism).

So it seems that a reform for Etaraz lends itself nicely to extremism, therefore what needs to be salvaged in Islam is a return to better days, as such. Reform always seems to have the ring of democratising, or putting a wet tea towel over hot dogmatising elements, but there is something rather progressive to be drawn from a liberal smattering of literalism, something that sees in it liberal domocracy.

So it’s not quite the reform wing, it’s not fully congruent with the literalist bunch, but a twist in the latter in order to promote modern political method. In this, is Etaraz’ impetus for the making of the Muslim left, which would be inter-religious, but not scornful of non-Muslim allies (a hot topic for Etaraz). This interests me greatly, though it is not without its detractors. Professor Ali A. Allawi giving a lecture at the LSE entitled In Search of Islam’s Civilization put a thorn in the side of a wholesale Islamic liberalism by saying that Islamic civilization cannot be separated from the transcendent, curbing any real appeals to personal autonomy – whether the divine exists or not, it seems extraneous to concern oneself of whether there is more, since Marx’ great quote still works regardless that “[t]he more man puts into God the less he retains in himself….The worker puts his life into the object, but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object.” In an anti-Fregeian twist, the concept of God does not have to have any physical properties in order for it to be a Cause.

Allawi, in his discussion, does point out another rather important sea-change in Islam since the 1970’s in the middle east, that has shifted from ethical Islam to either a compulsion for corruption, with a capitalist character, or political Islam, which can have dreadful extremes. Despite the differences, Allawi and Etaraz do confirm one thing together: that Islam has a history that is different, better in many ways, more ethically sound, and should be rearticulated in some way. From here on, I shall be taking a look at the character of Islam that many Muslims see as their true legacy, drawing on work by Jim al-Khalili and his look into early Islamic sciences, Mahmoud Taha and the Sudanese rebels, and looking further at a possible Muslim left, and more specifically at how the left should perceive Islam, of its so-called true legacy and the activities of political Islam.

Back Soon

...And there's me thinking he'd left all this behind him...

...And there's me thinking he'd left all this behind him...

Reallocation to save the public sector

Fierce reminders on the telly last night and this morning are reminding us of the fire burning mass strikes that took place in protest at Tory cuts, and my goodness back then they didn’t mix their words, its a price worth paying – who’s paying?

Trade Union leaders at TUC have warned that this could be the reality again, wildcat strikes, already a feature of the year gone by.

There may have been a secret let out the bag that the Tories, under George Osborne’s jurisdiction, want to cut spending by 30%, but on the Labour side discussions are under way about where best to cut from, if the budget is going to be slashed.

Many of the Labour commentators are calling for cut in the middle class purses, not so much out of an able-to-pay philosophy, as such, but in order to keep afloat the working and lower middle who might not have been able to prepare for such an event.

It seems pretty reasonable, but then this propsal, featuring in yesterdays Observer also seems like a modest one, in these times;

Slash bankers’ bonuses, build more affordable homes, enshrine equal rights for agency workers and support better childcare provision. And while you’re at it, stop top earners getting tax relief on pensions, axe the £16bn Trident missile programme, scrap ID cards and use the money to rebuild Britain’s manufacturing base and protect key public services and jobs from cuts.

Gordon Brown will try desparately to stop unions from mass striking, saying that it is realistic that cuts will be made – for the greater good?

The basic premise of the above proposal is to say lets take from extravagent spending – set about at a less spendthrifty time – and not draw anything away from the public sector, who at once have done nothing to deserve it, but will bear the most burden.

If there was anything to be said for a high pay commission, it is to fund a sector that is constantly made vulnerable by private sector mistakes – i.e. there should be no unreal bonus pay after a fiscal stimulus – inappropriate it may be, but furthermore, it’s a slap in the face for those to where the money has been reallocated.

Indeed the reallocation of funds for antiquated plans such as Trident, unnecessary items as ID cards – which can be shelved at least – and caps on unrealistic earnings – not just in a recession, but at any time – will safegaurd the public sector from sinking.

George Osborne, recently in an interview with John Harris, said that under his watch, the banks won’t mind tougher regulation if it means wider change, if that were true, then the banks won’t mind if that change goes ahead by people who mean it, and that doesn’t mean scrapping the FSA – a city regulatory system – but strengthening it.

Do we ignore the fascist presence of the English Defence League

No matter how hard they might try, the English Defence League cannot shake off the assumption that they are fascists, and worse still a part of the BNP. But many of the criticisms directed at the hooligan group have also been thin where they could have been a little meatier.

For example, it is not as simple to bracket the EDL as fascist or a cell in the BNP, it’s a little more complex than that. The BNP for example have officially said, of the EDL, on the 3rd of September;

The British National Party has declared the “English Defence League” a proscribed organisation and it will be a disciplinary offence for any party member to be involved with that group.

The message was attached on a circular sent out by national organiser Eddy Butler who also said “Time and time again the lying media has linked the BNP with the EDL’s activities.”

But it is very difficult to distinguish the two fronts when there is clear evidence that high-profile EDL activists have real enthusiasm for the BNP. The Stirrer revealed that Chris Renton, a BNP activist who lives in Weston-super-Mare, set up the EDL website. Further, Paul Ray, a spokesperson for the EDL admitted in an interview knowing about Renton’s links, and dismissed it by saying that “people’s political views are their own affair.”

Ray, during the interview conducted by The Stirrer’s editor Adrian Goldberg on Talksport, revealed, however, that it is not just Islamic extremism that he takes a disliking too. The entry explains;

During the course of the interview, it became apparent that Ray’s own view of Islamic extremism isn’t limited to suicide bombers and hook handed preachers of hate.

He argued that the Qu’ran teaches all its advocates to wage jihad or holy war in non-Muslim countries, and acknowledged that on this basis, all devout or practising Muslims in Britain, are – in his words – “at war with our country.”

When pressed, he said:  “They’re ultimately engaged in converting our country to an Islamic state…that is the religious mandate of the Qu’ran that all Muslims must adhere too.”

The organisation, along with another similar Stop the Islamisation of Europe, with divisions all across Europe, has tried its hardest to appear simply against “Islamofascism”, and the apparently slow descent into a totally Islamic state.

EDL, like the BNP, have been vocal on the Sikh support they get in order to try and prove that they are not racist, and the SIOE have campaign material advertised on their website supporting the independence of Serbian Kosovo and Israel to show their enthusiasm for self-governing peoples (in fact an Israeli flag is a feature of any demo organised by these groups, seen here, whether genuine or to provoke the Muslim counter-demonstrators), as well as, strangely enough, the flags of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

However, some clearly dubious elements have found a home amongst the activists of the EDL, as can be seen by this frightening video shot by photojournalist Jason N. Parkinson (pay particular attention to the nazi salutes at 03.58 and 05.09 – since the last salute is made by a guy who appears to be the friend of the other chap who is holding the Trinidad flag, this does suggest a concerted attempt at far-right humour, not to be confused, of course, with humour).

This does put our analysis in a sticky situation. Is it possible that these explicitly fascist elements, such as the far-right web designer, and the sieg heil louts are minority factions inside a group that really wants to target Islamic extremism? But even a spokesperson, who must know the group line like the back of his hand, admitted being aware of far-right links, and even went on to show that it wasn’t just Islamic extremists the group were after, but Islam – the core message of all Islam.

Nick Lowles, who does know a thing or two about how to perceive these things, has said

“I’m not saying that every leader of the EDL is a fascist or hardcore racist but as you have seen with the signs, chanting and actions, it’s anti-Muslim – and that’s incitement.”

Myself, I think it’s pretty fair to say that there’s enough evidence to show that the far-right has a pretty safe camp within the ranks of the EDL, enough so that it hasn’t simply got a minority share. But does this mean that opposing Islamic extremism cannot be done without appealing to the far-right? Of course it doesn’t. It is laughable to suggest that there is anything inherently synonymous between Islamic extremism and the left, though admittedly this is hard to tell with those certain members of the SWP that see the Taliban as a legitimate reaction to imperialism – small in numbers though they are. Certainly with organisations like the Muslim Association of Britian, who the SWP and RESPECT have made previous attempts to cosy up to, do whip up the idea that vocal sections of the left do support unpalatable components, with their explicit homophobic policies. Interesting and irritable it was for me to see, at a recent pro-Palestine event in Hyde Park, a man with a MAB placard and an LGBT pin on his jacket lapel.

The battles that go on in the streets of course hurt the Muslim community the most, at once being the implied target of the EDL, and then to top that off made to appear represented by equally troublesome elements, such as youths proclaiming to be soldiers of Islam, surely this is the most important aspect to bear in mind when analysing the existence of these street fights.

The fascist elements of the EDL are too strong to ignore or write off, they pose a danger and are clearly more than just a front to oppose extremism. Therefore to oppose them is not to tolerate Islamic extremism. But care should be taken by thinking that the counter-demonstrators are natural allies, there are unpalatable elements in there, also, that do just as much harm to the wider, majority, Muslim community. And against the charges made by certain members on EDL forums that “leftist scum” oppose them whilst tolerating extremism, let this be a rubuttal.

Do we want God back?

A simple message was uttered by Tony Blair this year in the staggers, we must do God. There is an element to which this is already true, and so embedded it is, that to suggest doing is pointless. But is how Blair meant it so true?

For Blair, doing God is more about globalisation than it is theology. The marketplace, a global landscape, must promote and understand different religious pratices and peculiarities, so as not to jeopardise trading with countries where religion and economics are not separated.

When we see it this way, Blair, in saying do God, did not actually mean do God in any way shape or form. He meant be sensitive to faith in order to avoid getting your fingers burnt in the economy.

But doing God generally is dificult not to do, though many have tried. John Gray for example, in his great book Black Mass argues that the bouts of militant atheism and secularism are features of the western christian tradition. Calvinism in the sixteenth century actually foregrounded the view that while theology was ‘an echo of the biblical text‘ it was not, stricto sensu, so much a commentary of the text, but an interpretive framework by which the text may be understood. As such, Calvin saw the stories of the creation and the fall as simple renditions, certainly not to be taken literally, so rather than being an obstacle to science, he was actually an obstacle to biblical literalism.

Todays new atheists tend to draw their guns at biblical literalists, though suggest that through reason all believers can be dismantled. It’s hardly observant of fact that they produce a caricature of people of faith, then attempt only to critique one portion of the religious body. Calvin didn’t see himself as part of the traditional institution, was a radical as such, and his theology is now widely regarded as a most popular strand of christianity. In fact, according to Alister McGrath, a biographer of Calvin, if Calvin’s ideas were even more popular, the structure of the religion vs. science debate would take a far different form, since for Calvin the story of creation was an illustration rather than a literal truth, room is apparent for evolution science, seen of late as the sole domain of post-religious enlightenment.

John Gray, this time in his book Straw Dogs, noted that strains of thought seen to be of the legacy of the enlightenment – the liberal philosophers for example, A.C. Grayling – tend to be progressive, and therefore, for Gray, doomed for failure since the realm of progressivism, either borrows heavily from preceding philosophies, rendering it non-progressive, or else nihilistic and destined for bankruptcy. It was because of this that Gray earned himself the reputation as a pessimist, which may be evidently true, but it cannot be forgotten his indebtedness to Isiaah Berlin and elements of Eastern philosophy – he’s not simply pessimistic, but partly unrecognisable by traditional western standards.

The so-called secular, progressive projects, according to Gray, have their own eschatology and are therefore either forever inseperable with demythologised christianity, or else inseperable to failed projects such as Nazism or Communism, which for Gray, have a religious, totemistic quality about them anyway.

This is something that atheists like A.C. Grayling would agree on, that, in his words, “Nazism and Stalinism … emulate … religions in being monolithic ideologies demanding absolute subserviance to a supposed ideal”. But this is true only insofar as religion is idolatry. Stalin of course was an atheist, Hitler in the thirties disuaded the religious from appealing to his ideology until he realised the amount of Catholic money he could get his hands on, and Eichmann even up until his death rejected the presence of a priest visit to his cell for his anti-religious sentiments were so strong.

There is the notion that Calvin works in both the Blair reference to God (Calvin and Calvinism was a product of Genevan society, an early hub of capitalism and profit) and also the way in which Gray understands it, that the secular projects of today are simply rejuvenated versions of the christian legacy. Whatever the case, and whatever your beliefs, God is still done today, both demythologised and capitalised, to change the world one must change God in these forms, not get rid of God.

I like where Cruddas is going

Talk of the town at the moment is Jon Cruddas’ summer lecture last night at Compass, which attempts steer the Labour party away from embracing less civic elements of liberalism, and re-realise the radical liberal streak once utilised by the ethical socialist R H Tawney and Keir Hardie.

Sunny’s summary (“move leftwards or lose the election”) of the 10 point plan collated by FT’s Jim Pickard (which can be found here) is a little thin. Cruddas’ lecture last night was not simply an election campaign, it was a remembrance of the true kernel of the Labour party against its more laissez-faire contingents. Cruddas explicitly said last night

…whether Labour returns to government or it turns to opposition we need a fundamental re-examination of our identity and the kind of society we’d hope to create…

One of the most important features of Cruddas’ new project (roughly termed left communitarianism) is working out Labour’s relationship with liberalism

It is wrong to think of socialism as a tradition that stands in opposition to liberalism … Yet we need to be very clear about which aspects of the liberal tradition Labour can usefully embrace as its own

Elsewhere Cruddas has realised that

We [the Labour party and society in general] have retreated into what is essentially a Hobbesian utilitarianism, which considers self-interest as the only guiding principle.

Cruddas has pointed out the key unit that will eventually come to save the Labour party, liberty is the end we need to reach, which obviously means that he is looking way further yonder than the next election, although what he notes in his project is that though progressive conservatism has hit a wall, the Labour party does not have to hit that same wall, but it’s lacking in ideas, in direction, or what Tawney pointed out of Labour in his day was that they were “hesitant in action, because divided in mind” has meant that now is a time for fresh ideas, or, more to the point, a rearticulation of previous ideas made flesh.

The liberalism of Adam Smith, sticking its nose in the public sector and informing the cultish individualism of the hardcore free-marketeerism, is the liberalism that we must do away with. Re-democratising the civic, thats the project. That’s the crucial difference in left and right communitarianism, energising rather than precluding the state, highlighting the importance of the collective, and separating the market from the public sphere.

9/11 and an artistic ethics

Have just been watching C4’s brave 102 Minutes That Changed America – most of it anyway, it was very tough viewing.

The cameraman was camera operators seemed to be at times very intrusive, and actually seemed to infuriate people, but he they did what was best in documenting some very sombre and terrifying moments. People, covered in dust and debris, would wave their hands as if to say I’ve been in there, fuck off with your camera, and against their sensitivities managed to catch both their anger and their vulnerabilities. The viewer asks themselves the important question, definitely on the lips of those commissioning the programme; is watching this programme not tantamount to voyeurism, or, should I be watching these terrified people in their terror climaxes?

The answer should be no, but what is posterity worth? When Kevin Carter, the nobel prize winning photographer, was asked about filming South African necklacing – the act of filling a rubber tyre with petrol, placing it round a victims neck and setting on fire – he replied;

“I was appalled at what they were doing. I was appalled at what I was doing. But then people started talking about those pictures… then I felt that maybe my actions hadn’t been at all bad. Being a witness to something this horrible wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing to do.”

It was in 1993 that Carter took the photograph of a small girl in famine ridden Sudan, that took him to the long road of depression. What should a photographer do, should s/he attempt to help the subject, does art trump life, what moral proximity does the artist have towards his or her subject if any, and should this jeopardise his or her art or commitment.

It was these questions, and many more that Carter suffered before he took his own life by taping one end of a hose to his pickup truck’s exhaust pipe and running the other end to the passenger-side window, eventually dying at the age of 33.

Robert Capa, the Spanish civil war photographer famous for his photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, was held in very high esteem for his very graphic and personal display of the other war against fascism. This year a Spanish professor, José Manuel Susperregui, published a book titled Shadows of Photography, which demonstrated that Capa’s photograph could not have been taken where it was alleged to have been, using separate photographic evidence.

Tough as it may be, sometimes, in order to save your corner, you have to come clean on your allies. In order to keep the Spanish Republican message alive, and by saving the right from using it to their advantage, the truth of Capa had to be released. Similarly, two Canadian documentary filmmakers were once making a film on Michael Moore, the leftwing polemicist, from a supportive bent. However, after weeks of specialising in the remit of Moore, soon realised that much of his work was born out fiction, covering his fiction behind the gonzo-esque, perverting the realm of the anti-war movement in America – which obviously needed all the support it could gather. The point of the filmmakers’ – Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine – efforts could not have been better summed up by the title of their film; Manufacturing Dissent.

The above references – if they have any common theme – is to try and communicate a truth, even if using methods that don’t exactly weigh up as such. Kevin Carter’s profile as one who captures a truth haunted him until his dying day, Capa was willing to stage events in order to send a message across the world detailing the horrors of the evil Francoist regime – even if this event was fictitious. Sometimes the only way an artist can record the nearest representation to truth, is by recreating it, sometimes truth is not real enough. Perhaps Michael Moore could argue this case also, but two leftist documentarists were willing to spill the beans to save their corner.

These are the criteria for infiltrating the truth as it’s happening, for limiting ones own remit to that of the artist – the bearer of the potentially worldwide message – and not the saviour, or at least not in any immediate sense. Does Channel 4’s 9/11 documentary do just that? I’d risk saying not in this instance, the location shots seemed brave, and there was no fear of tweaking the truth of the events, only it seemed to mostly interfere. For what it’s worth, it did capture emotion fraught with fear, but did this hold the same weight as say Kevin Carter, or was it perversion, a glimpse at vulnerability for a public energised by action. I’d risk an accusation of the latter.

See also the discussion of this review over at The Third Estate here

A really late in the day review of Bee Movie (2007)

Bee movie, co-produced by Jerry Seinfeld, gave me ample amount of thinking over the weekend. As much as I enjoyed the cracks, the usual Seinfeld pessimism, the feeling an adult gets when they are watching a film 60% designed for kids, but identify a joke aimed at entirely at adults (that feeling is usual humour, plus the shiver of wisdom and age), for example the joke at the end where the mosquito (voiced by Chris Rock) claims that being lawyer will come easy to him since he is already a blood-sucking parasite, and another joke where on guessing who Barry is in love with, a friend enquires ‘its not a wasp is it, what will your Mother say (one can hardly deny that this sounds to me like a typical Jewish Mother’s concern that her Jewish son has fallen in love with a wasp, that is to say a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant)’.

What struck me also, obviously, was the explicit political message of the honey stealing and the corporate lobby. Barry, the bee, on realising that humans are sucking the labour from bees in order to gain profits, exploiting those bees to boot, he takes the local honey firm to court, and after some glorious ups, and far fewer downs, wins the case against the fat-cats (and bears). A platform for anti-capitalist Dreamworks? Hardly likely, consider what Philip French of the Observer wrote about the film at the time;

Winning the case leads to the imminent destruction of the world’s ecology, so Barry must become a hero by putting the bees back to work spreading pollen around the globe 24/7. The message is the old one that ‘the rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate, He made them high and lowly and ordered their estate’. With its call to restore the old order and respect the self-sacrificing Stakhanovite, Bee Movie should go down well in Putin’s Russia.

True that what was to follow the court case did little to vindicate Barry’s excellent performance, in fact it brought harm to the eco-system. Not very progressive at all. That is if what goes for progressive these days is a realignment with the old situationist-esque mantra destroy work!

In actual fact what the bee community finds out over the period of the court case is that the value of their labour has only been amassing a surplus for the corporate thief. But what happens when the bees stop working altogether is the same as what would happen if workers of all stripes (not just bee stripes!) stopped working; the stasis of the economy would suffer and go stagnant – haven’t all good economists warned the capitalists of this fact, and is this not why they create what Marx called ‘a reserve army of labour’?

Well luckily in the bee world there is full employment, which means there is a perfect situation, you screw us over, we destroy ecology, the ball is in our court. Of course, being bees, and obviously nice, they don’t leave ecology to become destroyed, they resume work. Perhaps the bees become unionised, perhaps conditions are improved, perhaps there is a colony takeover where the bees run and divide the profits of the honey, we will never know, but in the strictest observance of the analogy, the workers realise the power they have over natural resources, realise that bastards are ripping them off for profit, but that the solution is not to suffer everybody.

And suffer everybody bees can certainly do. On a recent arrival of a mysterious disease, it was starkly remembered that bees help maintain about a third of the human diet by way of insect-pollinated plants. For the bee, providing for the human diet comes at a dark price for the bee’s sexual dignity in that the bee has to perform what is called pseudocopulation, which in basic terms is the attempt at copulation by a male insect (in this case the bee) with a female flower. The bee, attracted to the scent or sight of the flower, may well try to have his end away with it, knowing little or nothing about its being a flower at all. The flower is involved in a matter of deception.

The bee himself is wooed, in the case of the orchid, by the release of osmophores which are identical to the pheromones let-off by the species. Common, too, is the occurrence of visual mimicry in plants where a flower might appear like a sexually receptive female, in the case of the orchid it might appear as female Hymenoptera so as to be inseminated by an unlucky male of this order, only for him to find that he has been duped, probably humiliated and will, no less, carry a stigma (!).

The premise of the film, for kids, is not to be unkind to bees and to respect the lives of all creatures, like Vanessa does. The wider structure of the film surely points out that taking for granted the sum of the workforce may one day come back to haunt those who do.

But about Dreamworks’ intentions, what was it that Nick Cohen said about his rich friends, that they own books by John Pilger, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore etc etc, lets not forget that its fashionable to hold humanitarian views now because they tend not to disturb the true functioning of the economy (see Zizek’s analysis on violence for further details). This could provide some explanation as to why we hate the honey company’s CEO throughout. Or Philip French could be right, the film incidentally did screen better in Russia than it did the UK, but it is a tad bigger in size.