Sunday, January 15, 2006

$ [Subject-Barred] 

Humour-Me has re-positioned in the Blogosphere as


"In this context, I'm delighted to announce the arrival of another high-quality, high-concept weblog. Subject Barred is the new blog of my long-time net pal and alt.movies.kubrick veteran Padraig L Henry. Padraig's consistently brilliant posts at amk, often corruscating, always ridiculously well-informed, reference-glutted and insight-heavy, but delivered in a style that was stiletto-sharp and quicksilver limpid, were an inspiration in my dark days and a major reason why this blog exists. As I think the rash of early posts at Subject Barred amply demonstrates - image-rich micro-essays on Gaelic Gothic, Kapital's [hysterical] Obstacles to the Impossible and The Real as Cute Little Girl - Padraig is a natural for the blog format. $ is already plugged directly into current discussions at Lenin's Tomb, Le Colonel Chabert and elsewhere in the weblog matrix. Expect the best."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Kapital's [hysterical] Obstacles to the Impossible [I] 

"It is the world itself that resists domination."

"This is the Lacanian wager: is not our culture, the way we structure the symbolic edifice of our culture, only an attempt to come to terms with some kind of traumatic impossibility? If we recognize our culture as an ultimately failed attempt to symbolize some antagonism, some real deadlock, this allows us to read the other's culture as an attempt to symbolize the same deadlock. What unites cultures is not the neutral, universal set of meanings that Chomskyan linguists are trying to establish; you don't find it at that level. You find it at the level of an impasse. All cultures are different answers to the same question, arising from the same deadlock; it is precisely the deadlock, the antagonism, that unites us. The problem is to recognize in a foreign culture a different attempt to avoid the same deadlock that we tried to avoid. That we can identify with the other at this point of failure is an almost hysterical paradox. This is the basic Lacanian answer to the question of how can we be sure that we communicate with the other: we don't communicate with ourselves. The other is already in our own split; because we are split, our discourse is already, as Lacan would say, the discourse of the other."

BS: A lot of readers of American underground publications read Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and the stuff coming out of small anarchist presses. What would they get from reading your work that they might be missing?

Zizek: Martin Heidegger said that philosophy doesn't make things easier, it makes them harder and more complicated. What they can learn is the ambiguity of so many situations, in the sense that whenever we are presented by the big media with a simple opposition, like multicultural tolerance vs. ethnic fundamentalism, the opposition is never so clear-cut. The idea is that things are always more complex. For example, multiculturalist tolerance, or at least a certain type of it, generates or involves a much deeper racism. As a rule, this type of tolerance relies on the distinction between us multiculturalists, and intolerant ethnic others, with the paradoxical result that anti-racism itself is used to dismiss IN A RACIST WAY the other as a racist. Not to mention the fact that this kind of "tolerance" is as a rule patronizing. Its respect for the other cannot but remind us of the respect for naive children's beliefs: we leave them in their blessed ignorance so as not to hurt them...

Or take Chomsky. There are two problematic features in his work — though it goes without saying that I admire him very much. One is his anti-theorism. A friend who had lunch with him recently told me that Chomsky announced that he'd concluded that social theory and economic theory are of no use — that things are simply evident, like American state terror, and that all we need to know are the facts. I disagree with this. And the second point is that with all his criticism of the U.S., Chomsky retains a certain commitment to what is the most elemental ingredient of American ideology, individualism, a fundamental belief that America is the land of free individuals, and so on. So in that way he is deeply and problematically American.

You can see some of these problems in the famous Faurisson scandal in France. As many readers may know, Chomsky wrote the preface for a book by Robert Faurisson, which was threatened with being banned because it denied the reality of the Holocaust. Chomsky claimed that though he opposes the book's content, the book should still be published for free speech reasons. I can see the argument, but I can't support him here. The argument is that freedom of the press is freedom for all, even for those whom we find disgusting and totally unacceptable; otherwise, today it is them, tomorrow it is us. It sounds logical, but I think that it avoids the true paradox of freedom: that some limitations have to guarantee it.
So to understand what goes on today — to understand how we experience ourselves, to understand the structures of social authority, to understand whether we really live in a "permissive" society, and how prohibitions function today — for these we need social theory. That's the difference between me and the names you mentioned.

BS: Chomsky and people like him seem to think that if we just got the facts out there, things would almost take care of themselves. Why is this wrong? Why aren't "the facts" enough?

Zizek: Let me give you a very naive answer. I think that basically the facts are already known. Let's take Chomsky's analyses of how the CIA intervened in Nicaragua. OK, (he provides) a lot of details, yes, but did I learn anything fundamentally new? It's exactly what I'd expected: the CIA was playing a very dirty game. Of course it's more convincing if you learn the dirty details. But I don't think that we really learned anything dramatically new there. I don't think that merely "knowing the facts" can really change people's perceptions.

To put it another way: Chomsky's own position on Kosovo, on the Yugoslav war, shows some of his limitations, because of a lack of a proper historical context. With all his facts, he got the picture wrong. As far as I can judge, Chomsky bought a certain narrative — that we shouldn't put all the blame on Milosevic, that all parties were more or less to blame, and the West supported or incited this explosion because of its own geopolitical goals. All are not the same. I'm not saying that the Serbs are guilty. I just repeat my old point that Yugoslavia was not over with the secession of Slovenia. It was over the moment Milosevic took over Serbia. This triggered a totally different dynamic. It is also not true that the disintegration of Yugoslavia was supported by the West. On the contrary, the West exerted enormous pressure, at least until 1991, for ethnic groups to remain in Yugoslavia. I saw [former Secretary of State] James Baker on Yugoslav TV supporting the Yugoslav army's attempts to prevent Slovenia's secession.

The ultimate paradox for me is that because he lacks a theoretical framework, Chomsky even gets the facts wrong sometimes.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Gap of the Real now sustained over at ... $

Friday, September 12, 2003

Despotic Malcolm finally gets his Ruth Sobotka fantasy 

Though there's quite a diverse spattering of interesting films doing the cut-throat, mincing-machine rounds of recent international film festivals (Venice, Toronto, etc) - for instance, look out for Jane Campian's graphically explicit, lower Manhatten-set serial-killer thriller In The Cut [expected to be this season's "most talked about movie"], Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things [with its Oscar Wilde visits 1930s Gosford Park ambiance], Russian director Andrei Zvygatinsev's The Return [ an intimate, almost metaphysical study of rebellion against parental authority that art houses the world over will pick as one of this year’s favourites], Sokurov's Father and Son [which will undoubtedly bomb in the US due to its uneasy incestual homoeroticism], and Italian director Marco Bellocchio's Good Morning, Night [a psychological study of terrorist group the Red Brigades, and their kidnapping of Aldo Moro in 1978] - here's a total fried lemming from Altman [contrasting unfavourably with his excellent Gosford Park ] that will do for - Chicago - ballet what Pret a Porter did for - nakedly - pregnant panty lines, though at least its got A Clockwork Orange's Alex, though now evolved into a bolshy big burly auld Burgess 21st Chapter bastard ... [I'm imagining Kubrick's second wife, ballerina Ruth Sobotka "dancing in the rain" with a "facile cocky bravura" Malcolm McDowell in a film that Kubrick - though he had considered another collaboration with Ruth after Killer's Kiss - was never to make] ...

The Company

Dan Fainaru in Toronto 10 September 2003

Dir. Robert Altman. US-Germany. 2003. 112mins.

A feast for balletomanes, but with very little else to offer the rest of the audience, Robert Altman’s new film may be a splendid promo reel for Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet Company. But do not expect anything like his brilliant forays into American music in Nashville, or American cinema in The Player, which went beyond the confines of their respective themes to deliver fascinating insights into the American experience as a whole. Consisting mostly of lavishly photographed rehearsals and the subsequent performances of the same pieces before live audiences, with titbits of inconsequential dialogue inserted in-between to provide a semblance of dramatic continuity, the picture will be evidently carried through its original release by the general curiosity generated by Altman films. Neve Campbell’s fans will also be interested to see her realise her dream and become a prima ballerina. But once past the first glow, its dramatic slimness will make it difficult to crossover into a more extensive distribution.

Following a number of stage productions from the preparatory phase to their actual presentation, this typical backstage look at the work of a ballet troupe skims over most of the predictable ingredients of the genre but never really bothers to go into details on any of them.

As expected, there is a genial but despotic artistic manager. Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), who runs the company with a fist of iron in a glove of silk, threatening and cajoling, demanding and comforting, sympathetic but ruthless when the need arises, is a man whose vision is clearly that the good of the company is the only priority in sight. And there are the heartaches of the rising young dancer, Ry (Neve Campbell), who is dumped in the first reel by her dancing partner and ends up, by the last reel in the loving arms of an alluring assistant chef (James Franco).

And that’s about all there is, in terms of significant dramatic personae, though, predictably enough, all the classic cliches associated with performing arts occur in the course of the film, from torn ligaments that change career patterns, through tantrums of veterans who fear for their status and are terrified by any change that might alter familiar routines, to budget restrictions, mentioned as a factor but apparently never put into real practice, at least not in this picture.

Tempers flare once in a while, dancers’ agents interfere, stars demand promotion. But there is nothing really serious to endanger the smooth operation of the company and its regular stream of premieres.

Altogether, Altman has chosen, for reasons of his own, to avoid any deeper exploration of many elements that he does bring up in the course of the film. The star system, which exists in the world of ballet as much as in any of the other performing arts, is consistently ignored, or if mentioned, immediately stamped upon as a minor issue. While alluded to, the economic complexities of keeping such a costly, and relatively restricted, art form going are quickly forgotten. The general notion promoted here is that dancers are idealistic dreamers who happily accept the gruelling demands of their profession only for the sake of art and momentary glory, despite the insignificant financial rewards. A bit optimistic, given the public knowledge of what life on the stage is like, anywhere.

The network for the Altman trademark orchestration of multiple story lines is laid down here as expected but never developed, replaced instead by the focus on two characters who have nothing particularly original about them. McDowell plays Antonelli with a kind of facile cocky bravura, bordering on the ridiculous when he is lecturing his troupe on the psychological motivations of a dance, and it is strange to see the character, specifically referred to as an Italian-American, speaking so often with such a distinctive British accent.

As for Campbell, who launched the entire project and is credited as one of the producers, her past training with National Ballet of Canada comes in handy and she acquits herself honourably of the most difficult part in her role, the dancing chores. Franco, one of the leads in Altman’s next project, to be dedicated to the NY theatre scene, is under-utilised as her love interest.

The most impressive and memorable presence in the film is the Joffrey Ballet Company itself, and the most rewarding moments - luckily there is an abundance of them - are the dance scenes, in rehearsal but most particularly on stage. The lively, inventive, colourful and always enjoyable Joffrey productions featured in this film are gloriously served by Altman’s technical crew and it is a pity that no credits were made available in Toronto for the choreography and the production of the stage shows, nor for that matter, of the dancers, many of whom assume small, but significant dramatic parts. Without them, there would be no film at all.

Main cast: Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, James Franco, Emma Harrison
Prod cos: Marly Pictures, CP Medien, Capitol Films, Killer Films, SRO Entertainment, Sandcastle 5 Productions
Int’l sales: Capitol Films
Prods: David Levy, Joshua Astrachan, Neve Campbell, Robert Altman, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler
Co-prods: Jane Barclay, Sharon Harel, Hannah Leader, John Wells, Roland Pellegrino, Dieter Meyer, Stefan Jones, Jonas McCord
Scr: Barbara Turner
Ed: Geraldine Peroni
Prod des: Gary Baugh
Music: Van Dyke Parks
Sound: Michael Berry, Eliza Paley, Peter Glossop

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Protest Comparisons With Vietnam 

An anti-war activist recently wrote:

Soldiers like US marine Lance Corporal Stephen Funk who refused to report for duty in January and has since been sentenced to 6 months in jail, are speaking at anti-war rallies across the States. Obviously the situation is not identical to Vietnam where there was an organised national liberation struggle, but parallels are being drawn.

I can certainly understand why many activists should feel this way, that current efforts are seemingly somewhat lagging behind similar organised anti-war struggles during the Vietnam era, a comparison that is invoked with increasing regularity in protest discourse. However, and rest assured, there is around the world and in the United States opposition to the present wars (Iraq principally, but allied with those in Afghanistan, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, etc) that is at a level which is completely unprecedented in US or European history both in scope and in the wide diversity of parts of the general population it draws on. Indeed, there appears never to have been a time that I am aware of when there was such massive opposition to a war before it had even started, an opposition that continues to grow as that war now takes its ugly further course into devastating civil war. And it extends itself far more broadly in that it's not just opposition to war but also a fundamental - and disillusioning - lack of faith in the leaderships (Bush, Blair, Sharon, and their lapdog minions), along with their - though still repressed - deeper general malaise with western contemporary, postmodern consumer culture.

So the demonstrations that have occured to date - before the war/invasion, during it, and since Bush announced his Hollywood-film-spectacle virtual/hyperreal victory - that has never happened before. If you compare it with the Vietnam war (again, the US never even declared that illegal invasion as a war, just as a "police action", a defence of South Vietnam etc), the current stage of the war with Iraq is approximately like that of circe, or just after, 1962, with the US bombing of South Vietnam and driving millions of people into concentration camps and chemical warfare and so on, but there was no real protest anywhere at that time. In fact, so little token protest that virtually nobody can even remember.

The serious protests didn't actually begin to develop until several years later when large parts of south Vietnam were being subjected to saturation bombing by B-52s, hundreds of thousands of troops were there [over half a million], hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers had been killed, and then even after that, when the protests finally did develop in the US and Europe it was mostly focused on a side-issue - the bombing of north Vietnam [no public knowledge, then, of the secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos] which was undoubtedly a crime, though it was far more intense in the south which was always the US target. And more to the point, the introduction of the Draft, around the time of the Tet Offensive in 1967/68 (though only around 70,000 were ever actually finally drafted) - it's introduction sealed public opinion against the war, once again a very real current possibility in the present US (see this article, for example: Neocons Admit They've Blown It - Is the Draft Next?). By historical analogy, we can also see the effect of Britain's attempt to introduce conscription or the draft in Ireland during WWI: almost the whole population immediately responded by voting for Sinn Fein in the subsequent General Election, in the process wiping out all the existing political parties - and the rest, as they say, is - war of independence then civil war - history ...

Furthermore, as Chomsky has recently stated [I'm collating here from a number of interviews]:

When the first Bush administration came in 1989 parts of their intelligence assessment were leaked, and they're very revealing about what happened in the subsequent 10 years about precisely these questions ... The parts that were leaked said that it was about military confrontations with much weaker enemies, recognising they were the only kind we were going to be willing to face, or even exist. So in confrontations with much weaker enemies the United States must win "decisively and rapidly" because otherwise popular support will erode, because it's understood to be very thin. Not like the 1960s when the government could fight a long, brutal war for years and years practically destroying a country without any protest ... The main attack was against South Vietnam and there was never any serious protest against that ... Not now. Now they have to win. They have to terrify the population to feel there's some enormous threat to their existence and carry out a miraculous, decisive and rapid victory over this enormous foe and march on to the next one.

The more protest there is the more tightening there's going to be, that's routine. When the Vietnam War protests really began to build up, so did the repression. I was very close to a long jail sentence myself and it was stopped by the Tet Offensive. After the Tet Offensive, the establishment turned against the war and they called off the trials. Right now a lot of people could end up in Guantanamo Bay and people are aware of it.

If there's protest in a country then there's going to be repression. Can they get away with it? - it depends a lot on the reaction. In the early 50s in the US, there was what was called Macarthyism and the only reason it succeeded was that there was no resistance to it. When they tried the same thing in the 60s it instantly collapsed because people simply laughed at it so they couldn't do it. Even a dictatorship can't do everything it wants. It's got to have some degree of popular support. And in a more democratic country, there's a very fragile power system. There's nothing secret about this, it's history. The question in all of these things is how much popular resistance there's going to be.

Actually, there is another article in the New York Times that describes how the [current] professors are antiwar activists, but the students aren't. Not like it used to be, when the students were antiwar activists. What the reporter is talking about is that around 1970 - and it's true - by 1970 students were active antiwar protesters. But that's after eight years of a U.S. war against South Vietnam, which by then had extended to all of Indochina, which had practically wiped the place out. In the early years of the war - it was announced in 1962 - U.S. planes are bombing South Vietnam, napalm was authorized, chemical warfare to destroy food crops, and programs to drive millions of people into "strategic hamlets," which are essentially concentration camps. All public. No protest. Impossible to get anybody to talk about it. For years, even in a place like Boston, a liberal city, you couldn't have public meetings against the war
because they would be broken up by students, with the support of the media. You would have to have hundreds of state police around to allow the speakers like me to escape unscathed. The protests came after years and years of war. By then, hundreds of thousands of people had been killed, much of Vietnam had been destroyed. Then you started getting protests.

Mainstream discourse ensures that all of this is wiped out of history, out of the - popular - historical record, because it tells too much of the truth. The historical reality is that the Vietnam anti-war movement involved years and years of hard work among an initially fairly small group of people, mostly young, which finally succeeded in catalysing, orchestrating and expanding an effective protest movement. Clearly, today, it is far beyond that stage. But such people as the New York Times reporter whose article Chomsky cites above cannot even begin to comprehend that particular historical reality. And it is more than likely that the reporter is being genuine [much like the widespread mindset today that somehow, paradoxically, can be anti the Vietnam war ("because "obviously" it was wrong, and shure, didn't we lose anyway?") but pro the Iraq war, oblivious slaves to the status quo of contemporaneous establishment - political and media - norms]. The reporter, certainly, is essentially articulating precisely what I think she, as with numerous others, was taught - that there was a huge antiwar movement - unlike today, of course - because the actual documented history has to be wiped out of people's consciousness. Under no circumstances are you to be permitted to learn that prolonged, dedicated, committed effort can ultimately provoke significant transformations in consciousness and understanding.

As Chomsky concludes, That's a very dangerous thought to allow people to have.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Iraq Under Occupation 

The bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad last week has refocused attention on the fact that 4 months after major combat was declared finished, this war is by no means over.

Iraq under occupation is a bloody mess, with mounting civilian casualties and deaths, no functioning infrastructure and a growing resistance movement that threatens to force the US out. The men who took the world to war, George Bush and Tony Blair are still frantically searching for their infamous weapons of mass destruction and are both looking increasingly haggard and vulnerable in front of their electorates, yet our own government has yet to face the music over their lies and half-truths in the run up to war.

Much of the following is compiled from the Occupation Watch website, a recent International Crisis Centre report on Iraq, a US Labor Against the War report on the privatization of Iraq, Iraq Body Count and other sources. It exposes the reality of life in �liberated� Iraq and shows why we must continue to build a resistance movement at home where our own government continues to support this brutal occupation. Now is a good time for people to get stuck in and build for the September 27th demonstration. On S27, over a dozen countries in Europe and a number of major cities in the US will hold national demonstrations against the occupations of Iraq & Palestine.


Yesterday (Tuesday 26th), the toll of US troops killed in postwar Iraq officially surpassed the number during the media �war�. As resistance to the occupation mounts amongst ordinary Iraqis, the major political divide in Iraq today is not between Sunni and Shia, nor between Arab and Kurds, but between those who believe that the occupiers must go and a minority of Iraqis who are doing well out of the occupation.

The US administration is beginning to panic about the level of forces needed to �stabilise� Iraq. Already there is an international force of 170,000, of which 148,000 are US forces (others from the UK, Bulgaria, Poland, India and elsewhere). Military experts however have estimated that up to half a million troops may be needed in the coming months. The US is desperately trying to extend the international �coalition� and has already begun a covert campaign to recruit and train agent with the once-dreaded Iraqi intelligence service to help identify resistance to US occupation.

Democracy � who governs Iraq today?

Iraq today is ruled by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and the virtually powerless puppet Interim Governing Council (IGC). Real power lies with the CPA which is run by Paul Bremer. It has taken over Saddam Hussein�s Jumhirriya Palace and is just as inaccessible as the former dictator. Despite spending $1 billion a week in Iraq, the US & its CPA still have not managed to provide basic services, such as water and electricity.

The IGC sprang into action in early July. Its creation was an attempt to deflect local criticism of the US/UK occupation and create the myth that power was actually devolving to the Iraqi people. In reality, the council is made up of 25 members handpicked by the US and, as such, lacks credibility in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis. These include Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress who has more support in the Pentagon than in Iraq. IGC membership rigidly adheres to Iraq�s sectarian and ethnic demographics, hereby making these issues the fundamental organising principles of government for the first time in Iraq�s history.

The council provoked widespread criticism when it abolished all former national holidays and declared April 9 (the day Baghdad fell) as Iraq�s national day. They were forced to retreat when thousands demonstrated in Baghdad on July 14th, the anniversary of the 1958 coup that toppled the monarchy. A commission has been set up to draft a new Iraqi constitution and being work on future elections. However, according to the International Crisis Centre report, elections are unlikely to happen for at least 2 years. Full details available from www.occupationwatch.org.

Civilian Casualties

The Iraq Body Count database has reported 7,798 Iraqi civilian deaths and at least 20,000 Iraqi civilian injuries to August 7th. This picture suggests that a full account of all those who were killed and injured may never be known. Despite causing this untold suffering, the US administration has said that the families of those killed or injured by US forces will not receive any compensation unless they submit clear-cut evidence of wrong-doing by the US military. This policy rules out payment to families of those murdered by US soldiers at checkpoints and incidents after May 1st when Bush declared major combat cessations. So far, some 1,168 families have received compensation claims totaling $262,263. This averages out at an insulting $224 for the loss of injury of a loved one! Increasingly payments are being made to local communities instead of families as the US sees this as a way to avoid revenge attacks on its forces.

US troops have repeatedly shot into crowds of demonstrators and continue to open fire on cars at checkpoints. On August 9th, a heavily pregnant Anwar abd al-Kerim escaped a checkpoint in the Tunisian quarter of Baghdad with her 8-year old daughter Merwet, after US soldiers sent a stream of bullets into their car. Her husband and 3 other children were killed. Soldiers at the checkpoint refused to let her take her child to the hospital. Merwet died at the hospital later that night. Doctors said that she would have survived if taken to hospital sooner. Horrific incidents like this are an almost daily occurrence in Iraq.

Millions of Iraq adults and children are at risk from unexploded cluster bombs which litter the cities and countryside. Landmine experts estimate some 10,000 separate cluster bombs could be lying in cities, on farmland and on the main roads around the country. Furthermore, cancer-causing depleted uranium contained in the armour-piercing shells used by the US and British contaminates Iraq. Up to 5 times more DU weapons were used in this war than the 1991 Gulf War, which we now know has led to a massive increase in cancers and birth defects in Iraq.

Human Rights

Over 3,000 Iraqi prisoners are being held in a brutal detention centre, known as Camp Cropper, on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport. Only the International Red Cross is permitted inside � and they have been forbidden to describe what they see. However, some of them have broken ranks to tell Amnesty International of the shocking conditions is which Iraqis are kept.

Prisoners in Camp Cropper are being held in contravention of the Geneva Convention. They have not been permitted to see their lawyers and are being held in conditions which Curt Goering, Deputy Director of Amnesty International has described as �tantamount to torture and gross abuse of human rights�. Despite being overwhelmingly Muslim, the detainees are forced to eat pork, sit in painful positions and keep their heads covered with a sack. Every day more prisoners are crowded into the broiling, dusty compound. Surrounded by 10-foot-high razor wire, they live in tents that are little protection against the blistering sun. They sleep 80 to a tent on wafer-thin mats. Each prisoner has a long-handled shovel to dig his own toilet. Some are too old or weak to dig the ordered depth of three feet. Others find they have excavated pits already used.

In addition, many Iraqis have accused the occupiers of insufficient cultural sensitivity. Coalition raids of mosques and confiscation of zakat (alms) has fuelled anger. The use of police dogs � viewed by Muslims as sources of impurity � has provoked protests. Physical searches by male soldiers of women and the storming of their women�s bedrooms in raids without giving them the chance to cover themselves has been described by Iraqis as dreadful breaches of local norms and sinful transgressions of Islamic law. US soldiers have also been accused of stealing money and jewellery during weapons searches. Meanwhile, more than 130,000 people in Iraq displaced from previous wars continue to live in tent camps, in sweltering heat, their existence virtually ignored by the CPA.

Freedom of Speech

Unemployment in Iraq now stands at 60-70%. Many thousands more will be laid off as private corporations are invited in to run former state industries. Hundreds of unemployed Iraqis have staged demonstrations at the CPA HQ recently. On 2nd August, 55 members of the Iraqi Union of the Unemployed were arrested after participating in a 5-day sit in over the treatment of the unemployed. They were released after protests by groups such as US Labor Against the War and the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions. In a report on the demonstration, Caoimhe Butterly currently in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness described how US soldiers called the demonstrators �thieves� and brutally tried to break up the protest.

Privatisation � the corporate invasion of Iraq

US Labor Against the War has just produced an excellent report on the privatization of Iraq. The report describes how Iraqis, before the Saddam Hussein regime came to power, had a long history of workplace organization and struggle. They lament the fact that companies invited in to take part in the �restructuring� or Iraq have little or no record of union recognition. On the contrary, if Iraqi post offices pasted posters of corporate criminals, then most of the firms identified in this report would be prominently displayed. However, the authors recognize the stirrings that are already taking place amongst workers in Iraq, demonstrations against the selection of corrupt managers, resistance to the occupations and demands for decent services and wages, and call on the international labour movement to unite in resistance to this unjust occupation. Below are just a few of the examples available from the report.

Halliburton (& subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root) � Awarded a 2-year contract to fight oil fires in Iraq with a value of $7 billion. The contract includes pumping and distributing Iraqi oil. Also have a 5-year $37 million contract for building permanent holding cells for illegally held detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a 10-year exclusive contract to supply logistics to the US Army worldwide and a cost-reimbursable contract valued in excess of $100 million for the construction of a new US Embassy in Kabul.

Former CEO Dick Cheney is the current US vice president, while at the helm he sold $73 million worth of oil equipment and services to Iraq (under Hussein!!). Only 10 of its 530 US sites have workers under union contract.

Bechtel Inc � Awarded the �plum� of postwar contracts � rebuilding power plants, electrical grids, water and sewage systems, airport facilities, and rebuilding the port of Umm Qasr (the one which fell to US forces about 15 times!). George Shultz (secretary of State under Regan) was company president for 8 years. He sent Donald Rumsfeld (current Defence Secretary) to Iraq in 1983 to lobby, unsuccessfully, for an Iraqi-Jordan pipeline that Bechtel would build. Bechtel is largely non-union and was involved in the construction of a petro-chemical plants for the Hussein regime just 4 months after the gassing of the Kurds at Halabja. One of the top 10 water privatisers in the world. It sued Bolivia for $25 million in lost profits after the Bolivian people prevented a hike in water prices. Listed for 730 incidents of hazardous waste spills on the US�s Environment Protection Agency�s database.

DynCorp � awarded a multi-million dollar contract to advise the Iraqis on setting up law enforcement. Estimates it will recoup up to $50 million for the first year of the contract. Board member General Michael Carns served as chief administrative aide to Colin Powell during the first Bush administration. DynCorp has 88 aircraft and 307 employees involved in Plan Colombia with planes flying regular defoliation missions over coca crops. Employees recently involved in a prostitution ring scandal in Bosnia as well as drug running between Colombia and Florida.

Resistance � in Iraq, amongst US soldiers and across the world

Resistance in Iraq is taking many forms � not all of it armed resistance. Hundreds continue to demonstrate against the treatment of the unemployed, while thousands have gathered in angry demonstrations at the protracted electricity, gas and water shortages, at the sell-off of their country and at the occupation itself.

As mentioned above, more US soldiers have no been killed in the �post-war� period than during the initial bombing campaign. Attacks on US forces are taking place at an average of 10-25 per day. Contrary to US propaganda, fewer than a third of Iraqis believe that the armed attacks on coalition forces are attributable for former Ba�athists. More and more, the dividing line in Iraq is not religious or tribal, but a line between those who support the occupation and those who do not. Comparisons have been made to the 1920 revolt against the British Empire (who had ended the Ottoman domination of Iraq but reneged on all promises to let Iraqis run their own affairs).

CENTCOM commander, John Abizaid, was forced to acknowledge recently that US forces were facing what increasingly bore the hallmarks of systematic guerilla warfare. The spectre of Vietnam is beginning to haunt the US administration as it prepares for election. The soldiers themselves are already questioning why they are there. A website Bring them Home Now has been set up by US military personnel and family member to oppose the occupation of Iraq and to demand that the troops are immediately brought home. There is widespread anger at Bush�s decision to cut �danger pay� and family separation allowances that serving personnel receive. Groups like Military Families Speak Out are springing up all over America.

Meanwhile across the world activists are preparing for the next international day of action on September 27th. In over a dozen European cities and several major cities in the States large demonstrations are being organized.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

What Next For Cuba 

Cuba, for the current US Administration, is an easy target [and certainly if an article such as This, written by a former CIA Agent - an account of how the US infiltrates "civil society" to overthrow governments - has any credibility], a country even more devastated by forty years of trade embargos and US-provoked terrorism than was the case with sanction-weakened Iraq before last March. It has an - essentially - token military and its weapons are largely obsolete; and we have seen that, since the Vietnam War, the US concentrates on invading largely defenceless nations (Panama, Nicaragua, Grenada, etc) to secure a rapid-fire "victory" (or so it thought until Iraq, now a new Vietnam). So, unlike Iran (the US has opted instead for covert internal destabilisation tactics there), a vast country which has one of the biggest armies in the world, or Syria, which most Americans have never even heard of, or North Korea, one of the most heavily armed countries in the world (an army of millions plus WMDs it would likely deploy), Cuba's the one, should Bush and his hawks desire a convenient distraction from the local horrors of the domestic economy and the encroachment of US civil liberties in the run-up to 2004's presidential election. And, should it come to pass, they'll get away with it, once again. Because there is no longer anyone - in a leveraged position of power - to successfully challenge them ... [at least, not yet, anyway].

Must make some serious attempt to visit this country before it becomes yet another giant shopping mall ...

Flatpanel [consumer sanitised] Po Mo Image Aesthetics 

I [mistakenly] conjectured it might constitute a difference that would actually make a difference.

After imagining myself waking lazily onto an unhurried world, and then doing so anyway, I was recently, though once again, suddenly astounded by the [bargain-basement] realisation that, yeah, the world recession is indeed set to sink in even further its well-travelled, pock-marked teeth more deeply into a politically anesthesised sleep-walking consumer public: a local consumer-durable electronics store here in Dublin recently advertised a 20 inch slimline flatpanel TV reduced from euro 2,500 to just euro 300. So I irresistibly snapped it up, subsequently adding further to my knee-jerk bargain-consumerist discount-arbitrage zeal by eagerly hanging it up on a wall where a framed print of a Picasso smoker proudly, enigmatically had formerly haunted that same little space.

The experience was uncanny, and was yet even more disturbing when I "clicked" on the DVD of Tarkovsky's Solaris, a nostalgic favorite from my teen years, suddenly hyperfastidiously replacing the sanctified dead time of still-time/slow-time [ hey Mark at K-punk there's quite a few other directors I'd add to the Kubrick/Marker/Tarkovsky hyperstillness "genre" here: Angelopoulos, Kiarostami, Malick, Bresson, Resnais, and Antonioni, for starters, eh?] domestic artefacts - paintings, photographs, prints - their quotidian (re)fascination succumbing to, being supplanted by, a moving-image high-tech [alienating] simulation of similar aesthetic needs.

No. The experiment failed, spectacularly [and in spite of all those dream-land TV ads promising otherwise, their fundamental - commodifying - psychic cause]; Picasso is now back in business... [the flatpanel (This Is - definitely - Not A Pipe) now re-relegated back to the restrictive space(s) of the Computer/TV hyper-realised domessy nexus].

God knows what might have happened if instead it had been Soderburgh's "version" ...

... and next [I'm just going to have to address our creepingly pervasive - covert - culture of calculated cleverness, hereabouts tomorrow. And what the existential, ontological, political fuck is a Blog, anyway?].