Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Cryptozoologists, place your bets!

The other day I noted that Nature magazine thins that cryptozoology can come in from the cold after the discovery on Flores. Seems that some bookmakers agree...


Tiny humans are weighed in - what odds Yeti, Nessie, aliens?

"Following the discovery of a previously unknown species of human being, bookmakers William Hill have issued odds for the discovery of other unlikely creatures or beings. "Mindful that at any given time proof of the existence of either the Loch Ness Monster or intelligent extra-terrestrial life could cost us over one million pounds, we have to be cautious," said Hill's spokesman Graham Sharpe, "Fortunately for us we have no record of any bets being taken for the discovery of a new species of human being confirmed.

Other 'Odd' Odds you can bet on: 500/1 that conclusive proof of the current existence of the LOCH NESS MONSTER will be authenticated by the Natural History Museum on or before December 31, 2005. 250/1 that conclusive proof of the curent existence of the YETI will be authenticated by the Natural History Museum on or before Dec 31, 2005. 100/1 that the UK Prime Minister will confirm the current existence of intelligent ALIEN LIFE of extra-terrestrial origin on or before Dec 31, 2005."

From Chaos Now (approach with caution...)

Check out the Valley Voice

Hat tip: 4glengate

The Valley Voice is the official strike publication of Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America Local 34011. We are reporters, photographers, copy editors, circulation district managers, delivery drivers and classified advertising sales people who seek a fair and equitable contract with Vindicator Printing Co.

The Valley Voice enables us to communicate with the public about our labor situation while mobilizing and encouraging our members to remain united.

We are a not-for-profit publication, not a commercial venture. The paper will be available during the duration of our work stoppage.

The journalism business has always seemed to me like one of the most obvious proofs for the proposition 'The boss needs you, you don't need the boss'. The nature of the business means that even the largest newspapers are in many respects effectively self-managed by the workers who produce and distribute them.

Read the first issue of the Valley Voice here.

Friday, November 19, 2004

In from the cold

It's official: cryptozoology 'can come in from the cold'. According to the Nature magazine, the recent extraordinary discoveries on Flores 'make it more likely that stories of other mythical creatures such as yetis are founded on grains of truth'.

Does this mean that the Moehau Man, the Lake Ellesmere otter (scroll down), the Taupo taniwha, the Canterbury Bight Pleiosaur, and the Fiordland Moose are on the radar screen? Anyone up for an expedition?

How about flying rods? Australian dropbears?

Not everyone gets with the Flores programme, according to this Creationist website. Be interesting to ask Brian Tamaki for his take on the discovery - I guess the old 'God created this to test our faith' line that 'worked' so well for the fossil record could be recycled.

Defending Venezuela

I wrote the guts of this article, which comes from the latest issue of Class Struggle. Here's an excerpt from an e mail I sent the other day, describing some recent events in Venezuela:

In the indymedia discussion I mention Venezuela. The situation there is very interesting and very fluid, though I'm relying only on a few things I've read on the net and can't really grasp it in detail. In the last few weeks Chavez has moved very agressively against the landowners, touring the countryside and demanding that they give up big portions of their estates or have them expropriated.

This is, according to the Grantites (and it does seem logical) stoking up class struggle in the countryside. Huge tracts of land (some of them previously held by the state) have now been redistributed, and it seems that a reasonable portion of this land has been collectivised (the distinction between collectivisation and redistribution into private lots may not be absolutely cut and dried, because even when the land is in private lots the peasants in some cases appear to be socialising some of the labour throughtheir associations - in these cases it may be that that private holdings are only nominal).

Chavez seems less keen on class struggle in the cities. In a number of cities workers are following the lead of those at Sidor (the steel mill) and demanding nationalisation of their factories under workers' control. The most important struggle is in Venepal, in the city of Moron, where mill workers faced with redundancy are demanding that Chavez nationalise their factory and are also - and this is very interesting - proposing to adjust production to what they see as more socially useful ends: http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1294

The Venepal struggle has attracted the support of the people of Moron, of the UNT union confederation, of some of Chavez's allies in the National Assembly and of some senior figures in the army. If the factory is nationalised it will of course set an important precedent - it could conceivably trigger the sort of'wave' of occupations and collectivisations that we have seen in the countryside. There are reports that a number of state companies are already being 'co-run' (a dubious phrase) by workers, and US labour analyst Jonathan Gindin is currently in Venezuela studying the extent to which these claimsare justified. (Part one of his report can be read at http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1303)

It's very interesting to see that the mechanism that the people of Moron are using to support the mill workers is their local UBE. The UBEs were United Fronts set up to help defeat the recent recall referendum, but Moron's UBE seems to have morphed into something which might resemble a soviet. The recent gubernatorial and mayoral elections - power was decentralised to a significant in Venezuela in the 80s, and these posts retain considerable weight - saw heavy defeats for those parts of the Venezuelan opposition which had not made a virtue out of necessity by refusing to stand for office. The Grantites make some interesting observations on the elections:

'Throughout the election campaign Chávez has used avery radical language...In a number of rallies he hasmade clear that the revolution must not only be social(that is the health, education and other social plansalready being implemented and benefiting millions) but also economic. “Within the framework of capitalism it is impossible to solve the challenges of fighting against poverty, misery, exploitation, inequality”

...In a number of electoral speeches president Chávez added to the call for agrarian revolution a call for expropriation of factories which are left idle by their owners and of buildings in the cities that areleft idle so that they can be used to the benefit ofthe majority of the people. He clearly stated that,“wherever there is a factory that is closed it must be handed over to the workers, wherever there is a plot of land that is idle it must be given to the peasants...we must break with the capitalist model”.

The near-total marginalisation of the opposition means that, barring drastic action from outside like a US intervention, Chavez is the key figure who can rollback the revolutionary process in Venezuela. How likely is this? On paper, Chavez has never been stronger. Certainly the short and medium-term danger of his overthrow from the right is gone (though the killings at Apure andrelated events raise the spectre of a drawn-out guerrilla war). But Chavez does not wield power so much as weld together a coalition - he is not a soloist but a conductor. Crucially, he exercises institutional control over neither labour movement northe peasantry.

In this respect, at least, he is no Peron. Looking closely at the recent elections we can seethat the 'Chavista' vote was in a number of places split, as the orthodox and left wings of the Bolivarian movement stood against one another. In other places the 'official' Chavista candidate was a left critic of Chavez. Ramon Manchuca, the leader of the Sidor steelworkers, won the governorship of the industrial heartland Bolivar state with 58% of the vote. Currently Chavez's strategy seems to be to really hammer home the victories he has won against the national bourgeoisie, or the parts of the national bourgeoisie that oppose him, while seeking rapproachment with the US and the maintenance of good relations with MNCs doing business in Venezuela, and the capitalists and capitalist governments of theSouth American countries Chavez wants to form into an anti-NAFTA bloc (he will be happy about the election result in Uruguay).

Hence the different strategies in country and city - in the countryside, the old decadent rentier bourgeoisie gets expropriated, but in the city Chavez is reluctant, to put it mildly, to move against MNCs' factories (Sidor is owned by an Argentinian-Brazilian company; Venepal's owner is also a MNC). Yet Chavez's aggressive response to the strike at Sidor can be contrasted to his willingness to allow at least a degree of worker self-management at a number of state-run companies. Clearly such different responses call for a nuanced understanding of Chavez's strategy.

I think Chavez wants to wipe out the old bourgeoisie, cut deals with imperialism and MNCs from the position of relative strength this would give him, and replace the old bourgeoisie with a mixture of state and army-run businesses, and worker and farmer cooperatives which produce for the export as well asthe domestic market (huge efforts have gone intopromoting the worker co-ops: for instance, Chavez has established an agency which markets and distributes any export products they produce).

Chavez's strategy is made much more viable, in the short-term at least, by the very high price Venezuela is getting for its oil. Chavez is prepared, then, to tolerate and indeed encourage the class struggle in the countryside, to side with militant workers employed by the state, which was a strong hold of the opposition, and to crack down on workers in revolt against the MNCs. It remains to be seen whether he will tolerate workers' control of idle factories like the one at Venepal, but I think it is very unlikely he will be enthusiastic about challenges to capitalist ownership of 'successful' factories like Sidor. In using the workers' and peasants' movements, though, Chavez creates a rod for his back, because he has not been able to subordinate either to his own rule in theway that (say) Peron did. The rows with the UNT union confederation, the splits in the Bolivarian movement, and the 'pre-emptive strikes' of peasants fed up with the pace of expropriation show this.

Any attempt to roll back the revolution will be fiercely resisted, and so, hopefully, will any attempt to stop its spread at Venepal. Solidarity between thegroups that Chavez is siding with - the UNT, the peasants' associations, the Bolivarian movement itself, the workers at the oil company PDVSA and other state companies - and the workers his strategy commits him to repressing will be crucial.

Long time no blog!

OK, OK - I'll start posting again, after showing a distinct lack of discipline over the past month or so. Excuses: PhDing (it's the 'business end' of the year), arthritis, increased hours of daylight, and now (this is a pre-emptive excuse) the beginning of the cricket season.

I haven't been completely lost to the world of blogs, it's just that instead of keeping the home fires burning I've been hanging about like a bad smell in the comments boxes of a couple of British specimens. Recommendations are in order for Lenin's Tomb, Rooksbyism, and 4glengate.

Lenin's Tomb and Rooksbyism are both run by members of Respect, a new British political party, or mini-coalition, fronted by George Galloway and dominated numerically, I suspect, by the Socialist Workers Party. The role of the Left Opposition inside Respect falls to the Communist Party of Great Britain - Provisional Central Committee, the Pommy outfit I feel closest to politically (and aesthetically, too - their paper the Weekly Worker often has prose you can actually enjoy reading).

I had a bit of a debate with Lenin and Rooksby over the pros and cons of Respect under his November the 3rd post (I'm buggered if I know how to link to individual posts on these blogs).
Lenin's blog is a very useful source of information on the increasingly genocidal war in Iraq, as well as other theatres of the War of Terror. Although he writes polemically and sometimes emotively Lenin manages to research his posts far more carefully than his increasingly rabid warblogger opposition. (I'm talking about hardcore S and M sites like the notorious Little Green Footballs, which offers its regulars maimed Iraqi civilians and kinky scenes from Abu Guhraib to jerk off over. Sick stuff, but indicative of the moral climate of pro-war camp, eighteen months into Operation Iraqi Freedom...)

The warbloggers are so rattled that they are reduced to creating a rather feeble parody site, Lenin's Toilet, which is endorsed by our very own one-handed typist, Jordan 'the bombing of Afghanistan was no big deal' Carter. What better recommendation does one need?

Finally, a plug for 4glengate, one of relatively few blogs set up to record the activites and opinions of rank and file trade unionists. Some good reports on there at the moment about the Blairite Agenda for Change in the public service, which unfortunately has just been endorsed by the big Brit union Unison. I've been trying to get Kirsty to visit for ages, so she can grumble in tune with the Poms! With the rise of the blogosphere there is surely the potential for the all sorts of international contact and collaboration between rank and file unionists, independent of the constraints of bureaucracy or snail mail.