Friday, September 30, 2005

The demolition of utopia

Today's Guardian has an article about the decline and demolition of some of the avant-garde architectural masterpieces that went up in Moscow in the heady years after the 1917 revolution. Read it and weep.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Giant squid filmed for the first time

I used to be terrified of these when I was a kid, probably because the artists' impressions you used to get in books with titles like MONSTERS OF THE DEEP were so fanciful (squids wrapping themselves round the hulls of large ships and capsizing them, etc). Now we've finally got pictures of a real giant squid - not quite a kraken-sized monster, but still pretty extraordinary.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Graham Lindsay's Ecosystems

My essay 'Poem as Ecosystem: Five Meandering Notes on Graham Lindsay' is online at the Titus Books website (the size of the text in the quotations will make a nice test for your eyesight). The essay is part of my rather torturous attempt to create a Marxist approach to the reading of New Zealand literature. For a little background on Graham Lindsay, and a cool photo (a friend comments 'He looks like a shaman!'), go here.

The loneliness of the far left leafleteer

Scroll down to the second of this set of photos from yesterday's 10,000-strong anti-war demonstration in London.
Ah, I know how the poor bloke's feeling!

But the global day of protest against the ocupation of Iraq seems on the whole to have been a great success - here's a set of photos from the demonstration in Washington DC, which was the largest in the US since the invasion of Iraq.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Snapshots from Venezuela

Events continue apace in Venezuela, with those of us stationed down here in the South Seas forced to use the internet and the occasional item in the offline media to keep track. It is interesting that in recent weeks the changes that Venezuela is experiencing have begun to receive some attention from New Zealand's mass media, courtesy of largely commendatory but not particularly analytical articles by Johann Hari and Wynne Dwyer in the New Zealand Herald. Here, in no particular order, are links to some other Venezuela-related material that I've found interesting:

The occupation of closed-down factories continues, with a Heinz ketchup plant and the Polar Maize processing plant being taken over by groups of former employees, with the apparent approval of the government. Venezuela's Attorney General appears nervous, however.

Idle farmland has been another target for occupation and nationalisation. To date, far more farms have been occupied than nationalised, or even slated for nationalisation. A summary of the work of the National Lands Institute - a body which some peasants' groups condemn for its slow progress in approving nationalisation - can be found here.

As one might expect, many members of Venezuela's bourgeoisie are less than chuffed with all these takeovers of private property, even if some of them seem cowed into silence, or at least more muted criticism, by the immense popularity of the measures.

Land reform is a project being undertaken in the cities, as well as the countryside, as this report on the first meeting of the United Land Committees delegates shows. The co-operatives at work renewing the barrios in the big cities resemble some of the agricultural co-ops and collective farms that have already been established on occupied and nationalised land in the countryside.

How can we make sense of these changes, and the wider phenomenon of what is increasingly being called the 'Bolivarian socialist revolution'? Anyone wanting to try to answer this question ought to read the fascinating first-hand accounts of recent visits to Venezuela by Ramon Samblas and Josh Saxe. I'll give my own answer in a later post.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Dancing and pissing on the President's grave

Looks like a fun thing to do. Pity about the bloke's religious beliefs...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

What's next?

I helped to put together this statement on the aftermath of the election.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I'm putting a peg on my nose today

and voting for Labour. Find out why here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Abdul Qadir turns fifty

Everyone knows Shane Warne, but who remembers Abdul Qadir? Cricketnet does, at least - they're celebrating the man's fiftieth birthday.

And who can have anything but reverence for a man who is able to say 'Leg spin was like a love affair for me, like you would have with a woman. I used to sleep with the ball by my side at night'?!?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The dialectics of cricketing dominance

As I type this post the fifth day of the Fifth Test between Australia and England continues, and it begins to look like England will manage to secure the draw that will give them a 2-1 series victory, and end almost two decades of Aussie cricketing dominance. I saw some footage from the Oval yesterday, and a bloke in the crowd was wearing a T shirt which read 'I SUPPORT TWO TEAMS - NEW ZEALAND AND ANYONE PLAYING AUSTRALIA'. My sentiments exactly.

A great deal has been written about the latest Ashes series, but not much of it bears any resemblance to an article which appears in the latest Weekly Worker, under the headline 'Raking the Ashes of English Socialism'. Referencing the great Marxist thinker and cricket nut - he was a West Indian, after all - CLR James, Lawrence Parker's article argues that England's new, adventurous style of play echoes changes in British society and their profoundly contradictory consequences. Fascinating stuff which you can check out here.

Monday, September 12, 2005

From Katrina to Dialectics

If anyone is puzzled by Rosa/Red Menace's comments under the previous post here, she's referring to a discussion in the comments box under this article at Lenin's Tomb, a discussion which was supposed to be about Hurricane Katrina but somehow or other drifted onto the weighty subject of Marxist dialectics. Not that the drift is necessarily a bad thing - I think a lot can be said for a blog which can deal with grunty political polemic and airy-fairy theoretical stuff in one discussion thread.

If anyone has a spare couple of hours and wants to know what the #@!!! Marxist dialectics is, check out this superb summary by Bertell Ollman, Professor of Politics at New York University and designer of the boardgame sensation Class Struggle is the Name of the Game. Ollman might not convince you, but he is sure to change the way you think about the way you think.

If grunty agitprop is what you feel like, check out redrave's article on the socialist solution to the humanitarian crisis that Katrina has caused.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

brief #32 online (well, some of it)

Samples from the most recent issue of brief, the disreputable literary journal of which I recently became managing editor, are now available at the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre. As I mentioned in an earlier post, brief #32 was dedicated to Joanna Paul, the painter, poet, pioneering feminist, and environmental activist who died tragically and unnecessarily in Rotorua a couple of years ago.

NZEPC showcases a couple of lovely memoirs by Leicester Kyle and Bernadette Hall. For a neat visual tribute to Joanna, check out my mate Hamish Dewe's 'Blessings on Morandi'.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Green Zone for New Orleans?

Nicholas Von Hoffman has a suggestion:

"Iraqis watching the New Orleans drama unfold are suggesting that a section of the city be found which is still dry and not on fire which can be designated a Green Zone. There a little city within a city can be set up with running water, lights, toilets, air conditioning and a mess hall suitable for entertaining visiting politicians and anchormen. The New Orleans Green Zone will have a press room with a raised platform from which government spokespersons can dispense inaccurate and/or meaningless statistics, laughable predictions of progress to come, babble about boots on the ground and praise for the military for bringing democracy and women’s rights to the water logged city."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It woz God wot done it!

Or is Franklin Graham just a good argument for atheism? You can read the man's deathless response to the catastrophe in New Orleans here.

Other Americans have different ideas, and are organising a 'Justice for the Victims of Katrina' campaign which calls for money intended for the war in Iraq to be diverted to Louisiana and Mississippi. Read about it here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hands off Tonga

This is the text of a leaflet distributed at Saturday's march in Auckland in support of the Tongan trade unionists. The message has dated a little, but remains valuable...

Solidarity with the PSA Strikers!
NZ and Australia Hands Off!
For a Popular Constituent Assembly!

The refusal of the Public Service Association workers to accept a New Zealand-brokered deal is to be commended. The NZ and Australia governments have an interest in maintaining the control of the Monarchy over the economy, or course with some token democratic 'reforms', so that the profits of the multinational corporations are protected.

No Compromise!

Phil Goff and Keith Locke agree that it is possible to come to a compromise between the people and the Monarchy. But this compromise is only possible on the terms of the ruling class and will not change the sytem for the benefit of the people.

The Public Service Association workers refusal to do a deal with the Monarchy that required them to accept arbitration in advance is to be commended. It shows that the workers know that arbitration will leave the Monarchy all powerful and not change the real causes of the poverty of the workers.

We think that this proves that the workers must not compromise with the Monarchy as it exists today as a ruling class that exploits the working class to enrich itself and its overseas backers.

Struggle against the class system!

The recent pay deal is only a symptom of this class system where the Monarchy acts as agents of international capital to profit from the privatisation of Tongan assets and to super-exploit the labour of the commoners.

This means that the wealth cannot be redistributed to the people who produce the wealth without the Monarchy's control of the economy being taken over by the people and the wealth being redistributed according to the people's needs.

We support the demand for a referendum to make all the MPs elected by the people, as put forward by the pro-democracy movement. However, this is a reform of the exising constitution and does not directly challenge the rule of the Monarchy over parliament.

For a Popular Constituent Assembly!

The PSA workers have shown that the current wage crisis is only a symptom of the class system in Tonga. By holding out for a 60-70-80% wage increase they are leading the challenge to replace the Monarchy's power with the power of the people.

The only way that this can happen is for the strikers to lead the people in the demand to hold a Constituent Assembly based on universal suffrage to debate and decide on a new constitution and a new Tonga ruled by the people for the people.

Communist Workers Group
PO Box 6595 Auckland
mobile 025 280 0080

More on Tonga

There's a short report on the settlement of the Tongan civil servants' strike here.

Most of the mainstream media in New Zealand seemed to see the strike as some sort of curious little local incident, unrelated to any important issue facing New Zealanders, let alone people living outside the South Pacific. Much of the coverage that I saw implied that the dispute would never have arisen, if only the silly old King of Tonga had come to his senses and diverted the money going to fund the decadent lifestyles of his family members toward better causes. A few less cream pies and tins of caviar for the King, and a few less parties and penthouse Sydney and Auckland apartments for his sons, and the dispute could be easily ironed out, some of the more jocular reports seemed to suggest.

Such a view ignores the profound influence on Tonga of international capital, and its representatives in the governments of Australia and New Zealand, the International Monetary Fund, and the government of the United States. If we want to understand why the strike lasted so long, and was fought so bitterly, we must look not at the greed and recalcitrance of the King, but at the shadow of imperialism that hangs over Tonga. The fact is that, whatever the King's atitude was toward the strikers, the ability of his government to accede to their demands was and will remain severely limited by outside control of the Tongan economy.

Australia used this year's Pacific leaders forum to insist that future economic aid to small island states like Tonga would be tied to the 'reform' of these countries' economies. In neo-liberal speak, 'reform' invariably means the sort of deep cuts to state spending and a shrinking of the state that brought the Solomon Islands to its knees last year, and is currently laying waste to Papua New Guinea's economy. The attempts of the Howard government to force IMF 'reforms' on countries like Tonga are entirely consistent with its role as the Deputy Sheriff of US imperialism in the South Pacific. US foreign policy demands the use of the IMF and the World Bank to force open markets in the developing world for Western consumer goods, while at the same time cutting the price of raw materials extracted from the developing world, and the price of labour bought there by Western multinational companies. Where necessary, this process of 'globalisation' can be enforced and protected by the armed forces of the US or US allies.

Of course, the demands of the Australian government and the IMF can only collide head-on with the demands of workers in Tonga. The long-overdue pay increases strikers were demanding threaten to blow out a budget imperialism is pushing Tonga to trim. The Australian government will not be happy about the strikers winning their demands and forcing Tonga to set a bad example.

I think this is an issue which is directly relevant to the US's War of Terror, because the aggressive unilateralism in pursuit of US interests which has marked the war has already been felt in the Pacific region, in the form of the Australian-led and US-initiated military intervention in the Solomons. This intervention was justified by a need to 'restore order' to the Solomons, but order had only broken down because of the West's sabotage of the country's economy - under IMF 'reforms' imposed by Austalia and New Zealand, a third of public sector workers had lost their jobs, with predictable consequences. The real reason for the intervention was to set an example for the Pacific, and to keep at bay US rival France, which had been making overtures to the Solomons government. Like its patron the United States, Australia has announced that it reserves the right to invade its neighbours 'pre-emptively', if it feels that its security is threatened. 'Security', of course, is understood in economic as much as military terms. It is not at all difficult to imagine the crisis that still threatens to develop in Tonga being resolved by a military intervention initiated by the US and Australia, and including New Zealand forces.

For more on all of this, have a look at the World Socialist Website's excellent analysis of the new US-Australian 'sphere of influence' in the Pacific. The WSWS's article on the strike in Tonga has been dated somewhat by events, but is still well worth checking out.

Where does a natural disaster end and a man-made disaster begin?

The World Socialist Website has some ideas here and here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Smoking and blogging as working class resistance?

The attempts to curb smoking remind me of that stylishly creepy sci fi flick Gattaca.

Update: the US army is cracking down on bloggers in the ranks.

Why can't natural disasters be selective?

One tiny piece of good news to emerge amidst the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.