Archive for January 2011
Just wanted to point out a good site that’s been posting some very interesting stuff lately especially in regard to Laurie Penny’s recent work in The New Statesman. Here’s a link to the site, here’s a link to the first part of the article in question, and here’s the second part. Go take a look – much more intelligent and interesting than anything I have to say about the matter, and written by one of the occupiers herself.
I have a bit to say about the actual New Statesman article in question – and in particular the accompanying photospread – but I’ll wait until it’s online so that everyone can read along.
(Side point. How the hell does the author of zetkin.net get her site to look like that? Rather gorgeous, really. Will have to ask the next time we’re in The Boston together…. I’m also taken with the annotated reading list – maybe I’ll start doing that.)
The group who gave you pictures of Godzilla in the Thames from the protests against the student fees increase are back with a new website and mobile phone application to help keep peaceful protesters safe.
Every week, more and more people of all ages and from all walks of life are taking to the streets to show their unease at the depth, speed and savagery of coalition cuts to social services, education, library closures, restructuring of the NHS and the proposed sell-off of Britain’s forests. These are the largest series of demonstrations in the UK since the ‘Stop the War’ protests in 2003.
In order to keep peaceful protesters informed with live information that will assist them in keeping clear of trouble spots, avoid injury and from being unnecessarily detained a group of talented young computer experts has developed a free product called Sukey.
Sukey is both a website and an application for mobile phones. Even those with older handsets can take part through free SMS messages.
Sukey lets people taking part have all the information they need to make informed decisions while letting their friends and family keep an eye on what is happening from home so they can be assured that their loved ones are safe.
Sukey invites people taking part to share their experience via social media and combines this with information from traditional news sources to hand it straight back to the crowd and let them see what is going on around them as it happens.
Sukey is easy to use and will help keep people safe and informed of the official demonstration route together with any en-route amenities they may need like wifi points, public toilets, tube stations, first aid points, coffee shops and payphones.
Those not at the demonstration can follow along with live movies, photos and accounts straight from the protest getting all the news as it breaks.
All information shared by those at the event is anonymised and the privacy of all users is respected at all times.
Everyone has the right to peaceful protest. Sukey makes sure that the experience can be a safe and effective way for people to make their voices heard.
I don’t get it. Here’s Laurie Penny today in the NS:
“No sex. No drugs. And no leaders”, the New Statesman‘s cover story this week, tells the intimate story of the winter student uprisings of 2010, putting human faces to the mob that has so terrified the right-wing press. It is the longest and most high-profile feature I’ve worked on to date, but that’s not the only reason it’s been so difficult to write.
Over the past few months I have become, and remain, deeply embedded in the student movement in the UK and Europe. Many of the young people who feature in the piece – on whose activities I’ve been keeping meticulous notes, and who are of a similar age and political attitude to myself – have since become as close to personal friends as observational subjects ever can be. It’s not a question of going native so much as finding all the other natives have suddenly come out of the forest to take on the invaders. This has stretched my objectivity to its limits. I have had to work and rework the article to make sure I was constructing an accurate portrait.
The trajectory of journalistic dispassion is fraught with misunderstanding and lies. Even if utterly dispassionate, objective journalism were an obtainable or desirable standard, I would gladly set that standard aside until such time as I found myself no longer working in a world that contains the dangerous reactionary partiality of the Daily Mail, the Sun and the rest of the Murdoch Empire. It is, nonetheless, important for liberal writers to retain distance where corporate flunkies refuse to, less our romanticism – and left-wing politics are, at heart, always romantic – be mistaken for propaganda.
Hmmm… Someone explain to me how this sort of navel-gazing judiciousness jives with her tweets and facebook updates about “snogging boys” down at the UCL Occupation back in December? Very hard to understand.
If a male journalist was tweeting about getting off with girls at the Occ, he’d be fired no? Dunno, maybe I just take it all too seriously.
(Look, I’d stop. But you should see the volume of email and the like that I get encouraging me to continue….)
From Paul Krugman today:
Oh, and the UK: was it “forced to impose painful austerity”? Here’s the interest rate on 10-year UK bonds:
There was no sign of a crisis of confidence in the UK budget before the May election; the Conservative government chose to embark on austerity, it wasn’t forced into it.
Massive snowfalls (say, like 2 or so inches over the course of the month) destroyed the UK economy during December. Not coalition driven cuts and the incredible damage and futural pessimism that they engender.
The chancellor George Osborne, though, refused to change tack despite the evidence that Britain’s economy shrank again.
“There is no question of changing a fiscal plan that has established international credibility on the back of one very cold month,” he said.
“That would plunge Britain into a financial crisis. We will not be blown off course by bad weather,” Osborne added.
Really. I mean, you can see how incredibly snowy it is in the Guardian-stock picture above.
Makes me feel a little Deleuzian when I start thinking this way, and we’re all getting really tired of social media metaphorics, but there is something in the world that loves to pluck at webs until they become simply a set of separate strings, to boil down complex networks until they become linear romances of one sort or another. From the Guardian:
Producers Barry Josephson and Michelle Krumm, who have optioned The Most Dangerous Man in the World, say they are planning a “suspenseful drama” in the vein of All the President’s Men and with the thrill of a Tom Clancy novel. “As soon as I met Andrew and read a few chapters of his profound book, I knew that – with his incredibly extensive depth of knowledge – it would enable us to bring a thought-provoking thriller to the screen,” Krumm told Variety.
Makes me think (again, I know, enough with the social networking stuff) of a twitter feed vs. a police horse charge, the algorithm that runs YouTube vs. a battle scene in War and Peace. There must be other ways to tell such stories – wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world in which they were told otherwise and better?
(BTW: quite funny, the results that come of Google image searching “the most dangerous man in the world.”)
Data published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service reveal that 210,022 people – about a third of applicants – were not accepted on to university courses last autumn.The number of UK students accepted fell by 0.8 per cent, but non-European Union places rose by 12.4 per cent.
EU student numbers, which are subject to the same strict cap on places as UK ones, also went up.
The Ucas figures reveal the final picture of those who applied to start university in 2010.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Record numbers of students missed out on a university place because the government refused to fund sufficient places and that trend is set to continue this summer. After the government axed the education maintenance allowance, these figures are a reminder of the rationing of opportunity at the higher education level as well.
“The foreign market is a lucrative one for UK universities and these figures suggest that UK students are now disproportionately missing out on places.”
There was a 27.8 per cent increase in the number of students coming from China.
Again, just to reiterate: I have absolutely no problem with the admission of international students and, if the world were perfect, one would teach a randomized mix of students ingathered from everywhere. I’m, after all, a foreigner myself. That’s not the issue. What is the issue is shifting from merit to money as the primary determinate of who gets places – or rather, of what places are available in the first place. Non-EU students pay more, therefore universities who can manage it are shifting their provision toward programmes that attract non-EU students (say, interdisciplinary MAs rather than hardcore single subject BAs). The article continues:
Paul Marshall, executive director of the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities, said: “Higher education is one of the UK’s most successful export industries and today’s figures show that it is going from strength to strength.
Never in my wildest dreams, while I was doing my PhD, did I think I’d be a part of a dying nation’s “most successful export industry.” But, true to form, I did receive an email the other day soliciting applications to work for a new branch campus in Qatar. Comes with a free apartment and car. No salary increase though – the fact that Qatar charges no income tax is supposed to serve as the enticing “raise.”
A good piece from Owen Hatherley on the Festival(s) of Britain – both the old one and the new one that’s ostensibly on its way – and austerity in the Guardian‘s Comment is Free. Here’s a bit:
In their rhetoric of belt-tightening, in the ludicrous notion that “we’re all in this together”, the millionaires’ austerity government is tapping into something that predates it, but which accompanied the start of the financial crisis in 2008. Since then, an austerity nostalgia has been rife among the middle class: in the wartime aesthetics of Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food; in retro-modernist CCTV posters; most of all in the phenomenal success of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. At the Festival Hall’s shop, it can sometimes seem like you’re in a 1940s theme park, with all manner of austere rationing-era ephemera for sale. It hinges on the somewhat gross analogy between our predicament and the blitz, or the rationing that lasted well into the 50s – the “blitz spirit” attendant on every transport disruption or tube strike. Cameron’s government has consciously appealed to this trend.
Interesting phrasing in this from the NYT on the MTV adaptation of the UK show Skins:
“Skins” is a calculated risk by MTV which is eager to get into the scripted programming business.
I wonder what effect it would have if those who would write fiction tried instead to write “scripted programming.” The former seems – and this phrasing shows it – more and more anomalous and out of sync with the way things are.
1. According to Bloomsberg Businessweek, “In 2010, the U.S. added 937,000 jobs; Foxconn, the Taiwan-based maker of nearly every consumer product you wanted this year, added 300,000.” But on the other hand, from another article in the same magazine,
Ah Wei has an explanation for Foxconn Technology Group Chairman Terry Gou as to why some of his workers are committing suicide at the company’s factory near the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.
“Life is meaningless,” said Ah Wei, his fingernails stained black with the dust from the hundreds of mobile phones he has burnished over the course of a 12-hour overnight shift. “Everyday, I repeat the same thing I did yesterday. We get yelled at all the time. It’s very tough around here.”
Among other things, Foxconn manufactures the iPhone and the iPad for Apple.
Further, China moved at the end of 2010 to limit its exports of the “rare earth metals” whose supply it almost entirely controls and which are necessary for the production of most electronic devices so as, it seems, to protect its share of the manufacturing market as its workforce begins to expect ever higher wages. In other words, if there’s fancy strange rocks hiding in the engine room of your Device, they’re likely going to have to be made in China for the foreseeable future.
2. On the other hand, the guy who made the art installation pictured above – which seems to me about the most sublimely appropriate artistic representation of the global economy imaginable – had his studio demolished in Shanghai last week.
Chinese demolition workers have torn down the Shanghai studio of the artist Ai Weiwei – a move he says is linked to his political activism.
Mr Ai said the demolition crews arrived without warning on Tuesday and flattened the building within a day.
He originally had permission to build the studio, but later officials ordered it to be destroyed, saying he had failed to follow planning procedures.
Mr Ai has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of China’s leaders.
The work pictured above is “Sunflower Seeds,” which was recently on display in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. Here’s the description from the Tate’s website:
Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain.
Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.
Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.
Without getting all Pater-before-La-Gioconda on you, I hope that you can even vaguely imagine the overwhelming power – at once critical and, well, crushingly aesthetic in some sort of very old fashioned sort of sense – of seeing this work. When the visual titanicness of the display meets your recognition that each of the 100,000,000 seeds was painstakingly handpainted by human beings working for a wage, one comes as close as one can – as I ever have – to a painfully concrete yet at the same time marvellously abstract sense of the absurd scales, absurdly tipped scales, that orchestrate our world today.
3. Francis Fukuyama, Sisyphusianly obligated to revise forever his early call of time at the pub of history (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), has recently written a piece for the FT titled “US democracy has little to teach China.” Here’s an extract:
The most important strength of the Chinese political system is its ability to make large, complex decisions quickly, and to make them relatively well, at least in economic policy. This is most evident in the area of infrastructure, where China has put into place airports, dams, high-speed rail, water and electricity systems to feed its growing industrial base. Contrast this with India, where every new investment is subject to blockage by trade unions, lobby groups, peasant associations and courts. India is a law-governed democracy, in which ordinary people can object to government plans; China’s rulers can move more than a million people out of the Three Gorges Dam flood plain with little recourse on their part.
Nonetheless, the quality of Chinese government is higher than in Russia, Iran, or the other authoritarian regimes with which it is often lumped – precisely because Chinese rulers feel some degree of accountability towards their population. That accountability is not, of course, procedural; the authority of the Chinese Communist party is limited neither by a rule of law nor by democratic elections. But while its leaders limit public criticism, they do try to stay on top of popular discontents, and shift policy in response. They are most attentive to the urban middle class and powerful business interests that generate employment, but they respond to outrage over egregious cases of corruption or incompetence among lower-level party cadres too.
Fukuyama focuses, as he would, on autocratic China’s ability to force infrastructral development and to please it’s new and growing – yet still demographically insignificant – urban middle classes. The infrastructure is important sure, and the middle classes may well be happy with the fruits of upward mobility, but we all know that the real competitive advantage – and human cost – of China’s “democracy deficit” is the fact that it is able to manipulate its internal labour market and keep its currency artificially weak, thus keeping standards of living artificially depressed.
Despite the fact that Fukuyama stages his piece as a question begging affair -
During the 1989 Tiananmen protests, student demonstrators erected a model of the Statue of Liberty to symbolise their aspirations. Whether anyone in China would do the same at some future date will depend on how Americans address their problems in the present.
- the title gives the game away. Fukuyama hasn’t really described a question so much as yet another equipoised situation, a roadmap of the configuration that, whatever the grumbling of our leaders, is basically the baserock foundation of our current and miserable status quo.
4. What causes Foxconn workers to kill themselves is that which permits Foxconn alone to add a third of the number of jobs as the entire US economy in 2010 is that which depresses wages around the world, and is that which renders Ai Weiwei obnoxious to the PRC, and is that which sanctions the race to the bottom that we’re all suffering through, the rise in in what the BBC was chirping away this morning about as the “misery index.”
We are suffering separately, and somewhat differently now. The ebb tide of the economic cycle is rapidly lowering all of our boats – our separate little skiffs that float on the sea of production. Would that we could figure out how to suffer, and thus perhaps to alleviate the suffering, together.
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory:
The whole problem that occupies us comes from the fact that we imagine perception to be a kind of photographic view of things, taken from a fixed point by that special apparatus which is called an organ of perception – a photograph which would then be developed in the brain matter by some unknown chemical and psychical process of elaboration. But is it not obvious that the photograph, if photograph there be, is already taken, already developed in the very heart of things and at all the points of space?
The knowing non-surprise that comes of seeing this sort of thing, but still of course always a trace of shock. The fashion shoot was planned, no doubt, with nearly as much rigor as the demonstrations themselves – planned to capitalize, quite literally, on what seemed to be a nearly sudden outbreak of contingency in the heart of the metropolis. But no doubt, like the cops, the editorial staff too was watching the twitter feeds, setting up dummy facebook accounts to know what was happening and when and where.
(Image from a Vice Magazine fashion spread set at the recent London demonstrations.