Monday, 19 July 2010

Westfield and the BBC Security's Ban on My Photography was Not Legal.

The BBC security Guard was not aware in banning my taking photos of the BBC buildings that he was technically now on the wrong side of the law which cited sections 43-44 of the Terrorist Law as a pretext to have the police stop photography of public buildings.

In fact just days before sections 43-44 were overturned by the new Home Secretary in the UK Teresa May was forced to repeal the draconian New Labour measures that have been used to question and stop and search photographers and train spotters,

This from the British Journal of Photographers,
In an oral statement, May says that police officers will not be able to use Section 44 stop-and-search powers on individuals. However, Section 44 will remain available to police officers wishing to search vehicles.

The Home Secretary says: "Since last Wednesday, I have sought urgent legal advice and consulted police forces. In order to comply with the judgment – but avoid pre-empting the review of counter-terrorism legislation – I have decided to introduce interim guidelines for the police. I am therefore changing the test for authorisation for the use of section 44 powers from requiring a search to be ‘expedient’ for the prevention of terrorism, to the stricter test of it being ‘necessary’ for that purpose. And, most importantly, I am introducing a new suspicion

She adds: "Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using section 44 powers. Instead, they will have to rely on section 43 powers – which require officers to reasonably suspect the person to be a terrorist. And officers will only be able to use section 44 in relation to the searches of vehicles. I will only confirm these authorisations where they are considered to be necessary, and officers will only be able to use them when they have ‘reasonable suspicion’.

These interim measures will bring section 44 stop and search powers fully into line with the European Court’s judgement. They will provide operational clarity for the police. And they will last until we have completed our review of counter-terrorism laws."

While the change of rules will come as a victory to photographers, police officers will continue to hold stop-and-search powers under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000. That section, as May points out in her statement, allows officers to search anyone that reasonably suspect of being a terrorist. Two days ago, a young photographer, Jules Mattsson, was stopped under these powers.

Already, Labour Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson has hit back at the decision, arguing that it signals a diminishing of police powers. He adds that the European Court's ruling was based on how the powers were used back in 2005 and that the Labour government had "reviewed and improved" the act.
Apparently, the European court forced the decision,
'May's decision comes more than a week after the European Court of Human Rights refused a Home Office appeal against an earlier decision that had found Section 44 to be illegal.

The Court wrote to the Government that "the panel of five judges of the Grand Chamber decided on 28 June 2010 not to accept your government's request that the [Gillan and Quinton v. the United Kingdom] case be referred to the Grand Chamber."

The Court added: "The judgement of 12 January 2010 therefore became final on 28 June 2010."

On 12 January, the European Court stated that the use of Section 44 to stop-and-search people is illegal and that the powers lack proper 'safeguards against abuse'.

The court was hearing the case of Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton, who were both stopped during a London-based arms trade show on 09 September 2003. The police were 'acting under sections 44-47 of the 2000 Act, while (the two were) on their way to a demonstration close to an arms fair held in the Docklands area of East London'.

The European Court found that the two protesters' rights had been violated under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. "The Court considered that the use of the coercive powers conferred by the anti-terrorism legislation to require an individual to submit to a detailed search of their person, clothing and personal belongings amounted to a clear interference with the right to respect for private life," the European Court found in its judgement.

It continued: "The public nature of the search, with the discomfort of having personal information exposed to public view, might even in certain cases compound the seriousness of the interference because of an element of humiliation and embarrassment."

The court added that it was "struck by the statistical and other evidence showing the extent to which police officers resorted to the powers of stop and search under section 44 of the Act and found that there was a clear risk of arbitrariness in granting such broad discretion to the police officer.

There was, furthermore, a risk that such a widely framed power could be misused against demonstrators and protestors in breach of Article 10 and/or 11 of the Convention."

Conservative defiance

Already, the new coalition government had announced that it would review the controversial terror laws. Today, May says that while her government couldn't have appealed the European Court's judgement, it "would not have done so had we been able."

The government plans to introduce the Freedom Bill to "scale back" the government's place in people's lives. As part of the Freedom Bill, designed to bring back the freedom and civil liberties lost in the past decade, the government intends to reform the unpopular anti-terrorism laws that have constantly been used against photographers.

The Bill intends to strike a balance between protecting the public and ensuring civil liberties are preserved.

Over the past few years, and particularly in the last 18 months, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has been used to prevent photographers from working in public places. The government says that the Freedom Bill will introduce "safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation."

The Journal states this was a "A victory for photographers".
May's decision is a clear victory for photographers, who have united behind campaigns such as I'm a photographer, not a terrorist, and with the support of the Amateur Photographer and British Journal of Photography magazines - the only country-wide publication to have highlighted the plight of photographers.

"Liberty welcomes the end of the infamous Section 44 stop and search power that criminalised and alienated more people than it ever protected," says Shami Chakrabarti, director of the Liberty human rights organisation.
"We argued against it for ten years and spent the last seven challenging it all the way to the Court of Human Rights. It is a blanket and secretive power that has been used against school kids, journalists, peace protesters and a disproportionate number of young black men. To our knowledge, it has never helped catch a single terrorist. This is a very important day for personal privacy, protest rights and race equality in Britain."

Human Rights Watch has also hailed the change. "We welcome the decision by the Home Secretary to suspend the use of this abusive power," says Benjamin Ward, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.

"The government should now amend the law to allow terrorism searches of vehicles where there is suspicion and then repeal section 44 once and for all."

Read more:
So in a few weeks naturally I will return to the BBC and Westfield and other places of "interests" to take more photographs.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Mantra of Blair's "Mistake" or "Misjudgement" Over Iraq.

A response to Martin Kettle's Guardian piece The real problem was Blair's policy to America, not Iraq

"He was not wrong about intervention. It was his political judgment that went badly awry. If only this was Chilcot's focus"

Kettle, a Blairite, trots out the usual mantra of Blair's "mistake". It was not. Iraq was an intentional and pre-planned war based on neoconservative ideology, lack of democratic accountability, the role of spin and energy security i.e OIL

To say Blair got the national interest wrong over Iraq, and that Iraq was the pivotal error of his premiership, is true. But to say such things now feels like weirdly perverse understatement. The level of hyperbole has been raised so high, and the level of Blair-hatred is so intense in some quarters, that anyone who says "Yes, but" about Blair and his era struggles to make themselves heard, much less have themselves taken seriously.

Yet heard we should be. And heard we probably still are – by rather more people than some may credit – the further one journeys away from medialand self-absorption and the rantings of parts of the blogosphere, I suspect. Only 29% of voters think Iraq was Blair's fault, said a PoliticsHome poll last night. The issue plays less in the hard-grind Britain that elected Blair and his party three times and that – who knows? – might even elect him again if it had the chance. I'd certainly back him to give it as good a shot as the other fellow, anyway.

The "high politics" surrounding the decision to go to war are, of course as important as the attention paid to them by Martin Kettle and Chris Ames. But the level of denial about the central role of energy security is still relevant in the statements and evidence we have of why Blair went to war.

David Strahan has documented this in his The Last Oil Shock and the discussions Blair had with the Bush administration over the problem of energy security.

In The Last Oil Shock, the CIA was also well aware of Iraq's unique value, having secretly paid for new maps of its petroleum geology to be drawn as early as 1998. Cheney also knew, fretting publicly about global oil depletion at a speech in London the following year, where he noted that the Middle East with two thirds of the world's oil and lowest cost is still where the prize ultimately lies.

Blair too had reason to be anxious about oil: British North Sea output had peaked in 1999 and has been falling ever since while the petrol protests of 2000 had made the importance of maintaining the fuel supply excruciatingly obvious.

The British government has never conducted its own assessment of when global oil production will peak, at least not one it has made public, and despite being urged to as part of its 2006 Energy Review. But it is significant that two of Blair's closest advisors believe the event will happen by around 2015. In a speech last year Sir David Manning ?

Blair's chief foreign policy advisor in the run-up to Iraq ? noted the growing consensus that the peak would come at some point between 2010 and 2020?, while chief scientific advisor Sir David King told me emphatically in 2005, ?ten years or less?. So while the government refuses to engage with peak oil publicly, the idea has clearly penetrated policymaking at the highest levels.

Britain and America?s shared energy fears were secretly formalised during the planning for Iraq. It is widely accepted that Blair's commitment to support the attack dates back to his summit with Bush at Crawford in April 2002.

The Times headline was typical that weekend: Iraq Action Is Delayed But Certain. What is less well known is that at the same summit Blair proposed and Bush agreed to set up the US-UK Energy Dialogue, a permanent diplomatic liason dedicated to ?energy security and diversity?. No announcement was made, and the Dialogue?s existence was only later exposed through a US Freedom of Information enquiry.

Both governments continue to refuse to release minutes of meetings between ministers and officials held under the Dialogue, but among some papers that have been released, one dated February 2003 notes that to meet projected world demand, oil production in the Middle East would have to double by 2030 to over 50 million barrels per day, and proposed ?a targeted study to examine the capital and investment requirements of key Gulf countries?.

So on the eve of the invasion British and American officials were secretly discussing how to raise oil production from the region and we are invited to believe this is mere coincidence. Iraq was evidently not just about corporate greed but strategic desperation.

This article was actually published in the Guardian on 26 June 2007. Leader writers, "political framers" and other windbags such as Kettle are there to simply maintain the illusion of impartiality. Yet the mainstream media has, as always, to be treated with scepticism ( no less that unofficial media and propaganda as well of course ).

This issue of energy security has to be addressed because, as John Gray has pointed out in Al Qaida and What it Means to be Modern, it is of seminal importance in what could end with a twenty first century full of resource wars such as Iraq and, of course, Afghanistan.Barely any media article in the newspapers mention oil seriously or the looming energy crisis.

The "no war for oil" stance of the StWC's shrill moralistic platitudes achieve nothing in the way of dealing with that nor of the fact that, though the leaders had no chance of "stopping it", Blair was also far more shaken by the protests in 2000 over oil prices led by hauliers, a protest now generally forgotten.

Blair, as any leader in the industrialised West, knows Britain's consumer economy depends upon a secure supply of oil.

Mere "outrage" is insufficient. As Michael T Klare points out in Blood and Oil, the American version of high octane capitalism that even most protesters benefit from as citizens of one of the largest economies in the world ensures that oil is central the way most Britons live: the great car economy, out of town supermarkets, cheap air travel etc.

One is reminded of George Orwell's criticism of those anti-imperialists who condemned it whilst continuing to enjoy the comforts of the fruits of Empire. When Orwell wrote, it was the working poor who missed out on the prosperity. These days those who shop at ASDA or Walmart are part of the reason for Iraq.

Such consumers are not guilty. They just do not understand as no journalist is really trying to make people understand the connection between their lives and consumption and the fact it depends on pursuing dangerous policies in the Middle East and in Central Asia. The task of journalists and public intellectuals ought to be to make educated citizens realise it.

In the Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell pointed out that the British standard of living at the time depended on inhabitants of other parts of the Empire living in abject poverty, otherwise it would be relegated to an obscure island living on herrings and potatoes. The same goes today with regards oil, not least as oil has replaced coal since 1945 as the major fossil fuel.

Needless to say, there is the need both to bring Blair to justice and accountability for lying over the "official reasons" for war in Iraq. Equally so, the opponents of the war need to make it clear that constructive alternatives are a matter of national emergency.For a collapse of the oil supply over night would be a catastrophe, though Chomsky thinks that is not so bad.

Screaming "no blood for oil" is simply outraged self righteousness. Any person who is honest knows Iraq was about oil. But reforming British democracy, putting Blair on trial and reducing the executive power of the Prime Minister are constructive steps that are needed. No screaming "No blood for oil" as if this is shocking news.

Britain needs a responsible civil society movement led by genuine democrats and concerned citizens. Not platform demagogues like George Galloway, a leftist shock jock who has made a lucrative media career from exploiting outrage over Iraq whilst working for Iran via Press TV a nation which has a bad human rights movement and oil interests as well.

Protesters need to act in a more mature fashion. There has been little evidence of this. The Iraq War protests in 2003 were Ballardian occasions for bored consumers to pretend that their lives could be made less mundane by protest over something. A lot of the protest had a kind of peculiar carnival atmosphere about it.

Without understanding the complications, the sheer scale of the overdependence upon oil and having no alternative than following a group of ex-Communists like Galloway, Kate Hudson et al played into the hands of those who regarded the war as a liberal interventionist crusade ( e.g Cohen).

The irony is that those who stress their "decent left" credentials are no more informed than the anti-war left: they just decided Britain right or wrong, spouted forth messianic moralistic guff no less than Blair and seven years later nothing substantial will have changed. Except further depletion of oil, the collapse of American power mired in debt and Afghanistan too.

The link to Strahan's journalism is real journalism of the investigative sort that is needed. John Pilger is past it and was always too eager to make overt propaganda points. Everything is a rerun of Vietnam as it is for Milne and the other "anti-imperialists" who laud Chavez but omit mention of Chavez's petroleum realpolitik.

The alliances Chavez has with Zimbabwe and Iran and Ken Livingstone's grovelling before China and the anti-US non-aligned block is also petroleum realpolitik. Anti-imperialists merely support others large power blocks in true Orwellian style of doublethink.

If, as Chomsky maintains, that change begins at home then that is acceptable but a degree of "tranferred nationalism" is creeping in, where the USA's and UK's "rapacious" desire for oil is all about BP, Chevron etc and not about propping up the living standards that ensure political legitimacy.

If Orwell is going to be claimed as some moral mentor by Pilger, then he ought actually to read Orwell a bit more closely whilst taking into account that the West is no longer as dominant as he thinks anyway. Precisely the insecurity , the fear of losing "hegemony" that by controlling oil that led to Iraq.

New thinking is necessary. Alternatives to oil and conservation of supplies need to be accepted as well as the harsh truth that people in the West cannot have their cake and eat it: more oil fuelled prosperity means more Islamist "blowback", entanglement in resource wars and authoritarianism at home.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Treason of the Intellectuals on the Iraq War.

The total ignorance of the circumstances driving the USA and UK to War in Iraq back in 2003 was at least partly a result of intellectuals utterly failing to come to terms with what was at stake and mechanically writing off, as did Tony Blair himself, the oil grab motive as a "conspiracy theory".

Certainly John Gray was correct to assert that support for it from "progressive" intellectuals was posited on the belief that it was a Utopian opportunity to create a new world order where conflicts of interest could be overcome by toppling a vile and cruel dictator and initiating a "domino effect" in the Middle East.

By getting rid of Saddam and allowing the oil to flow again without sanctions, Iraq would be able to pay for its own reconstruction and become a new model secular democracy. Thus it would destabilise remnant Arab nationalist dictatorships on its borders such as Syria as people there, as in Lebanon, would demand some kind of version of Europe's Velvet Revolution" in 1989.

The big idiocy behind thinking that a military invasion would bring that about meant projecting fantasies that were purely Euro-Atlanticist on to an Iraq that had never been a unitary nation state in the first place but an oil protectorate carved out of the Ottoman Empire by Britain in the aftermath of the First World War.

The fact that Blair had decided long before at Crawford Ranch with George Bush in 2002 that Iraq should be invaded can only be understood against the background not merely of dodgy dossiers, political lies about Saddam's threat to the West in the 45 minute scare warning that he could launch missiles against it.

It has to be understood that by 2001 North Sea Oil has peaked and was inexorably declining and Blair had faced a revolt by haulage companies who went on strike because of the increasingly high price of oil as David Strahan asserts correctly in his superb The Last Oil Shock.

Historians will no doubt start to debate the origins of the Iraq War within time. At the moment documentation will be sealed up in the Foreign Office and the exact reasons Blair supported Bush will remain concealed, with the Chilcot Enquiry being a mere Establishment cover up.

However, it's depressing that even Norman Davies, the great historian of Poland in his East and West , though opposing the war, claimed it was merely part of neoconservative ideology and omitted to mention anything about oil or the number of Polish intellectuals who supported it like Adam Michnik.

Yet mere outrage that Iraq was "all about the oil" tends to have Marxoid overtones that liberals shy away from as it upsets the vision of Europe, including the UK in particular, as settled and basically functioning and decent liberal democracies. No less than Poland which even supported the invasion without a vote in the Sejm .

The outrage of the supposed "anti-war" left did nothing to look at the structural factors leading to the war, looming shortages of oil, Peak Oil, Chinese inroads into other oil producing areas in Central Asia and Africa and the threat that poses to the notion that the Middle East should remain in the Western "sphere of influence".

The reason many protesters against Iraq, as well as others who opposed it, saw it as "ideological" or a simplistic Moral Evil is because few have the courage to accept that Iraq might have been a necessary invasion if it is accepted that the West's energy intensive lifestyles and what Thatcher called The Great Car Economy is not challenged.

Erstwhile fans of 'The Iron Lady, ' such as Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski of the PO, believe that Poland must follow the rugged individualism of that vision. For Poland's New Model Democracy now exhibits many of the features of this over reliance on the car and which is evident as cities like even Krakow become gridlocked by smelly and snarling SUV's.

The oil imperative was wholly ignored by by many liberals who continue to espouse a bland belief in Progress and tended to define themselves as "leftists" or the "decent left". Precedents were hunted around for. For those like Christopher Hitchens, his "leftist" post-Trotskyism indicated a proclivity to smashing "Islamo-Fascism".

The notion that the cultural radicals of 1968 had actually created and supported an antinomian politics in which an infinite growth Utopia was taken for granted and would "liberate Iraq" from the dark spell of theocratic tyranny , even though Saddam's dictatorship was secular, was quite simply never something other intellectuals have looked at.

Few "leftist" intellectuals were prepared to face up to what amounts to a crisis in civilisation as opposed to asserting a "Clash of Civilisations" where growing global demand for oil and diminishing supplies was a major factor in the drive towards the Iraq War. Timothy Garton Ash has not mentioned oil once in any commentary on the "mistake" of the Iraq War.

That few liberal intellectuals will face up to what the intelligent liberal thinker Sir Isaah Berlin called "agonistic dilemmas" is a total betrayal of the better critical aspects of the better sections of the older secular left intelligensia such as George Orwell in Britain and Albert Camus in France.

Instead the Iraq War was literally sold by feeble journalists like Nick Cohen, whom Lord Bragg pitifully called a successor to Tom Paine for his What's Left ?, a pathetic attempt to have an "Orwell moment" as Orwell did when fighting, yes actually fighting, in the Spanish Civil War against Fascism and when he declared in Why I Write,
'The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it'.
But the Spanish Civil War was not remotely comparable to the Iraq War, unless one thinks that by defining oneself against those on the remnant totalitarian left who controlled the "anti-war" movement that one is fighting for the freedom of Iraqis instead of an armchair polemics where empirical facts are omitted.

The fact is that the invasion of Iraq, never a nation state anyway in the European sense, descended into Civil War after the invasion as was predicted clearly by John Gray. If comparisons with the Spanish Civil War are apt, it might be in seeing the napalming of Fallujah in 2005 as akin to the Fascist attack from the air on Guernica in 1936.

Such support as was given to the Iraq War by people who really should have known better like the ex-dissident and Czech President Vaclav Havel was not a sign of innate badness but folly. It was a sign that ageing 68ers were hitching themselves to the sole remaining hyperpower in the USA on the lines that many in the 1930s supported the USSR.

The naive belief, and it was a belief merely, that the USA as the world's last great hope could free Iraq with very minimal bloodshed and that secular democracy as opposed to an Islamist one would arise in the wake of a War of Liberation that would be in linear continuity with "the West's" victory over the USSR and the end of the Cold War.

If that was not bad enough, the anti-war protests were choreographed and led by those who have situated themselves carefully into iconic anti-war organisations such as CND, those like Kate Hudson who was a member of the Communist Party or those who extolled the USSR such as Andrew Murray and the repellant Seumas Milne, an important editor in The Guardian.

The importance of the anti-war movement being led by people no less fanatical than the neoconservatives was not that they constituted some vast "enemy within" in aligning with Islamists such as Soumaya Ghannoushi or the psychopathological Dr Tamimi Azzam or Anas Al-Tikriti.

It was that a serious politics of dissent outside Parliament was ruined by the presence of people who really are motivated by the urge to see Western Civilisation destroyed for purely nihilistic reasons as opposed to reforming the political system so that decisions could not be over concentrated in the Prime Ministerial executive represented by Tony Blair.

However, to cite such nonentities and cranks as a reason why the West was threatened from within and without by some "seamless totalitarian threat", as Michael Gove asserted in his intellectually feeble tract Celsius 7/7, was utter drivel. A responsible anti-Iraq War movement would have quelled the force of such loony assertions.

It was merely comical that the Respect Party, an incoherent bunch of ex-Trotskyists and Islamists, would bring any good any more than they could, as the Socioalist Workers Part mantra goes, "Build the Party" and present Islamists in Britain as some proto-proletarian spearhead of global insurrection against Imperialism and Capitalism from Gaza to Hackney.

Whilst nobody could take these cargo cult cranks seriously, with George Galloway the leader of Respect quickly absorbed into what J G Ballard called "the entertainment economy" by appearing on the cretinous reality telly show Big Brother, they simply blocked the need for a coherent movement for for political and constitutional change.

As Orwell made clear in novels such as Coming Up for Air, the ideologues of Respect were similar to the gangster gramophones he parodied in 1984 where George Bowling, who is trying to make some sense of the world around him, comments on one bald little lecturer spouting slogans.

The lecturer was rather a mean-looking little chap, but a good speaker. White face, very mobile mouth, and the rather grating voice that they get from constant speaking. Of course he was pitching into Hitler and the Nazis. I wasn't particularly keen to hear what he was saying--get the same stuff in the News Chronicle every morning--but his voice
came across to me as a kind of burr-burr-burr, with now and again a phrase that struck out and caught my attention.

'Bestial atrocities. . . . Hideous outbursts of sadism. . . .
Rubber truncheons. . . . Concentration camps. . . . Iniquitous
persecution of the Jews. . . . Back to the Dark Ages. . . .
European civilization. . . . Act before it is too late. . . .
Indignation of all decent peoples. . . . Alliance of the
democratic nations. . . . Firm stand. . . . Defence of
democracy. . . . Democracy. . . . Fascism. . . . Democracy. . . .
Fascism. . . . Democracy. . . .'

You know the line of talk. These chaps can churn it out by the hour. Just like a gramophone. Turn the handle, press the button, and it starts. Democracy, Fascism, Democracy. But somehow it interested me to watch him. A rather mean little man, with a white face and a bald head, standing on a platform, shooting out slogans. What's he doing? Quite deliberately, and quite openly, he's stirring up hatred. Doing his damnedest to make you hate certain foreigners called Fascists. It's a queer thing, I thought, to be known as 'Mr So-and-so, the well-known anti-Fascist'. A queer trade, anti-Fascism. This fellow, I suppose, makes his living by writing books against Hitler. But what did he do before Hitler came along? And what'll he do if Hitler ever disappears? Same question applies to doctors, detectives, rat-catchers, and so forth, of course.

But the grating voice went on and on, and another thought struck me. He MEANS it. Not faking at all--feels every word he's saying. He's trying to work up hatred in the audience, but that's nothing to the hatred he feels himself. Every slogan's gospel truth to him. If you cut him open all you'd find inside would be Democracy-Fascism-Democracy. Interesting to know a chap like that in private life. But does he have a private life? Or does he only go round from platform to platform, working up hatred? Perhaps even his dreams are slogans.
Such a view must have been that of those who opposed the Iraq War without wanting to embrace an Islamo-Bolshevik cause in the process but just knew that Blair was slightly deranged and that the Iraq War was being based on systemic lies and falsehoods. One reason the march in March 2003 failed to keep up momentum or translate into real politics.

Ian McEwan was quite correct to state at the time of the anti-Iraq War March that most of the protesters most likely knew nothing of Iraq or what was at stake: as a literary man he knew his Milan Kundera and the fact that these protests were festooned with what the Czech novelist called, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the 'Kitsch of the Grand March'.

Much of the protest was pathetic, an attempt by bored consumers who did not make the connection between their consumerism and energy intensive lifestyles and that Blair was invading Iraq to protect that. Knowing that, instead of dumb placards reading Make T Not War, might have stimulated them into thinking about energy alternatives to oil.

The Iraq Protest march 0f 2003 was atrociously kitsch: it was a fun day out and gave the feeling at least of being part of "the oceanic effect", some higher cause that would alleviate boredom and give errant children and infantile consumers something more important to their banal lives. There was no coherent politics involved at all.

The simple fact remains that the Iraq War happened because few challenged the basis of their consumerist existences. Neither the self styled "decent left" who supported the war nor the old "hard left" opponents like Galloway added up to much with their tedious polemics. It reflected the total sense of impotence such people had in the face of events beyond their control.

The only public intellectual to challenge this malaise has been the liberal social democratic historian Tony Judt who wrote in his coruscating Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise on Our Present Discontents, this,
'In our political as well as individual lives we have become consumers: choosing from a broad gambit of competing objectives, we find it hard to imagine ways or reasons to combine these into a coherent whole'.
Most contemporary intellectuals live in a sterile ivory tower or in "think tanks" disengaged from the real reality of the world around them and incapable, as Orwell said, od "seeing what is in front of their noses'. "Think tanks" merely encourage "group think", the fitting of the facts to the prescriptions of already agreed on creeds.

The dissenting free thinker is becoming rapidly a thing from the past. One problem is the existence of the Internet which encourages "think tankers" to try and psychoanalyse their polemical opponents, the work out their "mindset", as if by so doing those opposing their correct view of the world can be chopped to pieces by cherry picking quotes.

Worse than that are "framing devices" wherby political terminology contains within it implicit assumptions that bury within them an implicit meaning without actually saying what is quite clearly insinuated by the writer or journalist. To be "anti-war" implies not to be "pro-war" and that is clearly a Good Thing as anyone for a war is necessarily evil-except against Hitler.

But in order to frame a cause as Goodthink, all it has been necessary to do when "taking a stance" on Iraq is to use terms which seem implicitly politically correct: "the decent left", "the pro-liberation left" ( i.e those for invading Afghanistan and Iraq ) or else we have terms bandied about like "leftists"

What on earth "leftist" means shows the vacuity of our political culture. It implies a tendency towards the left which might not completely be "left wing" but is generally as good as being thought of as "progressive", as few want to be thought of as "regressive" or even "reactionary", no matter what the person writing is actually saying.

The depressing thing is that those who supported Iraq often claimed Orwell's mantle or, at least, insinuated that they were fearless speaker saying that "liberty if it means anything is telling people what they don't want to hear". Using Orwell like that to justify the Iraq War, as though it was in the same vein as World War Two, is a travesty.

It seems that too many have dipped into Orwell, a man who died at the height of the Cold War, to justify a rather silly crusade against totalitarian despots without understanding that Orwell was a man of his particular time and who cannot be set up as some "authority" or "secular saint". Or such nonsense as Orwell would have supported the Iraq War.

The man died of TB in 1950. It is fruitless to conjecture what "he would have said" because he has been dead for 60 years. But what can be taken from Orwell is his method of scenting out frauds who performed intellectual exercises as "pea and thimble tricks" rather than looking at what was the reality outside polemics flying to and forth.

Near theological disputes over what "leftism" really means or the correct "leftist" or "liberal-left" attitude to the Iraq War and the way it should proceed are embodied in think tanks like Compass headed by Neal Lawson. A Compass is a hady travelling companion to those who just know which way forward is the best no matter the practical obstacles or facts.

As Judt puts it,

'Sadly contemporary intellectuals show little informed interest in the nitty gritty of public policy, preferring to intervene or protest on ethically defined topics where the choices seem clearer. This has left debate on the way we ought to govern ourselves to policy specialists and "think tanks", where unconventional opinions rarely finds a place and the public are excluded'
Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise on Our Present Discontents.
George Orwell, Why I Write.
George Orwell, Coming Up for Air.

George Orwell, 1984.

George Orwell, Why I Write.

The Dark Art of Spinning,

It's difficult to not have contempt for Lord Peter Mandelson who introduced the dark art of political spin into British political life and created the Tony Blair product. There is no point buying the memoirs of this self-important fool now he's got his boring memoirs published.

In the dying days of New Labour after the debt fuelled consumer boom his regime engineered, Peter Mandelson returned in 2008 to power without even being elected and found again the Third Way. It was as much drivel then just as it is now. In his Hugo Young lecture he opined,

...the inherent rationalism of markets makes any role for the state in industrial policy unwise.

It is important that Britain continues to make a vigorous case for an open industrial activism that engages with globalisation and competition rather than trying to shut them out.

How it is possible to engage with abstract nouns and what 'open industrial activism' can mean in practice is curious. For if markets are rational and the state cannot have a role, then where the 'activism' comes from is mysterious.

Markets are extraordinary tools, but they are not possessed of unique or infallible wisdom. Innovative businesses, especially in technology and manufacturing, can require substantial investment.

So this could mean that the government does have a role to play when Mandelson wants NuLab to take credit for debt fuelled consumer booms but not when the markets go wrong as they have during the recent slump.

That's basically what Mandelson means in plain English. The rest is simply a warbling Orwellian corporate version of the Newspeak in 1984. When people rebranded New Labour as NuLab they knew their Orwell with English Socialism reduced to Ingsoc.

What Madelson's brand of banal waffle also proves that politicians resort to jargon because they aren't that important other than as obfuscating intermediaries between the global money markets and a bewildered public.

Government itself has simply become part of an 'enabling state' in which large scale corporate capitalism dominates every aspect of people's lives and designer revolutionaries fake enthusiasm for impersonal transactions.

Democracy is exercised merely through what brands a consumer buys and this propaganda is merely in the marketplace for cliches lapped up by those who want buzzwords to do the thinking for them.

On Alan Watts: A Prescient Thinker on Our Current Discontents.

Alan Watts was a major thinker and intellectual of the 1950s and 60s until his death in 1973 who was best known for his attempt to make Eastern philosophy accessible and applicable to Western Civilisation in the wake of the Second World War.

But a small volume he published in 1951 The Wisdom of Insecurity is a masterpiece in trying to come to terms with the kind of sterile consumerist paradise that had grown up in Truman's and Eisenhower's America.

Though very British he migrated to the USA in the 1930s where he lived eccentrically on a houseboat in Sausalito near San Francisco and unfortunately has tended to be seen as a bit of a hippy though he was rigourously unsentimental and did not approve of much "counter-culture".

With the decline of the Protestant ethic, which had animated America into a society dominated by a form of frantic and wasteful consumerism, Watts saw there what was subsequently to happen to the UK by the 1980s until the present.

It was a USA that was and is one dominated by a hypocritical Christian ethic of work in which the substance of God had been emptied into a vaguely Benign Director of the Universe and those who clung to belief that to be rewarded materially as a sign of God's blessing.

This is precisely the form of Christianity now offered by Alpha Classes in Britain, fundamentalism and the form of belief system that was adhered to by tele-evangelical and creepy Utopian fanatics like Prime Minister Blair who kept parroting his "beliefs".

Watts distinguished between faith and belief with the former meaning a willingness to embrace fully doubt and loss instead of "striving" for a God which represented an End directed system of conquest of Nature and that animates the idea of Progress.

Back in 1951 Watts had seen that the inseparability of Man from Nature and his belief that humans could master their environment and live like Gods her on earth would lead to a treadmill of meaningless acquisition for shoddy goods based on working evermore harder.

The afterlife had metastasised into a belief that endless tomorrows would always be better than the present whereas Watts said that the present was the only place to be and hard work in corporations was one way of consoling man in an Age of Anxiety.
"Human beings appear to be happy just so long as they have a future to which they can look forward-whether it be a "good time" tomorrow or an everlasting life beyond the grave....when this "good time arrives, it is difficult to enjoy it to the full without some promise of more to come. If happiness depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will o' the wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves vanish into the abyss of death"
Security might have been gained by material plenitude but Watts was clever enough to see that both the USA then and both it and the UK today were less "materialistic" but trapped in abstract thought categories in which individuals replace the stuff of reality with a fiction.

The danger was that the fiction and the fantasy could develop a dark side, as alienated and atomised societies could lead to a lethal despair, emptiness and boredom which would lead to authoritarianism as personal responsibility was transferred on to the powerful.

As with Freud in The Future on an Illusion, Watts realised that man was unable to live without myths and predicted that conformist societies based on a herd mentality and work hard, spend hard cycle and sorry merry go round were one reason why Fascism had developed.
' seems to be unable to live without myth, without the belief that the routine and drudgery, the pain and fear of this life have some meaning and goal in the future. At once new myths come into being-political and economic myths with extravagant promises of the best of futures in the present world'
Such a predicament is demonstrably evident in the contemporary UK where politics has dovetailed with entertainment and the mindless up beat boosterism of New Labour and Tony Blair encouraging "the feel good factor", though based on amassing colossal debts.

The main myth underpinning both New Labour and the New Conservatives under David Cameron is that progress in ineluctable and, as the old New Labour slogan went, Things Can Only Get Better, the words taken from a corny pop song by the appropriately named D:Ream.

With people immured in frantic consumerism, all politicians and silly vicars maintained the myth of progress which had previously been bound to a belief in a monotheistic God but, deprived on that comfort, would lead to "political religions" which gave,
'...the individual a certain sense of meaning by making him part of a vast social effort, in which he loses something of his own emptiness and loneliness. Yet the very violence of these political religions betrays the anxiety beneath them-for they are men huddling together and shouting to give themselves courage in the dark'.
Nobody prdicted the new charismatic creeps of PR politics who would emerge from the contemporary society of huge shopping malls, absurd non-stop TV channels, football supporter kitsch which affirms a social solidarity ritual in 2010 rather than just watching a game.

Tony Blair was essentially a product of an image making PR machine in which he came to believe himself a "man of destiny" rather than a rather lame leader of a nation whose creative and productive purpose had evaporated almost entirely.

Not only that he presented himself as a "conviction politician" which he was not at all but came to believe in the script created for him by his advisers and 'spin doctors' that he was some Messiah who would save the world if only there was enough will and force.

Watts was alert to the growth of fundamentalism in the 1950s and the kind of spin whereby people made God their Business Partner, rather like the car owner Reg Vardy who wanted to use his money to "charitably" set up "faith schools" in a broken and alienated society.
" ( the ) most forceful arguments for some sort of return to orthodoxy are those who show the social and moral advantages of belief in God but this does nor prove God is a reality. It proves, at most that believing in God is useful. "If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him"
The most brilliant passages in The Wisdom of Insecurity are directly applicable to the absurdity of the "drivenness" of modern life in the UK now, the "belief in believing" that Blair represented when he claimed "I only know what I believe".

That "belief" was the one that led Blair into moral crusades to liberate the world such as Iraq in 2003 that gave New Labour the features of a political religion no less that Communism, which Watts was also critical of as well as the dogmatism of some "anti-war" protesters.

Watts spoke of the anti-Vietnam demonstrators that "they hated the haring of hatred-three instead of one".That was evident in the hatred projected on to Blair and the aggressive political religions which were behind anti-Iraq War demos led by Islamists and relict communists.

What these kinds of protests represented were as much a protest against the society in which the demonstrators lived, though it is impossible to generalise about the make up of a huge demonstration, the slogans seemed to espouse boredom with consumerism.

The will to believe in any fly-by-night messiah was seen in the media career of George Galloway, a once member of the left of the Labour Party sympathetic to dictators and any power just so long as it was sufficiently anti-American.

It was an attempt to break out of this through a collective affirmation of common purpose through embracing Islamism as some other political religion that, paradoxically, mirrored the administration of George Bush II. To break out of the "false consciousness" of consumerism.

As Watts put it,
"....our age is one of frustration, anxiety, agitation, and addiction to "dope". Somehow we must grab what we can, and drown the realisation that the whole thing is futile and meaningless. This dope we call our high standard of living, a violent and complex stimulation of the senses, which makes them progressively less sensitive and thus in need of yet more violent stimulation. We crave distraction-a panorama of sights, sounds, thrills and titillations into which as much is possible must be crowded into the shortest possible time"
Watts also realised the futility of the supposed "work ethic" that was necessary to get people to desire consumer goods not merely as products but into purchasing and buying into these illusions of packaged pleasures,
'To keep up this standard most of us are willing to put up with lives that consist largely in jobs that are a bore, earning the means to seek relief from the tedium by hectic and expensive pleasure. These intervals are supposed to be the real living, the real purpose served by the necessary evil of work'.
In the UK today, people work in meaningless candy floss jobs that have little meaning other than to keep people consuming through adverts which try to be as noisy and pervasive as possible, with digital walls, constant media encouraging the hard sell for useless products.

The tendency towards binge drinking, drug abuse, and ever greater stimulants or dopes are there to fill in the void, the underlying despair that Freud termed "the death instinct" whereby we feel falsely secure through constant 24 hour diversions and the need for aggression.

The violence done to the body and directed against others was a pathology created by the divided consciousness, the knowledge that something is amiss in life but to continue to act in a way that reflected anxiety and the fear of death as the final end without coming to terms with it.

This is one reason for the desperation behind the craving for security, one taken to logical absurdity in the USA where huge churches are now connected to shopping malls and large shopping malls have become Temples or Cathedrals of Consumerism.

Watts contrasted the instinctual wisdom of the body of being satisfied with small pleasures that do not cost anything, do not constantly intrude and degrade public space with constant incitements to feel that by not consuming to excess one would be "at a loss".

In an argument which was phrased in prose that could be as elegant as Blaise Pascal or Arthur Schopenhauer, Watts defined precisely what is wrong with the way people have made of their lives in the 1950s with unerring contemporary relevance thus,
"Human desire tends to be insatiable. We are so anxious for pleasure that we can never get enough of it. We stimulate our sense organs until they become insensitive, so that if pleasure is to continue they must have stronger and stronger stimulants. In self defence the body gets ill from the strain, but the brain wants to go on and on.

The brain is in pursuit of happiness , and because the the brain is much more concerned about the future than the present, it conceives happiness as the guarantee of indefinitely long pleasures. Yet the brain knows that it does not have an indefinitely long future, so that, to be happy it must try to crowd all the pleasures of Paradise and eternity into the span of a few years'.
The contemporary thinker Oliver James has coined the term Affluenza to define what has now become a mind virus almost in which boredom, aggression, perverted narcissism, a vacuous and sterile non-culture is thwarting and stunting people's genuine capacity for creation.

Briain in 2010 creates little of lasting value beyond media and trivial music and is now in certain ways an even more wretched mini-me version of the USA where private affluence and public squalor are exorcised by being plugged into reality through Facebook or Ipods.

In terms that apply directly to the absurdity of what was termed Britain's "knowledge economy", Watts defined the totally cerebral way of living as the "brainy economy" where intelligent people used higher order skills to pursue lower order ends.

Such people-the rapacious PR manipulators, TV executives churning out trashy telly and promoting tacky showbiz values-were all condemned by Watts not out of so much a puritanical distaste but because they were pursuing self defeating and infinitely frustrating aims that were ultimately meaningless and stupid.

In a tour de force passage Watts wrote,
'....the "brainy economy" ( is ) designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse-providing a constant titillation of of the ears, eyes, and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions.

The perfect "subject" for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind that can go with him at all times and in all places. His eyes flit from television screen to newspaper to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm without release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity-shock treatments-as "human interest", shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes along with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire"
Watts was friendly with Aldous Huxley and it is hard not to see him , as well as the late J G Ballard, as one of the most prescient definers of the "Americanised" civilisation and the near dystopian futures conjured up by Huxley in Brave New World and Ballard in his novels.

As Ballard put it in the 1995 introduction to Crash,
'The marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy. Thermonuclear weapons systems and soft drink commercials coexist in an overlit realm ruled by advertising and pseudo-events, science and pornography. Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century -- sex and paranoia.

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind -- mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality'.

Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity
J G Ballard, Crash ( 1995 edition ).

Friday, 16 July 2010

Peter Mandelson: The Model for Future PR politics Continued.

As usual a dumb article written by what passes for a journalist these days called Maria Hyde has written a banal article trivialising the trivial to no greater effect than making the sceptical reader feel something is weird about England.

In The Guardian, this halfwit opines,

Eyes down, players of New Labour bingo, and dabbers at the ready. The great Peter Mandelson memoirs game is afoot, and you must mark off the hilarious reactions of his lordship's former colleagues one by one. Thus far we've had "friends of" Tony Blair complaining that Mandelson is opportunistic and mercenary, David Blunkett accusing Mandy of self-absorption and slagging off his comrades in print, and Alastair Campbell whingeing about him getting his facts wrong. The minute Gordon Brown brands Mandelson deranged that will be your cue to shout, "Bingo!"

Of course, those pinning their hopes on a full house may be waiting for Geoff Hoon to accuse Lord Mandelson of being an overpromoted dimwit, Dr John Reid to lament his wildly misplaced self-regard, Tessa Jowell to claim he'd ditch his nearest and dearest to save his political skin, and Hazel Blears to brand him a tediously perky redhead.

But it has been an encouraging haul so far. Indeed, arguably the most telling aspect of Mandy's memoirs, for those who find their revelations engrossing and at the same time merely confirmatory – Blair used to call us "cynics and sneerers" – is the reaction from those involved. How can people who so apotheosised image and presentation still lack self-awareness to such a mind-blowing degree?

In their rush to define themselves against Mandelson's book, almost all the major figures of New Labour have confirmed its every last implication.

The more one knows about the narcissistic posturers and spin doctors who governed Britain between 1997 and 2009 the more the public's disgust will increase. But this is part of the point. Politicians are, as J G Ballard pointed out, now part of the "entertainment economy".

But they are second rate even as celebrities and that's to say not very much at all.

Politicians are not as important as they used to be and are largely messengers between the money markets and the public dedicated to squaring circles and "triangulating" and crafting precision tooled soundbites that tap into collective emotions and herd sentiments.

The chattering classes ( as this article confirms ) will get trills of delight whilst an interpretation of the bigger picture, that is to say what this kind of politics really represents about the UK's decayed democracy and declining civic institutions, needs to be addressed at least partially seriously.

In time, Mandelson will not be remembered that much. Blair will because his name is associated with Iraq. Only Mandelson's vanity makes it seem that he will always be forever preening in the TV spotlight.

New pathological dark spinners will emerge that delve deeper into trying to "give the people what they really, really want".

That could well include some Gentile Fascism of the sort Orwell once predicted in his great essay The Lion and the Unicorn. Or the dystopia of mass conumerism and fascism conjured up by Ballard in Kingdom Come. Let's face it: these people are and were more than a bit creepy.

That was obvious to those who saw how Blair was carefully choreographed and presented, the near totalitarian style entrance into Downing Street in 1997, the rhetoric of the People's Princess, and slimy proteges like the slightly odd psychotherapist Derek Draper.

Politics is now oily PR or even "public diplomacy", how to manage and depth psychologise the docile masses who linger in suburbia and who voted for PM Blair partly because he looked like a reassuring Daytime TV Doctor on the Richard and Judy Show.

The future will consist of more permatanned creeps somewhat like Robert Kilroy Silk who are experts at straddling telly talk shows but others who might have a background in soap opera and encouraging the masses to shop and feel real good. The feel good factor.

All whilst the nation embarks on illegal wars and destroys social harmony, leaving nothing but large shopping malls to affirm social solidarity rituals where the only other contact with real "lived life" is through being plugged into consciousness through TV.

As an ideas man would most probably suggest Peter Mandelson should work as a Cable TV presenter or like a David Dickinson try selling a range of perfumes and luxury goods for Westfield in London.

But in broadcasts peppered with warnings about those enemies within who don't share "our values" of total devotion to consumerism.

What is Meant by "Afghanistanisation".

Morning commuters reading Metro were presented with pictures of grief stricken relatives as more British troops came home in body bags. Whilst terrible for them , Afghan casualties, both civilian and in the NATO sponsored ANA are seldom mentioned because the idea persists that our deaths are not futile.

But what about the deaths of Afghan people ?

An interesting piece by Zurah Bahman has appeared in The Guardian today on the ANA which shows the real meaning of what Gordon Brown meant by "Afghanistanisation" when speaking of the supposedly "high " death toll amongst British troops in Kandahar, through which the TAPI pipeline is scheduled to be built this very year.

It shows why the attempt is essentially doomed to failure,

I spoke with a large number of injured ANA and police members from southern and eastern Afghanistan. Contrary to the praise they anticipated at having gone through so much while serving the country, they were faced with a humiliating situation where the hospital beds and medical attention went to a senior staff member of the defence ministry who was getting his haemorrhoids removed, while the battle-injured soldiers lay two to one bed as their families chased doctors for attention. Those that sustain serious injury get $400 (£260) compensation, and there were arguments over whether losing a limb and losing a kidney both remitted $400.

While these men lay in bed waiting for attention, they recounted their battlefield antics in gory detail; some had filmed deaths of their comrades. One showed me the footage of what looked like minced meat and explained that it was the chin of his best friend blown up by a suicide bomber. There was no one at the army hospital to look after the mental wellbeing of these men.

They showed deep resentment towards their mentors. They gave each other the hero treatment while ridiculing their international colleagues for being cowards and not getting out to take on the Taliban "like men".

I can picture many of these men being capable of killing their foreign counterparts – their mentors – out of resentment, out of jealousy, out of anger over being hard done by, and not even feeling remorse, since they have learned their lessons in inflicting violence so well.

The simple fact is that Afghan lives are being sacrificed for geopolitics and the securirity of Afghanistan as a pipeline transit route or "energy bridge" intended as competition to the rival IPI pipeline which would bypass Afghanistan completely.

NATO, especially, the USA, cannot have that for two reasons.

The first is that it would thwart the longer term strategy of diverting Turkmenistani gas south to Krachi where it can be turned into LNG and shipped to the USA and to certain nations in NATO still fighting a "New Cold War" against Russia.

Secondly, the IPI would link up Iran , Pakistan and India without the West having a stake as the IPI could be extended to China, a major competitor for diminishing fossil fuels and intent of breakneck industrialisation. If NATO gains more control in Central Asia, it can retain global hegemony.

In this Great Game, the lives of Afghans count for less that those of the USA as the doctrine of "force protection" and the fact that formal democracies have to be aware at least partially of public opinion are wary of putting the lives of their troops were their "vital interests" lie.

Having Western troops die for oil and gas does not seem so very noble. So it's excluded from "public diplomacy " in the West, where the same repetitive mantra of national security continues to be the ostensible reason why "we" are there.

Yet for those who bleat about isolationism, the real question has to be how to find energy alternatives and cut down on the high octane consumer economy the West has and which is unsustainable. Unless a nation has energy independence, resource wars will go on.

Nor is is sufficient to claim that Afghanistan is an "Evil War" as Chomsky and Pilger claim, though the latter has shown the difference between the promises the USA made and the fact most money has been sunk into military solutions.

Yet instead of legalising opium, thus depriving the Taliban of most of their revenue, Pilger has merely made populist comments about how "at least" under the Taliban, opium production was banned. Until, of course, it offered a way of financing the insurgency against NATO forces

This situation could go on for decades without respite. The claims of "liberal interventionists" in Afghanistan were, in a few cases, well intentioned but it was stifled and destroyed by the way the USA has colluded with Islamists in Central Asia since the late 70s as a counterweight to the Communists.

Contrary to the myths spun, Afghanistan was already threatened by Islamists prior to Brzezinski making things even worse by deciding to arm and give aid to the mujahadeen in 1979 before the invasion of the Soviet Union. The place was a Cold War proxy ground with investment pouring in from both.

One of the most obvious ways out is to legalise all drugs. Yet just like the ANA, who have chosen out of poverty to join up, the Afghans have no choice in how their country is governed despite the facade of democracy. Those who chose to inject heroin in London or Glasgow do.

Ultimately, Western politicians will always put the lives of those who elect them first. Few politicians are brave enough to suggest depriving the Taliban of opium revenue. But, as Misha Glenny points out, this is probably the one big factor that could help and that will not be done.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Westfield Revisited in the Mind.

Still trying to puzzle out why I was banned from taking photos of Westfields unless a member of the family or friends was in the photo ( as if that would make much different to Westfield being depicted in the background if a terrorist threat is detected. )

Notice that Westfield is not even on the logo outside termed The Westfields Shopping Centre. It's now just Westfield, a district of London like Southfields is in South London near Wimbledon but a new form of community entire of itself with its own "policy".

Westfield is a place where the same boring branded shops are offered but the idea, as Ballard put it in Kingdom Come, is to offer more of something akin to a religious experience, a collective affirimation of identity through compulsive shopping and spending rituals embraced freely.
All of this was as deeply weird. The place is weird. Not least considering I was told my presence was not welcome with the comforting knowledge that I could take photos only if a relative or friend was in it. But it was breaking the code by taking photos of the building itself.

Perhaps it was the wrong kind of emotional reaction to the place, one of ritual affirmation of the new "community" being At One in their shared pursuit of the same driven goal-consuming. A lingerer taking photos by definition is a) not spending and b) not being part of it: that is not consuming.

This shows a kind of intolerance of the outsider, a fear that in buying nothing I was rejecting the shared community values of compulsive obsessive consumerism as a lifestyle choice, without which the mystique of Westfield would break down.

For Westfield is more that a place to shop: it is a place of worship. And one shall not make any graven images of Westfield. I should have been consuming or, at least fully engaged with consumption. To take pictures for free is a kind of heresy.

It might have expressed disapproval instead of affirmation. Perhaps, as Ballard said, consumerism could lead to fascism. Here could be the future of a "happy face fascism" where only positive and selective versions of satisfied consumers was the emotionally correct response.

Such is Westfield's policy the security guard who told me robotically that taking photos was forbidden. As Westfield's policy. This privatisation of public shared space means a person is required voluntarily to do something he ought to feel compelled to do-and to call it a choice.

Taking photos without being part of Westfields means not sharing what Tony Blair, the ex-PM who looks like a daytime TV presenter or other oily permatanned creeps trying to incite the masses to feel good about tribalised identities through consumption or "our values".

These Temples of Consumption are there to eradicate history, the sense of past and future and create an eternal present in which nothing else matters but the entitlement one must expect as a human right: disappointment and satiety breeds the desire for more and more.

Thus it is never enough and breeds resentment. One that could lead to lead to "elective psychopathology" , the hatred of those who do not share "herd values" by the herd and those who know how to manipulate them

That is as a herd of the bewildered who are mesmerised into consumerism. J G Ballard actually based Kingdom Come on The Bentall Centre in Kingston-upon-Thames but his meditations on these places,
"I remember four or five years ago going into the Bentall Centre, a huge shopping mall in Kingston, a town I hate. It was before Christmas, and there were these three gigantic bears on a plinth in the centre of this huge atrium … automatons, moving to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The place was packed; crowds looking up at them. And I thought, God, these people have left their brains somewhere. What’s going on here? And then I noticed that my head was moving, too. I thought, Jesus, get out fast.’
Ballard said in an in interview, 2006

What he also said of these bland generic Palaces of Consumerism applies to Westfield. In an interview for The Independent in September 2006 Ballard reflected,
"Consumerism is so weird. It's a sort of conspiracy we collude in....You'd think shoppers spending their hard-earned cash would be highly critical. You know that the manufacturers are trying to have you on. But they do not".
Literally, then, they buy into being conned. Ballard continued,

"Why do I dislike the Bentall Centre so much?.....because it's so... cretinous." They ( the consumers ) seem to be moving though a kind of commercial dream space and vague signals float through their brains. That's why it's a potentially fertile basis for some major psychological shift."

"Boredom is a fearsome prospect. There's a limit to the number of cars and microwaves you can buy. What do you do then?.... In the past he has predicted a future where boredom will be interrupted by violent, unpredictable acts.

Consumerism does have certain affinities with fascism. It's a way of voting not at the ballet box but at the cash counter... The one civic activity we take part in is shopping, particularly in big malls. These are ceremonies of mass affirmation.".

The only reaction for and against these places Ballard has mused is psychopathology. Those who cannot take it any more will emerge of of the "desert" and let rip with their mail order Kalashnikovs simply in order to force what some contemptuously call "consumerbots" to feel something.

Those who participate in the boredom will need more and more and the latent drift towards a voyeuristic culture based on cruelty will be furthered by those who hunger for violence and outrage to quicken the adrenals: hence the way rough contact sports will play a bigger role as well as ritualist and choreographed street violence and hooliganism.

All four of Ballard's last four novels Super Cannes, Cocaine Nights, Millennium People and Kingdom Come deal with the notion that the world is overcrowded and increasingly homogenised and organised for perfect order and stability in which the architecture of malls, hotels, airports and business parks eradicate historical consciousness and plunge infantile consumers into a fairytale Neverland.

And yet with Ballard these"architectures of control" always lead with their residents and visitors to a lethal psychic entropy in the nervous system in which long periods of banal boredom will give way to "the new pathology of everyday life." and random acts of violence, rape, murder and meaningless terrorism.

In Central Europe I noticed in Bratislava and Krakow that not only rollerblading, smoking and dogs were banned but also photos and, more oddly, guns, as if people would ordinarily carry their guns around with them in Poland and Krakow. What on earth could have been the thinking behind that ?

The idea that consumers would walk through a mall with a gun is curious. Perhaps it is true that if life becomes so boring and deracinatred that people will seek to resort to meaningless acts of violence simply to make themselves and others feel more alive.

In Kingdom Come, the looming dominance of the shopping mall becomes an example of what Ballard termed "the architecture of control"

"The ideas offered by Dr Maxted I endorse, by and large.....In Kingdom Come the psychiatrist Maxted observes that: "Consumerism creates huge unconscious needs that only fascism can satisfy. If anything, fascism is the form that consumerism takes when it opts for elective madness."

The fascination with Nazism in England, the reference to "New Hitlers" or "Little Hitlers" as petty bureaucrats frustrated with their own lives, has now merged with the resentful feeling people have as Britain becomes a shoddy half cock version of the USA, without the remaining charms of continental Europe.

That offers one reason for the way Blair was able to tap into the notion that Britain along with the USA could embark on military regime change in Iraq led by some odder figures on the fringe of "neoconservatism" and invoke all enemies as "new Hitler's" in what could be called the pyschology of projection.

Blair sought to tap into the man of messianic destiny pose in a very English way but the danger to British democracy is not only what Lord Hailsham warned long ago as the danger of an "elective dictatorship" but also in a fascist style type of eschatological politics being promoted by the PM's ministerial executive machine.

As Ballard wrote,

Bush and the neo-cons are driven by emotion, and this appeals to Blair. The emotions are the one language that he understands, and reality is defined by what he feels he ought to believe.

It if often forgotten that Hitler and Mussolini were experts at oratory and of of having political rallies devoted to kitschy choreography and parades and the systematic and perverted use of language to distort reality in the was that Blair did over Iraq with the soundbites and the spin.

Not having been dominated by a Nazi or Communist totalitarian regime and faced with inexorable decline from the status of a world power to satellite state of the USA has created a new hunger for Britain to reassert it's importance as compensation for being an offshore island of a European superstate which is supposedly meant to take Britain seriously as the major player

Yet, as Ballard commented,

Britain's per capita income is one of the lowest in western Europe. Without the largely foreign-owned City of London the whole country would be a suburb of Longbridge, retraining as an offshore call-centre servicing the Chinese super-economy.

In Kingdom Come Ballard wrote in the Guardian in 2008 that in in relation to Consumerism and Fascism, that

The underlying psychologies aren't all that far removed from one another. If you go into a huge shopping mall and you're looking down the parade, it's the same theatrical aspect: these disciplined ranks of merchandise, all glittering like fascist uniforms.

When you enter a mall, you are taking part in a ceremony of affirmation, which you endorse just by your presence."

Consumerism has to a large extent replaced art and culture in this country. The principal entertainment industry nowadays is soccer which, with its marching supporters' groups, is not that far removed from fascism."

Then in the New Stateman Ballard continued A Fascist's Guide to the Premiership in September 2006 that,

The notion of being British has never been so devalued. Sport alone seems able to be the catalyst of significant social change. Could consumerism evolve into fascism?

Is the English working class re-tribalising itself? Out here, to the west of London, in the motorway towns near Heathrow, a few St George's flags still hang in a dispirited way from council house windows and the coat-hanger aerials of white vans. As I drive from Shepperton past the airport, there's a sense of a failed insurrection

During the World Cup, a forest of flags flew proudly from almost every shop, factory and car, a passionate display willing on more than Beckham's boys in Germany.

This wasn't patriotism so much as a waking sense of tribal identity, dormant for decades. The notion of being British has never been so devalued.

Sport alone seems able to be the catalyst of significant social change. Football crowds rocking stadiums and bellowing anthems are taking part in political rallies without realising it, as would-be fascist leaders will have noted.

The English, thank God, have always detested jackboots, searchlight parades and Führers ranting from balconies.

But the Premier League, at the pinnacle of our entertainment culture, is a huge engine of potential change, waiting to be switched on.Could consumerism evolve into fascism? There is nothing to stop some strange consumer trend becoming a new ideology.

Whilst resident in Poland I warned that Poles ought to be beware that England, where some million migrants thought of as a land of milk and honey is an increasingly dystopian version of the future and that veneration for England is entirely misplaced.

Yet the psychopathologies are already coming here with the gated communities of Salvator Tower in Bronowice and elsewhere in parts of Krakow. Be careful what you wish for. As Ballard ends on an almost apocalyptic note,

Real power has gone, migrating to the shopping malls and hypermarkets where we make the important decisions in our lives. Consumerism controls everything, and the ballot box defers to the cash counter.

The only escape from all this is probably out-and-out madness, and I expect the number of supermarket shootings and meaningless crimes to increase dramatically in the coming years.

If anywhere, the future seems to lie with competing systems of psychopathology.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Looming Presence of Trellick Tower.

The Brutalist concrete Trellick Tower in North Kensington seems to have received a cult status over the years and has certainly received , absurdly, a Grade II listing though it remains, in a peculiar sense fascinating in its faded and decayed futuristic way.

Built near Westway and finished by the early 70s it draws a person to it in the sense of dread best described by Soren Kierkegaard as the desire for what one dreads, that breeds anxiety as it looms sinisterly over the entire area of this part of north London,
"Anxiety is a desire for what one fears, a sympathetic antipathy; anxiety is an alien power which grips the individual, and yet one cannot tear himself free from it and does not want to, for one fears, but what he fears he desires".
Today on an urban walk towards Maida Hill down from Queens Park it drew me ever closer to it all the time almost against my will from Bravington Road down to the main Harrow Road where it was east to cross a small footbridge over the Grand Union Canal.

Clearly, the tenants do not care much for the council's regulations, as the rubbish bins where overflowing but across from Trellick stands one forlorn public house as a reminder this was one a densely built working class area of terraced housing before being smashed in the 60s.

This area is really the tail end of Notting Hill, though it is classified as North Kensington, but it stands in its own way from Kensal Way as arbitrarily positioned between the canal and the railway line close to the Westway which crunches its way towards Paddington.

Perhaps this is why it is said Ballard wrote a novel based on brutalist architecture like iit with its ability to brutalise the residents by sticking them high up in a nowhere land perched above the area. Unlike other tower blocks along towards Westbourne Grove it was a one off edifice.

As one commentator suggests,

The Trellick Tower is the largest and latest of these projects, a 31-story apartment slab, part of a complex of several buildings in North Kensington called Cheltenham Estate, built for the Greater London Council.

When it was built, Trellick was one of the tallest buildings in Europe and it came to epitomize all that was thought to be wrong with modern housing and urbanism following the wave of negative public sentiment about this kind of high-rise apartments that swept many countries in the 1970’s.

Trellick may have been the inspiration for the novel, High-Rise, written in 1975 by the English science fiction writer J.G. Ballard.

The last of a trilogy of books (Crash, 1973, Concrete Island, 1974) exploring common dystopian themes about the impact of modern technology on the human physic, High-Rise is a bleak apocalyptic tale about the social and physical disintegration of a community of 2000 people living in a 40-story apartment tower in London.

Much of the description of the tower in Ballard’s novel seem to have been derived directly from Trellick, the extended height, the facades and balconies, the articulated stairs and elevators, and the general Brutalist quality of the” concrete landscape”.

Ballard’s description of the tower as “an architecture built for war” certainly seems apropos vis-à-vis the Brutalist quality of the complex.

By the time High-Rise was published, there was already heightened public antagonism towards the typical modernist social housing development of the 1960’s and an accompanying fear of high rise buildings in general.
The questions is should the Trellick Tower have been listed. I do not think so. Rather as with large cooling towers I feel weirdly drawn to them but relieved when they get the necessary levels of TNT that level them down to the ground again.

( My own photos & more commentary tomorrow....)