Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It All Becomes Clear Now

Thanks to Secular Front, a veritable treasure trove of artwork by born-again Christian Jim Pinkoski explains verses of the Bible in case you can't figure them out for yourself.

Try this one, for instance.

Or this!!

There's just pages of the stuff. Amazing.

An Anarchist Book Club?

Spotted via Aut-Op-Sy:

"I'd like to begin with an invitation. The most interesting and pleasurable book I've read over the last year is David Graeber's Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of our own Dreams. David Graeber is a brilliant anthropologist, also an anarchist and activist, and his book is one of those where 100 ideas spin off every page. It includes lucid critiques of postmodernism, discussion of gift economies, a really interesting perspective on Marx (which caused me to spend the summer reading Das Kapital), a theory of social creativity, and countless lively anthropological examples. I'm still mulling over a small aside he made on the meaning of men's and women's fashion.

I'd like to invite you to read some David Graeber with me. I'll send a free copy of the book to anyone who wants one -- just write to me with your mailing address."

What an offer!

(We've previously recommended David Graeber here.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

I Thought You'd Be Much Taller, Mr. Cunningham


I forgot that in between the two books mentioned below, I read Dario Fo's delightful autobiography, My First Seven Years (Plus a Few More), a work made all the more pertinent by this.

Two More for the Bookshelves

Filed under "Read." My last two train reads have been rather heavy duty.

Mark LeVine's Why They Dont Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil is accurately described in the review at Powell's as a "sprawling" book. Indeed it is, and by the end I was too tired to hear his conclusions. Much of the meat of the text, based around the uncontroversial idea that the "Us" and "Them" of Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis is a gross oversimplification, is devoted to stats and anecdotes, which rarely sit comfortably side by side even if such an approach is, arguably, a legitimate way of combining "subjective" and "objective" sociological methodologies. There are some telling points made, but you have to dig them out with an oyster shucker, and I'm allergic. Nonetheless, it's a worthy book and has some stinging things to say about the traditional Left today that are worth reading.

By contrast, Bernard Flynn's The Philosophy of Claude Lefort: Interpreting the Political was a fascinating read that I genuinely didn't want to put down. It's a hard-core academic text, and I had to go back and re-read Machiavelli before beginning it, but it really was worth it, and I only wish Flynn had gone into greater detail, particularly given the effort I went to to locate this book (I bought it from a U.S. site in the end).

Lefort is hugely underestimated and neglected as a thinker, even in France, it would seem; Castoriadis has hogged the limelight as far as Socialisme ou Barbarie is concerned. But he has some important and interesting ideas about modernity and totalitarianism that bear considering and examination. Here's the Powell's blurb:

"From the beginning the French philosopher Claude Lefort has set himself the task of interpreting the political life of modern society, and over time he has succeeded in elaborating a distinctive conception of modern democracy that is linked to both historical analysis and a novel form of philosophical reflection. This book, the first full-scale study of Lefort to appear in English, offers a clear and compelling account of Lefort's accomplishment—its unique merits, its relation to political philosophy within the Continental tradition, and its great relevance today.

Much of what passes for political philosophy in our day is merely politicized philosophical concepts, a distinction author Bernard Flynn underscores as he describes the development of Lefort's truly political philosophy—its ideas formed in response to his own political experience and to the work of certain major figures within the tradition of political thought. Beginning with Lefort's most important single work, his book on Machiavelli, Flynn presents the philosopher's conceptions of politics, modernity, and interpretation in the context within which they took shape. He then draws on a wide variety of Lefort's works to explicate his notions of premodern and modern democracy in which totalitarianism, in Lefort's singular and highly influential theory, is identified as a permanent problem of modernity.

A valuable exposition of one of the most important Continental philosophers of the post-World War II period, Flynn's book is itself a noteworthy work of interpretive philosophy, pursuing the ideas and issues addressed by Lefort to a point of unparalleled clarity and depth."

Next up, a nice, gentle, lowbrow read: Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs and Cocoa-Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.


Friday, January 27, 2006

I Haven't Snogged a Smoker in Years

Think Locally, Fuck Globally

For my listening pleasure this weekend.

Does This Mean We Can Get Our Money Back?

Oprah lays into James Frey and kicks him out of her Book Club for "betraying millions of readers" by telling porkies in A Million Little Pieces.

To be honest, I didn't get past the first 100 pages, but there surely must be a trades descriptions act covering this gross misrepresentation.

Too Much Fucking Perspective

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Letting Jesus sing a Smiths song? It shouldn't be allowed.

(Any suggestions as to the "undisclosed song" for the finale?)

Election Canada

Two interesting posts from Jim Monk.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Honky-Tonk Gap

A speech given by career diplomat Daniel J. Firestein last September explains the correlation in numbers of country-music stations with voting preferences during the last election.

"I then broke the data down even further, producing density figures for each state. Once again, the results were eye-opening. Not only was there a consistent overall correlation between the state's country music radio density and its choice for president, but indeed, there was also a good correlation between density and the winner's margin of victory. In other words, on the whole, Kerry won by the greatest margin in those states in which there were the fewest country music radio stations per capita (e.g., New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, New York; et al). By the same token, Bush won most handily, on the whole, in those states with the greatest number of country stations per capita (e.g., Wyoming, North Dakota, SouthDakota, Montana, Alaska, et al). "

Not just correlation, however, but perhaps also causation:

"An average of about three of the top fifty country hits each year (2000 to 2004) addressed overtly patriotic themes; often, these songs were in the top ten. Among the most prevalent sub-themes here were: 9/11; the sacrifice of American soldiers in the cause of the war on terror and the war in Iraq; love of, and willingness to fight for, the enduring principles for which the United States stands; and the sanctity of the American flag. (In this context, it bears mentioning that many country music stations, including Washington's WMZQ, play the National Anthem daily and convey taped greetings from the troops' in Iraq and Afghanistan regularly; and some of country music's biggest acts, such as the wildly popular duo Brooks and Dunn, feature and honor military personnel at their concerts.)

Perhaps most strikingly, nearly thirty percent of the top fifty songs each year focused directly on religious experience or moral parables, or otherwise featured substantive religious metaphors and language, including explicit references to God, Jesus, the Lord, and the Bible; well over one-third of the top fifty songs in each of these years contained at least a passing reference to the Almighty or to overtly religious terminology."

He concludes:

"So there you have it: Contemporary country music, with its updated sound and greater-than-ever appeal and accessibility to the tens of millions of listeners it reaches daily, has codified and popularized traditional American values such as family, patriotism and religious devotion; crystallized a common, and predominantly rural, identity rooted in these core values that stretches across "red state country" - where the vast majority of country music radio stations are concentrated - from the farms and small towns of Virginia and Florida to those of Arizona and Idaho; and, as a result of the above, reinforced the tendency in recent years of white exurban and rural voters-- the core of the New Country fan base and an important segment of the new Republican base - to vote their conservative values in lieu of their presumed populist/liberal economic interests. And Bush and his team comprehended this dynamic and exploited it masterfully.

And yet, in a larger sense, election 2004 was less about values than it was about identity. Bush's values alone could not have, and did not, propel him to a second term as president. Most Americans, including many red state voters who supported Bush, do not share the president's particular views on homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research, and gun control, among other issues (though most do, in fact, oppose same-sex marriage, per se). Many of Bush's supporters were what I would call "values voters once-removed," voters who, while rejecting some of the actual values in question, nonetheless saw themselves as the kind of people who vote for the more socially conservative candidate ."

And on a related note, did anybody see Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus on Monday night? Whoo-eee, that was some depressing television.

Or maybe that was just Johnny Dowd.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Can't believe I've neglected this marvelous anarchist resource and its equally indispensable Libertarian Communist library.

Both now have links (left).

It Does the Heart Good

To read the lyrics from a Utah Phillips album.

Spotted thanks to this.

So That's Where All the Money Went

FEMA for Kidz. They certainly spent plenty of time on preparing this.

I particularly like the FEMA Rap:

Disaster . . . it can happen anywhere,
But we've got a few tips,
so you can be prepared
For floods, tornadoes,
or even a 'quake,
You've got to be ready - so your heart don't break.

Disaster prep is your responsibility
And mitigation is important to our agency.

People helping people is what we do
And FEMA is there to help see you through
When disaster strikes, we are at our best
But we're ready all the time, 'cause disasters don't rest.

Did anyone ever sing it to Michael Brown?

Friday, January 20, 2006

And You Know What They Say About a Man With a Big Nose

An article by Nora Underwood in the December 12 issue of Maclean's magazine discusses a nasal spray called PT-141, one of a new class of drugs used to treat sexual dysfunction, and if the results of early trials bear out, it could help millions of people with sexual problems.

"PT-141 bypasses the vascular system and targets the central nervous system instead, affecting the arousal centre of the brain. In early studies on rats—some of which were conducted at Concordia University in Montreal—PT-141 had a quick and remarkable impact on both sexes; in fact, within minutes of taking PT-141, female rats were actually mounting the males. Not subtle, exactly, but effective. Non-rodents involved in later trials have reported similar results: within half an hour of using the spray, most claimed to be raring to go. "On a five-point scale," stated Patient 41, "I'd rate the erection I had as a six." PT-141 provides only a short-term reprieve

Since when was subtlety important?

What's Malcom Glazer Doing at an F.C. United Match?

It's the spit of him.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Book Reviewing As It Should Be Done

Stuart from Despair to Where reviews Stuart: A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters.

Read it right to the end. It's worth it.

The Chinese Porn Industry: Light-Years Behind

There were cries of joy and elation from the assembled press corps and crowds as pandas Xuang Xuang and Lin Hui mated for the first time in a Chinese zoo yesterday.

The rude bits are described here.

But apparently it's all okay because they were married last November.

God forbid that Lin Hui should have a baby out of wedlock.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ballydung Manor

Podge & Rodge linked (left). I highly recommend you search out whatever material you can on these two gobsheens.

Let's Not Think About the Casting Couch

Just learned that Elijah Wood has been signed up to play Iggy Pop in a bioflick called The Passenger.

Are these people totally inept or just bonkers? I have a much better suggestion for the central role.

Has that ravaged look, don't you think?

You'll Probably Find Him at the Lovely Girls Contest

From today's Irish Independent:

"A PRIEST in his 70s has disappeared from a west of Ireland diocese after his parishioners discovered he had fathered a child with a young woman, less than half his age.

The current whereabouts of curate Fr Maurice (Mossy) Dillane (73) are unknown. He is thought to have left the diocese of Clonfert in recent weeks to live with a relative in the south of the country."

. . .

"The elderly curate has been an immensely popular figure in the east Galway community and was regarded as excellent company socially."

I bet. The rest is here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Cynical Environmentalist

Norm draws attention to an article in yesterday's Independent about scientist James Lovelock's dire warnings that the ecosystem may have tipped over into meltdown and that the human race may face a very bleak future indeed.

Without being overly cynical about Lovelock's dramatic claims, one sentence from the article caught my eye:

"He terms this phenomenon "The Revenge of Gaia" and examines it in detail in a new book with that title, to be published next month."

Mmm. And no doubt someone will now tell me, "John, it's your sort of cynicism that's got us exactly where we are today."

The New Imperialism

Accumulation by Dispossession in China:

Police in China Battle Villagers in Land Protest

by Howard W. French

SHANGHAI, Jan. 16 - A week of protests by villagers in China's southern industrial heartland over government land seizures exploded into violence over the weekend, as thousands of police officers brandishing automatic weapons and electric stun batons moved to suppress the demonstrations, residents of the village said Monday.

The residents of the village, Panlong, in Guangdong Province, said that as many as 60 people were wounded and that at least one person, a 13-year-old girl, was killed by security forces. The police denied any responsibility, saying the girl died of a heart attack.

Villagers said that the police had chased and beaten protesters and bystanders alike, and that villagers had retaliated by smashing police cars and throwing rocks at security forces in hit-and-run attacks.

Residents said Monday that the village had been sealed off, with the police monitoring roads into the area to check identification and bar access to outsiders. News of the violence appears to have been blocked in China.

The residents of Panlong said their anger had been set off by a government land acquisition program that they had been led to believe in 2003 was part of a construction project to build a superhighway connecting the nearby city of Zhuhai with Beijing. Later, the villagers learned the land was in fact being resold to developers to set up special chemical and garment industrial zones in the area.

The clash in Panlong was the second time in just over a month in which large numbers of Chinese security forces, including paramilitary troops, were deployed to put down a local demonstration. The earlier protest, 240 miles north in the village of Dongzhou on Dec. 6 over the construction of a power plant, was one of thousands recently in rural China over the environment and land use, with little relief available through the country's legal system.

The protests coincided with reports that the secretive North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, was visiting the province to see the country's booming industrial region. The visit, though never publicly confirmed by Beijing, is a poorly kept secret, and some residents said his presence in the area over the weekend might have contributed to the nervousness of the security forces.

In Panlong on Saturday, the sixth day of protests, "the police arrived at 8 p.m., and then started beating people from 9 p.m., trying to disperse the crowd," said a schoolteacher who spoke from the village by telephone, giving her name only as Yang. "When this happened, the crowd got very angry and lots of people picked up stones on the ground and threw them at the policemen. After being attacked, policemen were furious. They just beat up everyone, using their batons."

Villagers said the demonstrations had begun as silent sit-ins but grew more boisterous by the day, as more people joined in. Eventually, they said, as many as 10,000 police officers were deployed, roughly twice the number of protesters at the peak of the demonstrations, according to some estimates.

In December, in the protest in Dongzhou, residents say as many as 30 people were killed when security forces opened fire on crowds of villagers demonstrating against the construction of a coal-fired power plant in their midst. The provincial authorities have acknowledged three deaths, but blamed the villagers for attacking the police. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have restricted access to the village and have apparently ordered news organizations to sharply limit their coverage of the incident.

Unlike the events at Dongzhou, an out-of-the-way fishing village, the latest confrontation was in a rural enclave in the midst of some of China's biggest and fastest-growing industrial cities.

The region that immediately surrounds Panlong is among the most heavily industrialized anywhere. It was the laboratory and launching pad for the economic reforms put in place by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, which are credited with reviving China and turning it into a global economic powerhouse in the space of a generation.

Panlong is a short drive from Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai - all large and booming cities virtually created from scratch during China's economic takeoff, which began in so-called special economic zones as part of the country's sweeping economic changes. It is also not far from Guangzhou, the provincial capital, or from Hong Kong, whose investments helped fuel the area's takeoff. The region is not only the scene of some of China's fastest-growing industries, including high-tech manufacturing, textiles and furniture, much of which is exported to the United States, but it is also the scene of some of the country's worst pollution.

For most of the year, visibility over the scrubland plains of the area is so poor that, beyond a few hundred yards, all detail is lost behind a thick gray curtain of eye-stinging haze. Water supplies in the area are equally imperiled by the pollution. The situation has become so bad that even residents of Hong Kong, whose economy is highly dependent on the adjacent region's growth, rue the environmental monster they have helped create.

Increasingly, their ambivalence is shared by rural dwellers in the area, though they were some of the first people to benefit from the opening up of the country to foreign and private investment.

"We have many special zones in this area, and each of them attracts investment," said a man who lives in a village adjacent to Panlong who was interviewed by telephone and gave his name as Hou. "The economic deals set in the past were not favorable, and many zones here have had smaller protests before, but the people were not united."

"Now," he continued, "there are uprisings everywhere."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Name-Calling Filipino Style

You might wonder who in their right mind would call their child Hitler Manila. No, it's not Jessica Simpson.

But why on earth would he then call his kids Himmler and Hess?

Burn Your Idols

Yesterday's Observer carried a particularly enjoyable review by Peter Conrad of Hazel Rowley's book Tête à Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, described as a "fawning double biography."

"Here, Hazel Rowley tells us, we have 'one of the world's legendary couples', snuggled in a shared grave like Abelard and Heloise. I've never been convinced that a love affair that ended in castration is one we should celebrate; to my way of thinking, a better comparison for Sartre and de Beauvoir would be the Macbeths, or perhaps Bill and Hillary Clinton. They were a hard-boiled, predatory pair, joined in a political alliance - co-dependents perhaps (as therapists might say), but not lovers."

Not sure who should be more insulted.

Intellectual Curiosity on the Web. Wow!

Ed Rooksby sees the light and joins the good guys. Well, sort of. More important, he's willing to declare as much in public and has the courage to admit to intellectual fallibility. I'm most impressed.

And he uses a quote from Mayakovsky we're used to seeing somewhere else.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Life on Mars: Not Hunky Dory

Having suffered the excrutiatingly cliched first episode of the new BBC cop drama "Life on Mars" in which DCI Sam Taylor is hit so hard by a car that it knocks him into 1973 (or not), I was left wondering

1) would he try to find his own 4-year-old self (and warn him it's not worth the ridicule he'll receive if he buys that Gary Numan single).

2) what were the odds on Sunderland to win 1-0 with Ian Porterfield as first scorer.

3) where could they find to film in Manchester that could pass for something as modern as 1973.

If they answer these questions in future episodes can someone let me know as I won't be watching.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Erm . . .Gates?

A brief item by Otis White from the December 2005 issue of Governing magazine entitled "What Does a Gated Community Provide?"

"In an enterprising bit of reporting, the Orlando Sentinel looked at suburban crime statistics in Orlando, comparing property crimes in gated and ungated subdivisions. The Sentinel's finding: "Crime rates in ungated subdivisions are often as low as those in their gated neighbors." The Sentinel found that vandalism and smash-and-grab car burglaries were less frequent in gated subdivisions, but the more serious property crimes (home burglaries and car theft) were about the same. Even the makers of these gates admit they don't offer real protection. Gates are ineffective because everybody knows the codes. Some residents post the codes on garage-sale signs out by the main road. "What people are buying is the perception of security," one academic who has studied gated subdivisions told the newspaper. "What they may be buying more is a sense of eliteness, and I guess that's worth something to people.""

Just for Reidski

Photos from the funeral of Peter Kropotkin, the last public gathering of Russian anarchists (a crowd of between between 30,000 and 100,000 followed behind his coffin, the lower figure obviously being the police estimate).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Just Another Bloke with the NYT

The New York Times is worth a read today (subscription required) just for the items on the fabrications in James Frey's book A Million Little Pieces, the identity of author JT Leroy, and this piece about mirror neurons and the role they play in human empathy.

Amusing, fascinating, and in the last case, important.

Sex With Octopuses. Yay!

The December issue of Art News has a review by Elisabeth Kley of an exhibition by "king of the art punks" Zak Smith at Fredericks Freiser gallery in New York entitled 100 Girls and 100 Octopuses. Says Kley, "An unmistakable atmosphere of teen lust and Goth spirit pervaded (the show)," which can't be a bad thing, I suppose. The show centres on a grid of paintings on paper, most of which feature partially nude young women engaged in acrobatic sex with octopuses.

My, how teen lust has changed since my day.

Crying on the Train

I've read two books so far this year (three if you count Aaron McGruder's Boondocks collection Public Enemy #2), and I doubt if I shall read any better.

Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People argues that military force has become an increasingly useless tool for solving what are essentially political problems. Looking back at the Russian revolution, India's struggle for independence, the Solidarity movement in Poland, and the liberation of Eastern Europe, he shows that mass mobilization was the essential weapon in democratization and liberation and that, for a revolution to succeed, it was necessary to build alternative civil societies within the existing society but separate from the organs of the repressing power. He doesn't oppose military intervention entirely, but does suggest that it only offers short-term solutions, solutions that are undermined if the collective cooperation of the population as a whole is not forthcoming. He also takes a sideswipe at those who believe in the necessity of bloody revolution and of "building the party" in order to take over the organs of the state. What's going on in Mexico is a far better exemplar of how to make a revolution: Look to solve problems in the here and now by constructing an alternative civil society. When the old regime ceases to have any purchase on the people's loyalty or fear, it will collapse like a house of cards. (Serendipitously, or perhaps not, this argument links back to Harry Cleaver's essay on Kropotkin below and his comments on the strategy of the Zapatistas).

I'm a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut, so I was delighted to receive A Man without a Country for Christmas from my wonderful and gorgeous better half. It's a slight book in terms of pages, but it nevertheless contains all the usual insights into the human condition that you might expect from Mr. V. It offers a concise summing up of his philosophy, a melancholy that approaches despair without ever quite tipping over into outright cynicism, and tempered by his dry, dark wit.

One of the dangers of reading humourous books on the train is that, when you get to a funny passage, rather than laugh out loud, you're inclined to try to stifle the ejaculation, not a smart thing to do under any circumstance. My weeping and convulsions were met with much bemusement by the other passengers; better half was more indulgent.

This was all it took:

"I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles."

Well, it made this humanist laugh.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Pirates' Clipper

Interesting article at Qlipoth drawing an analogy between contemporary file-sharing and the old practice of coin clipping, all in the form of a commentary on reminiscences from Chumbawamba.

Can't knock it.

Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano

A review of David Bradshaw's "Fulmination Sculpture," by Jill Johnston, in the December issue of Art in America:

"On July 9, 2005, David Bradshaw, an artist of unusual means and implementation, put on an outdoor performance in northern Vermont called a "Fulmination Sculpture." The site was Mad Brook Farm, close to the Canadian border, a surviving outpost of the New Age commune era. An upright piano, a Wheelock built in 1902, would be "played to death," as Bradshaw's announcement read, "by gunfire." A number of shooters, 45 at least, one or more at a time, using revolvers, semi-automatic pistols and rifles of different vintages, created the engagement. They stood at tables lined up some 30 or 40 yards across a small pond from the Wheelock, which was positioned on an advantageous hillside with two auxiliary targets nearby--head-and-torso steel silhouettes, stuck upright in the ground. It was raining that day. A crowd of about 40 spectators milled around in the field behind the shooters in raingear under umbrellas, plugs in ears, some wearing the recommended sunglasses, watching, waiting to see when and how the old instrument--so badly out of tune after decades of disuse that it would not carry a recognizable melody--was going to die."

Mmm. Part of me wishes pianos could fire back.

Kropotkin and Autonomist Marxism

Harry Cleaver (see below), author of the excellent Reading Capital Politically, has a very interesting article on Kropotkin and Autonomist Marxism here entitled "Kropotkin, Self-valorization and the Crisis of Marxism."

Here's the abstract:

"The collapse of the socialist states and the ongoing crisis of Western capitalism --both brought on by pervasive grassroots opposition-- demands a reconsideration by anarchists and Marxists of all stripes of the issue of the transcendence of contemporary society. Such a reconsideration should include a reexamination of the thinking of earlier revolutionaries as well as of their experiences within past social upheavals.

With respect to the issue of transcendence, there are traditions of Anarcho-Communism and Marxism whose similar approaches to the question of the re-creation of society warrant renewed attention and comparative consideration. These include the analyses of Peter Kropotkin of how a new society could be seen to be emerging out of the materiality of capitalism and those of "autonomist" Marxists who have argued that the future can be found within the present processes of working class "self-valorization" --the diversity of autonomous efforts to craft new ways of being and new forms of social relations. This paper examines these two approaches and compares and contrasts their ways of handling the issue of building alternatives to capitalism. It ends with a call for the application of these approaches in the present crisis."

As someone who regards Kropotkin's writings as thoroughly underestimated, essays like this are very welcome indeed.


A message from Harry Cleaver posted to Aut-Op-Sy list:


For those of you who have been preoccupied by other things, I'd like to draw your attention to the current Zapatista "Other Campaign" in Mexico. As with the National Democratic Convention in 1994, the formation of the FZLN in 1995, the continental and intercontinental encounters of 1996 and 1997, national and international plebesite in 1999, their 2001 campaign for indigenous rights, the formation of the Caracoles or regional autonomous governments in 2003, the "Other Campaign" is an unexpected, innovative initiative worth observing and evaluating. Coming after two years of consolidation of their own internal community and regional organization, and taking place during a year of presidential elections in Mexico, the Campaign, which was prepared during the period June-December 2005, began in early January.

The Campaign has at least two general political dimensions. First, and secondarily, it consitutes a sustained critique of Mexico's professional electoral politics and constitutional order, a critique that takes on leftist parties as well as more overtly conservative ones. Second, and more importantly, it is an attempt to promulgate widespread thinking and discussion at the grassroots in Mexico about the possibilties of consituting ever more comprehensive and grassroots political networks with the power to replace capitalism and the current constitutional apparatus with new, bottom-up democratic forms of social organization.

Materially the Campaign consists of the Zapatistas themselves, including Marcos and several of the EZLN Comandantes, traveling from community to community all around Mexico and asking the local people to talk, to them and to each other, about their problems, their struggles, their experiences with organization, their successes and their failures, and their ideas for future political organization. In short, they are traveling - and this traveling is scheduled to continue for a six month period - to listen.

Listening has been a central feature of Zapatista politics since Marcos and the other "revolutionary" outsiders who came to Chiapas in 1984 learned to set aside their pre-conceived ideas and program and listen to the local yokels. Throughout the last 12 years they have repeatedly affirmed that they were not pushing their own form of organization as a model, nor were they pushing a particular political
program. In the CND, in the FZLN, in the National Indigenous Congress, in the continental and intercontinental encounters, in all these events they shared their experience and encouraged others to share their own, without arguing for any collapsing of that diverse experience into a singular model or formula. So too today.

The Mexican Left generally is interpreting the Other Campaign through its own imagination and sees it only as either one step towards the entry of the Zapatistas into the formal arena of Mexican politics or at least as one step toward a socialist platform. They see the latter because Zapatista statements during the formation of the Campaign have made its overtly anti-capitalist (not just anti-neoliberalism) position clear. The Left, of course, can only see "socialism" beyond capitalism (and "communism" somewhere over the horizon). Mexican anarchists have seen more clearly though it is inevitable that they too bring their own preconceived ideas to their understanding of what the Zapatistas are doing.

At any rate what is happening in Mexico is something most of us in other countries can only dream about: a grassroots group with the power to convoke literally hundreds of meetings all over the country to discuss the possibilities of formulating and implementing real non-capitalist, bottom-up alternative forms of social organization and democracy outside and against the formal consitutional political and economic system. Here in the US I can't remember a time since SDS, beginning with the Port Huron Declaration, was able to initiate widespread discussions of "participatory democracy", that any group has had the power to convoke such widespread focus on such a subject.

While the Mexican political class and its media are doing their best to portray the Campaign as just another attempt by Marcos to "get back into the limelight" it's worth remembering that it was the Zapatista uprising and ongoing struggles that catalyzed the grassroots struggle for democracy in Mexico that brought down the PRI and ended 50 years of authoritarian, one-party rule. Today, professional Mexican politicians, like those in other countries, try to convince people that "democracy" exists when one party of professionals replaces another. The Zapatistas are making the very old revolutionary point that such replacement is largely a spectacle that hides the absence of real democracy and that absence is essential to the survival of capitalism. But unlike the myriad Left sects that have made this point throughout the 20th Century the Zapatistas are making it heard among millions of people disenchanted with professional politicians and the failure of the first post-PRIista president (Fox) to bring about any real change as he has pursued the same old neoliberal capitalist agenda.

It would be nice in the midst of the exploding Abramoff-corruption scandal in the US, in which poll after poll shows a similar expanding disenchantment with professional politicians, if there were some group or network with the ability to convoke the kind of widespread discussion of the possibilities of consituting real democratic self-government here as is occurring in the Other Campaign in Mexico (as opposed, for example, to current calls by some professional politicians for marginal reforms in lobbying laws).

At any rate, those of us who think what is happening in Mexico is of interest far beyond its borders are doing our best to make available in English as much of the Zapatista-initiated discussion as possible. If any of this sounds interesting to you, you can find some accessible documents amongst the Chiapas95 webpages at:


If you read Spanish you can find more material at the Other Campaign's web page:
(there is some material there in English as well)

A fairly steady flow of information is being provided through the Chiapas95 listservs
(information on subscribing at:
whose archives are at:
http://www.eco.utexas.edu/~archive/chiapas95/ )

Defending the State from the People

By Graham Keeley, in the Irish Independent:

"THE head of the Spanish army has been placed under house arrest for threatening military intervention to stop Catalonia's drive for greater autonomy.

The detention of Lieutenant-General Jose Mena Aguado was ordered after he told military officers in Seville of "serious consequences" for the armed forces if Madrid granted the northeast region, one of the richest parts of Spain, broad fiscal and legal powers.

Addressing army officers in Seville, Lieutenant-General Mena said that if limits set by the Spanish constitution to stop any region from overreaching its set powers were exceeded by Catalonia, the army would have to act.

His speech met an angry response from Spain's socialist government. Jose Bono, the Defence Minister, ordered him to be placed under house arrest and is expected to seek his expulsion from the armed forces.

It became clear yesterday that Lieutenant-General Mena enjoyed some support within the armed forces. Retired Colonel Jose Conde Monge, President of the Spanish Military Association, applauded his remarks and criticised his arrest.

The Catalan plan has split Spain.

Catalonia wants control over its own taxes, to pay less towards the poorer parts of Spain, and to be called a nation.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister whose minority Socialist government depends on the support of Catalan nationalist parties, may have to change the 1978 constitution to grant some of the demands; but many Spaniards fear break-up of the country could result if other regions demand more powers.

Lieutenant-General Mena said: "I have always insisted soldiers must not get involved in political reflections [but] it is our duty to warn of the serious consequences that the approval of the Catalan statute in the terms in which it is drafted could bring, both for the armed forces as an institution and for the people who make up the armed forces."

The role of the armed forces is highly sensitive after the military uprising of the former dictator General Francisco Franco and the civil war between 1936 and 1939."

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Royal Photoshop Family

After a mild scandal around a photomontage in the official Christmas greeting from the Spanish Royal Family, a series of digital artists and aficionados have been practicing with their Photoshop applications in order to improve the original picture. The result is being shown at this entertaining site.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Proof that Texans DO at least use their libraries

Not for the faint-hearted, an account of one man's idiosyncratic approach to lit. crit.

I venture you won't be buying any cakes this weekend after reading this.


I've been a subscriber to the Aut-Op-Sy discussion list and its SPOON forerunner for ages now but never got round to blogrolling it or drawing attention to it. Big apologies to everyone.

The site was set up by Franco Barchiesi and Steve Wright, with help from Angela Mitropoulos as "a forum in which to explore the changing nature of class composition and class struggle within the planetary work machine."

As the introduction explains:

"Most of the debate on class composition over the past forty years has occurred in and around the Italian revolutionary left. While much of the Italian discussion has been stimulated by that country's autonomist movement, members of other political tendencies -- for example, the anarchists and libertarians associated with the journal Collegamenti/Wobbly -- have also made notable contributions to this discussion. In Germany, important work has been carried out by comrades such as Karl-Heinz Roth, and members of the magazine Wildcat.

In the English-speaking world, however, only a fraction of this work has become available -- and even that in a selective fashion. Meanwhile, a number of writers in North America, Britain and elsewhere have begun to develop their own distinctive approach to the question of class composition and social conflict. We hope that AUT-OP-SY can be a place where these different approaches can be evaluated: not as some academic exercise of theory for theory's sake, but as a way of judging their usefulness to the further understanding and development of working class self-organisation."


"While the heart of this discussion list concerns the possibilities of working class self-organisation, it is clear that the questions raised above impinge upon a number of current debates which hold a wider interest. From the exploration of restructuring, 'post-fordism', and value theory, to that of gender relations, notions of difference, and the meaning of development, this list welcomes contributions which challenge and enrich understandings of contemporary class composition.

Beyond this, we offer AUT-OP-SY as a place for the documentation of autonomous struggle and organisation around the globe -- from the social centres in Italy, to the Zapatistas in Chiapas. To this end, we will be collaborating closely with the European Counter Network and similar collectives in order to further circulate information and debate about the initiatives of those involved in such struggles."

You can sign up for the list here.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

We're in there somewhere

Celebrating a moment of genius from Rod Thornley.

The Queue to Hit Mark E. Smith

Dave Simpson in today's Guardian describes his epic pursuit of all the previous members of the Fall. There are probably several of them among the Counago & Spaves readership, I wouldn't wonder, if not actually on the team!

Anyone want to own up?

(spotted at Cloud in Trousers)

Now THAT'S Some Insult

Stephen Maine reviews the work of Dublin-born, New York–based artist Sean Scully in the December issue of Art in America. Highlights:

"Entering Sean Scully's first New York show since 2001 was like slipping into a warm bath, so sensuous and reassuringly familiar are the pleasures afforded by immersion in his work."

"Scully's work can feel overdetermined by well-practiced panels eye procedure; he does not seem to significantly challenge himself from painting to painting as, with mixed results, Howard Hodgkin does."

And best of all:

"His brooding yet cautiously radiant palette and reductivist vocabulary of horizontal and vertical stripes qualify him as among the least transgressive, most deliberate painters around."


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Manchizzle

We just about squeak onto the list of Mancunian blogs provided here because of our strong past connections with the city and the Timperley-heavy location of our membership (cue "Timperley is not Manchester" T-shirt campaign from irredentist elements).

We're also listed as an Irish blog (refused membership of Britblogs, fer Christ's sake), and with a bit of luck maybe we can get ourselves listed as a Catalan blog too. Is there a Brumblog list? After all, you can take the boy out of Birmingham etc.

A Break, with the Norm

Had a chance to meet up with Norm while over in Alty for Christmas. Enjoyed a couple of very pleasant pints of bitter in his most congenial company, during which time, in his telling of events, I "confessed" to being a Villa fan, as though that was something to be ashamed of. Au contraire: Not only is it an indication of strength of character, but also an incarnation of the triumph of optimism and devotion over suffering.

That day also saw a cracking win for Alty too, with every goal a belter. I haven't seen them lose in five years, a clear sign that I don't get to go to Moss Lane very often.