30 October 2009

Liberty post: Ha! I added video for a treat if you go on the website! (eom)

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Liberty post: Please do leave a message or visit my blog so I get some feedback!

Got the link right with the liberty post but sent you the full text as well. Now nobody will go to the blog! I hate when that happens!!! Blogger should add an actual teaser feature to the editor (at the moment, you can only do that manually).

29 October 2009

Chomsky at SOAS

Prof Noam Chomksy came to give a talk at SOAS on 27 October 2009 about "Crises and the Unipolar Moment", hosted by the SOAS CISD (Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy):

"It is widely felt that the fall of the Soviet Union left a unipolar world, dominated by the remaining superpower, and that the "moment" is coming to a close with the collapse of the Anglo-Saxon "free market" economic model. Investigation of this two-decade "moment" can provide considerable insight into what came before, and possibilities for shaping the future."

To see the video, you'll have to go to the SOAS events page (they don't let you copy its HTML).

The whole event was rather sneakily expanded, I believe for the first time I saw it was in mid-September when I happened to pass by a poster in the renovated new CISD wing on the 4th floor (where the SOAS Language Centre used to be) I was exploring. I believe it even said sth like, "exclusively for CISD students, please don't tell all your friends at SOAS!" Then suddenly, two weeks before the event, there's a mass email announcing it to all SOAS people, telling them to register - first come, first serve basis, saying "the registration link above is only for SOAS students, please don't tell anyone else!". They also moved the venue from SOAS to IoE, so I suppose they only decided later to invite other SOAS students - as of course, the enormous interest was not to be anticipated. Since I did not expect that invitation and since it was still the beginning of term with 20 emails a day ("toilet on floor x will be closed due to renovation", "fire alarm will be tested at 11am today", "don't forget to hand in your course sign up sheet" "last tutorial changes allowed THIS friday" and the notorious "SOAS Student Union email"), some departments sending their stuff thrice (in case anybody ignored/filtered it the first time around), I only read the email several hours after registration opened! Rather futile to sign up then. And then they kept sending emails about it which is why I overlooked that there was a separate though related event, namely a Q&A session exclusively for all Development Studies students BEFORE the official lecture for everyone else!!! The subject line was a rather understating "Wednesday DS Seminar with Prof Chomsky". I would definitely have opened the email and read it properly if it would have had a more catchy subject line such as, "Exclusive Q&A session for all Development Studies students with Prof Chomsky". I was so mad, I sent a reply to the person who forwarded the email for the organisers. Seriously, what the hell?!

Prof Chomsky also gave a talk at LSE about "Human Rights in the 21st century"

"Professor Noam Chomsky launched the Centre's autumn events programme with a hugely popular lecture. He spoke to a packed Old Theatre, to a video links in two other theatres and to countless others who watched the lecture being broadcast live on the LSE website."

To see the video, follow the link to LSE Live on this event page and scroll to 29 October 2009.

Finally, for those of you interested in Palestine, he gave a lecture on "Palestine and the region in the Obama era" in the Institute of Education organised by the SOAS (and UCL?) Palestine Society

Couldn't find a vodcast of it but the London Student did an interview with him about the issue which you can read here.

28 October 2009

BFI London's 53rd Film Festival

At last, the annual film festival has begun! My personal second year in attendance but the first time, I'm actually taking advantage of the festival. I hardly ever spend money on entertainment. Most of my money usually goes into food and books, my two strongest vices until recently. This year, I decided to embrace my love for film and became a member of the British Film Institute (BFI)!

I was quite looking forward to seeing this film adaptation of the Balibo 5 by Robert Connolly but unfortunately, I happened to be giving a presentation (why screen it at 1.45pm?!) and therefore missed the movie's European premiere.

"As Indonesia prepares to invade the tiny nation of East Timor, five Australian based journalists go missing.

Four weeks later, veteran foreign correspondent Roger East is lured to East Timor by the young and charismatic José Ramos-Horta to tell the story of his country and investigate the fate of the missing men. As East's determination to uncover the truth grows, the threat of invasion intensifies and an unlikely friendship develops between the last foreign correspondent in East Timor and the man who will become President.

BALIBO is a political thriller that tells the true story of crimes that have been covered up for over thirty years. (From the official website)

Definitely one of the saddest and most moving movies I have ever seen, it is a portray of Sergio Vieira de Mello, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Although you know what is going to happen eventually, it is nevertheless shocking when the film eventually reaches the point of the bombing of the UN mission in Iraq (there actually happened to be a press conference at the same time in the same building, therefore the actual moment of the blast and the chaos is captured on tape). It is horrible, horrible. There is no other word for it. As I was dabbing my tears away discreetly with the end of my sleeve, I realised that the rest of the audience was very moved as well, also blinking away tears or wiping their faces, men and women alike. I have never experienced like that in a movie theatre before. A very unique film.

"Based on the biography Chasing the Flame by Samantha Power, Sergio is the story of the United Nation’s go-to guy. A cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy, Sergio Vieira de Mello could descend into the most dangerous places, charm the worst war criminals, and somehow protect the lives of the ordinary people to whom he’d devoted his life. After a string of doomed relationships, he was about to settle down finally with the woman he loved. And then came the call: another crisis, and Sergio was the only man for the job. Persuaded by Kofi Anaan, Condoleezza Rice, and Tony Blair, Sergio reluctantly took up his post as U.N. ambassador to Iraq.

On August 19, 2003, a bomb struck the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, marking a watershed moment in history. For the first time, the U.N. had become the target of terrorism. The news shocked the world.

With visceral immediacy, filmmaker Greg Barker recreates the events of a day that will forever live in infamy. Harrowing testimony from Sergio’s fiancée and the military paramedics who risked their own lives to save him is interlaced with haunting footage shot on the day of the bombing and reenactments of the rescue attempt. Devastatingly powerful, Sergio paints a portrait of a man who gambled with his own life to restore dignity to the lives of others.
—DAVID COURIER" (review taken from the Sundance Channel)

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
I liked it for the way it conveyed the themes of inner strength and perseverance. It is by no means a light film to watch but thanks to that emphasis away from the depressive, you come out of that movie with one sad and one happy eye. Haven't read the novel but I suppose it's a great likeness. Main actress Mo'Nique appeared at the screening but only said "Hi" and "Bye", literally.

"With sheer audacity and utter authenticity, director Lee Daniels tackles Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire and creates an unforgettable film that sets a new standard for cinema of its kind. Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a high-school girl with nothing working in her favor. She is pregnant with her father’s child—for the second time. She can’t read or write, and her schoolmates tease her for being fat. Her home life is a horror, ruled by a mother (Mo’Nique) who keeps her imprisoned both emotionally and physically. Precious’s instincts tell her one thing: if she’s ever going to break from the chains of ignorance, she will have to dig deeply into her own resources. Don’t be misled—Push is not a film wallowing in the stillness of depression; instead, it vibrates with the kind of energy derived only from anger and hope. The entire cast are amazing; they carry out a firestorm of raw emotion. Daniels has drawn from them inimitable performances that will rivet you to your seat and leave you too shocked to breathe. If you passed Precious on the street, you probably wouldn’t notice her. But when her story is revealed, as Daniels does in this courageous film, you are left with an indelible image of a young woman who—with creativity, humor, and ferocity—finds the strength to turn her life around.

Recipient of the Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic, the Audience Award presented by Honda: U.S. Dramatic, and A Special Jury Prize for Acting." (taken from the Sundance Film Festival's official website, check out the bio of director Lee Daniels who also produced Monster's Ball and directed Shadowboxer)


This was my start into the BFI London Film Festival this year. A whole corner of Leicester Square was a carpet at the beginning of the week, they reduced the cordon to half the size after. Probably The Men who stare at Goats gala was taking place, it has a rather high profile cast with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor. I would have liked to go there but the tickets were rather expensive, demand high and unlike the lower profile, more independent movies, it will be shown across the country for a longer period of time. Might as well spread out the cost and reward other great movies. Anyway, it already seems to be stealing the show of Storm here! One of Storm's main actresses, Kerry Fox came and since Intimacy (directed by Patrice Chéreau, based on a novel by Hanif Kureishi) was the last and only film I have ever seen her perform in, I felt kinda awkward (since there were some graphic scenes in Intimacy and she was sitting in the seat two rows in front of me) but delighted at the same time to see her in her role in Storm. She was quite chirpy, quirky and jovial when she addressed the crowd. A lot of questions from the crowd were also addressed to director Hans-Christian Schmid and supporting actress Alexis Zegerman. Unfortunately, Anamaria Marinca who plays the witness Mira Arendt could not be there. Apparently, they cast both in Bosnia and Serbia, as well as London and Berlin I believe but then found a Bulgarian actress who could show the strength very well and asked the casting agencies in Bosnia and Serbia if it was alright to use her and they said yes. A barrister who was also a judge sat behind me and she commended the director for the movie which she thought was very accurate in terms of how the judicial elements and the lawyers were portrayed and the director replied that they actually did a lot of research by going to the Tribunal and talking to various people, judges and lawyers. I personally believe it could have ended up a rather cheesy Hollywood production too but I found the movie came across as rather close to real behind-the-scenes politics (from an uninformed point of view in relation to the Tribunal). A movie about integrity with a lot of strong women characters.

"Having made a number of successful and distinctive features in Germany (Crazy, Distant Lights, Requiem), director Hans-Christian Schmid moves into English-language filmmaking with a legal drama about personal and political integrity. Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox), a prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, is given an apparently cast-iron case against a former Yugoslav National Army commander accused of ethnic cleansing. When the chief witness for the prosecution proves unreliable, Maynard travels to Bosnia with only a week's grace to try and rebuild a case. In the course of her investigations she stumbles across further atrocities, consequently placing herself under threat from the war profiteers now running the Balkans. She persuades a reluctant young woman, Mira (Anamaria Marinca), to testify, but is shocked to find that the judicial process she has believed in and passionately supported throughout her career is itself suspect. Her loyalty towards her witness is at odds with her professional role, and like Mira, she has to make a choice between silence and speaking out. While the higher production values of Storm mark it as something of a shift from Schmid's earlier films, it shares with them his interest in the pursuit of individual freedom and being true to one's self.

Sandra Hebron" (taken from the BFI London Film Festival's official website because the film's own is only available in German)

What shall I say - no better expression of one of my greatest fears about the future. Swedish director Tarik Saleh was there (en route to Brazil), quite a jovial fellow. The main "actor" of the movie was not there, probably because he was not really an actor but a local pizza parlour guy "who had a paranoid look about him". So they used his face and also stills of various train stations and created the 2D-animation by "using a (Photoshop?) software the wrong way", a rather complicated technique. Tarik Saleh said, he had the idea for the film when he was shooting a documentary about Guantanamo and went back to Sweden after he visited the place and nobody believed him when he was trying to convey to them the shock of what control governments could have in the world because since Sweden is well, Sweden, the people could not possibly imagine that, so he decided to do a movie about this idea of an agency taking over power and control of citizens - Metropia. Somebody in the audience asked about the "Hello Kitty" theme. He grinned, "Ah yes, the Hello Kitties"! He elaborated that he was together with a girl for a very long time who was quite into them and liked surrounding herself with these Kitties. Apparently, he must have felt rather haunted by them! Watch the trailer and freak out!

23 October 2009

Contemporary Trends in Society

I'm really not sure if I'm happy about being back in the country.

I prefer living in countries where the sun is a distinguishable, circular object in the sky, for starters. Then the place outside my house looks like the set from East Enders. Believe it or not, I happen to know. Before I came to the UK, I used to devour BBC Prime (their global channel) which suffice to say, did not have much variation in their programme). Interesting what selection of images about the UK BBC projects into the minds of people overseas. And crazy people on the street everywhere. If my room in KL was an oven during the day, my house here is like a premonition of the incumbent ice age. This, coupled with a defensive, semi-ignorant attitude of one of my flatmates when I tried to introduce ecological cleaning products into the household, as well as other recent events, set my mind off on a critical journey of British society, starting with environmentalism in this country.

Although the UK seems to have (one of?) the toughest ambitions on carbon reduction in the world as far as I am aware of, therefore raising the stakes for corporate social responsibility, it still needs to instill a more conscious consumption on the side of the customer. Green is becoming big in the UK, you could say it is on the way to become en vogue. People are more knowledgeable about the impact of their behaviour on the future than ever before. Plastic bags that used to be given out automatically, thereby confusing me when I first popped into a supermarket for a single item, are now either only available on request for money or still free but removed from visibility as other stores practice it. Re-usable bags are seen at tills more often now and also in the hands of many people. However, that only affected the big supermarket chains. Sadly, corner stores couldn't care less about implementing environmentally friendly policies. And in addition to that, people continue to litter.

London has recently been awarded the honour of being Europe's dirtiest city (and the Trafigura its figurative flagship overseas) and I have to say, I am not surprised. People leave their shit behind in public transport, I wonder if ticket machines get a daily health and safety wipe, bins are not available in many places and should be painted in bright colours to be more visible. The free metro papers are a disgrace to the environment. Why doesn't anyone think of news screens on the tube? Leicester Square station shows that it is possible to do it for advertisement in one of the most frequented stations. I don't know if it is lack of ambition on behalf of TFL, if it is lack of political will or misdirected leadership. If you happen to be on a late train, the carriage looks like a deserted party venue. Somebody else will pick it up, right?

The lack of sense of community is appalling. People are polite if you step into their sight but sometimes treat you like a revolutionary undeserving to be treated like you had rights. Often with suspicion, too. Most of the time people don't care much about their surroundings. In addition, UK is a litigative society, everyone's afraid to get sued and few people courageous enough to take responsibility. You can sue somebody for forgetting to remind you of what you don't know!

Bureaucracy has invaded and reduced efficiency and service delivery in customer care and also public services. Countless forms and questions need to be signed before action is taken. Taking risk is not encouraged and meeting targets quantified in the UK. And so, as the Guardian suggested recently, doctors in A&E sometimes take people with less serious injuries first to meet the waiting time target. Schools don't teach students to think for themselves but rather promotes regurgitating, and teaching to the test. This is pretty much common knowledge. What did surprise me though was when the writer mentioned it in an article related to the Royal Mail industrial action that somehow "struck a core in the nation" as the writer put it. Basically, postal workers oppose mechanisation because they felt left out in the consultations and many are afraid to lose their jobs especially in this climate. So a related article I believe, about public services, elaborated that the government from now on will do less inspections and leave companies, practices, schools more to themselves in what the writer paraphrased as a free market-like self-regulatory effect (I spent 30min trying to find that link again, in vain!). It couldn't be more satisfying for me to read that. At last the mills of bureaucracy are moving towards a less restrictionist approach, giving more free reign to encourage innovation and risk-taking. Super-nanny is probably a brainchild of expense cuts and a cry for more efficiency in allocating and managing human and financial resources within and for the government's institutions.

The next step would hopefully be the reversion of a Thatcherism-induced decline of the NHS. Many people agree that Margaret Thatcher's partial privatisation of health services was to blame that today the NHS is crap - which reminds me that there is an outstanding complaint I need to submit about my recent visit at the doctor. People should sue doctors for not being risky enough, for negligence. Perhaps that is what it takes to achieve a revision of current health policy. Instead of investing in a national ID card scheme that would contribute to a further erosion of civil liberties and human rights in this country, it would be more productive to invest in shifting the emphases back to the NHS back and to primary health care. It is much cheaper than having doctors yell at you for what the hell you coming in for when it is minor and reprimanding you for not coming earlier when it is really bad and you stayed at home because your previous encounters about minor ailments make you think your condition is not bad enough to be DESERVING of medical attention!!! Often, medical staff preach to you about your lifestyle, with the prejudice it was be a bad one. Sorry to disappoint you if I don't smoke, binge or eat crisps three times a day. It would get me so offended because patients are treated as if they were stupid. Instead of sharpening their ears and listening to the patients' accounts for anything unusual within reason, doctors and nurses often automatically adopt a patronising attitude. There are several reasons for this: 1) They get points for lowering people's blood pressure and getting people to stop smoking 2) The responsibility is transferred to the patient and the onus of presenting evidence that you deserve their taking the risk of seeing a potentially (rewards-wise) strategically less valuable patient is put on the patients themselves. Also, it is an easy and quick way to bypass any costly test and by making a note of it in your file, they are protecting themselves from any liability on their behalf for not keeping you healthy 3) Also, it gives them moral authority. Sometimes I wonder if the NHS gives out IF-THEN organigrammes to medical students. The structure of interviews seem to always be the same, that's why. But if consultation structure is as rigid as that, it gives less flexibility to doctors to actually investigate, therefore promoting apathy.

One does what one can in the 10min slot. Let's make sure it wasn't totally a waste of time and educational investment and log achievement of some targets.

22 October 2009

A liberty to discuss?

After a shocking enough (d)evolutionary step in passing anti-terrorism legislation that makes it permissible to be detained without charge for up to 42 (!) days (because 90 were not approved by parliament!), the country was just about saved from another dystopic bill to keep the DNA of even innocent people on the police database! The House of Lords overturned the Policing and Crime Bill. Interesting enough, a lot of people distrust the government to actually adhere to this ruling and to delete the nearly one million affected DNA profiles from the system - and who can blame them for the cynicism? God knows who NHS labs are sharing your information with! For those of you not following the UK news: the bill, initially proposing to keep the DNA details of innocents indefinitely, was amended to (just!) 12 years instead after (!) two innocent Britons brought their case before the European Court of Human Rights (!). At the last minute though, the UK amendment was dropped and a new proposal will be announced at the Queen's annual speech in November.

Although massive financial and bureaucratic investment seems to be worth the money for making Orson Welles's worst nightmare come true, the London tube is a never-ending construction site. Bets are being made whether or not all the patchy roofs and missing tiles and (most importantly!) signals will be in place before the 2012 Olympics. Ironic to find that TFL is in a race itself. One can only hope the next bill coming up in parliament won't be an inquest as to whether it is feasible to replace the oyster payment system with a finger print recognition system. - Let's say, the way things are developing in this country, I wouldn't be surprised.

But who are the people and committees that are determining the UK's future? Perhaps it is sth you have to dedicate three hours daily to in order to keep up with developments in parliament via its dedicated website. Perhaps it is because I am not tweeting yet. But somehow during my time here, I got this feeling that you only find out what parliament does, when it's all already been decided instead of reading about it in the daily news. One broadsheet page dedicated to update the clearly socially responsible reader on the highlights of the daily schedule of committees and inquests (and a digest of policy recommendations) would do as a national barometer for what's happening tomorrow so you can keep abreast with tides and trends of the country you're living in.

Is it because I am not British or is it really like that, that the participatory approach is limited to talking to your MP? I don't think that's a bad thing in itself. I actually believe it is a very good thing that it is made so easy to contact your local MP. In my own country, I would not even know who my MP is and what party their from, nor where to look for their voting record. But how on earth am I supposed to find out what's on my MP's diary? Or when it is really urgent to write a letter to them because for example, my civil liberties are at stake THIS WEEK or sth else I care to stand up for? I get the impression that politics here is very exclusionary. Parliament is buzzing with professional lobbyists and different influential key companies, NGOs, consultancy groups etc. who walk in and out of that building.

Spirit of Accountability
Of course, eventually, a decision or report will be made public. But publishing proceedings on a website after the fact alone cannot be sufficient. Although I sometimes get the impression that the UK is not a very civic society (if that's the right term), I think it is important for the government to actively SEEK the dialogue with the average population, be it through polls or other means. Also, it is necessary to instill a sense of political self-determination in young people and to tell them that it is in their interest to hold the government accountable, that politics is real and not centralised (perhaps it is but then who's going to change that?).

Ironically, parliament proposed the other day that all banks should sign a voluntary (!) agreement to not only obey tax laws by the letter but to also uphold them by the spirit, in an attempt to find a way to plug the loopholes that City banks used to live from. I mean, how toothless is that? Not surprisingly, not a single banked has signed that agreement. I think that sends a strong message. A very strong message, in fact, that even after the recession, banks are not willing to learn from the lessons of irresponsible trading - or to accept responsibility for it. Greedy, huh? That banks don't care about their average private customers is very visible when you walk into a bank and it's like a McDo DriveThru on peak time in there and you are greeted by trainees who couldn't bother to have their M&S suit trousers cut off, to leave their bling bling gold jewellery at home or to at least have the red gems removed from their braces! Instead of putting the emphasis on walk-in customers, the really competitive bankers go into investment banking and are rewarded by moving away from the customer into the adrenaline-pitching and more lucrative virtual world of online deals. Result: Young graduates frequently offend or misdirect customers resulting in the unnecessary kinds of inconveniences and misunderstandings we are all familiar with.

What the banking system needs is a 180 degree reform.

Banks, like other big corporations, have too much influence on government policy and the ideology of policy-making itself and are complicit in the violation of privacy by not lobbying for the protection of their customers' rights. A good illustration of this is the new law already in force whereby every time you pay by card, you have to key in a PIN (even for credit cards) or show proof of ID (there is an anecdote to that I am going to tell you once I have raised the issue with my MP). Therefore, we're moving towards a society where stop and seizure protection laws and human rights laws (who cares about the latter anyway?) are being bypassed and circumvented in this way. Whatever the CCTV cameras, the Oyster readers, the ATMs don't catch, is being checked by your FELLOW RESIDENTS!!! Authority and control is transferred to common people such as waiters, retail staff, supermarket staff etc., therefore leading the path to a society without trust or in the worst case, a society where everyone could be mobilised to spy on their customers, their neighbours or other pedestrians. China, Cambodia and Nazi Germany are but a few examples in history that show us the dark forms measures like the ones criticised above could lead to; a situation where the citizen's/resident's/individual's freedom of movement is restricted not only by physical means but by making everyone a possible suspect. Legitimising further curb-down of civil liberties by instilling a sense of threat in people's minds and making fear a doctrine of their reality is NOT my vision of a 21st century nation. One could say that Britain did not become stronger through all the events following the atrocities of 9/11. No, it succumbed to (or abused?) an impulsive reaction to a heightened sense of vulnerability. Nietzsche would have been disappointed.

Watch Tony Benn, MP (Labour) and David Davies, MP (Conservative) discussing civil liberties and make up your own mind. The sound's a bit bad but it improves towards the end.

Let people know what you think and join the debate!!!

13 October 2009

October Notice!

First off all, thanks to everyone (Julie!!!) who posted in the meantime!

Second, I'm not gonna make a monthly out of these notices. It's just a matter of distinguishing the notices before removing them once considered read.

It's been about a month now that I'm back in Europe and as you can guess, I was preoccupied with organising other things. Also, it is harder to blog about stuff in the UK as topics over here usually require availability of any quiet sound-proof place (and those are hard to come by in a city where trucks talk, lifts harass and where people's accent gives away so much about their social background that you can't stop yourself from listening in, no matter how trivial the topic) to go into yourself and gather your thoughts.

There are a few blog posts ready for ya to read! One I wrote when I was still in Malaysia, one when I was leaving it and now I am of course preparing the obligatory "returnee post" about what it is like being back, what sensations are different and what new things you see with the same old eyes.

I'll keep you posted!