Friday, March 20, 2009

Layer 140 Thoughts for Today, Anatomy of an Uprising, Ticking the Boxes, Learning from the Crisis and Battlestar Galactica.

Thought For Today

The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sachs, whom I admire greatly, has been reading Oxzen. How else to explain his thought for today, today?

He’s picked up on the bit in Layer 139 about the Zen approach to life’s difficulties and setbacks. Zen says we need to see such things in a positive way - as an opportunity to do work on our spirits and our souls - that in the act of coping we learn things about ourselves and learn to make those coping parts stronger and more resilient.

I can’t remember his exact words, so I’ll paraphrase.

Shit happens. We deal with whatever life throws at us. We improvise and we stumble through. Eventually we learn to relax when crises occur, and we turn them into learning experiences. We then realise that these experiences are necessary steps on the way to becoming the person we’re supposed to be.

The Chief Rabbi says he asks himself, how does God want this crisis to make me a better person?

Of course we know there is no God, that nobody’s ever brought forward any proof that there is one, but fair enough - Dr Sachs works within an organisation catering for the spiritual growth of millions who long ago decided that the concept of an almighty God helps relatively unenlightened souls and some fairly simple people to engage in a dialogue about spiritual growth and spiritual intelligence.

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Zeitgeist? Oxzen reader?

Anatomy of an Uprising . . .

. . . is the title of an article in yesterday’s G2 that I got round to reading this morning. It’s another zeitgeisty or synchronicity thing - considering what Oxzen said yesterday about Burmese monks, and taking to the streets in a spirit of demonstration and peaceful uprising.

It’s written by Anders Ostergaard, a documentary film maker based in Copenhagen, who collaborated with a young Burmese video journalist called ‘Joshua’. (Something there about bringing down the walls of Jericho?) Joshua worked for a broadcaster-in-exile based in Oslo called the Democratic Voice of Burma.

They started off putting together clandestine footage of everyday life in Rangoon, including scenes of street kids and the state of the railways. Joshua hoped that such an intimate portrait of everyday life in a city full of informers and secret police would be at least a small contribution to creating a better Burma. Creating even a small peephole into such a closed society would be some sort of subversive achievement.

Then stuff happened.

What we got was beyond my wildest imaginings. In the summer of 2007, a few protests grew into an uprising that swept the streets. Soon Joshua and his fellow activists-turned-VJs were feeding CNN, the BBC and the rest of the world's media with stunning videos, showing the Burmese people's fight for freedom and the brutality of the military regime. The VJs underwent a tremendous rite of passage, turning from young, spontaneous activists into war-torn veterans of a media revolution.

Back in the editing room in Copenhagen, our lives also changed. We started off being in full artistic control of a nice little project, but then graphic footage of beatings and shootings by the military and the police began to flood in. We were now chroniclers of world history.

We were able to establish the development of demonstrations as they moved through the city. Slowly, the anatomy of the uprising - and perhaps, indeed, of any uprising - fell into place.

It was fascinating, with each stage clear and well defined. We saw the early, hesitant days when the first groups of protesting monks would start marching at a fast, nervous pace in silence, cautiously applauded by onlookers. The next stage was more daring: the monks would begin their religious chanting and the public joined in, an expression of their yearning for freedom camouflaged in Buddhist generalities. Then came a euphoric outburst of political slogans and direct demands to the government, which echoed through the streets. This defiance turned into panic as the military beast finally got on its feet and struck back. Even though we knew the end of the story all too well, we were still heartbroken to see all those hopes for change and liberation dashed, as the protest transformed into a fight for survival in the course of a single afternoon.

Time to stock up on your digital video tape, and extra memory for your video phone. Everyone needs to become their own documentary maker, diarist, activist and archivist.


Learning From The Crisis

An item on the Today programme. The crisis of capitalism. The dearth of proper debate. Following the death of capitalism - what are the real alternatives? Social solidarity. The moment of truth for the Left, which has no clear or positive alternative programme. So the left just becomes moralistic and legalistic. A socialist version of capitalism? Is this the big task of the Left - to help save capitalism from itself?

How amazing that day by day we’re having public discussions about the death of capitalism and what needs to be put in its place - all played out on the mainstream media! Beyond one’s wildest imaginings! Fascism, neo-fascism and conservatism haven’t been this much on the defensive since World War 2, the last time the world’s economic and financial system was in very deep doo doo. The 1930s and 1940s.


Ticking All the Boxes.

“A hospital is able to tick all the boxes, yet still utterly fail patients.”

This is another article in yesterday’s G2. Read it and weep. Actually I defy anyone to read it and not end up by commenting, “You fucking NuLabour bastards!”

“The vast majority of doctors were out there doing far more then their fair share of work, because they believed in the delivery of a good service in the best interests of their patients. Unfortunately, no one could measure goodwill and professionalism.

So we went from a system driven by professional pride and duty of care, to one that would accommodate market forces. This led to the paramaterisation of everything the bureaucrats could find to score.

The result is that all the areas in the hospital that aren’t measured have less attention paid to them. Literally anything that isn’t a Foundation target becomes a Cinderella service.

Non-clinicians have become incentivised to drive clinical processes that they understand only partially, if at all. Clinical process is so much more complicated than a business that buys and sells stock items. Yet we’re trying to apply the same rule book.

What we’ve seen over the last 20 years is a systematic deprofessionalisation of doctors and nurses within the service. Those not involved in management are regarded simply as service delivery providers.

The changes that were started in the 80s - which were then vociferously opposed by the then Labour opposition - were extended and amplified by Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown.

By reducing healthcare to a few measurable statistics, to create a target-driven culture, we have all but destroyed the essence of what was the NHS.”

Of course you can transpose everything said about the health service and hospitals in this article into the education service and schools. I wonder if anyone’s going to do that?

Yesterday’s Thought for Today, by the Reverend Dr Giles Fraser, Vicar of Putney, concluded, “It’s hard to even describe something that’s much more than just measurable and testable. We make bureaucracy and efficiency gods at our peril”.

Literally, at our peril. The G2 article points out that at least 400 patients may have avoidably died at the Stafford hospital at a time when the management and their hireling consultants were focused on achieving ‘foundation status’ for the hospital. The Healthcare Commission’s chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, described it as a story of “appalling standards of care and chaotic systems for looking after patients . . . with inadequacies at almost every stage”.

Which reminds me of schools and LEAs taking days, weeks and months to prepare for Ofsted inspections, and spending massive amounts of time focusing all their efforts on rising in the league tables. Covering their own backs for fear of getting stabbed right in them. And to think that the new ‘short notice’ inspections were supposed to reduce the amount of time preparing for the arrival of the death squad. As if.

Maybe the kids and the teachers don’t physically die, like patients do in the health service, but their spirits are certainly massacred, mauled and emaciated, and true learning, and the love of real learning, also dies an agonising death.


Battlestar Galactica - Better than The Wire?

G2’s reviewer, Richard Vine, in an epic 4-page article, calls it a groundbreaking piece of TV. Drat! Missed it already!

Passionate. Intelligent. Emotionally articulate. Mystical. “Not afraid to take you on an epic, existential journey during which . . . characters wrangle with metaphysical issues such as the nature of humanity and god.”

He’s obviously talking about the new version of BG which started in 2004, not the original clunky Star Wars rip-off. Sounds good to me.

“What really sets the show apart from the original are its politics.

The idea to revive the show came shortly after 9/11, and its influence permeates the story.

At first, we sympathise with the humans (read: America), under attack from a horde of impossible-to-detect alien invaders within (read: al-Qaida). Then you realise that it's the cylons, the baddies, who believe in a more Christian-sounding "one true God" - and the humans who worship a bunch of different gods. And that even though they've perpetrated mass genocide, it's nonetheless the cylons - created and then turned upon by humans - who believe themselves to hold the moral high ground.

In its third series Battlestar manages to pull off one of the most extraordinary leaps in American TV when the surviving group of humans find themselves living under cylon occupation on a new planet and our human heroes decide to use suicide bombing against the cylons. It's the sort of move you can only pull once you've taken viewers with you on a properly engaging journey.

Suddenly you're looking at a collection of people that you've come to know and respect - rather than a string of dramatic archetypes - and being asked to watch them, even identify with them, as they debate the merits of terrorism. So it's Colonel Tigh, the brilliant, bitter, drunken military man, who decides to sacrifice innocent human bystanders for the sake of taking down a few "frakking toasters" (as they call cylons).

Even if you don't agree with their actions (and the show's not so glib that you're supposed to), you understand how they've come to them, and that's the key to BSG's genius. It doesn't ever talk down to its audience, or pander to gung-ho-American-war-on-terror rhetoric. Instead, it plays out issues in an adult fashion, allowing characters to debate what they're doing, to remember what they've done, to question why they're doing it - and crucially, to be called to account for their actions later. It's this sense of time passing and actions being remembered that gives the show a real depth. Characters grow, change their minds, fall in and out of love, quit jobs and get arrested, lose themselves in drink binges and then pull themselves together.


Baaba Maal - Desert Island Discs.

“Giving voice to the concerns and problems of the masses, through melodies and lyrics.” He describes himself as a nomad, and a griot - a story-teller - an essential profession in a country that didn’t have radios, TVs, books, newspapers or cinemas. Maybe bloggers are a species of griot, passing on stories and information.

Orchestre Baobab. ‘Melodies and chords common in Cuban music’.

Burning Spear. - great dub master

Otis Redding - the master of soul

Bebe Manga - great African rhythms

Johnny Haliday (Noir C’est Noir!)

Sisoko - Senegal Mauratanie - kora

Miles Davis - ‘So What?’ Classic Miles.

Bob Marley - One Love

Now that’s what I call music, (apart from the Johnny Haliday), chosen by someone who’s a musician, a lyricist, a politician, an ambassador, an advocate and a storyteller.

Baaba Maal says that love is the solution to our problems. Well at least it’s a start, says I & I.

One Love is his favourite. His luxury would be his guitar, obviously.

He describes his mother as a beautiful and open woman who liked to help people with their problems. How great is that? Lucky man!

Some great video and music on Baaba’s own website:

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