Monday, August 31, 2009

Layer 186 The Inner Voice, Film Noir, Meditation, Spiritual Intelligence, a Japanese Revolution, and the Silence of the Left

Film Noir

There was an interesting documentary on TV last week about Film Noir. Wikipedia says this:

“Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize moral ambiguity and sexual motivation.

Crime, usually murder, is an element of almost all film noirs; in addition to standard-issue greed, jealousy is frequently the criminal motivation. A crime investigation - by a private eye, a police detective (sometimes acting alone), or a concerned amateur - is the most prevalent, but far from dominant, basic plot. In other common plots the protagonists are implicated in heists or con games, or in murderous conspiracies often involving adulterous affairs. False suspicions and accusations of crime are frequent plot elements, as are betrayals and double-crosses.

Film noirs tend to revolve around heroes who are more flawed and morally questionable than the norm.

The characteristic heroes of noir are described by many critics as "alienated" . . . "filled with existential bitterness." Certain archetypal characters appear in many film noirs - hardboiled detectives, femmes fatales, corrupt policemen, jealous husbands . . .

The city is presented in noir as a "labyrinth" or "maze." Bars, lounges, nightclubs, and gambling dens are frequently the scene of action. The climaxes of a substantial number of film noirs take place in visually complex, often industrial settings, such as refineries, factories, trainyards, power plants . . .. In the popular (and, frequently enough, critical) imagination, in noir it is always night and it always rains.

Film noir is often described as essentially pessimistic. The noir stories that are regarded as most characteristic tell of people trapped in unwanted situations (which, in general, they did not cause but are responsible for exacerbating), striving against random, uncaring fate, and frequently doomed. The movies are seen as depicting a world that is inherently corrupt.

The tone of film noir is generally regarded as downbeat.  Influential critic (and filmmaker) Paul Schrader wrote in a seminal 1972 essay that "film noir is defined by tone," a tone he seems to perceive as "hopeless.”


In other words, take all that's nasty and vile in human beings and make a film about it.

Throw in plenty of sinners, predators, liars, killers, and femmes fatales that are beautiful and sexy but dangerous and interested only in material gain. Make sure that nobody laughs, nobody loves and nobody trusts. Fill it with coldness and manipulation, violence, power relationships and exploitation. Add some dashes of psychosis and plenty of psychopaths. Avoid intimacy and tenderness. Add corruption, sleaze, venality, callousness, cruelty and cynicism. Flavour it with gloom, pessimism and evil.


At this point I'm going to avoid any temptation to make cheap jibes about South London. Or Westminster. But it must have been hard work making those films. I guess they're still being made. I guess the world in general remains the same. Substantially lacking in emotional, social, and particularly spiritual, intelligence.

Why focus so hard on the brutish side of human nature? Maybe because some people don't even realise it exists so starkly in certain areas, certain cities.

Maybe 'noir' is  a kind of glamourisation of a certain sort of macho 'toughness'. Maybe it helps 'normal' 'sinners' to feel better about themselves, since no matter how harshly they might judge themselves it's clear they're nowhere as bad as they could be - compared with the characters in those films.

You could show a young person any of those films and say, “That's what spiritual and emotional intelligence is NOT”. It's learning to recognise malice and evil in order to learn to be something far better.


Neither Is It This

Last year I wrote about how Noel Gallacher would be better off without his dope of a brother in his band. Well it's going to happen. (see Layer 98 – Looking Back In Anger, in which the words 'drunken', 'yobbish' and 'uselessness' appear.)
Oasis bust-up blamed on booze
(Monday August 31, 2009 09:26 AM) YAHOO News

The vicious fight between Oasis brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher that ripped the band apart on Friday was sparked by an argument over the frontman's drinking, according to report.
Guitarist Noel sensationally quit the band after a ferocious bust-up with singer Liam just minutes before they were due onstage at a music festival in France.

The star subsequently came out and blamed his brother for his decision to leave, insisting life in the band had become "intolerable."
Noel also mentioned the band's axed headline slot at the V Festival in Chelmsford, England last Sunday, hinting the cancellation was not down to Liam's throat virus, as had been previously claimed.
He wrote, "I can only apologise - although I don't know why, it was nothing to do with me. I was match fit and ready to be brilliant. Alas, other people in the group weren't up to it."
Now new reports claim Liam's boozing became an issue between brothers throughout their US tour this year and sparked the final fight in France after the frontman allegedly turned up to the gig drunk.
A source tells British newspaper The Sun, "Liam has been drinking heavily for the duration of the tour and regularly got very abusive and personal. He has taunted Noel's girlfriend Sara, other band members, and the crew. People have been frightened to go near him. He is one very angry man who needs to sort his issues out."


Sorting Out Our Issues

Synchronicity again – having mentioned in the last Layer the need for alcoholics to look within and give voice to their observations about what they see there -

“It’s also why alcoholics need to stand up and be counted, and admit certain things to themselves, and others.” - Layer 185

Thinking about the benefits of meditation in its broadest sense, it occurred to me that meditation might be understood by starting with meditation that's specifically on walking and breathing, and generally  considering the state of one's body.

When you go for a strenuous walk you begin to notice your breathing, and your cardio-vascular level of fitness. You begin to notice your muscles, your joints and your stamina levels. Thanks to these sensory inputs you begin to consider how you feel about what you're monitoring. Happy? Worried? Puzzled? Maybe determined to do more to take care of your body?

The activity itself causes self-monitoring, self-assessment, and decision-making with regard to how to live in the future. You know instinctively and intuitively that any improvements in physical wellbeing will have benefits mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Balancing these elements is key to wellbeing.


Now consider non-walking meditation. Sitting still meditation.

You can still monitor your breathing. Slow and steady? Deep or shallow? What does it say about your state of relaxation, or agitation? Are you able to affect the way you're breathing?

And now your mind. Your thought-streams. Slow and steady? Deep or shallow? Relaxed or agitated? Are you able to control them, slow them down, etc?

Consider what's within those thought-streams. What's dominating them? Don't try to figure out why - just be aware of what IS. Become aware of what's filling your mind, and affecting your spirit.

Positive thoughts and feelings? Or negative? Happy? Anxious?

Can we become more determined to do more to take care of our souls and spirits?


Prison meals 'better than hospital' 



Japanese opposition hails election victory

“As votes are still being counted, one Japanese broadcast network has predicted that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has won 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house, ending 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP.)
Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Sunday that he took responsibility for the defeat and would resign as head of the LDP.

Japan is suffering a record 5.7 per cent unemployment and its economy is struggling to emerge from the recession.

The DPJ has said it will shift the focus of government from supporting corporations to helping consumers and workers.
In a news conference following their win, Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama said: "We have been saying that people's livelihoods are the most important thing. Unfortunately, the politics to date did not realise that. I would like to bring about a Japanese society that will care about each and every one's hearts and where everyone can find a place to be and a place to work."
Bloody hell! A society that will care about each and every one's hearts! The radio reporter this morning was talking about the Japanese being excited about their 'revolution' - and if it's really the winners' intention to start taking more care of people's 'hearts' then it really will be a revolution. At least they have the horrible example of Britain to learn from and to use - to make sure they don't squander their fantastic landslide and their overwhelming majority after so many years of being out of power. GO people! You have a MANDATE! Don't fuck up!

According to The Guardian, 

“Questions are already being asked about his government's ability to end the bureaucracy's stranglehold on economic policy and to focus on the interests of consumers rather than those of powerful corporations.

"It has taken a long time, but we have at last reached the starting line," Hatoyama told reporters at his home in Tokyo. "This is by no means the destination. At long last, we are able to move politics – to create a new kind of politics that will fulfil the expectations of the people."

“The party has vowed to end wasteful spending and invest heavily in welfare, to introduce a child allowance and to raise the minimum wage while keeping the consumption tax unchanged at 5% for the next four years.

But despite disquiet about Hatoyama's recent attack on "unrestrained market fundamentalism", business leaders offered him a cautious welcome.

Fujio Mitarai, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, said the DPJ had made a "genuine transition of power" possible for the first time in Japan's postwar history.

Kaoru Yano, president of the electronics firm NEC, said the result was "an expression of the people's call to break out of these tough economic and stagnant social conditions".

The US president, Barack Obama, said he looked forward to working closely with Hatoyama, who has promised to end Japan's "subservience" to US foreign policy.”
Bloody hell! Go Japan GO!


Foreign Policy

Afghanistan strategy must change, US commander McChrystal says
A leading counter-insurgency expert said Afghanistan's government must fight corruption and deliver services to Afghans quickly, because Taliban militants were filling gaps and winning support. The Taliban were already running courts, hospitals and even an ombudsman in parallel to the government, making a real difference to local people, said David Kilcullen, a senior adviser to McChrystal.

"A government that is losing to a counter-insurgency isn't being outfought, it is being out-governed. And that's what's happening in Afghanistan," Kilcullen told Australia's National Press Club.

A radio report this morning made it (McChrystal) clear that McChrystal had said, “It's not just about winning territory – it has to be about winning the confidence of the people.”

So these military guys really do learn lots of sophisticated stuff in their military academies. How many lessons were learned after Vietnam, we ask ourselves. Back then the buzzwords were winning the 'hearts and minds' of the indigenous people. Then, as now, the more intelligent military guys took a good look at the situation and decided that the real answer to the unwinnable war, apart from winning people's hearts and minds, was to replace American forces with indigenous soldiers, prior to getting the hell out of the place.

We also learned today that it will be another three years before they will be able to train enough Afghani recruits to take over the tanks and the guns.

Surely these people must remember that after achieving 'Vietnamisation' of the armed forces in South Vietnam, and pulling out the American military, it was only a matter of time before the guys they'd been fighting against for all those years took over anyway.


Discipline has given way to the silence of the graveyard

Jackie Ashley's column in The Guardian bemoans the fact that there are no voices on the left speaking out with bold statements, big ideas and a coherent alternative ideology.
Who can now say that the iron discipline of New Labour MPs during the boom years was such a good thing? If it meant that there was very little probing of the City and banking practice, wasn't that a mistake? Where there was real dissent, such as over the Iraq war, and the limitations on freedoms produced by the so-called war on terror, we can only wish there had been more of it.

The great argument inside Labour now seems all about which individuals should be in which positions before and after the expected election defeat. And yes, it matters, a little. But Labour seems internally unargumentative and worryingly uninterested in big ideas. Has the party really understood how the state works? Does it need to rethink the reform of public institutions? What about the euro? What about Afghanistan?

Labour does not have enough bold people asking bold questions.

Too many thinkers on the left are outside parliament, and even outside the party. Question: if Zac Goldsmith is an acceptable Tory candidate, why is it impossible to imagine Labour allowing Monbiot to stand for them?

Here's the final irony. Just as Cameron contemplates his growing and articulate awkward squad, Brown's Labour party has gone quiet. Government spin-doctors try to turn this into a positive thing, by attacking Tory splits and gaffes, but it isn't working.

Voters know that argument and dissent are signs of life – and as long as the arguments are serious and creative, people respond. Once, Labour seemed in danger of falling apart. Then it learned discipline. But it learned silence and discretion too. Just now, it sounds like the silence of the graveyard. Let's remember the value of the shockers – and have a little more noise on the left.

Oxzen said this on Comment Is Free:

Labour, rather more than the Tories, decided to go down the route of professional 'career' politicians creating a class of MPs who won't step out of line because if they do their career will be over.

Very well said.

Jackie Ashley says, "Let's remember the value of the shockers – and have a little more noise on the left" - but she's surely not suggesting that the kinds of MPs that New Labour has recruited into its ranks and into this Parliament are even capable of holding, articulating or daring to voice radical and intelligent views that might be useful at this time. If so, they'd surely have done so by now, given the provocation of what's happened in the world and within Westminster in the past year or two.

On the subject of intelligence, ElliottCB commented, "being intelligent just makes most people better at being stupid. Stupid is not a level of capability but a set of choices," - but even this misses the point that being intellectually able is not the same as being intelligent. Those who are intelligent in the sense of what Buddhists and others would call enlightened also need to have well developed emotional, social and spiritual intelligences, which includes capabilities such as empathy, intuition and sound instinctual intelligence.

The problem with many so-called intellectuals is that they're sometimes very low in, or completely lacking, other intelligences that give balance and grounding to mere intellect, often through no fault of their own. This is a profound issue that our education system is very far from dealing with, and will probably never be able to deal with, given the types of people who hold the power, create the policies and the targets, and make the decisions in our dumb politics.

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