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Treasury Bounce 2010 Jun. 13th, 2010 @ 06:23 am

One of the tragedies of the failed New Labour experiment is that it was always based on a repudiation of all historical precedent. Alistair Darling seems to be feeling the pinch of this somewhat. He has attacked the Tories for fiddling the figures to make it appear that government borrowing over the next period will be higher than it actually is, and to pretend that the rate of growth will be lower, all in aid of their plan to slash away at jobs and public services.

I recently came across a very instructive lesson from history, from the notoriously dark decade of the 1970's, a decade we are repeatedly warned against returning to. As Andy Beckett makes clear in 'When the lights went out: What really happened in the 1970s', whenever the seventies are evoked we are shown a certain very partial picture, painted in stark and ominous Thatcherite tones, of what happened. We all know that in 1976 the prospects for the economy were so bad that Britain had to go 'cap in hand' to the IMF. But Beckett uncovers a darker and more complex picture of what went on.

Callaghan did indeed enter very lengthy negotiations with the IMF, which had recently shifted from its original remit to adopt what we now know to be a harsh neoliberal line. In return for the loan it demanded huge cuts in public services. The Prime Minister himself, along with his increasingly rightwing Chancellor Dennis Healey had already been implementing a series of cuts to public spending in response to a series of runs on the pound and was not entirely averse to more. But he did manage to bargain the IMF, which initially demanded cuts of 4.5 billion, down to less than half that amount. He had quite a job getting it through cabinet, with Tony Benn in particular resolutely opposed. But the figures seemed to speak for themselves: with a loan due to be paid back to a number of countries by the end of December, the Bank of England would be left with only two billion in the kitty, and in the event of further speculative attacks on the currency, the country would be bankrupt.

The cuts were carried out and the prospect of bankruptcy narrowly avoided; so far, so familiar. However, the story has a sting in its tail. When the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement was announced six months later, it was as if the crisis had never happened. In direct contradiction with what the Treasury had predicted would be the case, the PSBR was not 10 billion, as had been thought, but 5.6. The emergency IMF loan, and the cuts upon which it had been conditional, had been unnecessary.

How had Sir Humphrey and the gang got it so very wrong? The answer is, they hadn't. Here we learn of a 'hallowed Whitehall tactic known affectionately to all insiders' as the 'Treasury Bounce', as a Whitehall insider is kind enough to explain:

'You can't manage the economy tightly over a long period. You only get a chance once every decade to get the economy under control. What you need is a crisis that frightens ministers into accepting [your ideas]. ... It's what we call the Treasury Bounce.'

Here we find a very resonant echo of what Naomi Klein would write about in 'The Shock Doctrine': a crisis designed and manufactured in order to push through changes in public policy which would otherwise be politically unacceptable.

Callaghan's Government paved the way for Thatcher's attacks on public services and jobs. In much the same way, in 2009-10 New Labour were already talking of the urgent need for massive cuts, once again serving up a steaming platter of public sector spending reduction for the Tories to feast upon, allowing them to carry out "a fundamental reassessment" of the way government works. The kinds of cuts that are being planned for a huge range of government services are of the kind that never heal. If only Alistair Darling was able to read we might not have found ourselves in this dismal situation.

In which I start blogging again Jun. 7th, 2010 @ 05:17 pm
'My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from thinking; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something'. Bernardo Soares, The Book of Disquiet


Eleven years ago I moved from Ireland to Portugal. From time to time people ask me why I chose Portugal of all places.

I'm always a bit flummoxed when I'm asked this. Recently however I worked out the answer. The reason why I went to live in Portugal is that I wanted to go and live in Spain.

I suffer from a certain indecisiveness. Bearing this in mind makes it much easier to decipher my own actions.

Often I do things because I don't want to, and often I don't do things because I want to do them.

Sometimes the things I wanted to do resemble the things I end up doing.

Sometimes I end up liking the thing I do, but this is always conditioned by the feeling that there are things which I would rather have done, although I often still don't know what these things are or were.

Very often I do something because it is the exact opposite of what I actually wanted to do, even when I know very clearly what that thing is. This could be something as simple as not asking for someone's phone number when I know that I want to do so.

After I left Portugal I wanted to go to Brazil or Spain, or maybe Japan. So I went to live in China.

Adam Phillips poses the question, what would you do if you were cured. This is inevitably a very complicated question.

Sometimes I feel that if I could only look people in the eye when I'm talking to them about things that actually matter, this would be a measure of success.

Acting changes things, radically transforms one's situation. Hesitating, failing to act, indeciding, to coin a word, does not.

Hesitating is a clear sign that I'm censoring myself.

However when I notice that I'm hesitating it's too late to act. Sometimes I half-act, I act without fully committing myself to the action. This is not the same as acting. I can't quite decide whether or not to wait and hold the door open for someone, so I hold the door half-open, and get in their way.

The objective is to act decisively, to overcome the abyss between deciding and acting in one fatal leap. To launch myself over the chasm, and in so doing to make that space of indecision retroactively disappear, not to bridge a gap but to close the breach.

To say something, to declare something to be true is an act. To write is an act.

I enjoy writing. I only bring myself to write rarely. Most of the time I spend suspended in midair somewhere between these two points. I'm scared that I won't reach the other side, that I'll plunge into the shameful depths below. In the words of Bernardo Soares again, I plumb myself and drop the plumb; I spend my life wondering if I'm deep or not. I'm terribly scared of exposing my depths of shame and of opening myself up to a toxic mix of indifference and ridicule. My natural style is to demolish what I'm saying in the act of saying it. I almost certainly do this when I speak. It might be something I have to address and to change. It might not.

There is a time and a place for not censoring myself when I speak.

One of the things I most admire about Fernando Pessoa is encapsulated in the quote at the beginning of the article? essay? reflection? I'll come back to this.

All of the people I most admire are prolific in some way. They trust in what happens when they start to speak and to write.

Many people's lives are made up of hesitations, pauses.

Others' lives are made up of one long statement that encompasses many many other statements, some of which interrogate or explain earlier statements, and some of which contradict one another.

Then there is the question of dialogue; if one never speaks, never actually arrives at the point of articulating what appears at that moment to have the status of a truth, then one can never enter into a dialogue. This is self-evident.

Perhaps I have nothing whatsoever of depth or originality to offer, or, more likely, very little. Maybe my insights and reflections merely replicate those of others, but at a much less informed and thought-out level.

There is however a very strong argument for trying to articulate some sort of truth, and it comes from Paulo Freire:

'Hopelessness and despair are both the consequence and the cause of inertia and immobilism'.

Here is another favourite quote, this time from Franz Kafka:

'You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world; you are free to do so, and it accords with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.'

I love that dizzying rush of ideas, when I think I'm onto something. My instinct these days is go online and to track down someone who's already thought of the same thing, so as to evade my own responsibility to articulate whatever it is that's occurred to me. This can be a frustrating experience, and it is always self-defeating in the fullest sense.

I used to link a great deal. Blogging taught me how very easy it is in the space of a few short minutes to sound like and expert on things you know very little about. Bombard people with links and their resistance to the sometimes suspect logic of your argument soon breaks down. I know that when I speak I have the bad habit of using too many names.

There's a particular word I came across a few years ago, a name for a kind of essay that starts off on one topic and ends up via a series of diversions talking about something entirely different. It may be called a vagrant essay, or something like that. It was a popular form in the eighteenth century I believe. Anyway. That's the kind of thing that I kind of sort of quite like to write. Enough of censoring myself. More soon.

Dear Middlesex University May. 27th, 2010 @ 10:56 pm


Dear ****

I am aware that i have already signed the contract to teach in the summer school in June and July but I am sorry to have to inform you that owing to the treatment of the staff and students in the Philosophy Department I would not be able to work for Middlesex University with a clear conscience and am therefore withdrawing from the position.

I apologise for any personal inconvenience.

Best regards

R. Willmsen

Mandeville & Wenlock May. 19th, 2010 @ 09:01 pm


Hey Mandeville!

Hey Wenlock!

So how's things?

Ah, you know...I'm really not sure this being an Olympic mascot thing was such a good idea

Whyever not! We've been all over the media! you can't buy that sort of publicity!

Yeah, but what kind of publicity?

What do you mean?

Well, someone on twitter said that we looked like 'tortured tellitubbies' and that i had a morrisons sign on my head. it's...hurtful

What's twitter?

It's a social networking site where people post messages of less than 140 characters. On the internet.

Hmm. And tellitubbies?

Children's tv characters

And Morrison's?

Like tesco's but smaller, and formerly only in the north

Doesn't sound so bad to me! Better than costcutters! I don't see what your problem is. At least we got to meet Sebastian Coe at that launch thing! Wasn't that fun?! What was it you called him again?

I said he was a 'tory twat'

yeah, he found that hilarious didn't he.

certainly did, and he loved it when i said i hoped he'd soon go the same way as his fascist fuhrer saramanch

Hmm yes i suppose things did get a bit overexcited. i do think it wasn't very polite of you to ask daley thompson if his piss was still sponsored by lucozade. and punching zola budd in the face was a little bit out of order, especially after she appeared to stop breathing. And it was very cruel of you to point out that david beckham's new tattoo means 'my wife's a vapid slag' in hindi...never mind, look at this letter! next tuesday we get to meet the prime minister!

really?(looks) (sounds disappointed) the *deputy* prime minister

what's the difference?

Aah...I can't really tell to be honest. Shame we didn't get to meet Gordon Brown really, I feel we might have had more in common, what with him only having one eye and everything. It's just...I don't know...i just expected more from life. I mean, listen to this: 'Their job is to make the 2012 games child friendly, and to sell more toys than could ever fit at the foot, let alone the peak, of Mount Olympus itself.'

What's mount olympus?

It's a mountain in ancient greece

Where is it now then

(exasperated) What?

Did they move it?

(realises) ohh...yeah. it's in sweden now. i just...can't help feeling that there's something more i, we, should be doing. I don't even particularly like children. and I fucking hate sport, to be absolutely honest

you're starting to worry me slightly

Look, I had an idea. Nobody likes us...

Nooo...

It's true. Someone called anethmalves in minas gerais said she thought we were in 'tremendo mau gosto'. and she's got 40 followers! we're fucked.

what does that mean?

it means we're in really bad trouble

no the trimindi gau mosto bit

I don't know, but i don't think it's good. but listen, i think i can see a way out. Nobody seems to like us, they're outraged that we're getting such an easy ride from the media but they're stuck with us for the next few years. and there are two of us...

what are you suggesting?

i think we should wait a couple of years until the time is ripe, gather our forces, then instigate a wave of street terror, burn down parliament, take advantage of the confusion to make a grab for power, close down all democratic institutions and declare an end to the sketch!

*brilliant* idea!

Writer's Block: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep May. 6th, 2008 @ 08:52 pm
LJ::User=HASH(0x2b11d6e06900)
What is one thing you MUST do before you go to bed at night?
NOT vote Conservative.

Exam Anxiety! May. 6th, 2008 @ 07:07 pm

Evening Standard Cocaine Shock Horror! Oct. 16th, 2007 @ 08:23 pm


The invitation for this year's Evening Standard Christmas Party

It can be exclusively revealed by this correspondent that at least 85% of the staff of the London newspaper the 'Evening Standard' are regular users of the killer drug Cocaine.

From the junior staff to the upper reaches of management, use of the deadly narcotic is said to be widespread particularly among the editorial staff, with many prominent journalists 'high as a kite' during substantial periods of the working day. Traces of white powder, believed to be cocaine, have been discovered in the staff toilets as well as in the former smoking room, now openly referred to as the 'Gak Chamber'. A routine inspection found substantial amounts of cocaine on 'very nearly' 100% of notes passed in the staff canteen - many of the staff are now obliged to pay in cash, owing to the fact that their credit cards have become damaged beyond use by constant hammering out of lines on every available surface throughout working hours. A source also revealed that keyboards are continually having to be replaced owing to the build-up of cocaine residue between the keys. On some days the fog of white dust in the air of the newsroom is reportedly so hazy it 'looks like Beijing on a particularly misty morning', making it difficult for journalists to actually see their screens and file their stories.

The influence of the evil drug is also to be observed in the often unorthodox behaviour of the paper's journalists. One of the showbiz staff, sent on a high-profile assignment to interview Janet Jackson, returned with a tape which editors regarded as unusable, given that it consisted of the said journalist talking incessantly about himself and his car for over an hour, pausing only to ask Ms. Jackson if she 'fancied a toot'. The use of cocaine is also said to have strongly influenced the paper's coverage of the current Rugby World Cup.

Investigations into the source of all this 'charlie', as the highly dangerous drug is known amongst dealers and addicts, tend to point the finger in the direction of one individual: Paul Cheston - author, coincidentally, of the daring, acclaimed, hard-hitting, ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-nominated exposé of the suspected Brazilian terrorist Jean-Charles de Menezes's own alleged drug use. Mr Cheston is said to 'knock out so much of the stuff so he sometimes forgets to pick up his paycheck at the end of the month'. From his ideally-placed Docklands apartment he is reported to oversee the delivery of three barges a month shipped directly from Colombia, an amount which is still believed to be barely enough to satisfy the cocaine mania of the E.S. newsroom.

At the time of writing the editor of the Evening Standard, a man who has been widely praised for his couragousness and integrity for giving front-page prominence to the Jean-Charles de Menezes cocaine story, was unavailable for comment. He was said to be in a meeting with a 'very important secret source', and could not be disturbed. The identity of this source remains a mystery, but it is rumoured to be a somewhat infamous underworld figure, widely believed to have been killed by police in a gun battle in Medellin in 1993, although for substantially different reasons than those that led to the death of Mr. Menezes.
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The First Emperors of New China Oct. 14th, 2007 @ 06:05 pm

The current exhibition at the British Museum, The First Emperor, is a tribute to the man who ordered the building of that huge monument to himself, the tomb of the Terracotta Warriors. The focus of the exhibition is a small selection of artefacts from the tomb, including a number of statues of the warriors themselves. It is a blockbuster exhibition which attempts to match the scale and ambition of its subject.

A short film which precedes the main part of the exhibition shows how Emperor Qin managed to conquer and unite what is now the territory of China. At the end of the film we see the map rapidly turning crimson and the word ‘Qin’ appearing on the map. ‘Qin’, we learn, gave origin to the western word China to denote what was called in Chinese the Middle Kingdom – or the centre of the world.

The exhibition was partly criticised in the Guardian for offering an uncritical and revisionist account of the achievements of a man who history has generally remembered as a brutal tyrant who ‘massacred prisoners, burned books and slaughtered scholars’. The words ‘cruel’ and ‘brutal’ are absent from the exhibition. The key message of the exhibition, signalled clearly in that introductory film, is one that the Emperor himself would have been happy with: He was on a celestially-inspired mission to unite ‘All-under-Heaven’ and so to bring China into existence. The existence of China is, therefore, no historical accident: It was written in the stars.

However, historians have on the whole ceased to regard all human history of the great achievements of supreme individuals equipped with armies and visions of a future world reshaped according to their ambitions. Also, it would, or at least should, be very hard in 2007 for any serious thinking person to sustain the belief that nations and states have a historical mission to exist, that they are the result of destiny and not of chance.

We learn very little in the exhibition about the lives of those who actually built the tomb. There are some references to convicts being used, to the huge numbers of slaves whose lives were sacrificed to its construction. But the overall message is that this was the work of a visionary, an emperor creating a coherent and sovreign empire which has survived intact up to the present day.

One key theme or, I would argue, purpose of the exhibition is that of continuity. Qin established the systems of weights and currency and was also largely responsible for establishment of the writing system, as well as beginning the building of the Great Wall. This grants legitimacy to the subsequent rulers of China: a series of dynasties have maintained China’s unity and preserved and guarded its treasures. The rulers of this empire have now generously allowed those who cannot visit the Middle Kingdom to enjoy at first hand a glimpse of its profoundly rich and mysterious cultural legacy.

The way in which China chooses at different times to regard its previous rulers is very instructive. This is particularly true of representations on TV (1). According to the Asia Times:

‘It has been a tradition in China, both under the communists and long before, to criticize Chinese leaders indirectly but deftly by comparing them to misguided, wicked or weak emperors, ignoring the welfare of the people, or by comparing them to the wise and benevolent rulers of the past. Chinese readers - and today's television viewers - are savvy enough to read between the propagandists' lines and understand 2,000-year-old contrived allusions to current politics.’

The Chinese people, then, understand the significance of the different dynasties. Some of them represent more insular styles of rule, some more outgoing, some more brutal and legalistic, some wiser and more benign. Visitors to this exhibition are left to make their own connections between the great rulers of the past of the great rulers of the present.

The current Chinese emperors, then, are laying claim to a heritage which goes back way before 1949, when Chairman Mao told the Chinese people to stand up. Mao was a great admirer of Emperor Qin, by the way, allegedly claiming . It is claiming a inheritance which goes back 2,000 years, and which is ultimately divinely derived. What we are being shown in this exhibition are some of the more treasured family heirlooms.

So what is the problem? Every nation and state in the world seeks to demonstrate that its existence is the inevitable product of all earlier stages of history, and to this end adapts, adopts, invents and constructs myths, legends, historical figures and movements, not to mention pre-existing monuments, in order to prove its rightful legacy. ‘China’ is no more or less artificial an entity than any other nation.

China as a country, if not a nation, has, in broad terms, been around for a very long time. But my question is: How much legitimacy are we prepared to concede the Chinese Government? It consists of an unelected oligarchy of bureaucrats who govern by means of repression and corruption. The subjects of the Chinese Communist Party regime enjoy little in the way of human and democratic rights. It is the world's largest dictatorship, and its claims to legitimate authority are contested, or at least questioned by a large proportion of the world's population, including in China itself.

Would the British Museum, and by extension the British state, be prepared to host a similar exhibition on behalf of the Government of Burma? Or North Korea? (2)

In the exhibition bookshop you can buy a seemingly fairly random selection of things related to China. One thing that may be useful to anyone vaguely interested in Chinese history is a book giving a broad outline and a timeline of Chinese history for children. The book makes a brief reference to the Cultural Revolution, a period when a previous generation of Communist Party leaders ransacked their own country and tried as hard as they could to destroy the country's cultural legacy: it was reportedly only through the direct intervention of Zhou Enlai that such crucial sites as the Forbidden City, the Potala Palace in Lhasa and even the site of Terracotta Warriors were saved. It would be strange, to say the least, if a brief guide to Russian or German history made such scant reference to the Stalin and Hitler eras. There is no mention of the single most prominent recent event in Chinese history in the eyes of the world, the events of June 4 1989, when the previous generation of leaders again murdered thousands in a desperate attempt to hold on to the reins of power, an event which the current leadership refuses to acknowledge on any level.

The culmination of the book's timeline and, presumably the mental timeline of the exhibition's visitors, is, inevitably, summer 2008, when the Chinese capital will host the Olympic Games. This is a key moment for the Chinese Government, a coming-out ball which will confirm beyond any doubt that China is, despite its continuing refusal to grant basic democratic and human rights to its population, a nation whose sovreignty and authority is beyond question (3). It will be a coronation ceremony for the emperors of New China.

This seems to be an apt term for what has previously been known as the People's Republic; given that the only two pillars of CCP ideology for the last number of years has been nationalism and 'we can make you rich!'; a name change, beloved of despots in desperate need of a fresh new image, seems well overdue. The PR in China could stay, of course, but with a different meaning, and given the success of our own beloved former leader in rebranding his party with the facile addition of the word 'New', it seems entirely appropriate for the CCP's attempt to remake itself for internal and international consumption. 'Xin Zhonghuo', anyone?! (4)

The message of the Olympics is, to borrow a phrase: China's Coming Home. And just as the slaves dedicated themselves selflessly to building the stunning monument to vanity that is the tomb of Emperor Qin, the Chinese people are wholeheartedly and voluntarily putting themselves hard to work. A recent Guardian special collected some very revealing comments regarding the importance that a lot of people give to the Olympics, and the effect a successful games will have on 'national pride': '"I don't have any religious or political convictions. So you can say that the Olympics is my main belief," says primary school teacher Zhou Chenguang. According to the taxi driver Xia Shishan: 'We will finish top of the medal table. And when we win, I will be so excited my blood will boil.'' In Beijing projects are being completed at a furious pace and on a meglomaniac scale in the attempt to turn the host city into a place suitable for international visitors such as sports people, journalists and tourists, even if in the process making it into a city which will be pretty much unaffordable to the people who acually live there (4).

The current exhibition at the British Museum is a PR coup for the Chinese Government, and simultaneously an advert for the much greater showcase event next summer. It can to some extent be regarded as propaganda, rather than history.

Of course, a great deal can happen between now and June 2008, and a great deal could happen during the games themselves. What will happen if the very tight control that the authorities are trying to exercise over the event doesn't work? What if there are protests? What are the Falun Gong capable of? And how will the world react?


1 - The Qin dynasty was very positively portrayed in the 2005 film hero, regarded by some viewers as an outright piece of CCP propaganda. See also http://film.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/Critic_Review/Observer_Film_of_the_week/0,,1312773,00.html.

2 - Unfortunately I didn't see the Ancient Persia exhibition two years ago, so have little idea of how that may have related to the question of Modern Iran, beyond what I managed to glean from various websites. There is obviously a significant contrast between the Forgotten Empire, which no clear connection with the present, and the First Emperor, which implies continuity. According to the New York Times, the exhibition 'give ancient Persia its proper place -- between Assyria and Babylon on the one hand and Greece and Rome on the other -- in the chronology of early civilizations. In that sense, ''Forgotten Empire'' is also highly topical...John Curtis, the show's curator and keeper of the museum's ancient Near East department, added in a statement: ''It may also be important at this time of difficult East-West relations to remind people in the West of the remarkable cultural legacy of a country like Iran.'' '. Personally I find such aims perfectly laudable, but whatever the stated aims of the exhibition under discussion here they are not nearly as commendable. Plus, Iran is actually, strictly speaking, a democratic country...

3 - This contrasts with the status of little Taiwan, officially known as the Repuplic of China, which will once again compete under the name of Chinese Taipei, owing to the demands of the Chinese in Beijing. See also http://www.guardian.co.uk/china/story/0,,2174496,00.html.

4 - I'd love to read an analysis of how Beijing's rebranding of China as a dynamic forward-thinking business-friendly place matches Blair's project to ditch the Labour Party's ideological and historical baggage in the mid-nineties. I remember reading some time ago that one of the many foreign politicians to lecture the Chinese leadership in the 1990s was Peter Mandelson.

5 - Obviously East London is now starting to go through the same process. See http://www.redpepper.org.uk/article555.html.

iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiyupiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jun. 18th, 2007 @ 03:38 pm

¡Vamos de vacaciones!

I'm not happy about the amount people are supposed/prepared to pay for language classes... Apr. 21st, 2007 @ 11:41 pm


...and I've decided to do something about it. Maybe I should, however, merely be revising for my exams. 

(That's not ,me in the picture by the way. I think, by the looks of things, they might be Americans, the teachers that is, I mean I can't see any guns in the pictures, but then of course in China guns aren't allowed in the classroom, because, ahem, some of the Students Might Get Hurt, whereas in American schools they probably will be within a couple of years.) 

Incidentally, I would like just like to take this oppurtunity to be the second ever person in the world (here is the first) to question the use of the verb 'to port', as in 'to transfer your number from one 'operator' to another'.

I am once again in love Mar. 23rd, 2007 @ 06:48 pm

Just found out about this:

>> Fuck Starbucks <<
"Hello," hollers Robin from Space Hijackers,
"Loads of B3tards came along to Circle Line Party
before, and I'm wondering if you could pop
something in your newsletter for us? Starbucks,
everyone's favourite nipple-less mermaid
merchants, have decided to move into the East
End with a new store in Whitechapel. We will be
setting up a stall and giving out free fair
trade teas, home-made sandwiches, and all
manner of other goodies to our neighbours, in
an attempt to show what the area will be
missing if Starbucks and their ilk are allowed
to settle in. Come - 1pm, Sat 24th March."
Sounds like fun and there's more details on the
site.
http://www.spacehijackers.org/html/welcome.html

So I sent them this:

I'll be there! I love you! Fuck my essay! I saw that thing yesterday and immediately thought of chucking a brick through the window! This shit is over!

And am so looking foward to it it's so not even as funny as the essay I'm supposed to be writing as this sentence and the day is, are, long, or something!

Hooray!!

I was already thinking of starting a Specifically anti-Starbucks campaign, but a good one, and here it is!

Unfortunately I can't go.

Bulgarians are weird Mar. 21st, 2007 @ 09:46 pm
 

From a FAQ! on www.visittobulgaria.com

Q16: About Yes and No when Bulgarians nod and shake their heads A16: Bulgarians nod their head to say no and shake their heads to say yes. But to confuse you even more the resorts and city`s do it the western way, so you dont have a clue if they mean yes or no. 
go top 

Hooray!

Portuguese Apartheid Essay Dec. 18th, 2006 @ 11:57 am

In 1950-51 Gilberto Freyre conducted a tour of Portugal's overseas colonies at the invitation of the Estado Novo Government. At the end of a two-week stay in the largest of those possessions, Angola, he wrote the following:

'Aqui, a presença de Portugal nao significa a ausência, muito menos a morte da África...Angola, luzitanzando-se, enriquece a sua vida, a sua cultura de valores europeus que aqui, neste mundo em formação, confratanizam com valores nativos ou tropicais, sem os humiliar: a oliveira ao lado da bananeira; a uva ao lado do dem-dem; a macieira ao lado da palmeira; o branco ao lado do preto'.

This contrasts sharply with the conclusions of Gerald Bender in Angola under the Portuguese:
'Africans in colonial Angola were expected to assimilate an almost pure, unmitigated Portuguese culture, barely modified by the slightest trace of their own numerically dominant culture'.

Freyre's intention was to ascertain if his theories regarding Brazil could be extended to the other Portuguese colonies. He would subsequently write of his trip that he had been able to confirm an 'intuição antiga':

'Portugal, o Brazil, a África e a Índia portuguesa, a Madeira, os Açores e Cabo Verde constituem (...) uma unidade de sentimentos e de cultura' .

These consisted in a predisposition for miscegenation and an absence of racial prejudice, both of which had their origin in the influence of the Moors, the Jews and of Africa and had served to create the paternalistic and 'socially plastic' character of the Portuguese. The Portuguese was 'the European colonizer who best succeeded in fraternizing with the so-called inferior races' .

The publication of his first book Casa Grande e Senzala in 1933 had served to overturn the consensus on race in Brazil, which held that Brazil's lack of development was due to 'the ''debilitating' influence of the large black and mestiço population' . In the late nineteenth century Brazil had imposed ethnic quotas on immigration in an attempt to guarantee the country's 'ethnic integrity' . Freyre challenged these notions through detailing and celebrating the huge influence that the African and the Indian had had on Brazilian life.

However, such ideas of the racial inferiority of the non-European were and had been common currency in Portugal for some time. In 1880 Portugal's most prominent historian Oliveira Martins had written:
'Are there not (...) reasons for supposing that this fact of the limited intellectual capacity of the Negro races, proved in so many and such diverse times and places, has an intimate and constitutional cause? (...) Why not teach the gospel to the gorilla or the orangoutang, who do not fail to have ears because they cannot speak, and might understand pretty well as much as the negro?' Read more...Collapse )

What fucking Tarot thing are you? Nov. 13th, 2006 @ 09:19 pm
You Are The Fool

You are a fascinating person who is way beyond the concerns of this world.
Young at heart, you are blissfully unaware of any dangers ahead.
You are a true wanderer - it has be difficult (editorial note: what dimwits come up with this fucking shite?!) finding your place in this world.
Full of confidence, you are likely to take a leap of faith.

Your fortune:

You are about to embark on a new phase in your life.
This may mean changing locations, jobs, friends, or love status. Or getting spayed, for instance.
You are open about what the future will bring, and free of worry.
You have made your peace with fate, and you're ready to start down your new path.


(Apparently Lauren is Death).

Gearsticks and ...c ocks. And art. Nov. 3rd, 2006 @ 10:27 pm

Dear Hyundai,

I notice that your current television advertising campaign features a copy of Leonardo Da Vinci's famous 'Proportions of man according to Vitruvius', except with the genitals airbrushed out. I wonder, then, if this means that your cars are made without gearsticks?

Richard Gunby (Mr.)


... and then the next morning, I receive this email:

Dear Mr Gunby

Thank you for recent comments regarding our current television campaign.

I am please to confirm that the censors have not any cause to modify our vehicles and as such all our vehicles feature conventional gearsticks - however theTrajet does feature a column mounted shift.

I hope this infomation is of some assistance to you.

Yours sincerely

Nicola Young
Customer Contact Executive
Hyundai Motor UK Ltd.

Tel. 08705 329980
Email. customer.query@hyundai-car.co.uk

HYUNDAI: DRIVE YOUR WAY

Visit our new website at: http://www.hyundai.co.uk


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Care for a free fucking newspaper? Sep. 4th, 2006 @ 07:32 pm

Here are a few suggestions for possible responses for when one of them annoying fellas tries to force yet another free fucking newspaper on you with the words 'But it's free!!!!':

That's because it's worthless.

So are
all the others (accompanied by filthy look).

So's cancer.

So's dogshit.

So's tap water.

So are plastic bags from Asda.

So's a kick in the teeth.

So's South Africa (in theory anyway).

So's Willy the fucking whale.

So was school milk.

So's the Polish Express.

So are adverts on the Gumtree.

So's this.

And also this.

So's what pigeons eat.

And my own personal favourite (although I'm yet to try it out myself):
So's my choice NOT to take your piece of shit free newspaper, you overzealous purple-t-shirted fucking fuckwitted TWAT!!!

Anyone up for a big huge massive game of Hide & Seek at the Barbican?! Aug. 28th, 2006 @ 10:09 pm

It's just a mad wacky idea at the moment, but if a few people are interested it could be really good fun!
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The end of Communism and the death of vinyl Aug. 24th, 2006 @ 07:03 pm

How much is an album worth these days? On CD, surprisingly little, given that I haven't bought a CD since, erm, 2002. You can pick up a physical copy of the marvellous new Pet Shop Boys album for only £7.95 at HMV. Online, if you care to make a donation to the ailing record companies, you can get it track by track for merely 79p a pop. But why pay for a physical product? Music is now in the air, floating around for free. And according to Bob Dylan, it's not worth paying for:

"It was like, 'everybody's gettin' music for free'. I was like, 'well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway'."

There is of course a marked difference between price and value. I'm sure Dylan didn't feel the same way about the folk and blues discs he treasured when he was growing up. Tom Stoppard's new(ish) play 'Rock n' Roll' is on one level an elegy to rock music as preserved on vinyl. In one of the most memorable scenes the main character returns to his flat in Prague to find that all of his beloved records have been smashed to pieces by the Communist secret police. His immediate reaction is to go to the bathroom and violently throw up.

Anyone who grew up with 12 inch LPs will immediately be able to sympathise. As someone recently wrote:

Entire lifestyles built up around albums, smoking dope to albums, having sex to albums. You lent your favourite albums out with trepidation; you ruefully replaced them, on CD, when they didn't come back. Getting hitched paled into insignificance next to merging record collections with your loved one. Getting rid of the doubles made divorce unthinkable. Elastica once sang, of waking: 'Make a cup of tea, put a record on.' That's how generations of hip young (and not so young) people have lived.

People's relationship with their physical albums - and singles too - was an intensely personal and jealously guarded one. Tom Stoppard chose several of his favourite tunes to be interspersed throughout the performance. His choices are fairly predictable ones, covering the broad canon of late-sixties early-seventies rock music, but then he is getting on for sixty or so; I would have made quite a different selection, with maybe more Motorhead and Momus and less Pink fucking Floyd and no Guns n' bleedin' Roses, but then I am only twenty-seven years old. In my mind, anyway. But I digress.

There's no doubt that the songs he chose are those that have been most important to him, and the titles and names of the performers are displayed on a screen between each scene, emphasising just how much these little details are or were so important in the fetishing of each individual record. But if nostalgia for the days when rock music assumed such critical importance in our lives is one theme, the main one is the role of rock music in the ideological struggle against the repressive Czech regime. The characters argue bitterly and passionately about music and about politics. The polarisation of the debates about materialism, about sex, about human happiness, and about what could be endured (in the name of freedom) and what must be resisted (in the name of freedom) is very clear. There is an appetite for ideas and a willingness to explore the implications of a particular stance; just as a vinyl disc had two sides, every idea must have its counterpart, both in the mind and in the 'real world'. Read more...Collapse )

Faire Bongo partie de l'histoire! Aug. 8th, 2006 @ 09:04 am

He's laughing at you, you prick

Flicking gamely as I was through a predictably-difficult-to-read edition of 'Le Monde' the other day, I came across the following headline:

'Comment les Rolling Stones et U2 s'arrangent pour payer un minimum d'impôts'

La presse néerlandaise a révélé, lundi 31 juillet, que le groupe U2 avait, depuis quelques semaines, lui déménagé U2 Limited, la société qui détient les droits musicaux du chanteur Bono et de ses trois comparses, de Dublin vers les quais d'Amsterdam.

En conflit avec le gouvernement irlandais, qui a lancé une réforme fiscale et veut désormais taxer les artistes, U2 a décidé de confier ses intérêts à Jan Favié, directeur général de Promobridge, Promotone et Musidor, les sociétés néerlandaises des Rolling Stones.

Comme ses prédécesseurs, U2, le groupe le plus riche du monde - 201 millions d'euros de revenus en 2005, pour 120 millions à Jagger et sa bande -, entend bénéficier des largesses offertes par la législation des Pays-Bas, qui n'impose les droits musicaux qu'à hauteur de 1,6 %. Cette exception européenne a été dénoncée à de nombreuses reprises par la Commission de Bruxelles et l'Organisation pour la coopération et le développement en Europe (OCDE) mais le gouvernement de La Haye résiste vaillamment aux pressions.


Hmm, let's see. The richest rock group in the world, which made €201 million of revenue in 2005, which is more than I earn in two years, have moved their financial affairs to Holland, in order to take advantage of a somewhat overgenerous tax regime which has been condemned by the European Commission. You can find an interesting account (in English) of the groups's stance on paying their taxes here. In the meantime, I decided to find out what my old French friend Monsieur Petit-Choufleur, who was born in Wales to Parisean parents but learnt French from a free CD he got with the Daily Mail in 2004, thought of it all:

"Alors, U2, Bono, le nome me semble quelque chose...ça ne sera pas le petit nain qui toujours nous dit que les problèmes du monde seulement seront résolus si nous, erm, donnons(?!) notre argent a la charité? Le superbranleur qui a dit que ce n'est pas une question politique, qui est tres bonne ami de George Bush, tellement que lui a donné un cadeau d'un ipod et une Bible?! Qui a declare que 'Blair et Brown sont comme les Lennon et Mc Cartney de la lutte contre la pauvreté'? Qui nous urge que nous achetions une téléphone portable rouge et un carte de credite de la même couleur de son autres grandes amis de Motorola et American Express?

C'est incroyable, n'est pas? Bien sur, si les hommes riches du monde paierai ses impôts, nous aurions l'argent pour resolver tous les problèmes du monde, n'est pas?"Read more...Collapse )

Dear Lambeth Council... Aug. 2nd, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

Dear Lambeth Council,

I am writing with reference to the following statement contained on your website, which I came across while searching for a municipal swimming pool in the borough:

We are committed to the provision and development of sport and recreation. There are four leisure centres and a community sports centre in the borough, and facilities in our parks and green spaces. We also run a healthy lifestyles programme.

Upon further investigation (ie. clicking on the link to 'Clapham Leisure Centre') I found the following website:

http://www.leisureconnection.co.uk
Another great offer to help you make 2006 your healthiest year ever

There are thousands of reasons to join Harpers Fitness and now you can try us for 7 days for just £7

Reduce cholesterol
Help manage your weight
Reduce levels of stress & anxiety
Protect against osteoporosis & arthritis
Reduce the risk of heart disease
Lower risk of high blood pressure & diabetes

In fact if exercise came in a pill, it would be the most cost effective medicine in the world today!

Contact your local Leisure Connection facility to find out how you can start a healthier lifestyle.


It turns out that there are no public leisure facilities in my borough whatsoever, merely some expensive private gyms which benefit from a huge amount of public money!

Whoever is responsible for this state of affairs should be burnt.

Yours sincerely,

R. Willmsen
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¡Coño, mira lo que comen los británicos! Jul. 31st, 2006 @ 07:34 pm

Often, in my role as imparter of the English language to the overprivileged wastlings of the wealthier non-English speaking nations of the world, I am called upon to donn the mantle of George Orwell and to defend British food. I usually draw the attention of my students to the fact that, although British food is Not Up To Much, there is in the UK a huge variety of international food on offer due to our cosmopolitan multiculinary heritage.

More recently, however, and especially given that I now have to live here myself, I have decided that we are in fact simply schizophrenic when it comes to food. For all that TV chefs have been kind enough to share with us the benefits of their hard-earned wisdom, the end result is a nation of people wandering round oversized, catastrophically overpowerful and overpriced supermarkets feeling very confused and depressed about the prospect of what they are going to have for tea.

Understandably, a lot of people stick with a) what they can afford and b) what will fill them up as tastily as possible without giving them time to think about the nutritional consequences. This is of course all based on the widely accepted but basically erroneous understanding that the only people in the country who can 'cook' are the TV chefs and Nigel fucking Slater and his über-middle-class chums.

On a very recent trip to my local Walmart subsiduary to pick up some very low-fat turkey rashers for a friend, stuck as I was in the queue behind some large, gingerish people, I took the trouble to inspect the contents of their somewhat overladen shopping trolley. It contained:

6 boxes of Asda's own brand ready meal Chicken Kievs
A bag containing 6 bags of six different flavour crisps, making a total of 32 packets of crisps
Four tins of Asda's own brand Baked Beans
A breakfast cereal which appeared to be called 'Breakfast Boredom?'
Some more crisps
Several bags of Extra Special Chunky frozen chips
Four frozen Asda's own brand Lasagnes
A £6 DVD copy of the film 'Dude, Where's my car'?
A large number of frozen pizzas
Four frozen 'Indian style' nan-breads
A multipack of 'German-style' twiglets
A two litre bottle of Tizer
A six-pack of Smirnoff Ice
Another six-pack of Smirnoff Ice
A third six-pack of Smirnoff Ice, which seemed to be black in colour for some reason
A six-pack of Bacardi Breezers
A second six-pack of Bacardi Breezers (to be fair, they may have been planning some sort of celebration)
An apple (I am not making this up. Oh, okay, there wasn't an apple).

The sum total of this high-fat bounty came to £47.13. I wanted to try and get hold of the receipt but at this point I was too busy trying to get the bleedin' plastic bag open and getting slightly annoyed by the impatience of the woman behind me (contents of trolley: Sixteen rolls of kitchen, erm, roll and four two-litre bottles of Asda's own brand Still Water for fuck's sake). I did pass them on my way out of the shop. Fatty Bum-fluff Football shirt Boy was perusing the receipt avidly. I think perhaps he was planning to eat it. I did briefly consider grabbing it out of his hands and making a run for it, thereby gaining a more detailed and specific record of their anti-nutritional shopping expedition which would allow more scientific analysis, but I was scared that they might catch me and put me on the front page of the Daily Mail along with the words 'Student Type Caught Red-Handed in Terror Plot to Mock the Lower Orders!'. Or, you know, something.

It might make an interesting art project to go round Asda buying the most unhealthy week's shopping available, and seeing if you could make it match up to exactly £47.13. I suspect that the contents of such a trolley would be exactly the same as those I've listed above. Mind you, I dread to think what toll those low-fat turkey rashers will enact on us all one day...
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A History of Violence Jul. 23rd, 2006 @ 10:28 am

"It’s very important to make the distinction between terror groups and freedom fighters, and between terror action and legitimate military action." So said the former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, at a commemoration last week of the sixtieth anniversary of the bombing of the King David's Hotel in Jerusalem. The attack was carried out by a Jewish 'resistance branch', disguised as Arabs, and killed ninety-two people, seventeen of whom were Jewish. It made an important contribution to forcing the British out of Palestine and to the foundation of the Israeli state two years later. The group that carried it out was led by the future sixth Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin.

So when Israel insists that it has a long-standing 'problem' with terrorism, it has a very good point.

That propensity towards using high levels of many different varieties of violence to get others to do what you want them to is now backed up by more advanced and expensive technology than mere milk churns contaning explosives. The BBC reported last week that the current Prime Minister had ordered the use of something called 'nocturnal sound bombs' in order to:

"...make sure no one sleeps at night in Gaza".

On salon.com Sandy Tolan summed up the situation as it stood about two weeks ago - before the attacks on Lebanon:

Under the pretext of forcing the release of a single soldier "kidnapped by terrorists" (or, if you prefer, "captured by the resistance"), Israel has done the following: seized members of a democratically elected government; bombed its interior ministry, the prime minister's offices, and a school; threatened another sovereign state (Syria) with a menacing overflight; dropped leaflets from the air, warning of harm to the civilian population if it does not "follow all orders of the IDF" (Israel Defense Forces); ...fired missiles into residential areas, killing children; and demolished a power station that was the sole generator of electricity and running water for hundreds of thousands of Gazans.

Besieged Palestinian families, trapped in a locked-up Gaza, are in many cases down to one meal a day, eaten in candlelight. Yet their desperate conditions go largely ignored by a world accustomed to extreme Israeli measures in the name of security: nearly 10,000 Palestinians locked in Israeli jails, many without charge; 4,000 Gaza and West Bank homes demolished since 2000 and hundreds of acres of olive groves plowed under; three times as many civilians killed as in Israel, many due to "collateral damage" in operations involving the assassination of suspected militants.


What will be the consequences of Israel's refusal to let its neighbours sleep? On a demonstration in London yesterday, the leader of the British Muslim Institute drew confused cheers from sections of the crowd when he promised that those leaders who condone and promote Israel's right to terrorise adjoining countries will soon face 'revenge'.

Unfortunately, unlike the Palestinians, Tony Blair and George Bush can sleep soundly in their beds. Such 'revenge' will not be enacted upon them, but on their citizens - namely ourselves. Given Blair's refusal to understand the connection between the wars in Iraq and the July bombings, it is quite unlikely that he has considered this. He knows he will never be at personal risk of terrorist attacks. Read more...Collapse )

Wednesday After Work in the Park with Richard Jul. 19th, 2006 @ 08:09 pm

An evidently confused woman walked up to me une fois in the centre of Dublin and asked me something in French with what sounded like 'cherche' and 'GPO' in it.

Now she might just have been asking 'Vous cherchez le GPO, n'est pas?', in which case the answer would have been 'Sí (it's true, it's proper grammar and everything, look it up), je suis pas Joseph Connolly et nous ne sommes pas dans l'an 1916'. I evidemment presumed that she was asking me where the General Post Office (which was about 20 yards behind us) was, so I told her immediately. By pointing.

My French has become much better now, danke schön very much. As for other foreign languages: I can do every word in Chinese except for tree, politics and, er, word, and I will hopefully soon very much impress my girlfriend during our Mystery Holiday in Berlin next month (NB: THAT BIT MEANS I CAN SPEAK GERMAN - R. Willmsen 22/03/07); I can speak almost as much Spanish as every other smug fucker out there who just happens to speak fucking Spanish. Oh yes, and I am also learning Italian. Very, very slowly.

More significantly, I speak better Portuguese than José Saramago, and will one day have a job to prove it. Which is partly why, in Battersea Park on the Hottest Day Ever (does that mean it's going to start getting colder now?!), sparsely surrounded by lots of people speaking the less passionate, more bored-sounding variety of the Portuguese language, on seeing a young black family walking towards me along the path, I, thinking that they may well be Angolan or maybe Portuguese or something, thought that I might say to them in a smiley fashion 'Fala-se português por aqui!' (they speak Portuguese round here).

I didn't say anything, thereby soundly killing off any possibility that I might a) the same day become the subject of an entertaining 'This sweaty guy we didn't know said something to us in a language we didn't understand!' anecdote or b) become the firmest of friends with some people for about 2 minutes.

About sixteen seconds later another young black family walked past me, speaking Portuguese. In the treasured words of Alanis Morissette: You live, you learn.

Incidentally, has anyone else in the imperial capital noticed that every single cafe in the centre of London (with the honourable exception of 'Brasil By Kilo') is suddenly run by Portuguese people?! They're everywhere all of a sudden, especially around here. Especially since I, you know, moved house. Quite a lot less Bangladeshi people too. That is not why I moved, by the way. I wonder if, one day, 'the Portuguese cuisine' will enjoy the same elevated position in our gastronomic hierachy as does that of our Polish communities. But as for competing with the Bengalis for a larger share of the cheaper end of the restaurant market...nem pensar!

Could China be a new cultural superpower? Jun. 15th, 2006 @ 04:38 pm

Another profoundly idiotic, craven and predictable article by Martin Jacques in the Guardian about the inevitable and glorious rise of China gave birth to an interesting thought.

In contrast to five years ago, the likely identity of the next superpower has become crystal clear. It is no longer just a possibility that it will be China; on the contrary, the probability is extremely high, if not yet a racing certainty. Nor does the timescale of this change have us peering into the distant future as it did five years ago. China is already beginning to acquire some of the interests and motivations of a superpower, and even a little of the demeanour. Beijing feels like a parallel universe to the US, and certainly Europe. There is an expansive mood about the place. China is growing in self-confidence by the day.

And with good reason. There is no sign of China's economic growth abating, and it is this that lies behind its growing confidence. The massive contrasts between China and the US, both socially and economically, are enjoined in the argument over America's trade deficit with the China. The latter is deeply aware that its future prospects depend on the continuation of its economic growth and this remains its priority. But no longer to the exclusion of all else: China is beginning to widen its range of concerns and interests.


So far so predictable: China is growing at an exponential rate and is beginning to challenge the global power of the US. My idea concerns this parallel between Chinese and American power, but at the level of culture.

It's clear that the US as a global cultural superpower foments opposition to itself by crushing or buying off any attempts at cultural independence, so that you increasingly see the same films advertised at the same time in the centres of cities all around the globe, for example, and so many people's free time is spent watching films from Blockbuster video, not to mention eating at McDonalds and shopping at Wal-Mart and so on. This makes the United States a very obvious target for anger against injustice and inequality.

China, on the other hand, has almost no cultural influence on this level, give or take the occasional martial arts epic, which is itself effectively a product of the Hollywood system. There are no global Chinese music stars, and very few if any recent global household names in any field. There is, thankfully, no global Chinese equivalent to McDonalds or Pizza Hut; in fact, the brands most beloved of young Chinese people seem to be American or European ones - NBA, KFC, the Champions' League etc. Aside from a few satellite Chinese speaking parts of the world, China has little or virtually no cultural influence to match its growing economic clout.

Doesn't this mean, then, that its increasing international economic power will attract less notice and therefore less opposition? I'm thinking in terms of other developing countries, specifically Africa, the Middle East and South America, where the locally damaging effects of China's involvement are becoming more and more unavoidable (I wrote about some aspects of this here), as well as the catastrophic effects on the environment if every Chinese peasant did ever get to live the Chinese Dream. What China lacks, though, is anything like the very clear focus for opprobrium that US cultural products and brands represent.Read more...Collapse )

How to help the USA beat the world at football Jun. 14th, 2006 @ 08:08 am

A good few months ago I posted a profoundly provocative anti-football rant, cunningly disguised as a 5-part autobiography of the last seven years of my life, or vice-versa, or something, in which I wrote the following:

There is something about football that I haven't mentioned yet, and it is something that these days gets very little attention. It concerns women and football.

Now there are many reasons why lots of women watch football. Some for the same reasons that men do - to see the occasional bit of spectacle that the sport offers, or because watching and following the game is usually a social thing. Some, it has to be said, are Uncle Toms, showing or developing an interest in it in order to please men.

Some women play football too, but like women's boxing the professional game exists as a side-effect of men's football. We don't see it on TV, and it's no accident that the best known player is the ex-wife of one of football's leading men. And, like boxing, when it does get some coverage it is often just for the titillation of men. Women footballers, unlike their male counterparts, have no visibility and no power.

The fact remains; football, in terms of the sport we see on TV, the thing that is so often cited as one thing that unites all the people and peoples of the world, does not involve women at any level.


Among the many people keen to prove that I was, you know, as I so often am, wrong, were a couple of posters who pointed out that actually, in the United States the women's game has a lot more prominence than the men's sport, and that most American people would be more likely to be able to name a female player than a male one. It seems that in the land of the freeandthebrave, 'soccer' is something of a girl's game.Read more...Collapse )

The Moral Saliva of Don Pepe Jun. 9th, 2006 @ 02:53 pm

Thanks to Wikipedia I have acquired a new hero: José Figueres Ferrer, aka ‘Don Pepe’, the Costa Rican President in the 1940s-50s, who certainly achieved a great deal more progressive change in his nine years of power than Tony Blair has: in his first term in office he nationalised the banks, gave women and illiterate people the right to vote and abolished the army. This last move is of course absolutely laudable - it is difficult, let’s say, to imagine Blair or even Gordon Brown doing the same – but it led to short-term problems during the, ahem, war with Nicaragua seven years later.

In 1958 the then vice-president of the US, Richard Nixon, was spat at by a crowd in Caracas, Venezuela while visiting on a goodwill tour. An inquiry was held to attempt to ascertain the causes of the incident, and Ferrer was asked to speak before the Congress in Washington. The wonderful speech he gave reminded me of one of something I posted last year on the politics of spitting, actually my second favourite thing I’ve wrote here, in which I typed:

One of the other potential uses of staring, spitting and other generally anti-social behaviour is in the field of International Relations. A logical and non-violent way of resolving the territorial disputes of the world is in the same way that cats do - if Saddam Hussein had had the foresight to piss all over Kuwait in 1990, the Americans would have been understandably less keen to go in and remove him. Similarly , if Mao Zedong had sent all those young Chinese soldiers to North Korea in 1950 armed only with the simple order to stand on the border and spit, maybe one million lives could have been saved.

Somehow I’ve always managed to restrain myself from adopting expectoration as a form of direct action, although the constant vigil outside the Marie Stopes Centre in Ealing next to where I work presents quite a challenge to this. In the speech Ferrer explicitly cites spitting as a form of resistance against imperial power, against what he calls the ‘moral spitting’ of the powerful. It is well worth reading the whole thing; it is a rousing piece of rhetoric, which may just make you want to, regardless of the potentially drastic consequences, run up to the gates of the nearest American embassy and let fly:

"As a citizen of the hemisphere, as a man who has dedicated his public life to promoting inter-American comprehension, as an educated man who knows and appreciates the United States and who has never tried to hide that appreciation to anyone, no matter how hostile he was, I deplore that the people of the Latin America, represented by a fistful of overexcited Venezuelans, have spat on a worthy public officer who represents the greatest nation of our time. But I must speak frankly and even rudely, because I am convinced that the situation demands it: the people cannot spit on a foreign policy, which was what they tried to do. But when they have exhausted all other means of trying to make themselves understood, the only thing left to do is spit. Read more...Collapse )

Come on Deutschland! May. 26th, 2006 @ 08:32 pm

My New Favourite Person, Matthias Matussek, a journalist for Der Spiegel magazine, wrote recently in the Guardian's Germany special:

It was after repeated futile complaints about the primitive image of Germany cultivated by the English (as Nazis and frozen-faced engineers), that a plan was hatched by a group of German politicians and diplomats, among them my brother, Thomas, who was, until March, German envoy to Britain. What if they flew in a few English history teachers and wined and dined them like little potentates at the government's expense? If, after their stay, the teachers knew more about Heine's poems, Claudia Schiffer's golden tresses, Beethoven's symphonies, Humboldt's adventures, Willy Brandt's biography and, ja, if we must, notorious "pop idol" judge Dieter Bohlen (Germany's answer to Simon Cowell) - the good news would gradually filter down to the pupils.

Nearly two dozen teachers were invited to Berlin, Dresden and Bonn. They resided in five-star hotels, attended the opera, sauntered around the Reichstag, and - as emissaries of not just England but Britain - exchanged platitudes with representatives of the German nation. This red-carpet treatment cost German taxpayers some €52,000 (£35,000).

And what did the rotters do? They spurned all the attention as though it were some kind of indecent proposition. "It wasn't a great experience," a paper quoted one teacher, Peter Liddell, as saying. At the opera, the woman next to him nodded off, he reported. They went along for the ride. But that wouldn't change the curriculum, which - after all - calls for Hitler, Hitler and more Hitler. A colleague summed it up for the record: "Nazis are sexy. Evil is fascinating."

There are three simple lessons here. One: the British have zero interest in the new Germany. Two: the British have zero interest in the old Germany. Three: the British are interested only in Nazi Germany.

And that, I would say, is not a German problem, but a British one.


Gut gesagt! I'd imagine that in the Rwanda-Somalia-Cultural Revolution style chaos of the British Secondary School Classroom, amidst the shouting and the stabbing and the smoke, the teacher is comforted by the fact that there is always a magic word which will make the students shut up, sit down and pay attention. That word is 'Hitler'.Read more...Collapse )

Anyone up for burning some flags? May. 26th, 2006 @ 06:34 pm

Provocative funnyman Charlie Brooker just took the words right outta my mouth and wrote something about the current fashion for hoisting the England flag out of car windows:

Imagine the outcry if government passed a law requiring the nation's dimbos to wear dunce's caps in public. No one would stand for it. There'd be acres of newsprint comparing Blair and co to the Nazis. We'd see rioting in the streets - badly organised rioting with a lot of mis-spelled placards, but rioting nonetheless.

Those protesters who burn flags outside embassies have got the right idea - but they shouldn't be burning them because they disagree with something the country in question has done. They should be burning flags just because they're flags. And flags are rubbish.


I'm not sure if I dislike flags as such, although I certainly share some of this writer's concern about recent displays of my country's emblem:

Is it just me, or is anyone else slightly worried about the number of St George's flags flying from road vehicles right now? Of course, these displays of patriotism are to be expected in the build-up to next month's World Cup - which England enters with more confidence than at any time since 1970. This time, though, the flags seem to be on show earlier than ever.

In fact, they started appearing the day after the local elections on May 4. Apart from the Labour meltdown and the Tories getting their first respectable vote for 14 years, the big story of the election was the rise of the British National party, which gained 28 seats, nearly 20 in London alone. Could it be that many of the England flag-wavers are in fact supporters of this racist party, glorying in their "victory" and celebrating their racial pride?


I agree with both articles in that I think that the only reason anyone would want to buy and display their country's flag is because they are either right-wing or a little bit thick - or possibly, in a tiny minority of cases of course, both. Taking pride in the place where you happen to have been born is, in my humble onion, akin to holding up a piece of paper with 'MY MUM'S BETTER THAN YOUR MUM' written on it. At the same time, it is true to say that there have been a lot of people who aren't white proudly displaying the flag, so it may well be that we are witnessing one of those 'look at me I'm queer!' reclaiming-abusive-words-and-symbols-from-the-right-wing moments. I sincerely hope so. Read more...Collapse )

The Enemy Within May. 26th, 2006 @ 06:16 pm

George Orwell, in his book ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, describes in detail the physical hell that Britain’s coal miners had to endure in return for a living wage:

Most of the things one imagines in hell are in there - heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and, above all, unbearably cramped space. Everything except the fire, for there is no fire down there except the feeble beams of Davy lamps and electric torches which scarcely penetrate the clouds of coal dust.

The miner's job would be as much beyond my power as it would be to perform on a flying trapeze or to win the Grand National ... by no conceivable amount of effort or training could I become a coal-miner, the work would kill me in a few weeks.


This strength that the miners exhibited, invisibly, underground had to have some counterpart on the surface. And so the National Union of Mineworkers fought on their behalf to defend their safety and their livelihoods.

Sixty years later Guardian journalist Seamus Milne, in his book ‘The Enemy Within: Thatcher's Secret War Against the Miners’, detailed how the vendetta that Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s Conservative government held against the NUM. Margaret Thatcher regarded the miners, with their collective recourse to industrial action to defend their jobs, their wages and the safety regulations that kept them alive, as ‘the enemy within’. The Chancellor Nigel Lawson felt that the Government had a duty to confront and destroy the miner’s industrial power akin to facing ‘the threat of Hitler in the late 1930s’. The bitter strike which resulted lasted for almost a year and was lost, narrowly, by the miners.

The consequences for the Labour movement were, just as the Tories had calculated, catastrophic. Membership of trade unions has almost halved since Thatcher and Co. began their all out assault on trade union power in 1979, and had already diminished considerably by 1992, when the Government announced that it was to close a third of Britain’s coal pits, with the loss of 31,000 jobs. There were huge protests against the closures but the NUM itself had already lost a great deal of members and a lot of the support which had sustained it through the strike eight years earlier. The Labour Party, which was in the process of concluding that if it was ever to regain power it would have to abandon most of its founding principles, offered no support whatsoever and the battle was lost.

Now what pits survive in Britain are in private hands, employing a tiny amount of people in very unsafe conditions. The communities that came into being because of the mines are now some of Europe’s poorest towns, suffering from high levels of long-term unemployment and heroin addiction. Not that the world has no need of coal, or that its production is not profitable; the regular news reports from China about tragic accidents show us where and how it is obtained, and at what price. Read more...Collapse )
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Ni shuo zhongwen ma? May. 23rd, 2006 @ 06:46 pm

I’ve always found it a bit puzzling that people pay (often lots of) money to sit in a class and practise speaking foreign languages. Everyone on earth already has at least one language at their disposal and it’s not too hard to track down someone who wants to learn that language and in return will help you as your try your hardest to make yourself understood in their language. It’s just a case of tracking down that someone, which these days, what with the gumtree and whatnot, is not a very difficult task at all.

Of course occasionally you may, especially if you’re a woman, meet people with ulterior motives, or who are actually just really boring, or who laugh pitilessly every time you try and put a sentence together – or in the case of Mandarin Chinese, look at you with such puzzlement that you’d think you’d just told them there was something wrong with the Communist Party, whereas in fact you were simply trying to let them know that you come from Sheffield and you prefer broccoli to spinach. But on the whole it’s preferable to and a lot more effective than, say, paying €50 a month to some unscrupulous bastards who will continue fleecing your bank account long after the school has gone bankrupt and the teacher has fucked off back to London in poverty, or, if you’re Brazilian, will stick you in a tiny classroom on Oxford Street with eighteen of your compatriots so you end up speaking less English than you would back home.

Now I come to think of it, language teachers spend so much time trying to make their students pretend that they are not actually in a classroom at all that it really makes you question the point of being there in the first place.Read more...Collapse )

'José Saramago in the Land of the Blind', by me May. 22nd, 2006 @ 06:37 pm

In the course of José Saramago’s ‘Blindness’, a euphorically pessimistic novel about a sudden and unexplained epidemic of blindness in an unnamed city and country, he makes some remarks about blind people which, in the context of a plague which has left all but one individual without sight, make a lot of sense. His essential argument has to do with solidarity making human society possible, so it seems reasonable to speculate that in a situation where nobody could actually see the Other, human feelings would take second place to a feral need to survive at any cost, which is what we witness throughout the novel.

There are, however, a couple of moments in the book where he seems keen to take it a little bit further and actually state quite baldly that the only reason that blind people have any feelings at all is because we are there to help them out. Which seems a little harsh, and perhaps a bit rich seeing as he himself wears a particularly thick pair of spectacles.

I don’t know if many blind people have read the novel. I did find one comment from a ‘visually impaired’ person who felt that ‘blindness operates in his text as both an intertextual sign and as a referent’, which is of course helpful, but may as far as I know not actually mean very much. Anyhoo. For it to be read widely in the, ahem, ‘blind community’ it would have to be published in Braille, and I don’t think it has been. Maybe, if it ever is, he might one day face a Salman Rushdie-style Fatwah, with copies of his and probably other books being burnt in obviously carefully controlled environments and our TV screens filled with the faces of angry blind people holding up photos of camels and Paris Hilton and proclaiming with fury ‘THIS MAN MUST DIE!’.

I digress. Here, in all it's not-really-worth-reading-if-you-haven't-read-the-book entirety is an essay I recently wrote about the novel, upon reading of the which (?!) they agreed to let me back into University, which is where I’ll be from October and hopefully up until the end of my life in, ooh, dozens of years’ time. I would particularly appreciate hearing any constructive comments from any blind readers out there, but unfortunately my experimentary attempts to make it easier for them by simply writing <'Braille'> <'/Braille'> have sadly proved as fruitless as, erm, my daily diet.

Alors je me tais.

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Damien Hirst: "Fuck all there at the end of the day" May. 21st, 2006 @ 05:55 pm

A Dead Shark Isn't Art, Stuckism International 2003

In addition to being worth over £100 million, Damien Hirst is, according to today's Observer, the most powerful figure in the art world today. His new work will cost between £8-£10 million to produce, but when it is complete it will be worth a hell of a lot more:

Damien Hirst's work in progress is a small, delicate object: a life-size human skull. Not just any skull, mind, but one cast in platinum and encased entirely in diamonds - some 8,500 in all. It will be the most expensive work of art ever created, costing between £8m and £10m.

'I just want to celebrate life by saying to hell with death,' said the artist, 'What better way of saying that than by taking the ultimate symbol of death and covering it in the ultimate symbol of luxury, desire and decadence? The only part of the original skull that will remain will be the teeth. You need that grotesque element for it to work as a piece of art. God is in the details and all that.'


Of course, diamonds are, for some people, as both Kanye West and Miss Dynamite have been keen to tell us, more than just a symbol of 'luxury, desire and decadence':

In many African countries, including Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) diamonds have been, and continue to be linked to terrible human rights abuses either by insurgent groups to fuel conflict and carry out atrocities against innocent civilians or by unscrupulous government who are equally brutal. Read more...Collapse )

Dych chi’n siarad Italian? May. 21st, 2006 @ 01:27 pm

I take a certain amount of encouragement in life from the fact that I don't speak Italian. Perche? Well, I have tried to learn, a little bit. I spent a few days in Rome years ago wondering why all those street signs with arrows on them all said 'Unica Via', and I can put together some simple phrases like 'No me piacce il calcio', ' Dove c'e musica' and 'Oggi ho fatto qualcosa nostra', but I don't I know if I'd be up to, say, having a short conversation about il tempo meterelogico. So how can my lack of basic Italian conversation skills be a source of encouragement, even pride?

Well, Signor Nessuno, what it is is that I like knowing that it will always be an opzione. If at any point I ever have cause to become really bored or despondent, like per exemplo if we ever get to the point where newspapers stop asking asinine rhetorical questions like 'is it too late to prevent global warming' and start accepting that we really are actually finito nella merda, then at that point I can always invest in a cheap grammar book and a copy of 'La Republica' or whatever the most left-wing daily newspaper is and comenzare (a?) aprendere.

See, it's easy to learn Italian, and it's fun and makes your brain grow. To the size of an Italian's! If I ever get really interested in it I could always go and live there for a while, although one less radical option would be to find an intercambio. Recently I put an ad on the gumtree site 'cause of wanting to practice those few languages in which I can have a short conversation about the weather. Italian wasn't one of them, obviously, which is why it was a bit of a sorpresa to recebere una risposta from una ragazza Italiana. Ma no voglio praticare mi inglese! I protested in reply. Alguni personi sono idioti.

I'd recommend this nozione of Learning Italian as Potential Life TherapyTM to anyone feeling down, bored or even suicida.

If you're ever faced with someone – friend, family, or even someone you work with but don't actually like – who is entertaining thoughts of topping theyselves, just ask 'parle italiano?' If by any chance they answer 'Ma sono italiano!', you could always try, I dunno, 'Dych chi’n siarad Cymraeg?', although that might actually not work in quite the same way. If you're for any reason having this conversation with Berlesconi or Paulo di Canio, just tell them, in all seriousness 'Penso, come amico, que la migliore cosa que le puoi fare è suicidaresi. Stronzo fascista'.

Nightmare on Esol Street May. 20th, 2006 @ 04:12 pm

Imagine a war between Somalia and Iraq. How bad would that be? Imagine if Sri Lanka joined in! It's ... inconceivable. Except it's not, I conceived of it the other day, in class.

I imagined it just after each of my two students had finished speaking, reasonably eloquently for a low-level class, on the subject of how tragically, totally and infamously had their respective countries collapsed into barbarism, and about how they could, in almost all certainty, never go home again.

We sat in silent reflection for a moment or so. I had to try to lift the gloom that had descended. I had to try and cheer us all up. I thought, what's a way in which things, in the absence of hope, could possibly be worse. A simple answer came to me. So I suggested it. They looked at me blankly. They hadn't understood. I repeated it slowly. They looked confused. We did 'between' and 'invaded'. And 'war'. They smiled. We laughed! What an idea! Gayness returned to the classroom. What a relief!

One of my students is an interesting character; he comes from Basra and speaks Aramaic, which they! told me was a dead language, but means that speaking to him is a bit like speaking to Jesus, or something. He used to play football for the Iraqi reserve team, and hasn't been to the cinema since 1974. As his surname is Baki, and he introduces himself to people with his surname, and he has a slight problem with his 'ps' and 'bs', he spent the first few months of his life here calling himself 'Paki'.

The other student (or 'customer', as they infuriatingly refer to them in my, fuck it, school) used to be Somali, but is now French, and I when I came back from my break the other day she actually appeared to be reading a book, and the book was in French, so, you know, she must be very clever.

We moved on to talk of other matters, and to tackle together a simple worksheet I had assembled on the difference between 'jack up' and 'jack off'. But throughout the rest of the lesson my outlandish notion, that two of the world's most beleaguered nations might for no reason at all turn on one another in warfare, came to be mentioned more than once, so much in fact that by the end of the lesson I was beginning to regret ever having made - purely in jest - such a suggestion. I began to feel a little ... apprehensive. Had I, with my glib remark, somehow unleashed forces that it would ultimately prove difficult to contain?Read more...Collapse )

Slavoj Žižek on 'Liberal Communism' May. 18th, 2006 @ 06:38 pm

You know, from a certain perspective, you could be forgiven for thinking that all is well with the world at present. Bill Gates, formerly one of the most avaricious capitalists on the planet, is giving away his fortune as quickly as he can and is now is already the single greatest benefactor in the history of humanity, spreading his munificence to fight malaria and Aids and to provide education for all those people who so desperately need a chance in life. Bongo off of U2, one of the most famous and admired (although not in my house) global celebrities, a man with an undoubtedly sincere commitment to social justice and equality, has persuaded some of the most powerful corporations on the planet to donate significant portions of their wealth to progressive causes, and furthermore is on such good terms with the our present global overseers that he recently presented his friend George with gifts of an ipod and a Bible, as well as getting his buddy Condoleeza to write about her top ten musical favourites in the edition of the Independent he guest-edited this week.

Is it even conceivable that anyone might have a problem with any of this? The rich and powerful have been converted to social justice and equality, the struggle is over, all that is being asked of us is that we spend spend spend our way to freedom, equality and prosperity!!!

Well, I for one have a bias to confess which is that I cannot fucking stand the Independent; a wretched and desperate attempt to find or create a newspaper readership among those people too clever for the Times but who for some inexplicable reason feel unable to read the Guardian. I find it as gimmicky, dull and inconsequential as a copy of Que! or Metro. But that is just my own probably-at-the-end-of-the-day-a-little-extreme-Richard p.o.v. I do on the other hand love a good read of the London Review of Books, which is where the Wisest Man Alive Today, Slavoj Žižek, recently wrote the following words:

So who are these liberal communists? The usual suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as court-philosophers like Thomas Friedman.

Bill Gates is the icon of what he has called ‘frictionless capitalism’, the post-industrial society and the ‘end of labour’. Software is winning over hardware and the young nerd over the old manager in his black suit. In the new company headquarters, there is little external discipline; former hackers dominate the scene, working long hours, enjoying free drinks in green surroundings. The underlying notion here is that Gates is a subversive marginal hooligan, an ex-hacker, who has taken over and dressed himself up as a respectable chairman.Read more...Collapse )

Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei! May. 17th, 2006 @ 07:00 pm

Well I’m ashamed to admit it but my career as a habitual shoplifter never really got off the ground, or even down the aisle. That doesn’t mean that I no longer need to steal things; while I now earn approximately sixteen times what I got paid for teaching English in Madrid, I’d be horrified to think that I’d reached the peak of my earning potential.

My short-lived interest in retail thievery was inevitably inspired more by political sentiment than by any deep-rooted criminal instincts. What the good people at yomango get up to is of course entirely laudable, and I was quite excited to read in the Guardian about the activities of ‘Germany's real-life Robin Hood gang’, who have taken to charging en masse into luxury goods stores, taking whatever they like and then distributing it among ‘Germany’s new underclass’:

… interns who worked for months in glamorous publishing houses without being paid, low-wage nursery assistants, mums forced to take part-time jobs as cleaning ladies and "one-euro jobbers", performing menial tasks under a German government welfare scheme. The gang said it didn't merely object to capitalism. Instead it was making a stand against Prekarisierung or "precariousness" - the uncertainty facing 20- and lower 30somethings as they try to navigate their way through Europe's gloomy neo-liberal jobs market.

Although I’ve fortunately never been a victim of it myself, I’ve long found it nauseating that young graduates are often expected to work for a year or more for nichts in the hope that there may at the end of it be a professional job which will afford them the lifestyle which their parents took for granted:

”We are talking about young, relatively well-educated people whose parents easily attained secure jobs and middle-class status. The situation now is far more insecure. For the first time in many generations, young people in Europe have bleaker prospects than their parents did. They are not as optimistic or utopian as people were in the 60s, or as pessimistic and depressed as they were in the 80s. Instead they find themselves having to walk a tightrope.”

If they aren’t working for free, a lot of highly qualified young people are working for casi nada. An article in El País last year highlighted the ‘La generación de los mil euros’, graduates in their late twenties and early thirties who may have diplomas coming out of their culos and speak various foreign languages but just can’t find a job which pays more than a thousand euros a month and who are stuck paying more than a third of their income on rent, living grudgingly in shared apartments, with no savings and no chance of buying a house or sustaining a family, living a hand-to-mouth existence and gradually ‘realising that the future is not where they believed it to be’. Read more...Collapse )

Ealing - the Promised Land of the Polish People? May. 2nd, 2006 @ 06:45 pm

I have nothing whatsoever against Polish people; although I can't claim that any of my best friends are Polish, I have met some charming Poles over the years. In fact at the moment I have a couple in my class who I like enormously. And years ago, in my very first teaching job, on a glorious summer's day in Dublin, I was given a class of 14 Polish au pairs, who seemed very sweet, outgoing and broadminded. Or at least they did until I happened to mention the word 'gypsy'.

From that moment, as they skies outside the classroom suddenly filled with dark clouds the atmosphere in the classroom quickly turned to one of unadulterated racial hatred. Everybody had a bitter tale to tell about the filthy, lazy, scrounging scum plaguing their land. I was genuinely shocked as noone seemed to have the slightest reservation about advocating violence against an evidently fairly beleaguered community - 70% of Poland's gypsies were murdered in the Holocaust.

Of course it would have been churlish of me to point out that six of the main extermination camps were located in Poland, especially as so far as the Nazis were concerned it was all part of Germany anyway. But it just so happened that at the time I was reading a book about alcohol consumption around Eastern Europe, which mentioned that there is a very potent myth about the number of Jewish people living in Poland. Around three million died in the death camps, it said, and although official statistics state that there are now only about 15,000 remaining, most Polish people would apparently state with confidence that the real number is more like a good couple of million. So in the midst of this firestorm of racist attitudes I decided to find out if this was really the case, and my students, who before had seemed perfectly good-natured and tolerant, obliged by letting me know in detail about the scandal of Poland's hidden jews. I don't think they were talking about Anne Frank.Read more...Collapse )

The Scramble for Angola Apr. 30th, 2006 @ 05:17 pm

The Portuguese generally take a lot of pride in the fact that Brazil, a country they discovered, has become one of the most vibrant and varied countries on earth and a true cultural superpower. That diversity, of course, came into being largely because of the slave trade. But slavery is a word seldom mentioned in discussions of Portugal’s glorious age of expansion and empire.

A current exhibition in the museum in Lagos makes a laudable attempt to promote Portugal’s own multicultural heritage, talking at length about how successive migrations of humanity have culturally enriched European societies and made them much more ethnically diverse, but fails to mention how forced migrations of people created economic riches, or even the remarkable fact that Lagos itself would give its name to the capital of Africa’s most populous nation, as many of the slaves traded in the Algarve originated in that part of Africa.

Portugal first arrived in what would become its largest African colony, Angola, in 1483, and they would stay there for almost 500 years. Like any colonial relationship it was one of brutality and forced obedience:

Until the late 1900's Portugal used the area as a "slave pool" for its far more lucrative colony in Brazil and to benefit from the occasional discovery of precious gemstones and metals. Angola suffered from one of the most backward forms of colonialist rule. (from www.africanet.com)

According to an article by Helena Matos in Público, it always held a special significance for the Portuguese:

(There is a) word which, in Portugal, throughout the entire twentieth century was murmured in times of crisis and in the inevitable periods of euphoria that followed. That word is Angola.Read more...Collapse )

Partido Nacionalista do Brasil (and Germany) Apr. 27th, 2006 @ 09:02 pm

According to this, racismo in Brasil is an unbailable crime for which the, well, racist must be imprisoned.

No way the Polícia can have seen any Brazilian TV over the last eight years, then. But just imagine if we had that law here in the UK. We could lock up all the BNP voters! And then burn down the jail and send this dick off to Guantanamo Bay:

Justin Hawkins to release controversial World Cup song

It mentions the war...

The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins is to release his own World Cup anthem - and it's bound to prove controversial.

Going up against Embrace's official Germany 2006 England song 'World At Your Feet', Hawkins has previewed his own song, 'England', under his solo name British Whale.

The star told The Sun newspaper that he thinks England's bid for glory is being undermined by political correctness, with people being too scared to mention the Second World War triumph of 1945.

In response, 'England' mentions the event in the lyrics.

Hawkins said: "The whole point of an England World Cup song is to assert our national identity and talk about the achievements of a great nation.

"Why can't we commemorate all those men who gave their lives in the name of freedom in the war? And, of course, in this case - to bash The Hun? It's a national sport."


I wonder if he prefers it to football?

Speaking of anti-German racism, I'm actually quite hoping for massive violence from the British contingent in Germany this summer. Not that I've got anything against German people, of course, especially as I am one myself - I just can't wait to see the stuttering reaction from the Sun and the Daily Mail if it all kicks off... Will the headlines be HAVE A GO AT THE KRAUTS or ALL TOGETHER LET'S HAVE A DECEMBER 1914-STYLE TROOCE? Maybe Melanie Phillips will pop up and start complaining that it's just not politically correct to hate German people any more. And I wonder what the Tommies make of Geoff Hurst's admirable campaign for the German National Tourist Office - is he still a National Hero to Sun readers, or is he a sausage-guzzling sunbed-reserving Quisling TRAITOR?!?

By the way, did I mention that I met Caetano Veloso a couple of weeks ago? We shook hands and everything. Now that's a fucking hero.

Shave Soreditch Shtation! Apr. 25th, 2006 @ 08:54 pm

I have decided that I am going to Save Shoreditch Station, which, it has been announced, is to close in June. Partly because it’s just so difficult to actually say ‘Save Shoreditch Station!’, but also because I feel somehow that I can. I would be genuinely interested to see what kinds of people would get involved in such a campaign these days these days – especially with the BNP poised to sweep before them the votes of whoever can be bothered to vote next Thursday – and it might be a useful way of getting to know some of the nuttier and some of the more boring locals.

I did use Shoreditch Station once, a few weeks ago, and I must say I was most impressed by how clean and empty it was at 7pm on a Thursday evening. Maybe, in fact, that’s why they want to close it! Hmm. Nevertheless, I am more then pleased that there is a tube line running straight from my house to Brick Lane, and I am quite prepared to stand alone before a bulldozer or a tank and in front of the cameras of the world’s press to save it, even if it does mean that I will never, ever be able to go back to China.

Ahem. On the subject of tube trains, just what the flaming fuck is a ‘Train Destination Describer’? The one at Whitechapel has been out of action for some time, but even when it was working I’m sure it didn’t actually describe the places where the trains end up. I’m willing to bet it never read "This train is for Ealing Broadway, a fairly bland, nondescript stretch of West London with too many Polish people and nowhere particularly nice to go for lunch", or "This train goes to Wimbledon, which stars Paul Bethany". Or even "Customers are advised not to board this train, as it is a Hammersmith and City line train and to be honest, guv, you’d be better off walking, alone, through those long, dark, cold rat-filled tunnels".

I digress. Maybe I should just go and apply for a job with Transport for London. Maybe it, like the National Health Service, is enjoying its best ever year! Ho ho ho. They pay thirty grand, apparently, according to that song. And the perks – special red Oyster cards that glow in the dark, a snazzy yellow jacket and a non-standard accent – are quite remarkable.

Come to the Pissed Speaker's Corner! Apr. 24th, 2006 @ 07:57 pm

Council provides al fresco drinking for alcoholics

In a secluded corner of parkland, a circle of benches provides a pleasant spot for a drink. The side tables are ideal for a can of strong cider. A bin has been provided for the empties.

Welcome to Britain's first purpose-built drinking den for homeless alcoholics - in a London park popular with families. It is seen as such a success that it may be replicated around the country.

A council spent £1,900 creating the "alternative drinking area", which is intended to keep drinkers out of sight of ordinary passers-by. It was prompted by complaints that drunks were loitering at the entrance to Brockwell Park, south London, shouting abuse at locals.

Not that I usually read the Telegraph, I should add.
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Ensaio Sobre A Angola Apr. 17th, 2006 @ 08:29 pm

The thing I'm trying to write at the moment is just getting more and more involving and I might never finish it; if I do it will also contain more links than the internet. When I was in Portugal a couple of weeks ago the press was full of articles about the Prime Minister's visit to Angola, along with 300 empresarios, looking to take advantage of Portugal's past, erm, connections with the country in order to grab a slice of the action. This was followed by a huge article in the magazine VISÃO (which I picked up at the airport) about China's industrial, financial and commercial (but not yet cultural, oddly enough) takeover of the country. It set me thinking about Angola's past masters and their future ones...as I say, it may just stay in my head, driving me mad until I actually get it done. I am sure it has been very much in the heads of Angolans recently, maybe I've accidentally read their minds.

I might just spend the entire afternoon at work tomorrow getting it done. My boss is away for a week in Portugal, oddly enough. I could chat about it all morning with my Somali students, but I'd have to teach them the word 'history' first. And 'China'.

I'm a theory addict! Apr. 12th, 2006 @ 09:48 pm

On a high from visiting the mood-enhancing Ellsworth Kelly exhibition in The Serpentine Gallery (I love galleries all of a sudden), with time to kill on a sunny day and a vague desire for a bitter row about something I don't know or care about much with a total stranger, I thought I'd see what Speaker's Corner looked like up close, as whenever I've been past on the bus it's looked pretty lively. Unfortunately for me, last Saturday afternoon about half past three there was only one person there standing on or anywhere near an upturned crate: a very cranky-looking man with his mouth shut glaring at some tourists who were taking his photo for some reason (I seem to remember that they were Chinese).

We had the following exchange:

Me (feeling all full of springy cheekiness, having noticed that he is looking very pissed indeed): If you're supposed to be one of those statues that doesn't move, you're not doing very well!

Him (scowling like George Monbiot would if he'd just heard that the Government had announced their decision to allow Tesco's to take over Sainsbury's): Piss Off!

Me (shocked): Whaat?!

Him (turning away with despair and contempt grinding his teeth): You're stupid.

Me (still half-hoping for a proper argument, but fearing a row): How do you know that?

At which point he just stared into the middle distance and presumably dreamt of death, or drink, or both.

I might one day write a really long, boring wander around the keyboard containing my theories about addiction, but I'm not much of an expert in this field, I think. But I am starting to realise that I suffer (and suffer) from theory addiction. I also discovered that I really admire pure theorists, people who devote 99.5% of their time to Thinking About Things, and then Talking To People With Similar Or Opposing Ideas, like, you know, Brian Eno, or Momus, but not Bongo off of U2, the Pope or Noam Chomsky. I think I've met two such people recently (they're easy to spot, they wear glasses, presumably because of nights spent reading absolutely everything on a very very long reading list).

(Sorry, when I said I'd met two such people recently, I was meaning the two intellectual types, I haven't met the Pope or any of those other people at all recently. Although I did have a right old chinwag en portugay with Caetano Veloso on Saturday, so, you know, ¡Toma!).

I myself am not any kind of full-time student, alas, or at least not yet. Too, you know, busy with ... stuff. Like ... the gym! Ho ho ho. But I have developed a newfound fascination with hugely ambitious but clearly very insane Modernist-inspired Architecture (I have a kind of love-hate relationship with the Barbican) and a recent interest in town planning. Some one is responsible for the fact that Britain, uniquely for a a post-industrial society, has medaeival (?!) castles flying the standards of Tesco's and Sainsbury's strategically positioned throughout the land with great tactical military acumen. Ahem. But maybe too much thinking about how I'd redesign the city exposes previously hidden meglamaniacal tendencies reminiscent of Hitler, or maybe just Rick out of The Young Ones.

Imagine a degree course where you weren't allowed to read any books! A bit like living in China, really, maybe.

Do you think they might be pissed? Apr. 11th, 2006 @ 07:48 pm

I don’t quite know how we managed to get onto the subject of smashing up houses the other day, but something one of my flatmates said sparked my memory of an entirely embarrassing incident about 14 years ago when in a fit of very drunken high spirited hilarity we trashed the living room of the student house we were living in. There was a lot of bizarre behaviour involving a great deal of screeching as plants, books, any furniture to hand and a fair amount of messy food got repeatedly danced into the carpet. A surprising amount of destruction was carried out, considering there were only three of us. The following day I was woken up around ten by the sound of someone I surmised to be our fellow house dweller, someone who was by chance not himself a student (which may explain why this long-forgotten event suddenly turned up in my brain so very recently), bumping the hoover down the stairs. I must have conked back out, because the next thing I remember hearing was the sound of him dragging the hoover back up the stairs about six pm. He never spoke to us of that which he had seen.

My current flatmate, oddly enough himself a student, responded with a tale of a party he’d held where the Police were called out five times to try and calm down a very small terraced house packed to bursting with around 200 extremely excitable young people. After repeated attempts to find out from people who a) may genuinely have had no idea who the host was and b) were being very very friendly and not making any sense whatsoever, the Police just went back to the station and presumably waited for their shift to end.

Because what could they really do, in that situation? They could try and batter their way into the house while trying their hardest not to actually kill anyone, or they could, I dunno, just burn the fucking house down. Both of which would, without prior clearance from above, result in a fuck of a lot of paperwork and, in that worst of all possible nightmare scenarios for police persons the world over, an early retirement on a hefty pension.

Sometimes of course that’s exactly what they do do. And when they have special permission or instructions from above, things can get really messy and bloody. Not just when young people are enjoying themselves and potentially upsetting their neighbour’s plant pots and sleep patterns, but particularly when their very objective is to cause trouble and draw attention to themselves. There are countless examples of unrestrained police riots in recent British, European and world history – Orgreave, the Poll Tax riots, the Criminal Justice Bill protests, Genoa, the Candelaria and Carandiru massacres etc, etc, etc – not to mention of course very high-profile episodes like, well, the Tiananmen Square massacre springs strangely to mind. Somebody high up obviously decides that the maintenance of public order is worth a few cracked heads, broken bodies, piles of burning juvenile corpses and all that tiresome paperwork.

In the same way that parties and demonstrations can get catastrophically out of hand, of course, countries can too. Brazil became a significantly less fun place to be after the CIA decided to juntar-se à festa, and although I don't know much about the nightlife in Indonesia, the British and Americans brought more than a bottle of wine and a big bag of honey-roasted peanuts to the party. There are of course countless depressing examples, and it's not like they've suddenly decided that it's wrong and they need to stop poking their noses into other countries' affairs or anything - stai attento, Romano Prodi.

The US saves time and effort on paperwork by simply not filling in the requisite forms and posting them off to the appropriate international bodies, either before or after an invasion, unlawful bombing campaign, coup attempt etc, etc, etc. Now, there is an unyielding amount of paperwork to be completed in the relatively simple task of helping foreigners – many ironically enough displaced by ongoing imperial intervention in their countries of birth – learn the language and settle in a new country, so I can’t imagine the quantity of sheer bureaucracy involved in getting approval for a death squad to go around and slaughter peasant women in a bound-to-succeed strategy of installing a climate of insecurity and fear among the local population of some godforsaken central American country. All politicians claim to abhor red tape these days, don’t they?

Speaking of Latin America, what are the chances of another of the world’s Most Dastardly Oil-producing Countries (Venezuela) becoming the focus of a campaign of global media opprobrium, scare mongering and mass misinformation? I have a sneaking suspicion that after whatever disastrous Armageddon-unleashing campaign Bush & Co are planning for Iran has ended in, er, disaster for everyone but its somewhat opinionated new leader and anyone else who actually likes wars, the US might revert to its more traditional post-Vietnam policy of covertly making it very clear just what the consequences of choosing a different path from other compliant nations might be, through their time-honoured strategy of training and paying the country’s most criminally insane thugs to go on a unrestrained superviolent frenzy of causing pain and death to the poor.

Ahem. I may have rambled a bit from my original point but actually, now I come to think of it, if the burghers of our global village get anything like as much glee and fulfilment from their wholesale pillaging, slashing and burning of our planet and our common future as we did when we were ripping our own house to shreds all those years ago, we’d better hope that there’s some kind selfless non-student type to hoover it all up in the morning. Do you think they might be pissed?!?

I Fucking Hate Coppers Mar. 26th, 2006 @ 06:57 pm


I generally leave them lying around on the desk until I'm feeling energetic enough to gather them into a little jar which I then don't ever get round to emptying. Whoever moved into my house in Madrid was in for quite a windfall if they could be bothered to count and then transport several hundred bits of shrapnel to the bank. But Someone Very Close To Me shocked me the other day by leaving a small collection of unused shiny silver coins uncollected on the table, which is not something I'd ever be inclined to do. She can't be the only one with such a cavalier attitude attitude to 5p pieces, though; in the last couple of months I've been finding the things scattered around absolutelyfuckingeverywhere. Generally I pick them up, and I reckon I must have so far raised about £2.35 towards my Holiday Spending Fund (yippee!). £2.35 in euros is about €3.50 of course, and in Chinese yuan (as opposed to Welsh fucking yuan obviously) it makes about 35. In China that's more than enough for a quite tasteful long-sleeved top which will set you back about £10 in the world's official clothes suppliers, H & M (or 'Hennes', as my Slightly Irrational Ex-girlfriend used to insist on calling it in an ongoing attempt to demonstrate to me and the world just exactly how much she used to live in Finland) and which could last you anything up to a week and a half.

When I wander into a clothes shop these days I can't help multiplying all the prices by fifteen, in order to get a more accurate sense of their actual worth in global terms. 5p means next to fuck all to most people here, but it means a fuck of a lot to most people in the country where most of what we wear is (fucking) made.

Ripping up bits of paper Feb. 18th, 2006 @ 04:39 pm

There are good tings and bad tings about having a slightly wacky name. Some of my favourite people have got in touch after finding this site while googlin' around, which is good, but I haven't saved myself as much money by not paying bills as maybe I should've. Sometimes, inevitably, people spell it wrong (occasionally very wrong, of course), like on my new contract, which isn't much of a problem as I can just rip it up if I want. Although I have the feeling that this new job will increase exponentially the number of pieces of paper that pass through my hands, thereby increasing the confusion of what pieces of paper I'm allowed to or should rip up, and which ones I should treat with care. And it should allow me, here's hoping, to get rid of the occasional tenner.

The thing is, I think I quite like ripping things up. I'd be sorely tempted to lie my way into any job which just involved ripping up bits of paper all day long. Or, even better (a bit of a dream job, this) burning flags.

Is that simply an-authoritarian streak, or something more meglomaniaquesue? I'm sure Chairman Mao, leading philanthropost Bill Gates, and fuck it, Hitler while we're at it, ripped up a fair few pieces in their time. Ripping up bits of paper can be a gesture of pure authority or a unambiguous sign of a determination to replace that authority. Or an act of mind-blowing drunkenness, fury, contempt or fear.

Ahem.

Letters, bills, deals, treaties, holy texts, agreements, promises, money...I wonder were the most influential pieces of paper to have been ripped out throughout history? Or the ones that should have been? Which ones have I ripped up, and forgotten about, or opted to keep forgotten? And what pieces of paper would I, or you, put back together if I, or you, could?

Transport in London is shit Feb. 13th, 2006 @ 08:57 pm

...or so I've been told (and experienced from time to time) my whole puff. But it's come to my attention (during a phone conversation with my mum in which it was revealed that my sister and my future brother-in-law is, are getting married), that I haven't heard a single anti-tube rant so far this month, and that luego it must be de facto better than it used to be.

Discuss.

ps. Incidentally, Enduring Love is a good film.

Scraping the Barrel Jan. 26th, 2006 @ 09:01 am

Many of the comments on this thread in relation to what I wrote about China yesterday have revealed a less-than-surprising but still extremely discomforting ignorance about the future of our planet, especially in ..one of the world's more powerful countries, let's say. Impressively blinkered ideas like this:

As the article shows, many places are showing increases in a variety of alternatives as well as technologies that decrease oil-dependency. It's slow, but I don't see any reason to speed things up. Unless there's some hard numbers that you're aware of that you could show me? As far as I know, we have plenty of oil for the time being. By the time we start running out, I've little doubt that other technologies will have matured enough to take its place.

...reminded me of what our beloved George Monbiot had to say a couple of years ago what the declining supply of oil will mean for the lives of every one of us in the not-at-all-distant future:

The only rational response to both the impending end of the oil age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming and our lives. But this cannot happen without massive political pressure, and our problem is that no one ever rioted for austerity. People tend to take to the streets because they want to consume more, not less. Given a choice between a new set of matching tableware and the survival of humanity, I suspect that most people would choose the tableware.

Bottom of the barrel
The world is running out of oil - so why do politicians refuse to talk about it?


If you multiply the growth of India and China by the declining stocks of oil and natural gas, you get...a very small or large number, depending on how maths works. It's beyond me. But especially if you factor in the glib complacency which seems to be endemic in that country I mentioned earlier, it all gets very very frightening.

Living the Chinese Dream Jan. 25th, 2006 @ 11:22 am

I did not meet one student in China who did not want to live what might be termed the 'Chinese Dream' - to work hard for a multinational company, live in a brand-new apartment in a big city and own their own car. Death of a Salesman anyone? Very few people who aspire to that lifestyle are going to be able to achieve it - and if they do, the consequences for China and the world are almost too horrendous to contemplate. I mean, I have tried to think about what it means for our environmental resources, but thankfully this guy has gone several steps further and actually done the maths. And while I find Maths itself pretty traumatic to deal with, his conclusions may make you want to pack up and head for Mars:

The western economic model - the fossil fuel-based, car-centred, throwaway economy - is not going to work for China. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2031 is projected to have a population even larger than China's. Nor will it work for the 3 billion other people in developing countries who are also dreaming the "American dream".

The key point though, which a lot of people writing about the consequences of China's massive industrial growth rate seem shy to confront, is that it's not just a question of how the Chinese do things, but about the unsustainability of our own model of development, which developing countries are simply encouraged to emulate:

In an increasingly integrated global economy, where all countries are competing for the same oil, grain and iron ore, the existing economic model will no longer work for industrial countries either.

It's a very refreshing and not entirely dispiriting article - if you happen to live in China you might not be able to find it via Google:

After holding out longer than any other major internet company, Google will effectively become another brick in the great firewall of China when it starts filtering out information that it believes the government will not approve of.

According to one internet media insider, the main taboos are the three Ts: Tibet, Taiwan and the Tiananmen massacre, and the two Cs: cults such as Falun Gong and criticism of the Communist party.


I reckon I could do that job!

My second ever Podcast! Jan. 22nd, 2006 @ 03:57 pm

...which consists of a short interview with my friend Joanne about the football match which acabábamos de ver between Real Madrid and KA-dhee.

To hear it just click on the picture. Many thanks to Jimmy Parker for the webspace.
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