Sunday, December 31, 2006


Einsturzende Neubauten - Headcleaner

If you like what you've seen you can always subscribe to the Neubauten supporters site. Go on. Sounds like this need your support.

Blume on NYE

Einsturzende Neubauten - Blume

Don't write History, let Geography have it's say

I have just finished reading Daniel Pennac's "The Fairy Gunmother". A most enjoyable read, and the second part of the Malaussene Saga, set in the Paris neighbourhood of Belleville. One of the lead characters, Benjamin Melaussene, is employed as a scapegoat by a succession of companies. His partner, Julie Correncon, is the daughter of "ex-Colonial Governor Correncon, the Independence Man, as some newspapers put it at the time, or else The Gravedigger of the Empire" and recollects her time living with her father.
"Correncon had been the first to negotiate with the Viet Minh, when it still hadn't been too late to avoid a massacre. Under Mendes-France, he'd worked out a self-governing status for Tunisia, then he'd worked under De Gaulle when it was necessary to give Black Africa back its freedom." p224
The recollection continues with a list of visitors to their farmhouse: Farhat Abbas, Messali Hadj, Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap, Ibn Yusuf and Bourguiba, Leopold Sedar Senghor and Kwame Nkrumah, Sihanouk and Tsiranana. Other names included Vargas, Arraes, Allende, Castro and Che. That's some list!

Ex-Colonial Governor Correncon believed in Geography. "Don't try to write History, just let Geography have its say" to which Che laughed "Geography is just a collection of movable facts."

Julie Correncon's recollection continues.
"What is a colony, student Giap?", Correncon asked in a colonial schoolmaster's voice.

And, just to make Julie laugh, Vo Nguyen Giap, who was later to become the victor of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, replied in a schoolboy's chant:

"A colony is a country whose civil service belongs to another country. For example: Indochina is a French colony and France is a Corsican colony". p224
From the laughter the recollection passes to the aftermath.
No sooner had countries been given their independence, than Geography had started making History again, as though it were an incurable disease. An epidemic with a high death count. Lumumba was executed by Mobutu, Ben Barka's throat was cut by Oufkir, Farhat Abbas was exiled, Ben Bella imprisoned, Ibn Yusuf eliminated by his own men, Vietnam was forcing its own History onto a Cambodia which had been bled dry. Friends from the ... farmhouse were being hunted down by friends from the ... farmhouse. Che himself had been shot in Bolivia, with, so it was whispered, Castro's tacit agreement. Geography endlessly tortured by History ..." p226
So it goes. So it goes. "Geography endlessly tortured by History".

[ Many apologies for the apostrofly in the heading of this piece. I am going to do the honourable thing and go outside and shoot a panda. ]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

That was then ...

Sometimes you recall something that affected you and then you spend ages trying to find it. Well I could not think who sang the 1984 song "Germans". But that's not what I was trying to find. My favourite moment from Live Aid 1985 was the performance and speech by Udo Lindenberg. Here it is, in full:
Although it is great that over 30 to 50 million dollars are being raised for Africa, it is but a small token of repayment for the years of colonial explotation.
The only real help will be the inmediate withdrawal of all military and economic interests on the part of Europe, Japan, USA and the East-Block.


It is a perverse tragedy that we allow the spending of 1000 billion dollars for murderous weapons.


With a small part of this amount we could feed the entire world.
We ask when will there be a rising up of global conscience.


40 thousand children die every day at the hands of this military built-up.
It is a crime that this madness has now moved into another dimension.
These governments in Washington and the Kremlin are sick in their heads.


They are still walking in a dense fog.
We – from this country which has instigated two terrible wars - appeal to all people who still close their eyes to this schizophrenic world :
stop the wars in the Thirld World.
Stop the crime of military built-up.


We cannot forget the purpose behind this event.
If this should turn out to be only a huge Rock ‘n’ Roll celebration – carried out on the backs of dying children - we can forget it.
We see our song as a demonstration of those people who will no longer condone this insanity - we rise up against it.

It was the single event on the day that summed up what it should have been all about. I also recall the BBC getting complaints about the "unnecessary introduction of politics into an otherwise enjoyable event". Such was life in 1980s Britain, where people believed that poverty, starvation and wars were issues that had nothing to do with "politics".

Indoor Penguins

I know penguins can be kept indoors, after all I have read about Misha in Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. This guy saw an ad for a pet penguin and realised he'd always wanted one.
I didn’t realize it before that moment, but I had always wanted a pet penguin. Probably everyone has. I just never thought it was possible. Penguin Warehouse assured me that it was in fact possible
So this guy buys an inflatable pool and, against all advice, installs it in his living room. He has a decision making flow chart that many a management consultancy may be interested in. (This flowchart is from Pooter Geek via The Fishbowl, who tidied up the flowchart from the original).

Read it and laugh or weep. It made me laugh.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Taxes und Thurn

Nick Cohen, in today's Observer, discusses inequities in the UK tax system. He argues that
In public, the City paints a terrifying picture of foreign bankers fleeing Britain if the government requires them to pay the same tax rates as everyone else, but in private, no financier I know believes it. The odd Russian gangster will leave, they say, but London is too important a financial centre for global players to abandon.

Because Brown lacks the moral and political confidence to call the City's bluff, his debauched tax system is debauching British society. Tax-free money is making housing in the south east and beyond too expensive for the middle class, let alone the working class that Labour once represented. The legacy of a decade of Labour rule is that the modest hope of a house in which they can have children is beyond hundreds of thousands of couples.

And as it debauches the economy, it also debauches politics.
Many of the millionaires donating/lending to the Labour Party pay very little tax.

In the financial year 2004/5 the top 20% of households, "ranked by equivalised disposable income" paid 35.6% of their gross income in taxes, while the bottom 20% paid 36.4%. That's according to Stephen Penneck, on behalf of the National Statistician, in a Paliamentary letter dated 25th July 2006 based on a report "The effects of taxes and benefits on household income, 2004/05" by Francis Jones by the National Statistics Office.

Is it fair that people who have a low income pay a greater percentage of their income in tax than those who have a higher income? No. It's quite simple. It's wrong. Let's take more and more low paid people out of paying tax altogether. Raise the threshold at which people pay tax and also raise tax rates. And simplify the tax system - you earn it you pay tax on it. Simple.

If you want to see some arguments that the current system is perfectly fair read the comments to Nick Cohen's piece and weep. The spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well.

[Note to self: the title of this piece is a pun on Thurn und Taxis Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49]

Friday, December 22, 2006

Sky Bully in the news

In today's Grauniad there's a lucubration of letters arguing for and against creationism and whether evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. Here's my favourite:
"Creationists always try to use the second law,/ to disprove evolution, but their theory has a flaw./ The second law is quite precise about where it applies,/ only in a closed system must the entropy count rise./ The earth's not a closed system, it's powered by the sun,/ so fuck the damn creationists, Doomsday get my gun!" (MC
Peter Manson
Must get out those physics text books.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Poverty in Pie Town

There's a a brilliant exhibition of photos from 1939 to 1943 documenting the rural poor, especially in Pie Town, New Mexico. It's on at the Photographer's Gallery in Great Newport Street, London until the 27th of January.

The main photographers were Russell Lee, Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. They were all employed by Roy Stryker who ran the Information Department of the Farm Security Administration. Stryker used photography to garner support for the F.D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
A brief curatorial essay sets the scene. Marion Post Wolcott joined Stryker because
“I had deep sympathy for the under-privileged,resented evidence of conspicuous consumption,(and) felt the need to contribute to a more equitablesociety.“
Get yourself along to the exhibition. You are probably used to seeing the black and white images but (as the Photographer's Gallery site says) the colour ones give it a "shocking immediacy and freshness bringing to life the human cost of the Depression" .

If you want to see some of the images go to the Library of Congress, browse the Geographic Location Index for New Mexico, Pie Town. I'm unsure of the persistence of this link to New Mexico, Pie Town but here it is.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

Here's a quote I came across as Rullsenberg was purging her old student files.

Not wanting to retype it I decided to use Rullsenberg's scanner. So there you go.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Iraqi Trade Unionists

Here's a campaign worth supporting.


People such as political researcher Bakar Hussein (right) spent years in Saddam Hussein’s jails simply for belonging to a trade union.

Great campaign. Let's see how much media coverage it gets. Let's see how many organisations run with it.

Let's hope it works and gets the coverage it deserves.

The original poster and more information is available here.

Hat tip: Will Rubbish.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

England expects (or why o why o why...)

Take two. I started to write this piece and then Flash killed my browser. Damn that Gordon.

Anyway. Only the England cricket team could take their most talented bowler; their most passionate bowler to Australia and have him carry the drinks. As this splendid piece says
MONTY PANESAR has been cast as England's teddy bear, a Paddington wandering through the bad world of cricket wearing a label that says "please look after this bear". He is nothing of the kind. He is a lion. I was able to see that clearly when I faced him in the nets at the Adelaide Oval.
The nets here are visitor-friendly. I was able to stand directly behind the stumps -- the net in between us -- when Panesar was bowling.

It was an educational experience. The first thing that always gets you when you get close to any real slow bowler is that he isn't slow at all. The ball comes at you with a vicious eagerness.

Time and again, the ball came out of Panesar's enormous hands, carried on straight for a few yards and then veered in disconcertingly, seeking you out like a living thing. It then dipped, bounced and turned sharply the other way.

All this is impossible to appreciate in the two dimensions of the television or from the safety of the boundary.

And watching in close proximity, it was impossible to miss Panesar's intensity -- the massive personal investment he makes in every ball he lets go.

The intensity is not of expression and gesture; rather, it is expressed in the ball itself, something you can only see when you are just a cricket pitch away.

It is crystal clear that cricket is the breath of life to him and that bowling means a great deal more than that.
Perfect for carrying drinks thinks the England management team. And the England management team is so wrong.

So Panesar is not the best batsman. Big deal. Get your best batsmen to bat. And then your best offensive bowlers can take wickets. Attacking cricket. Let's have more of it.

Hat tip: Norm

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Miles and Trane

Dave Osler links to this amazing clip of Miles Davies and John Coltrane performing So What.

Go listen. Go be inspired.

Anorak returns to the cupboard.

After my moment of success in geekdom I now have a failure to report. I installed the bright, shiny and new Internet Explorer 7 and my PHP stopped working.

Here goes loads of investigation. Seems someone else had the same problem. Now just to find an answer. Finding a solution would be wrong, a bit too much like a Private Eye column.

Anorak is back in the cupboard.


Going to the source is always better than some dodgy teach-yourself book, even if it has some cute cat on the front. W3C revealed that my book was showing a style of coding that worked in IE6 and works in Firefox but is not the true and proper way. Do stuff that's right.

So endeth the lesson.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Anorak is in the post

I don't normally do geeky stuff but I've installed Apache 2.2 and PHP 5.2.0 on my laptop. And, after a gentle introduction, they even talk to each other.

I am so pleased.

And so to bed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Lit Crit Comes Alive

Today Brenda attended the reburial of a Mohegan tribal chief, Mahomet Weyonomon, who came to England in 1736 seeking justice from George II about the capture of his land by English settlers.

Now it turns out that Mohegans are not Mohicans but James Fenimore Cooper got a tad confused.
Even James Fenimore Cooper got things confused when he wrote "Last of the Mohicans" in 1826. Since Cooper lived in Cooperstown, New York and the location of his story was the upper Hudson Valley, it can be presumed he was writing about the Mahican of the Hudson River, but the spelling variation chosen (Mohican) and use of Uncas, the name of a Mohegan sachem, has muddled things. Other factors have contributed to the confusion, not the least of which was the Mohegan were the largest group of the Brotherton Indians in Connecticut. After the Brotherton moved to the Oneida reserve in upstate New York in 1788, they became mixed with the Stockbridge Indians (Mahican) from western Massachusetts. Because of this, the present-day Stockbridge Tribe should contain descendants from both the Mahican and Mohegan. Anyone not confused at this point may consider himself an expert.
Such are the trials of a historical novelist. But Fenimore Cooper was not just any historical novelist. Fenimore Cooper had the delight of being savaged, in print, by Mark Twain.
Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.
Go and read the whole piece. If you've ever read a better literary savaging please let me know (and let me know the details).

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Power of Indirection

Magic is all about leading your audience to believe they are seeing one thing when something else is happening.

If that's a guiding light of magic then I have just had a magical journey. Rullsenberg and Cloud set off from Nottingham to Y Drenewydd. Taking advice from Multimap we decided to try the M6 Toll. Threw our £3.50 in the hopper, waited for the barrier to rise and off we went. We remarked how splendid the road was. We remarked we were going in the wrong direction. We left the splendid M6 Toll.

After stepping into the same river, almost, twice we found our way. Paying to go in the wrong direction.

There's an analogy in there, somewhere, trying to get out.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Sometimes you have to make a decision.

Sometimes a decision is needed in seconds. And sometimes it takes a little longer. And sometimes you prevaricate. Here's what indecison is all about, according to Ambrose Bierce.
The chief element of success; "for whereas," saith Sir Thomas Brewbold, "there is but one way to do nothing and divers way to do something, whereof, to a surety, only one is the right way, it followeth that he who from indecision standeth still hath not so many chances of going astray as he who pusheth forwards" -- a most clear and satisfactory exposition on the matter.
"Your prompt decision to attack," said Genera Grant on a certain occasion to General Gordon Granger, "was admirable; you had but five minutes to make up your mind in."

"Yes, sir," answered the victorious subordinate, "it is a great thing to be know exactly what to do in an emergency. When in doubt whether to attack or retreat I never hesitate a moment -- I toss us a copper."

"Do you mean to say that's what you did this time?" "Yes, General; but for Heaven's sake don't reprimand me: I disobeyed the coin."
That's from The Devil's Dictionary etext, expertly transcribed by Aloysius West.

One of those elongated weeks where ...

It seems like forever that I've been working hard trying to get other people's buggy software to work. Finally it's working as it should and I can relax.


Calm. All is calm.

What's been happening in the world? I've gathered that Donald Rumsfeld "was asked to leave and he wouldn't stay" (that's a saying of my Mother's but other people's mother's may have prior claims on it and some girl's mothers are bigger than other girl's mothers and I don't want to start a fight).

Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to hang. Whatever the crime capital punishment is wrong. Always. In all circumstances. Wrong.

The Guardian blog gets more comments on a piece on book storage than on almost any other piece, ever. Book storage is a major topic of conversation in the house of Rullsenberg and Cloud. We talk about it. We shuffle books. We see books. We see books where there weren't books previously. Where do they come from?
Make it stop.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Faith And Faithlessness And Academic Disputes

In the LRB, vol 28 n 20, Terry Eagleton reviewed Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. In the review Eagleton berates Dawkins for attacking religion whilst knowing nothing about theology.
Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.
Dawkins on God is rather like those right-wing Cambridge dons who filed eagerly into the Senate House some years ago to non-placet Jacques Derrida for an honorary degree. Very few of them, one suspects, had read more than a few pages of his work, and even that judgment might be excessively charitable. Yet they would doubtless have been horrified to receive an essay on Hume from a student who had not read his Treatise of Human Nature. There are always topics on which otherwise scrupulous minds will cave in with scarcely a struggle to the grossest prejudice. For a lot of academic psychologists, it is Jacques Lacan; for Oxbridge philosophers it is Heidegger; for former citizens of the Soviet bloc it is the writings of Marx; for militant rationalists it is religion.

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case?
This week's LRB, vol 28 n 21, has A.C. Grayling accusing Eagleton of missing the point that "when one rejects the premises of a set of views, it is a waste of one’s time to address what is built on those premises" and discusses why it is not necessary to discuss the finer points of astrological theories to dismiss astrology as so much poppycock. The final paragraph of Grayling's letter contains the beginning of an academic feud:
Eagleton’s touching foray into theology shows, if proof were needed, that he is no philosopher: God does not have to exist, he informs us, to be the ‘condition of possibility’ for anything else to exist. There follow several paragraphs in the same fanciful and increasingly emetic vein, which indirectly explain why he once thought Derrida should have been awarded an honorary degree at Cambridge.
On such trifles does the world turn.

Itzhak Perlman Return to Cracow

Via Norm I found this beautiful piece on Itzhak Perlman's return to Cracow.

Go watch and listen. And think. About the meaning of "Never again".

Friday, October 27, 2006


This is just so wrong.

I am nerdier than 83% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

I read. I run. I watch films. I go to gigs. I go to concerts. It's just so wrong.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Blog first, ask questions later

Several weeks ago I blogged on a spat between Bookmarks and Principia Dialectica. I was, perhaps a little harsh on Principia Dialectica.

On Saturday I picked up a copy at the splendid London Review Bookshop.

It's definitely a journal to take your time over. There's an interesting piece on William Morris, Constructivists and Rodchenko. And an article by Moishe Postone rethinking the critical theory of capitalism.

An argument that keeps recurring is the Situationist position that it is the duty of the working class to abolish itself. As someone commented Moishe Postone formulates this position in a footnote in his 1993 book Time, Labor, and Social Domination.

The words "valorisation" and "revalorisation" crop up all over the magazine. It that's the type of thing that floats your boat then read it.

And now Will Rubbish quotes Moishe Postone.

Le Blog Diplomatique

The UN envoy to Sudan has been kicked out of the country for blogging, reports the excellent Sudan Watch.

Sudan Watch extracts from VOA News here and from KUNA News here (that's the Kuwaiti news Agency):
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Pronk remains Annan's special envoy for Sudan. Annan still has confidence in him. He was called in for consultations to review with him a letter the Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol Ajawin sent to him Sunday.

In that letter Ajawin said the government "is of the view that the purposes of realizing peace and stability can better be served by other international civil servants who are dedicated and ready to adhere to the objectives of the UN Charter, possess the ability and determination to respect international law and sensitive to the sovereignty and integrity of the nations in which they serve".

Therefore, the letter added, the government "remains committed and will cooperate" with Pronk's replacement.
Sudan Watch comments:
Ha! Respect, sensitivity, integrity?!! The fact that they even contemplated the expulsion of Mr Pronk (head of UN mission in Sudan and great friend of Sudan) tells us they do not know the meaning of those words. Cretinous morons.
So it goes. So it goes.

Further reports reveal that Jan Pronk still has Kofi Annan's every confidence and is still the special envoy to Sudan.

Happy birthday to the UN.

(Thanks to the splendid Sudan Watch)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hungary 50 Years On

Here is a piece on the reactions to the Hungarian Revolution and the Soviet invasion fifty years ago, from Saturday's Guardian. It's interesting to read how ideological rifts linger on when their immediate causes have long since died.

Daily Worker reporter Peter Fryer had been sent to Hungary to give first hand accounts of events.
Gollan [, the Party's new general secretary] had been reading reports in other papers and, MI5 recorded, "was particularly depressed by one about Russian tanks shooting down Hungarians. He called it blood-curdling. He expressed the hope that Fryer would be able to contradict that sort of thing ... These hopes were short-lived."

The problem was that Fryer (whom Campbell dismissed as "clearly out of his mind") completely contradicted the CP analysis that the uprising was a "fascist-reactionary" attempt to destroy socialism and restore capitalism. Two of his three dispatches were spiked and the third heavily edited.

"The events in Hungary, far from being a fascist plot, were a revolution by the vast majority of the people against the despotic rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy," Fryer wrote later. The Daily Worker played up reports of lynchings (mostly of the AVO secret police) and of communists being beaten to death. Fryer resigned and sent his letter of resignation to the Manchester Guardian.

Now 79 and in poor health, Fryer is reluctant to revisit these distant events. But Hungarian Tragedy, the book he wrote in 1956, still exudes the raw anger of a young man following his conscience to challenge party discipline. He went on to do much-praised work on race relations, but is still best remembered for his courageous stance on Hungary. "Peter's a nice man," says Max Morris, a neighbour in north London, "but he's an old-fashioned, unashamed Trotskyist". Old sectarian habits die hard.
Indeed they do.

If you're interested, here's a link to Fryer's book Hungarian Tragedy, including the preface from the 1986 edition.

Saturday's all right

Yesterday I went with Rullsenberg to London. There were several things we had to do. First came the meeting with Reidski and Jane in the Bunker Bierhall, in Seven Dials, next door to the Donmar. Waiting for it to open we popped over to the Crown and Anchor where Reidski managed to do one of those things everyone is supposed to have done by the time XXXX happens and that is buy a drink for everyone in a bar. Does it count if your group is the only set of people in there? The back to the Bunker for food and more drink. As its name suggests the Bunker is styled on a German Bierhall. It sells Freedom lager, made to German purity laws, in Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire. A damn fine brew it is, too. Drink, beer, conversation and food. A good time was had.

At dental time (two thirty) Rullsenberg dragged we willingly bext door to the Donmar to see The Cryptogram with Kim Cattrall and Douglas Henshall. A splendid play it is too, with wonderful performances by all the cast, especially Adam J Brown playing John. It's a good chalenging play that is also a short play, 65 minutes in total without an interval. If you've got something to say, say it. Don't LoTR it out. Short and sweet is the way to do it.

Then to downstairs at Slam City Skates in Neals Yard, to get a wonderfully discordant Lullaby Arkestra cd.

Then onto the London Review Bookshop. Books on shelves. Book on tables. Books in piles. Felt at home. No 3 for 2 offers. Hurrah. No promotions. How a bookshop should be. Pointed out a book on Hungary, I think it was "Twelve Days: Revolution 1956" by Victor Sebestyen, but I may be mistaken, to another customer. Bought some books. Spent money. Bought
  • "War Without End" by Bruno Tertrais
  • "Yiddish Civilisation - The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation" by Paul Kriwaczek
  • "On The Natural History of Destruction" by WG Sebald
  • "Mayakovsky - A Memoir" by Elsa Triolet
. Now got to read them.

Went for dinner to Pizza Paradiso in Store Street. Then to St Pancras and home.

And so to bed.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Simon "know nowt about it but I'll blether on 'bout it anyway" Jenkins on Nottingham

Simon Jenkins has all the attributes of a typical blogger: he'll write a piece on something he knows nothing about. However Simon Jenkins is paid for what he writes. More than that, Simon Jenkins is paid well for the uninformed guff that he writes. Sometimes I wonder if there is no such person as Simon Jenkins and all the pieces with his by-line are autogenerated by RusbridgerPlus, the Guardian's patented column generating machine.

Today Jenkins writes, badly, on Nottingham. Here's a sample.
To lovers of urban Britain Nottingham is still a heartbreaking place. It was and, until the 1950s could still have been, beautiful. To Celia Fiennes it was "the neatest town I have ever seen". As recently as 1938 the writer Arthur Mee could refer to it without irony as "the Stately Queen of the Midlands". It boasted England's first municipally financed university and its first civic gallery. It gave birth to Boot's, the Salvation Army and Raleigh bicycles - and still cares for its theatres. Then in 1958 it inflicted on itself England's most destructive urban road, the absurd Maid Marian Way, cutting the old centre from the castle mound and destroying, among a warren of streets, an exquisite set of Queen Anne almshouses.

Age has not withered the ugliness of what replaced them. An inner ring road wends its way past defaced shopping centres and car parks, which obliterated contours, streets and character alike. The Salutation Inn, with its splendid troglodyte cave, lies pathetically stranded.
There may be some worth in his claims but he then makes egregious schoolboy howlers like saying the Salutation pub has caves. It doesn't. The caves are in the Trip To Jersualem.

He gets a good seeing to by my constituency MP Nick Palmer:
Honestly, what a load of rubbish. I represent the area between the city core and the county border facing towards Derbyshire, which Jenkins derides as a nightmare. It's mostly very popular - whether you go by anecdotal evidence or house prices, people are keen to live in it. It's a mixture of suburbs and small towns, and I know Jenkins doesn't like suburbs for architectural and cultural reasons, but that's his problem. Naturally there are things we'd like to improve, such as more leisure activities: the proximity of the city discourages suburban leisure centres. But in general it's pretty good.

As for the city, gun crime fell sharply last year and appears to have fallen to a more typical urban level: it was fuelled by the extraordinary popularity of the city's vibrant night life, which tempted drug dealers and the turf wars that go with it. It was indeed a problem and still is, but it appears to be receding. Nottingham University was up to very recently the most popular for applications in Britain. The Lace Market area was refurbished years ago, rather than being desperately done up now as Jenkins suggests. I could go on, but I won't, except to ask what has any of this got to do with Tony Blair, except that Jenkins is writing the article and doesn't like him?
And a damn good pasting that was. Three cheers for Nick Palmer.

On the Evaluation of XML

There is a paper authored by Rullsenberg and Cloud called On the Evaluation of XML. Here's the abstract:
Many leading analysts would agree that, had it not been for permutable algorithms, the visualization of extreme programming might never have occurred [2]. Given the current status of extensible algorithms, researchers clearly desire the improvement of agents, which embodies the typical principles of cyberinformatics. In this work, we disprove not only that the famous pseudorandom algorithm for the analysis of the memory bus is in Co-NP, but that the same is true for lambda calculus.
The authors are willing to answer questions on their (ahem) work.

(Hat tip: Norm)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Leading from the front

What would it be like to have a political leader who was the world's top golfer? A film maker? A fashion designer? A military mastermind?

May the R & A Tremble
NK News, a splendid database of North Korean propaganda reports it's twelve years since Kim Jong Il's majestic golf game. It aims to set the record straight, given all the ridiculous comments made.
The best documentation I can find about the event prevents a far more balanced and realistic picture. The actual story seems to be that, while playing on the PGA-level eighteen-hole par-72 golf course in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il chalked up a much more modest 38-under-par 34. And it was five holes-in-one, not eighteen. At the risk of sounding a bit condescending, I must admonish readers of NK News to be sure they have their facts straight, and not get carried away by wild rumors or innuendo.

May James Cameron Worry
One of this year's top movies1 is "Diary of a Student Girl". Its script writer and producer is Jong-il Kim, better known for reasons of orthography as Kim Jong Il. The official North Korean news agency reports (via NK News)
Letter to Kim Jong Il from Participants in Film Festival
Pyongyang, September 22 (KCNA) -- Leader Kim Jong Il received a letter from the participants in the 10th Pyongyang International Film Festival on Friday. The festival was all the more significant one as it was well organized and flawless, the letter said, and went on:
During the festival we have come to understand well that Kim Jong Il has paid special concern to the movie sector long ago and energetically guided movie-making to open a heyday in the development of Korean movies. We were moved to see good feature films "A Schoolgirl's Diary" and "Pyongyang Nalpharam" reflecting the fresh development of Korean movies.
Seeing with our own eyes all the Korean moviemen ardently revering Your Excellency Kim Jong Il as their benevolent father and dear teacher, we have been convinced that Korean movie art will make leaping progress in the future as long as they are under your wise leadership.
Short as our stay in your country was, we could realize that the secret that the Korean people wrought world-startling miracles one after another, bravely breaking through difficulties lies in the single-minded unity of the leader and the people. Availing ourselves of this opportunity, we extend heartfelt thanks to Your Excellency Kim Jong Il for always paying so deep concern that the festival may successfully be held true to the expectation of progressive people and moviemen of the world. Independence, peace and friendship are the lofty idea of the Pyongyang Festival and the common desire of the progressive people of the world.
.$B!!.(BWe will in the future, too, sincerely participate in the festival and make positive efforts for the development of genuine movie art suitable to the desire of the progressives.
It must be great living in a country where the Great Leader takes such an active role in the everyday life of the citizens. It must be great living in a country where the Great Leader is a sporting superstar, a filmaker, a designer, a scientist. It must be great living in a country where the Great Leader is Kim Jong Il. It must be great living in a country where the Great Leader is Kim Jong Il if, and only if, you are Kim Jong Il.

Let's look for more information about the Workers paradise that is the DPKR. What about this. Or this report on life in a country where the slightest ideological divergence leads to "revolutionization", a punishment of banishment and hard labour.

Recent pictures of Kim Jong Il show that he has changed from wearing sub-military fusc to wearing an anorak that would be rejected by your grandad as a bit too Matalan seconds. Can we read anything into this change? Or is the air getting a bit chill in Pyongyang?

1: One of this year's top movies in North Korea.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Looking for Langston

That's the title of an Isaac Julien film from the 1980s. It's also the title of this post. Flicking through this fortnight's LRB, as I do, I saw this snippet from Langston Hughes's autobiography The Big Sea:
"ordinary Negroes hadn't heard of the Harlem Renaissance. And if they had, it hadn't raised their wages any."

The History Boys

It was a play of two halves. A pacy, thoughtful, entertaining first half and then a second half seeking resolution, often where it wasn't needed. Some of the dialogue has developed a life outside the play. A line destined for books of quotations happens when Rudge, asked to define History, replies "it's just one fucking thing after another".

The louche Hector argues for Houseman's dictum "all knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use". There are those who see this as being arguing for "knowledge for knowledge's sake", and what is wrong with that? I'm a strong believer in the existence of a moral imperative to know. After all, Ignorance was one of Beveridge's five great evils, the others being "Want, Idleness, Squalor, and Disease" standing in the way of post-Second World War reconstruction.

There is an alternative formulation, courtesy of the ICFI, that goes "All knowledge is precious and serves a human purpose whether or not its usefulness is immediately apparent”, but that would be different, misses the point of Hector's belief in knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and relates more to the temporal nature of knowledge, and that what is now pure research is tomorrow's applied science, is tomorrow's Simon Says.

Here's one excellent review. And here's another excellent review of the History Boys.

If you can, go see the play: if you can't, go see the movie.

It's Groucho Marx's birthday

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Groucho Marx.

And Richard III.

And Nat Turner

And Plum Warner.

And Mahatma Gandhi.

And Bud Abbot.

And Gillian Welch.

And me.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

El Duderino is online

The ever reliable Pooter Geek has discovered Jeff Bridges's site.

It's original and just what you'd expect from the man who plays the Dude, Lebowski.

Holy chit BatgrRlz, it’s Kate Moss in blackface

Holy chit BatgrRlz, it’s Kate Moss in blackface

Here's a link to why blackface is bad. And why Little Britain is just racist. It's not "post Political Correctness". It's not funny. It's back to the 1970's and it ain't half racist mum.

And Rullsenberg is also agin it.

Criticism of white actors "blacking up" is not po-faced Political Correctness. It's a recognition that it's demeaning and a gross betrayal of the dignity of all involved.

As Hannah Pool splendidly writes in the Guardian about the Independent cover,
What exactly is this picture of Moss-as-African-woman supposed to portray? I suppose it is meant to be subversive, but what does it say about race today when a quality newspaper decides that its readers will only relate to Africa through a blacked-up white model rather than a real-life black woman? What does it say about the fight against HIV/Aids if that is the only way to make us care? And, as a black woman (born that way), what does this trick say about me?

The phenomenon of white entertainers putting boot polish on their faces to "look black" is nothing new, but like Jim Davidson and mother-in-law gags, it was supposed to be something that was banished to the underground eschelons of the entertainment circuit.

And yet it's back. From Bo' Selecta!, whose grotesque imitations of Michael Jackson and Mel B (always wearing leopardskin to signify her wildness) to Big Brother's Glyn blacking up, to Samantha Fox dressed up as an Asian woman, to white actors pretending to be black to play Othello. But the most high-profile example is Little Britain.
Yes. Black face is back and so is mainstream racism.

Bluff Corner

There's a moment when you've just met someone and you talk about the stuff you like, the stuff that makes you tick, the stuff that makes you go all wow. Gary Giddens in Weather Bird captures that moment (Introduction and Acknowledgements, p xvi).
... Ray Charles made an album called Genius + Soul = Jazz, and I thought if Ray is jazz then that's the place to look, especially after I met a girl who said she liked jazz and when I said "me too," quizzed me, humming a tune and challenging me to name it. I could think of only two jazz titles, "One O'Clock Jump" and "Take Five," neither of which I had ever heard, but I crumpled my brow and scratched my chin, and said, "Um, it sounds a little bit like 'Take Five,' a little, maybe." She said, "You really do know jazz." Thank you, Lord.
In the last essay, "How Come Jazz Isn't Dead", Giddens tells of Lester Bowie posing as a Jism magazine critic to ask "Isn't jazz, as we know it, dead yet?" and then, after a trumpet solo mockingly responding, "Well that all depends on what you know". Giddens concludes that Jazz is not dead but ailing "because even the most adventurous young musicians are weighed down by the massive accomplishments of the past" (How Come Jazz Isn't Dead, in Weather Bird p 601) and because of the Supreme Court ruling of 2003, on copyright extension to almost perpetuity, stopping small labels publishing classic recordings that major labels have lost all interest in.

Jazz isn't dead. It's there and always will be. And all music of the last century is jazz or at least jazz-influenced. And, as everyone knows (well, as Artie Fishel told me), jazz was born in Eastern European stetls.

Synchronicity, the Stoa and the Rail Splitter

Reading emails to this blog I came across an email telling me the Virtual Stoa has moved to here. So I went to look at the new site. And very good it is too. And yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Pablo Neruda. My take on Neruda ia that he was an important Twentieth Century poet of the oppressed who was a believer in the Socialist paradise that was Stalin's USSR. Octavio Paz described
"think[ing] of … Neruda and other famous Stalinist writers I feel the gooseflesh that I get from reading certain passages of Dante’s Inferno. No doubt they began in good faith, but insensibly, commitment by commitment, they saw themselves becoming entangled in a mesh of lies, falsehoods, deceits and perjuries, until they lost their souls."
That's what happens when you start seeking answers to important questions like why are so many of the world's people poor and oppressed, and discover an all-encompassing meta-narrative that replaces the need for thinking with obedience to an ideology and the personnification of that ideology.

Don't think. Just believe.

That's not to deny that Neruda wrote some great poetry that sings of, and to, the oppressed and the workers of the world. But he also wrote some hagiographic crud to Joseph Stalin that just drags down his oeuvre.

Here's the beginning of "Let the Rail Splitter Awake".
West of the Colorado river is a place I love.
I turn towards it, with everything that lives in me,
with all that I was, and am, and believe.
There are tall red rocks, made structures
by the savage air with its thousand hands,
and the scarlet sky arose from the abyss
into them to become copper, fire and strength.
America, stretched like a buffalo hide,
aerial, clear night of gallop,
there towards the starred summits
I drink your cup of green dew.

And then I thought of Il Postino, the 1995 film about Neruda in exile. And then I thought of the letter I'm waiting for from my parents in exile. Only connect.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bibliopoles and Pugilism

There's a fight going on in the world of publishing and bookselling. This week's Weekly Worker carries a letter that complains about Bookmarks.
The people who run the Socialist Workers Party bookshop called Bookmarks in central London are into censorship and it stinks.

We publish a magazine that any socialist would be interested in reading ... Bookmarks refuse to stock our magazine. This is strange, considering we don’t allow fascists or racists to write for us, but do encourage debate about some old leftwing shibboleths, especially those to do with ‘class struggle’.

The draconian management at Bookmarks are letting down anyone engaged in an attempt to make sense of our world today. ... It’s a shame, because Bookmarks in the old days used to be a thriving socialist bookshop in the heart of north London - a real hub of debate and discussion, with a vast and exciting range of literature, always full up with people. With such a po-faced management team these days, it’s hardly surprising no-one goes there and is only kept alive by the party faithful digging deep week after week.

Sean Delaney
Principia Dialectica
Following up on the magazine's own site you get this amusing response:
Mike writes: maybe they thoughtyour mag was a load of pretentious bollocks and not worth stocking - but its easier to shout “stalinist” than look at yourself critically…
Looking at the other places that do stock the magazine Bookmarks' refusal may be down to ideological differences and that the magazine is a load of Judith Butleresque nonsense. Alternatively, Bookmarks may be under Stalinist management.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gotham City and the Sky Mirror

Anish Kapoor's wonderful Sky Mirror has just been installed at the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

It was previously displayed outside the Playhouse Theatre in Nottingham. According to the BBC
[i]t has previously been placed in Nottingham, where it caused concern over whether it could set people or birds alight.
Now I know Nottingham has a bad reputation but are there really that many incomers from Gotham?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Day For Darfur

Tomorrow is an official Day For Darfur.

Get your blue hat and wear it.

And go and do something.

Modern Times is a super anagram of Timrod

Bob Dylan's acclaimed new album Modern Times has been noted for Dylan's appropriation of some lines from Henry Timrod.

As far as I can see it's a fair cop, badge out, laid off.

To [Scott] Warmuth [a disc jockey in Albuquerque and a former music director for WUSB, a public radio station in Stony Brook, on Long Island], who found 10 phrases echoing Timrod’s poetry on “Modern Times,” Mr. Dylan’s work is still original. “You could give the collected works of Henry Timrod to a bunch of people, but none of them are going to come up with Bob Dylan songs,” he said.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thomas Truax

Last night went to see Thomas Truax.

What a show. A small appreciative audience saw an excellent performance. Imagine Lake Wobegon on something mind-enhancing and you have the world of Thomas Truax.


And speaking of Lake Wobegon, here's a saying for today, "Ketchup contains natural mellowing agents that let people know they are having a good time, even if they themselves are not sure."

If Thomas Truax comes to a town near you, go and marvel.

Monday, September 11, 2006

World Trade WTF

A 9/11 documentary has been pulled from US tv by some CBS affiliate stations because TV companies fear the Federal Communications Commission may object to firefighters swearing.
The film was scheduled to go out at 8pm yesterday. However, any station airing it before 10pm could be fined for breaching "broadcast decency standards". CBS confirmed that affiliates representing about 10 per cent of the US had elected "not broadcast the program or would show it late at night".
Such is the sway of the prissy over what the United States watches. Prissy, prudish euphemistic talk kills. Blunt talking saves lives.

When public awareness campaigns about medical conditions talk about parts of the body, and bodily functions using language that no-one but no-one outside a Victorian literary meeting of belle-lettristes uses they get ignored. No-one pays attention. Get down and talk dirty. And don't be afraid to offend the prissy, prudish and uptight. It'll save more lives than being inoffensive and polite ever will.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Part of the Union

Eric Lee, of the excellent Labour Start site, has issued a request for help for Australian Construction workers:
This week's message is brief and very much to the point -- and needs your attention today.

The Howard government in Australia is one of the most anti-union in the world, breaking new ground in its efforts to smash the trade union movement in that country.

Among its first victims are 107 construction workers, who are being prosecuted for alleged "illegal" industrial action following the sacking of a union delegate.

According to Kevin Reynolds, Secretary of the West Australian Branch of the CFMEU union, "Under the Howard Government, the basic right to vote to take strike action in support of better conditions and a safe workplace has now been criminalised."

The workers made their first appearance in court yesterday (Monday).

They are asking workers around the world to mobilize and send messages of protest to government officials today:

The families of the 107 are facing fines of A$28,600, meaning massive financial hardship and destitution because of these punitive laws. Please give generously:


Spread the word - pass this message on!

Thank you.

Eric Lee

Monday, August 28, 2006


Amnesty International has a Darfur Campaign. It's not been the most high profile campaign but they have had one. Details are here. Further details on Amnesty's site are here.

For more up to date information see the excellent Sudan Watch.

There's an interview with Eric Reeves, an academic expert on the Darfur conflict, at Democracy Now that has been picked up by Mick Hartley. You can read Mick Hartley for a good summary and extract from the interview.

Here's my take on the latest situation. The Sudanese government has rejected a draft U.N. resolution calling for a 17,000 person force to be deployed to Darfur. Reeves says
Khartoum is right now planning a massive military offensive in North Darfur, which has been the most violent of the three Darfur states.

If this offensive takes place, there will be massive, massive civilian destruction. I think we're also likely to see a withdrawal of virtually all humanitarian workers. This will leave some 1.2 million people completely dependent on humanitarian aid, without any assistance whatsoever. By my own calculation, some 500,000 people have already died. As many more could die in the coming year if current trends continue.
The U.S.A's Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer got a frosty reception and a "No" from the Sudanese President, to accepting the U.N peacekeeping force. Not being a Permanent Member of the U.N. Security Council you'd think that Sudan would not have that much say in what the U.N. does or does not do. And you'd be wrong.

New global political realities are forming. Sudan is the major offshore oil supplier
to China and China dominates oil production in southern Sudan. Any U.N. force will only be deployed if there is a concensual resolution. Khartoum consistently says that any state supporting the U.N. resolution is an enemy of the state of Sudan, and that is something China does not want to be. Thus any resolution will be vetoed by China. To quote Eric Reeves
[China] will veto any resolution, and we come up against a very, very difficult problem. What will we do if the United Nations proves incapable of acting in the face of ongoing massive genocide?
Faced by such a question what is the response of campaigning NGOs such as Amnesty? It's the Global Day for Darfur where you can wear a blue hat on September 17th. Is it an adequate response? No. Have I signed up for it? Yes. Do I feel annoyed and angered by the inadequacy of the response? For the love of Hegel, yes.

On Books and Book Buying

On Eric Lee's recommendation I bought "The Mind at Work - Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker" by Mike Rose. And a fine, informative read it is, setting out to demolish the myth that there are workers by hand and workers by brain. Most workers by hand also use intelligence in all aspects of their job. (And, I would like to add, some workers by brain show an alarming lack of intelligence). As Rose says, on page xxvii,
I think we need to be cautious in assuming extensive and necessary effects of particular kinds of work on the thinking ability of the people who do them. Such analysis can obscure the nuance and variation in individual people's experence of work, as well as real differences in the physical and social environment of individual workplaces. The complexity of working life is therefore reduced. We can pinpoint the harmful effects of modern working conditions ... without positing an automatic diminishment of a worker's awareness and capacity to reason.
That assumption that so many people make, that John Doe has a manual job therefore John Doe must be not very intelligent is just wrong and ill-founded. And the corresponding assumption that John Fotheringey has a professional job therefore John Fotheringey must be intelligent is just wrong and ill-founded. And that assumption plays into public policy on education and training and is just wrong and ill-founded.

And if you are going to get it, get it from Union Communication Services. The book is available here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

On Names and Things

In my previous post, on failing to read, I referenced a book by Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies.

There's a splendid review of that work here by a splendidly named chap, George Cowmeadow Bauman. He describes himself as "a career bibliopole and a lifetime bibliophile, if not an outright bibliomaniac".

And what is wrong with that?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

On Failing to Read

Norm cites Nick Hornby as saying 'if you're reading a book that's killing you, put it down and read something else'.

That may be so for some people and some books. However, most people have picked up a book in a bookshop or a library and started to read and taken the book home. And there it sits. By a favourite chair or on a table by the bed. And it is picked up. And the first pages are read. Something happens. The telephone rings. The television gets interesting. What's that music playing? Worst of all, you fall asleep.

Distractions prevent you from being enveloped by the book. You want to read it. You really do want to read it. It's just that you haven't got the time. It's just that you haven't got the energy. So many books to read. So little time.

Last year I bought David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. It's a big, multi-stranded narrative of a world. I carried it in my bag for weeks. I'd pick it up while waiting for Rullsenberg. In coffee shops I'd drink my filter coffee and try and read. I just couldn't concentrate for any length of time. Too much noise. Too many distractions. Just too much everything stopping me.

I was about to give up and blame the book. But then I started reading in a quiet coffee bar in the Djanogly Art Gallery. And I finally got into it. And a damn fine book it is too.

But there are just too many books to read. In "So Many Books", page 22, Gabriel Zaid wrote
"In the first century of printing (1450 - 1550), 35,000 titles were published; in the last half-century (1950 - 2000), there were a thousand times more - 36 million. ... Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant. If a person read a book a day, he would be neglecting to read four thousand others, published the same day. In other words, the books he didn't read would pile up four thousand times faster than the books he did read, and his ignorance would grow four thousand times faster than his knowledge."
To read voraciously is to gaze into the abyss of the finite when infinity is needed to even approach completion.

Zaid, ibid page 24, goes on to say
"And maybe the measure of our reading should therefore be, not the number of books we've read, but the state in which they leave us.

What does it matter how cultivated and up-to-date we are, or how many thousands of books we've read? What matters is how we feel, how we see, what we do after reading; whether the street and the clouds and the existence of others mean anything to us; whether reading makes us, physically, more alive."

If you're interested in reading and want to read about reading I would recommend "Gabriel Zaid's "So Many Books", Albert Manguel's "A History of Reading", Sven Birkert's "The Gutenberg Elegies", Anne Fadiman's "Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader". There are many more good books on reading, and readers, but that's a good list with which to start. If that doesn't float your reading boat just go and read.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Here's a good comment on the annual gripe-fest that is the A-level results season.
Ministers are hesitant about accepting the case for A* grades, and rightly so. They know that, given the stubborn links between family background and exam achievement, the grade is most likely to be achieved by children from better-off homes. An A* would, to put it crudely, stop the masses from getting ideas above their station.

Those who favour the new grade argue, in effect, that A-levels have ceased to be effective rationing devices because they no longer allow the elite universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, to cherry-pick the best candidates. But Oxford and Cambridge have no obvious right to the brightest students. Some of the cleverest might benefit from other universities, including those with a more vocational bent. Why do we think it necessary to organise our entire exam system around the selection of a tiny proportion of the population for a highly academic education and privileged lifestyle at Oxford or Cambridge?

There are many things wrong with A-levels - too narrow, too specialist, too academic - but the lack of an A* grade isn't one of them.
Shouldn't exam results show what people have learned and not be part of a bigger rationing process for entry to prestigious (prestigious as in "held in high esteem" and as in "knavish") professions and institutions? Personally I failed most of my A-levels because I was bored and wanted to read stuff totally unrelated to my courses (I was doing Economics, Geography and Pure Mathematics and Statistics but spent months reading philosophy books and Bertrand Russell's autobiography). Thankfully I scraped through in Maths which led onto an HND in Computer Studies. But that is just me, I just wanted to read books, think and write an occasional essay. And didn't want any of the formal assessment that went with an A-level course. Some might say it's intellectual laziness. Others might say it's just laziness. Yup. Guilty.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Clamo, clamatis, omnes clamamus pro glace lactis sundae

What a fantastic weekend. Summer Sundae was a damn fine festival. With the Blockheads in the Musician Tent, on Friday, being as excellent as you'd expect. As someone once said, they are Britain's answer to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or to the MGs. Why isn't there a queue of people wanting to record with the Blockheads?

Saturday saw a brilliant performance from Tunng. Then a splendid singalong-a performance from Leith's finest, The Proclaimers.

There were many more highlights. I'll remember more tomorrow.

It's late. I'm tired and I'm off to bed.

For more highlights see Rullsenberg's record of the weekend. And here. And here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Starbucks and the Wobblies

Counago and Spaves cross post from the Wobblies on the current dispute between Starbucks and IWW members in the U.S.A. Here's an extract
The Wobblies at Starbucks have proven that by taking direct action against the company over issues of concern to workers and by avoiding the skewed certification process of NLRB elections, baristas can improve their lives on and off the job. This strategy only works however, if the company incurs significant economic, political, and social costs when it violates the right to organize by terminating workers for union activity.

Take action with us sisters and brothers. Together we will win:

1) Do not spend your hard earned money at Starbucks until the company respects the right of workers to organize and reinstates Daniel Gross and the rest of the IWW baristas. Let the company know you are taking a stand by participating in the email action:

2) Obtain a resolution or pledge from your community group, labor union, or house of worship agreeing to stay way from Starbucks products until justice is done. Please send copies to

3) Hold a rally or leafleting action at Starbucks in support of the right to organize and in defense of the fired union baristas if you feel that's appropriate in your local community. Please check in with the baristas at the store beforehand to involve them in the action.
And here's a link to the Wobblies.

Cricket Lovely Cricket

Last Sunday had a grand day out at Derbyshire County Cricket Club watching Derbyshire play West Indies A.

When we arived the weather was warm. The picnic bags were full. The West Indies were fielding.

When we left, after an excellent day's fun, the weather was still warm, the picnic bags were empty and Derbyshire won by 30 runs. Here's the scorecard.

Here's a report from the Gleaner.

The International Cricket Council is investing heavily in promoting cricket in its current Associate and Affiliate member counties. And that's a good thing. The more countries playing cricket the better.

However it needs to look at the decline of cricket in the Caribbean. Those of us of a certain generation grew up watching Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Alvin Kallicharan and Clive Lloyd conquer the world. We are now saddened by the decline in West Indian cricket. Indeed a simple search on google for "west indian cricket" decline gets 565 responses.

Here's a serious piece, by Jeffery Mordecai, that blames the West Indies Cricket Board's imposition of "a ridiculous eligibility rule" as, a major, reason for the decline. In 1994 the Board made eligibility for the West Indian team depend on playing in domestic inter-island competitions. As Mordecai argues
Our administrators chose instead to put all their efforts into developing and improving our domestic regional and national competitions. This was and is an admirable policy initiative, for the long run, but cannot fully replace foreign professional competition in the short to medium term.

The Eligibility Rule has destroyed the very ingredient that led to our dominance of world cricket by providing that you cannot represent the West Indies unless you represent your territory in all the rounds of the domestic regional competition. In other words, if you secure a professional contract you cannot play for the West Indies.

What is the equivalent rule in the other international sports? There is none!

Does Dwight Yorke have to play every match in the domestic season for Joe Public to represent Trinidad and Tobago in football? Do Brazil and Argentina prohibit their best players from playing abroad?

Such a rule would be impossible to conceive in any other international sport but in our case, the national association (WICB) unbelievably imposed it on themselves, without any input from the ICC
Put like that, will anyone be surprised when the West Indies will soon struggle to beat Bangladesh.


Prescedence. Shmescedence.

There is a man. A man with a blog. A blog called "A Cloud In Trousers". Like this one.

Then along comes a man. A man with a blog. A blog called "A Cloud In Trousers". Like this one.

The leftmarch guy has rather cool tastes (haha - found a link to Deep-bloody-Purple - not so cool now). He even opens with an excellent post on graveyards. What's a man to do?

A spectre, or a frightful hobgoblin, is haunting me.

Hello FraVernero.

And thanks to Will Rubbish for pointing this out.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MP3 players and the privatization of public spaces

Yes. I know. In the past I have argued for mp3 players being
  1. a B-A-D thing
  2. a privatization of public spaces
  3. used by pedestrians (pedo's as we used to call us/them/us in my Wolverhampton school days) with a deathwish
  4. used by people with a premature deafwish
Well. Hold on there a minute. Friday afternoon I was offered a used, one careful owner, iPod Nano 1GB. Being in a happy mood, as I was off on a big weekend, I agreed to buy it. Thus it was that I acquired an iPod. When I bought it, and because of my big weekend still, it contains an appalling miasmic melange of musical mishaps - "power ballads".

That was Friday. I've had a four day break from computers. Now I am trying to download iTunes and load some decent stuff on to it. I was thinking some Miles Davis, some Einsturzende Neubauten, some Pere Ubu (and associated projects), some Regina Spektor, and some (and this will annoy loads of people) Gilad Atzmon.

A friend sent me a copy of "musiK - Re-Arranging the 20th Century" by Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble with Robert Wyatt and Guillermo Rozenthuler" which is, on a totally unbiased viewpoint, a damn fine eclectic album. Yes, Atzmon has some opinions that suggest that for a politician he's a damn fine jazz musician and for a jazz musician he's a bloody awful politician. I think it comes down to can you like the art of someone whose politics you disdain?

In the case of Atzmon I think you can because his music is good. It's second division good (obviously before the inflationary innovation of the Premier League) but it's listenable with a certain amount of challenging content. Carrying on with the football analogy, Atzmon is a Millwall, "everybody hates us and we don't care", rather than an Arsenal. Much of Atzmon's writing is ill-thought out, ill-argued pseudo-intellectual (drop a Lacan, a Freud, a Heidegger and you have a specious academic style) and fundamentally not very good as either argument or polemic. But as a musician he's good. And that surely is what it's all about.

Drawing up the Cloud in Trouser Model for the relationship between your aesthetic appreciation of art and the stated political beliefs of the artist we have:
  • Like Politics - Like Art
  • Like Politics - Ah Um Art
  • Like Politics - Detest Art

  • Ah Um Politics - Like Art
  • Ah Um Politics - Ah Um Art
  • Ah Um Politics - Detest Art

  • Detest Politics - Like Art
  • Detest Politics - Ah Um Art
  • Detest Politics - Detest Art
Too many Ah Ums suggests why bother. When you like the politics but not the art of an artist I find there is a tendency to go "I should like it and I don't but if other's like it that's good". In that lacuna of "Detest Politics - Like Art" lies real difficulty.

But, anyway, I really like some of Atzmon's music. So there.

And back to mp3 players. As I have written before1 they are a
  1. a G-O-O-D thing
  2. a privatization of public spaces
  3. used by pedestrians (pedo's as we used to call us/them/us in my Wolverhampton school days) with a deathwish
  4. used by people with a premature deafwish.
When I'll actually listen to it is another matter.

1 Anyone finding any reference to any such writing probably has a painting of Nat Tate's at home, above the mantel.


As the man said, now ain't the time for ill-informed scribbling. This is more of a discussion about discussion.

When you get people supporting sides in a dispute there are always differences in the level of support given.

There are those who generally advocate support for one side but are able to see when one side is behaving unethically and beyond any sense of human decency.
Israel's action at Qana is inexcusable. I say this as someone who supports Israel's right to defend itself against those who attack it, those who send missiles against its civilians and who intend its destruction as a state.
That's an example of good advocacy that supports one side of an issue but is never too biased to see ethical failings on that side.

Then you get those who know which side of the issue they are on and anything which threatens their blinkered little world view - "I am always right" - gets theorised away as some conspiracy. There's a link at those oh, so nice guys at LGF which constructs a conspiracy theory abut the timing of the collapse of the building at Qana, pointing to Hezbollah as the source of the demolition and a morgue at Tyre as the source of the bodies. Such are the excuses put up to argue "my side is always on the side of the angels". (You'll notice there are no links to this conspiratorial claptrap but if you are interested there's enough clues to google.) And, for those who aren't paying attention, I consider that an example of morally bad advocacy.

I'm sure you could find equally unbiased and biased postings by those who support Hezbollah but I don't want to spend all my time looking at the ravings of those who support, at the level of "national liberation army" or "resistance movement" (it's part of the government so what is it resisting in Lebanon?) or at the level of anti-Semitic rantings like "smash the Jewish state".

For the record, my own position is that Israel has a right to defend itself but when it kills innocents (non-combatants, or call them what you like I don't think the terminology is important) it loses much of the ethical and moral and sheer rightful backing it needs, and deserves.

For discussion on media portrayals of the events at Qana see this news roundup from the Washington Post.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Decline and Fall of a Book Store

This is so so last, last month but I've just found it so here's the sad tale of the end of an independent bookstore. Here's the thing that made the shop good: enthusiastic and informed staff and a hands off owner.
The owner came by once a month to pick up the money and to sign the checks. Angela handled the finances, wrote the checks, and made sure the (financial) books were in order. Angela wasn't as big of a book person as Aaron and me, but she knew what books sold, what the neighborhood kids would be interested in, and she was a hell of a saleswoman. Aaron completely knew zines and the alternative press, and had a firm command of history texts and non-canonical literature (specifically, revolutionary writers and non-Western writers from the islands, Africa and India). Aaron also brought the store 'street cred' because of his writings and punk recordings. I knew books; I knew how to sell; and I knew what sold. We added shelves; reorganized the store, and turned it into a quirky place for political writings, zines, expensive graffiti books, and all things fringe (before us, the owner's boyfriend turned the store around; he started it on the path we followed). It worked.
And here's why it failed: the owner didn't didn't pay any bills. Owed money to small presses run by friends. Owed money to the Zapatistas. Finally lawyers and bailiffs caught up.

Here's the final web page of the shop. (Probably not safe for work but that depends where you work!)

Good independent bookshops are important to the intellectual and cultural life of any city. Good independent bookshops are going out of business at an ever increasing rate. What's that say about the cultural and intellectual life of cities?


Ever have one of those days when you get all set up to do things and it all goes pear shaped?

I wanted to check my emails.
  • my personal emails via yahoo are inaccessible: a delightful sight of "page cannot be displayed/cannot find server". Pish.

  • my work email (super duper user friendly inotes) keeps asking me to click ok as I am "about to view data over a secure connection". I know. So I click ok. The window is a persistent little fellow and refuses to disappear. So I am unable to access my work emails. Does it make me a sad anorak accessing work emails on a sunday afternoon? Yes.
So I am totally unable to read any incoming messages. Pish.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Munro Blog

Here's an excellent new blog with loads of pictures of Munros, and their shorter neighbours.

These Munros are not to be confused with the Monroe Doctrine.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Rethinking Marxism 2006

I was always intrigued how the RCP always had their week of fun filled intellectual revolutionary frolics adjacent in the calendar to the equally fun filled revolutionary frolics of the SWP.

"Get down all those posters".

"Put up our posters".

Anyway, I've found this conference in October 2006. The plenary session is headed "Imperialism and the Fantasies of Democracy". Because it's such a spiffing read here's the abstract.
Many of today's left analyses of imperialism make note of the neoconservative turn to democracy. At the same time, such analyses are often too quick to discard this reference to democracy as empty rhetoric, as a mere cover for the real imperial economic interests (generally centered on oil). Parting ways with such simple critiques of imperialism, this plenary recognizes the constitutive role democratic discourse plays in structuring today's imperial vision and poses the following questions: How does taking the rhetoric of democracy seriously (and conceiving of it as fantasy) aid us to understand what is new and different in contemporary imperialism as well as to grasp the ways in which neoconservative hegemony elicits popular consent? The reason we use the term "fantasies" is to introduce a deliberately ironic and also a disputed term in making the connection between imperialism and democracy. That is, we think that "fantasies" could be read, alternatively, as connoting a source of desire/pleasure, an ideological formation, a possible "illusion," and much else. What kinds of economic, political, legal orders are formed and imposed through imperial fantasies of democracy? What kind of new and unique contradictions are spawned by them that disrupt their smooth functioning? What are the material practices by and through which determinate democratic movements have been able to articulate their projects in the midst of, in spite of, or in conjunction with the forms of imperialism that are currently in play? Does the contemporary turn toward religious and ethnic ideals and movements attest to the failure of these particular democratic fantasies? Or are they conditioned by the inherent limits to the democratic promise?

Alternatively, to the extent that democracy exceeds its articulation to imperialism, it also becomes a potential to mobilize the growing reactions to imperialism in the form of diverse anti-globalization and peace movements. The question then becomes: How can the left critiques of imperialism rethink the promise of democracy that animates the desires of many who wish for economic and political justice, drawing, partly, from rich traditions and current new thinking stemming from Marxism?
At least it doesn't take the, all too common, approach of rejecting democracy as it is used for purposes we do not agree with. If there are "inherent limits to the democratic promise" what do Laclau, Shohat and Callari, propose to do about them? What is the alternative to democracy? Are "religious and ethnic ideals and movements" considered a valid progressive alternative to democratic movements?

Or is it just

"a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing"?

Economists and Immigration

Like most right thinking people I've always thought that immigrants to a country increase the labour supply but in needing goods and services they also create an increased demand for labour.

Today I have discovered the technical term for this is that the "demand curve also shifts out" [registration required after first read], or so says labour economist David Card. Back in 2005 Card produced this research to ask "Is the New Immigration Really So Bad? In his abstract he says
This paper reviews the recent evidence on U.S. immigration, focusing on two key questions:
  1. Does immigration reduce the labor market opportunities of less-skilled natives?
  2. Have immigrants who arrived after the 1965 Immigration Reform Act successfully assimilated?
In his conclusion he finds that the relationship between the wages of American born high school dropouts and American born high school graduates has remained fairly constant since 1980. This suggests there is no negative impact of immigration on wages.

He also concludes that while the 40% of U.S.A. immigrants having no High School diploma will find it difficult to catch up with the average wage of native-born Americans, their children find it increasingly easier to earn similar sums to the children of those same native-born Americans.

Card's final sentence is worth quoting: "The relatively strong educational progress of second generation immigrants, together with the limited evidence of adverse effects on less skilled natives, suggest that the new immigration may not be so bad after all."

There's an interesting article, by Roger Lowenstein The Immigration Equation, [registration required after first read] discussing these issues, the work of David Card and the conflicting work of George Borjas. Borjas asserts, contrary to Card, that President Bush's proposed guestworker programme will lead to more foreign born workers.
The typical rationale provided for the guestworker program is that the country "needs" immigrants to keep many of its industries running. After all, many immigrants "do jobs that natives do not want to do."

These assertions are among the most persistent and hard-to-shake myths regarding the labor market impact of immigration. Supporters of the guestworker program argue that entire industries would vanish if American employers did not have access to cheap foreign labor. The vast majority of cab drivers in New York City are foreign-born (82 percent in the 2000 Census). Would all those yellow cars be piled up in some junkyard if those immigrants had not been admitted? Of course not. Fewer than 10 percent of the cab drivers in Cincinnati and Detroit are foreign-born. Nevertheless, the cab industry in those cities manages to survive and provide services to the local communities. It may cost a little more to ride those cabs, but the jobs get done.

What past immigration has done — and what the temporary worker program will continue to do on a potentially larger scale — is to depress wages and increase the profits of the firms that employ the immigrants. The labor market effects documented in this paper suggest that the proposed temporary worker program will expose many more Americans to competition from foreign workers, will generate higher earnings losses for workers, and will lead to an even greater redistribution of wealth from labor to those who buy and use immigrant services.
Even though Borjas's work is well researched and sourced, his examples of cabbies in Cincinnatti and Detroit may not serve his purpose. If people previously employed as cabbies can get better paid, less stressful employment with other benefits elsewhere they may well take it. It is sometimes the lack of decent other options that keep people in a type of work. Are there better opportunities for people with the typical background of an American born cabbie in cities such as Detroit and Cincinnatti? If those other opportunities existed would the jobs still be taken by American born workers? I think the answer is probably not, which would lead to a readjustment in the local cabbie industry.

I think Borjas's work falls down on his belief in labour mobility. Is, as Borjas argues, a building company in Michigan really going to relocate to California because of the availability of cheaper, immigrant labour? Some may do. But the majority won't. And that's because many companies are run by people who have ties to an area. People who don't want to move. People who would only move for substantial advantages and a substantially better life. If you owned a reasonably profitable construction company in Michigan would you move, for slightly more profit, to California? Who would do the construction in Michigan?

If Borjas is right, and immigration adversely affects the wages and employment prospects of the already low waged should immigration be reduced? Is it just my own liberal prejudice saying that immigration is a G-O-O-D thing and should continue? Is my support for immigration screwing over the already low paid?

Fundamentally I believe that mobility of labour is a good thing. Diversity of communities is a good thing. Any change disproportionately affects the low paid. Isn't it better to campaign for the better treatment of immigrants ***and*** an end to seeing labour as just another cost to be lowered as much as possible?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Lake Tekapo

A picture of Lake Tekapo taken a couple of days ago.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Practical Action

There's a small charity (NGO) called Practical Action who do a lot of good work in providing appropriate technology for developing nations.
Practical Action – with the strapline, Technology Challenging Poverty – sums up what we do, making a practical difference in the lives of poor people. We recognise the importance of technology and hands on work. We share knowledge and work together with communities. In policy debate, our work focuses on delivering practical changes that positively impact on the lives of poor people.
They're well worth supporting.

... Practical Action takes on the following challenges:
  • To work with women and men living in poverty on the management of technical change for sustainable livelihoods, while the economic and technological forces around them are affecting those livelihoods with bewildering speed;
  • To research, test and analyze the impacts of new technologies on the lives of people in developing countries, suggesting ways to use them ‘appropriately’, or proposing alternatives
  • To demonstrate to others the potential of appropriate technology as a key element in an alternative, sustainable model of development
  • To demonstrate the continuing role of direct, practical answers to poverty in local partnerships with women and men living in poverty
  • To link the lives of its local partners to the remote policy frameworks which condition their livelihoods and environment, and to change those frameworks in their favour.
Practical Action's Vision

A world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used to the benefit of all.

Practical Action's Mission

Practical Action aims to eradicate poverty in developing countries through the development and use of technology, by demonstrating results, sharing knowledge and influencing others.
Go on. Make a donation. You'll sleep better.