Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Today : The ghosts of Rwanda

14 years on I am still haunted by what happened in Rwanda. The recent conviction of some of those responsible reminded me again and opened the door to those ghosts. Which is odd, because I had no involvement. I wasn't there, and until this year had never even met anyone who was connected to the country.

But therein lies the reason. In 1994 the genocide was something happening on the TV in the corner, whilst I was doing other stuff and not really paying attention. It was just some more bad things happening in Africa. Perhaps of the kind that had been happening on the TV in the corner for much of my life. As a child I remember watching scratchy maps of the MPLA's territorial gains against UNITA, or snatches of news about Idi Amin and the raid on Entebbe, and of course the images of famine set to Drive by The Cars.

But in 1994 I was not a child. I was an adult with money and a vote and the capacity to pay attention and understand what was going on.

When the tenth anniversary happened I started to pay attention. The film Hotel Rwanda had already won Oscars even though I didn't see it. What initially, momentarily, piqued my interest was a radio interview with Gen. Romeo Dallaire, promoting his book Shake Hands with the Devil. Even then, I didn't delve any further. It wasn't until a year later that I was in the supermarket and Hotel Rwanda was being sold on DVD for a fiver. I'd had a vague notion that one day I would watch it. I like to see films that win awards to judge for mysefl if they deserve them (on this basis I still haven't watched Little Miss Sunshine, nor Driving Miss Daisy for that matter, but did see, for example, Sling Blade, Crash and Enchanted).

I sat down to watch the film and was stunned and impressed. It's terrific. Shocking, moving, horrifying, uplifting, resonant. In fact it was all the things that Schindler's List was meant to be. What stuck with me was the brightness of the African light and consequently the vividness of the colours, which somehow made the horror much more real than the usual film-horror tactic of denying light.

It was then that I realised I was generally pretty ignorant about the situation. Like I said: at the time it kind of passed me by and the only bit of detail was that I'd gleaned from the half-listened-to interview with Romeo Dallaire. So I used the internet to find documentaries and old news reports. I even tracked down the film of Shake Hands with The Devil, which in turn inspired me to read the book. The genocide occupied my cultural consumption for the next couple of weeks (which was the time it took, in 1994, about 150,000 Hutus to be macheted to death).

The ghosts of Rwanda began to haunt me, as they do now. It was a selfish kind of guilt. I hated the idea that I had let it pass me by and not raised my voice. Yes, I know my voice is just one amongst countless millions, including that of General Dallaire. But a letter to my MP, a donation to a charity, a conversation over a beer: I could have done or said something to express my outrage at was being allowed to happen. And how many voices would it have taken for Clinton to have acted? We will never know. But then again we didn't speak up enough to find out.

Earlier this year I met two people from Rwanda. A man and a women. Not a couple, but each of them -14 years on -still escaping the insanity of the genocide. I was really impressed by their grace and they appeared to em to radiate some kind of inner resolve. I guess I was probably projecting survivor stereotypes upon them. During conversation, I couldn't help replaying scenes from Hotel Rwanda, scenes from news and documentaries, and thinking about the trivial mid-twenties stuff I was doing in 1994. My guilt welled up inside me. I went to both people, hugged them and said I was sorry. It wasn't uncomfortable, like spontaneously hugging strangers from another culture probably is in 99% of cases. It had the potential to be a an act with a level of miscommunication and embarrassment worthy of Curb Your Enthusiasm but didn't. I guess my motivation was still selfish - in some ways using these people to assuage my own guilt. But I really did want to show them that I was genuinely sorry for my own inaction in the face of their hell, and that I cared, however abstractly, belatedly and uselessly. Frankly, it's too big to deal with. How do you talk about a genocide with people who were there? Any kind of commiseration seems pathetic and inadequate.

But they countered my tears with broad smiles and concern. For a moment I thought they could be laughing at me. But then the man spoke:
He nodded his head slightly and paused for a moment.

"Thank you sir," he said.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

today : credit crunch holiday

Due to the credit crunch MSE is closing over Xmas for an unprecedentedly long time.

As is tradition, I am leaving a link to Fairytale of New York, plus another Xmas tune.

Geseende Kerfees! / Gëzuar Krishlindjet! / Gozhqq Keshmish! / I'D Miilad Said! / Nabidà! / Shenoraavor Nor Dari! / Bones Navidaes! Mbung Mbung Krismie! / Shuvo Baro Din! / Mi wisim yufala eerywan one gutfala Krismas! / Nedeleg laouen! / Vasel Koleda! / Bogem h n mh m! / Danistayohihv! Hoesenestotse! / Glædelig Jul! / Fröhliche Weihnachten! / Merry Christmas! / Jutdlime pivdluarit! / Gajan Kristnaskon! Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi! / Gledhilig jólHyvää Joulua! / Zalig Kerstfeest! / Joyeux Noël! / Bon Nadâl! / Noflike Krystdagen! / Gilotsavt Krist'es Shobas! Kala Christougenna! / Barka da Kirsimatikuma! / Mele Kalikimaka! / Mo'adim Lesimkha! / Okresmesa ombwa! / Shubh Naya Baras! / Vrolijk Kerstfeest! / Selamat Hari Natal! Nollaig Shona Dhuit! / Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson homungradon nagwutut! / Buon Natale! / Shinnen omedeto! / Sugeng Natal! / Gute Vaynakhtn! / Seng Dan Fai Lok! / Bon nadal! Noeli Nziza! / Isangle Krismen! / Bon Natale! / Appi Krismes! / Sretan Bozic! / Seva piroz sahibe! / Bon Nadel! / Wanikiya tonpi wowiyuskin! Prieci'gus Ziemsve'tkus! / Linksmu Kaledu! / Amazalibwa Agesanyu! / Schéi Krëschtdeeg! / Selamat Hari Natal! / Nixtieklek Milied tajjeb! Salama' Natal! / Kung His Hsin Nien! / Nollick ghennal! / Kia orana e kia manuia rava! / Streken Bozhik! / Festusu Natale! Esimano olyaKalunga gwokombandambanda! / Krist Yesu Ko Shuva Janma Utsav Ko Upalaxhma Hardik Shuva! / God Jul! / Ungil Kurismas! Wesolych Swiat! / Boas Festas! / Sumaj kausay kachun Navidad ch'sisipi! / Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi! / Bella Festas daz Nadal! / Bachtalo krecunu Thaj! / Craciun fericit! / Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva! Buorit Juovllat! / Bonu nadale! / Nollaig chridheil! / I'Taamomohkatoyiiksistsikomi! / God Jul! / E guëti Wiënachtä! / Sretam Bozic! / Bon Natali! Vesele Vianoce! / Vesele bozicne praznike! / Feliz Navidad! / Krismas Njema Na Heri! / Maligayang Pasko! / Ia ora i te Noera! Suksan Wan Christmas! / Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce! / Veseloho Vam Rizdva! / Kellemes Karacsonyiunnepeket! / Chuc Mung Giang Sinh! / Nadolig LLawen! Winshuyu sa Svyatkami! / Quyanalghii Kuusma! / Sinifesela Ukhisimusi Omuhle!

Friday, December 05, 2008

today : I listen to The Beautiful South

I wouldn't call myself a fan of the Beautiful South. I never rushed out to buy their records, never even bought one of their albums, never seen them live, nor even tuned in to see them on TV. But yesterday I was tootling along in my car listening to one of my MP3 compilation CDs. What I did was simply strip out all the MP3 files from my computer and put them on CD for use in the car. I never bothered to make cases or tracklistings, so I just have a bunch of about 10 CDs, each with about 120 tracks.

It's fun to have random music. MIA followed by Grieg, AC/DC followed by Shearwater followed by Mann Parrish. I have this thing on the steering wheel that selects the tracks, so if one comes along that is jarring I just press it and it skips forward. Anyway, so there I was tootling along in the crisp, pale autumn sunshine and on came Rotterdam by The Beautiful South. It was a precursor to a knot of TBS tracks on the CD. Perfect Ten, You Keep it All In, I'll Sail This Ship Alone, Old Red Eyes is Back and some others.

And it struck me that TBS were a terrific band. I remember the Housemartins. I once saw them live just as they were getting famous. Something went wrong with the soundsystem and the band all congregated around the one working mike and regaled the audience with a cappella versions of a few songs until it was fixed. They were really good, and it's no surprise that two of them have gone on on the last 20 years to be hugely successful. It's rare that successful bands split up and more than one member avoids sinking into obscurity, never mind going on to be dead successful.

As I said, I am not particularly a fan. In fact there are some of their songs that I don't like much. But the beauty of the Beautiful South is that, as a band, they were kinda stealthily successful. They were like a little band that remained little even when they got big. Perhaps this was to do with Paul Heaton having already ridden the wave of pop success once before and not wanting to do it again. But they managed to avoid glamour gimmicks and stardom whilst remaining hugely successful.

And somehow I find it reassuring that the British public still have the taste to buy records by people who deliver song-craft and catchy tunes played simply on traditional instruments, as well as buying atrocious horrors such as Leona Lewis murderously disemboweling Snow Patrol's Run.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

today : divs of the week

If you are going to institute an occasional award for Div of the Week, then who better to start with than these three drooling bozos who flew their private jets from places like Detroit to Washington DC, in order to claim that their companies needed a government bail-out.

I am wondering if there is a correlation between this monumental stupidity and the fact that these corporations have been heading down the toilet for many a year, continuing to promote their shoddily made, unreliable, hideous looking, gas munching products, whilst the rest of the world stealthily began living in the 21st Century.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

today : I watch daytime TV

Having been bedridden and/or housebound (due to recovering from an operation) for the last three months I have had little to do but watch TV- something that I do normally but not in such huge amounts.

Daytime TV is mainly extremely boring to the point of making you feel like you are actually in a coma. Part of this effect is the sheer repetition. Houses, antiques, people arguing, DNA tests, lie-detector tests. Houses, houses antiques, people arguing, DNA tests, lie-detector tests. Houses, houses, antiques, people arguing, DNA tests, lie-detector tests. Houses, houses, antiques, people arguing, DNA tests, lie-detector tests...what day is it?

Although one show fascinates me. I was never ever a fan of Jerry Springer, and always feel defrauded when Jerry turns up on British TV wearing his serious intelligent liberal persona. It's as if he didn't make his fortune from a TV show that was all about humiliating the poor, mentally ill and socially inadequate, and nobody ever calls him on it.

Steve Wilkos, whose show is from the same stable as JS, takes this both a step further and a step back. I am fascinated by the fact that nobody seems to think this is abnormal behaviour. With his tough love template and his backstage counsellors, Steve purports to help people with their problems (like, for example, Montell Williams) whilst simultaneously parading them in a freakshow. Here's the thing that grips me about the show. Much of it is taken up with Steve and the studio audience bullying, name calling, humiliating and threatening nonentities. In short the bullies get bullied back.

I don't know how much these people are paid, or how true their stories are, but they seemingly are all willing to appear on TV and take a dose of abuse from Steve and his audience. Often the pressure is too much and they storm out. This gratifies me. We (Steve, the studio audience and the watching audience) have won. We have exposed the bullies as cowards unable to face any force even a degree tougher than themselves. They stand on what Steve calls rather territorially 'My Stage', and are forced to jump through hoops of aggressive humiliation. people. But in many cases the recipients are lowlife wife beaters, drug dealers, child abusers and selfish irresponsible chaotic nature of the show, I find it oddly thrilling. Who hasn't thought of giving some back to a bully? I certainly have. Like lots of people, I was bullied relentlessly at school (and sometimes at work) and found that the only real way to stop a bully is to punch them on the nose, or find some way to wrest power from them. On the other side, I can't say that I ever proactively bullied, but have sometimes found myself caught up in it by joining in the jokes and name-calling - especially as a schoolboy. In fact, I still worry that I may have inadvertently caused more damage than I ever realised at the time and wish I could apologise to the people involved.

Yet when it is all over I feel sordid and awful, a bit like I do when I finish a James Ellroy novel (except with Ellroy, it is because he skillfully and superbly draws you in to his imagined histories of 50s and 60s LA until you start to inhabit the obsessions of the plot and character. In other words, it is a consensual act of immersion and one which is 'pleasant' in the way fiction can be) , and cannot wait to turn over and watch nice middle class British people wallpapering their hallways and buying Clarice Cliffe salad bowls at auction.

Friday, November 14, 2008

today : Difficulty quitting

Here is a short precis of the long piece of writing I have been attempting over the past two or three weeks, but have been struggling to finish for many and various reasons that are too boring to go into now. It is all about how different groups of people are trapped by their ideology and even when shaken out of it are desperate to retreat into it's comforting cocoon. The banking crisis shook up the entire system. Pretty much the writing was on the wall for the particular capitalistic model we've been following for thirty or so years. In some ways Reaganomics or Friedmanomics or whatever you want to call it is possibly the last writhing gasp of modernism. When will people realise that ideology is stupid. Yes, it's comforting but the world is too complex to be fitted into nice, hermetically sealed theories. Yet it took about two weeks of panicking for the banking community to fall back on their bonus culture - even though we were told that, with the system all but privatised, it would have to stop. No bankers traded in their Beamers for a low-emissions city runaround.

Obama's election was a game changer. A 'major watershed in Anerican history' (TM). Yet it took politicians and political hacks about 36 hours (the hangover and the early night) to start approaching his tenure with cynicism. Once Michelle picks a school then it will all blow up.

In British football, this year everyone agreed that it was time to stop abusing the referees. Managers and players all supported the idea. Yet it took about a month of the season for managers to start blaming refs for bad decisions and calling them names.

Change is incredibly difficult to achieve.
it's even more difficult to sustain. The idea of the tipping point is such a lovely and seductive one that I want to believe it. But I can only see any declared tipping point as a tentative, fragile, teetering beginning of change.

A couple of months ago I spent some time in hospital and had to quit smoking for a few days. Stocking up on the nicotine gum, I managed it quite easily. It helped that my impulse to find some way to smoke was severely compromised by the fact that I was bedridden and hooked up to oxygen and intravenous miscellany, and that the reason for my stay was a pretty major ankle operation. I quickly became comfortable with the fact that I was trapped and genuinely had no choice but to not smoke. I guess the intravenous drugs might have helped, as they put me in a hazy, altered state. I declared to myself that I would continue in abstinence when I got out.

It lasted about five minutes, as long as it took to find a place to stop the car and light up. And I forced myself to smoke. First cigarettes are something we endure. Anyone who has quit and started again is thrown back into the moment of their very first cigarette. I didn't cough on my first smoke - a bad sign - but it tasted bitter and unpleasant, and aways does.

(Unrelated to the topic of this piece, but related to smoking, I do like a nice Havana cigar. The problem is that the flavour is so fantastic that going back to boring old American cigarette tobacco is kind of a let down, like drinking supermarket cola.)

My point is that my hospital stay was a tipping point, but my addiction to the old ways of addiction was too strong, and I blew the chance to change. If you like, I tipped back.

And this is what the banks are doing. They appear to have taken our money and gone back to their gamblin' ways. How much smoke and how many mirrors can you buy for a billion quid? Same with the journalists and the footie managers. They just couldn't bring themselves to change their ways, even though they know that to stay the same would perpetuate the problems they are responsible for.

the picture btw is nothing to do with the writing (apart from the presence of an ash-tray), it's just one of my favourite pictures by Georges Brassai

Thursday, November 06, 2008

this also happens to women and girls

This also happened and was reported yesterday. It kind of got lost in the news from the USA.

The curse of the world is ideology that is so rigid and goes so far that it defies logic.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

today : just about the busiest day ever

It struck me that today is probably the busiest blogging day of all time. Just think of all them political bloggers furiously typing their minute by minute responses to the US election results. I read that the BBC coverage of the results will even have a blogosphere correspondant, which is a bit like those TV shows that mine Youtube for clips of people falling off bikes and then string them together. Hello - the 'Blogosphere', or Blogistan, or whatever, is a different medium than TV - that's why it's not TV based.

News has never been that good at reporting things that aren't traditional journalism. Year after year they set up in a pub on Budget day to ask 'average drinkers' (those who are in the pub on an aftrenoon whilst everyone else is at work) what their response to tax rises on alcohol are, or find an average family and vox pop them about fiscal nuances they have no understanding of.

I myself have lots of opinion on the US election but have chosen to keep them to myself. I don't have ambitions of a cross-media career and have been busy in the past week or so.

I might read the odd blog tomorrow when it's all over but will not, as Wolf Blitzer often advises, be sitting in front of the TV with my laptop open.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Today : I reach out a hand of friendship and brotherhood to the entire world

As an example, Slovenia, yesterday

In the past two weeks I have had listeners visit from all corners of the earth (well, perhaps not ALL corners, but plenty of corners).
United Kingdom
United States
South Africa
Hong Kong
New Zealand
El Salvador
Costa Rica
& Greece

You can see which nationals have visited in the past couple of days by looking at the extremely clever map/counter at the bottom of the page.

There is a deep and profound point to be made here about the connectivity of the modern world; where even an' umble blog detailing the mundane ramblings of a non-famous person from England can receive such widespread penetration. I myself have visited only 10 of these countries yet by the magic of the interwebnet people from all over can virtually visit me. EM Forster would be proud.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

today : I grasp at normalcy

I've been working on this long piece of writing but haven't been getting anywhere really. Partly, it's due to me recovering from a pretty big operation, but also because I keep breaking off to read books, like Michael Connelly's new Mickey Haller story, which I finished earlier today.

So anyway, even though I have few listeners and most of my hits are random, I have this feeling when I haven't updated. It's like I'm letting myself down, letting my friends down and most of all letting my blog down. After two years or more and several hundred regular posts it kind of becomes part of the routine.

Having said that, being immobile and full of Tramadol kinda knocks your routine. I have been out of the house about six times in the last three months. I have taken up watching TV in the morning. I have more or less suspended my business. I have started to browse Ebay and thought about buying stuff I really don't want or need. All routine stuff that has gone awry during my recovery.

So when I post a non-content item on my blog it is simply to gain some semblence of normalcy, despite it being untlimately rather pointless.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

today : sailing on the sea of red

I don't have a degree in economics. I'm not even that good at sums. But I do know when things don't smell right.

Here's my question. Where did the money go? I'm not talking about the money that dried up in the credit markets that apprently started this whole shebang. I'm talking about the money that has been poured into the world banking system over the past month or so by pretty much every central bank in the world. 10 billion here, 30 billion there, it's a daily occurence that central banks are pumping 'liquidity' into the markets. But it seems that the central bankers have driven their Chevys to the Levees to find that the Levees are dry. And filled with sponges. And with a leak in the other side.

Because it seems that however much cash is pumped in, it achieves nothing. The credit market doesn't suddenly unjam. It seems that none of this endless new cash is actually liquid.

Imagine this: 9% of American mortgage-holders are in default. That means that another swathe are on the edge - leveraged to the hilt against the value of the house, working two jobs, paying the mortgage one month and the credit card the next, and a further swathe of homeowners are one illness, new baby or job-loss away from joining those strugglers. Let's be conservative (deliberate small c) in our estiimate. Let's say that 20 percent of US mortgage holders are in one of these three groups. An annual 16 percent fall in house values means that more and more are sliding into negative equity.

I read the other day that property in the US in total is worth about 7 trillion dollars. Okay, so roughly 9% of that is the 700 billion bailout. I get that bit. But what about the rest? No wonder banks are squirreling away the free cash. They know that the black hole is way bigger than the headline figures. And as the economy continues to tank and house values plummet the bottom gets further away.

Good job the bankers all have luxury yachts to live on.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

today : I exceed expectations

Expectations. Here's the thing that I find annoying. You can't lower the bar for knowledge, perfomance and debating skills when you are talking about people who want to be either the most powerful person in the world or understudy to the most powerful person in the world.

There should only be one bar an extremely high one. Presidents and Veeps should be extraordinary people and it makes me wonder why it's so difficult to find people who have depth of knowledge and excellent communication skills I personally know loads of teachers who have that skill set, as well as self control, endless capacity for work and a proven ability to operate under immense stress without needing regular relieving rounds of golf or fellatio.

The only test that Joe Biden and Sarah Palin should have is not 'did they exceed the expectations that we have cynically and relentlessly lowered?' but do they have the vision, chops and nouse to be President? After all, incumbents have roughly one in eleven chance of being assassinated, or a rougly one in five chance of dying in office or having to resign. That's pretty small odds for someone whose main goal is to exceed expectations.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

today : I get a feeling of deja vu

Members of Congress. We are minutes away from disaster. We are facing a global crisis that will be the main battle of the 21st Century. If you don't do what we propose, then American life as we know it could be finished within the hour. Doomsday is upon us. Therefore we MUST take immediate action. Yeah, I know you want to read the fine print but there's no time. Just say the word 'Yea' into this microphone and sign on the dotted line. What? There are people saying that our plan isn't very well thought out.? You need more time? You want to see the evidence? Nonsense! It is the only plan for victory over the fear that strikes to the very heart of the American Dream. Just sign here and then you'll be a hero. You will save the world from a pernicious global threat and everything will be fine...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

today : I am mildly disappointed

I don't like to say it, but when the Hadron collider was turned on and then nothing happened, well, part of me was disappointed. It wasn't that I wanted the earth to be swallowed into a black hole, but part of me didn't really mind. The same happened when Lehman Bros disappeared into its own black hole of bad mortgage debt. I kind of wanted the entire banking system to go into meltdown. I was apprehensive, waiting for the dominoes to start falling. And then I was mildly disappointed when they stayed upright.

I really really don't want anyone to suffer at all. But just a small part of me is so seduced by the society of the spectacle, that it just wants more and more spectacle. And better spectacle. When an earthquake happens, I want to see it happening, when the Tsunami happened it was mildly frustrating that it took several days for the cameras to arrive.

Two things have ramped it all up. Firstly there were the green night vision pictures of Baghdad being bombed in the first gulf war. It was war, and it was live. Right
there on my TV screen.

Then there was, of course, September 11th 2001. As a spectacle it was stunning. The size and awfulness of the events unfolding on our TV screens trumped everything that had gone before, and set the bar for the flaneurs in us all.

So to find that the world financial system has been temporarily reprieved has left me a little disappointed. Who wants an economics expert explaining short trading and toxic leveraged instruments when you can have falling buildings, explosions and the earth disappearing into a black hole like a tissue into a vacuum cleaner?

Monday, September 15, 2008

today : Why the Republican colour is red

Here are the fundamental lies at the heart of monetarist freemarket economics. The government wants no taxes, apart from when they want to spend them on a war. The government believes in small government - hands off business - unless it means subsidising businesses such as defence contractors, or oil conglomerates or car-makers, or any business that might lose votes if it closes. The same goes with regulation and free-trade. The freemarketeers want totally open borders, apart from when it suits them to raise tariffs in order to protect profits.

In the 1980s Reaganomicists lined up to diss Russia as 'evil' At the heart of Communist economics is nationalisation of capital. In fact, the term 'left wing' in the USA and even much of Europe is a term of abuse.

But how can we describe the bailing out of investment banks and using the public funds to underpin mortgage companies? Surely the market can sort these things out? After all, we have been told endlessly for the past 30 years that the market is king and should be left alone.

Nationalisation: isn't that one of the basic tenets of communism?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Today : I was a teenage grammar fascist

I am not a grammar fascist, I am all for the evolutionary development of language and all that. But that's not wholly true. Even though I hate language mavens and grammar fascists and would happily burn every book Lynn Truss has ever written there is a kind of clash between heart and head going on inside my very being. I can't help it, it's a kind of instinct. Even today I tutted towards the radio when the presenter used the word mute instead of moot (it's something that I've noticed recently, from people roughly under the age of 30. They don't know which to choose). Fact is that in spite of my intellectual take on the slippery, ever-changing dynamics of language, from a very young age it's got under my skin when people get it wrong.

The first time I can really remember trying to correct someone was when I was in middle school. Perhaps 11 or 12. Johno Mallen was the kinda cool kid that everyone hung around. He was striker in the football team, had older brothers with motorcycles and all that. Once, in a school football match I skinned four players on the right wing, did a Cruyff turn and put in a perfect cross for Johno to head in on the run. It was a perfect goal. So perfect, in fact, that the opposing team's coach, who was reffing, disallowed it for some made up reason. This made me so angry that I scored five more goals, fuelled solely by revenge.

Johno was always coming to school armed with pulpy, well-thumbed paperbacks full of sex and violence, and new swear words that he learned from his older brothers. One day he arrived with an insulting simile: 'You're like my urinate.' All day he went around saying to it to anyone who deserved a friendly chiding. 'Give me back my pencil, you div, you're like my urinate.'

And all day I remember thinking to myself. That is just wrong.! You cannot use the infinitive, Johno. Urine is the thing, urinate is the thing you do. You cannot use a simile that compares someone to a verb.

It didn't work of course. Thankfully Johno learnt another 'cool' insult from his older brothers and the phrase fell rapidly into disuse.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Stepping up The Ladder

On the evidence of his convention speech, John McCain looks like a fairly decent guy. I can deal with a fiscal conservative whose social policies are fairly libertarian. I can also deal with someone who has a history of annoying his own party by not toeing the line. So far, so good.

But when dealing with polticians I am always acutely sensitive to hypocrisy. What tends to happen with even the most idealistic public servants is that they compromise. Sometimes this is purely pragmatic. Compromise is a way to get things done. But other times their eyes grow big with power and they shed ideals in direct proportion to how many votes they can get. Stepping up the ladder, they make friends amongst the influential whose mission it is to influence politicians. They enjoy the attention, the wealth and the feeling of power. Their decisions become motivated not by ideals, or even ideas, but by expediency.

So rather than choose Joe Lieberman as his VP, McCain chose Palin. She is the exact opposite of him. Extreme rather than moderate. Socially illiberal, economically ideological. And the fact that she is a woman, and therefore bizarrely touted as some kind of consolation Hillary. Is he in charge of his own campaign, or has he ceded himself to the machine that can get him to the top of the tree. Oh how his long dead father would be impressed if he became the Prez.

It is this that makes me distrust him. His eyes are as big as saucers and he is shedding (or hiding) his moderate pragmatic side by the day. Palin was the expedient choice; a bespectacled rung on the ladder to power. Nothing more.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

today : Bristol fashion; not ship-shape

The private lives of politicians DO matter. It's context. If a politician makes a point of decrying adulterers and then is caught in an adulterous tryst then he or she has forfeited their right to separate private and public. The same on any given issue. A politician who campaigns on reducing debt and then is found to have overwhelming debts is in a similar position.

I found the dilemma myself as a school teacher. Having to present lessons on non-smoking, alcohol and sex, whilst knowing that my private opinions were at odds with what I was teaching. Actually they were not always at odds but mainly more complex than the line presented on a worksheet. The difference is that I was fulfilling orders - presenting material specified by a curriculum. I was not voted into my job as a result of my personal opinions or behaviour.

Yes, there are grey areas. Doctors who lecture their patients on the dangers of smoking then light up themselves are blatant hypocrites. But does this affect their ability to prescribe nicorette, or alter the facts they present as persuasion? I think not. Doctors, like teachers do not put themselves forward as leaders.

Which is why Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy matters. Palin supports the teaching of abstinence only, 'family values' and a traditional Christian moral outlook. It's unfortunate for the daughter, but she is now but she is the poster girl for how teaching abstinence only is a lunatic stance. Perhaps if the girl's mother had accompanied her to a clinic and explained to her the options for contraception then she wouldn't be in this position.

The episode puts Palin's political and policy judgement in question. Not only was it compounded by the fact that it was cynically put out on a day when the media was obsessed with Hurricane Gustav, but undermines Palin's suitability to be VP to an elderly guy in remission from cancer. Leaders are not just what they say, but what they do. If you don't want to be judged on moral issues, don't pronounce them for political gain in the first place.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's the economics, stupid!

The fact that so many of Hillary Clinton's supporters are reported as being so bitter that they are considering voting for the other side astounds me. In fact, if she is genuine, the woman who appeared in the McCain ad claiming as much might just as well walk around with a big hat on that says "I am a moron!"

What are these people on? And more importantly, what is their actual engagement with politics? Even with America's useless, shallow news coverage, they must have got an inkling that government is about such minor things as policy, rather than wholly about the genitalia of the participants.

And of course when it all comes down it actually is the economy, stupid. Or rather economics, stupid. Everything flows from the green river. Even the big social and ethical issues are based on economics. An example : People are less inclined to have abortions if they are wealthy enough to afford their children. Even drug addicts are less of a problem if they can afford their drugs, rarher than steal to buy them.

I simply cannot understand how 'political' people can chop and change so capriciously between ideological extremes, seemingly on a whim. And of course, this doesn't only apply to Hillary's women (so I can't be accused of stereotyping women as capricious and whimsical, as if I ever would). Elections are decided by those who show up, but more specifically by 'swing' voters - essentially those that have little engagament or are too stupid to understand the real issues. How scary is that?

Friday, August 22, 2008

today : The Glorious and the Inglorious

The past couple of weeks has seen the creation of many new sporting heroes. Here in Britain, several people, previously little or even unheard of have, by dint of winning Olympic medals, catapulted themselves into the public consciousness. I guess nobody is more famous in the world right now than Usain Bolt. And I imagine he will not be paying full price for trainers anytime soon. Michael Phelps will probably end up very very rich through endorsements and the like.

Sport is made up of moments. Rebecca Adlington's expression of joy and disbelief when she won the 400m freestyle gold. Bolt dancing the last 20 metres of the 100 and still smashing the world record and Michael Phelps touching a thousandth of a second ahead to win his eighth gold. Their glory will be remembered, and it shall remember them.

It's ironic then that Don Fox died today. Rugby League is a parochial little sport, confined to a small number of Northern English towns and followed mostly during one match per season - The Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. Don Fox was a giant of the game. Record try scorer for his clubs, a stalwart of the international side and generally revered as one of the best players of his generation. Yet he will be remembered for one inglorious moment. With his team trailing 11-10 in the last second of a Challenge Cup Final, Fox - already named man of the match - lined up a simple conversion in front of the posts. It was the kind of kick that he would pop over without a second thought week in week out. Yet nerves got the better of him and he skewed the ball wide of the posts, losing the cup for his team.

Matched with an iconic snatch of commentary: "He's a poor lad!", Fox went down as one of the sport's (and British Sports') most famous moments; the epitome of the last minute miss.

Which is kind of cruel. Because even criminals have a shot at redemption.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Another interval

Time for another short break whilst I go into hospital for an operation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Brown's Requiem (2nd movement)

And of course, operating from a position of weakness: where the press are keen to attack and every chancer MP thinks they can get their 5 minutes on the airwaves by protesting their opinions, Gordon Brown walked headlong into credit crunch.

Even though you could argue it was tangentially partly his fault, the recent financial problems would have faced any UK leader, and are, ironically, a lot to do with the Tory obsession with Reaganomics.Obsessive Chile-style privatisation of public utilities were sold on the basis that it would bring prices down. But after a bit of consolidation, it turns out your utilities are run by two or three giant companies who can then turn he screw and put prices up at will. The price of gas shadowing the price of oil is a myth peddled to us by greedy corporates in order to gouge profits. What used to be British Electricity is now EON and EDF, French and German corporates respectively, who care nothing for British customers apart from how much they can make from us.

The ridiculous acceleration of the oil price is the work of the Bush/Neocon oligarchs. Even if Britain didn't send a couple of hundred troops to Iraq, we'd still be at the mercy of the Sheikhs and the Texans. Similarly, the mortgage crisis and credit crunch is the result of rampant monetarism - not really Brown's fault. The problems that people are pinning on the PM really are the result mainly of global conditions. Perhaps Labour shouldn't have sold us the endless economic miracle of ballooning house values, credit and standards of living.

Basically he's done little wrong in policy terms, yet placed himself in prime position to take all of the blame.

Brown's Requiem (1st movement)

From where I am sitting, under fire Gordon Brown made two mistakes. The first was to let his advisors prepare the ground for an election and then call it off. The media has been narked with him ever since, because they were denied their moment of excitement and self-importance. You would go a long way to find a story about Labour or its leader that is couched in even neutral terms ever since. And most media reports are still informed by the bitterness of disappointment.

The second mistake was intertwined with the first. Brown allowed an attempt to portray him as cuddly and nice. There are two types of successful politicians. The likeable and the hated but respected. Blair was the first kind. He managed, for the most part, to put people at their ease and come across as a well-intentioned bloke, whilst in the background he had Campbell to shout and swear and issue threats to one and all. Brown already had the stereotype of the 'dour Presbyterian Scot' attached to to him, and foolishly tried to deny it.

When Brown took the helm, I suspect the 'advisors' were too bogged down in the Blair project, desperately trying to make their new charge into a doe-eyed sympathy magnet. Really they should have tapped into the dour Scot thing and thrown in a bit ofrighteous fury for good measure. The decision to bottle out of calling an election was okay, but he decision to soften up the media before a decision was made was idiotic and possibly fatal.

Brown should have been different to Blair. This is mainly because Blair did his thing so very well, but also because people need variety. Instead of being committed to the Health Service because it saved his sight when he was at school, he should have been committed to it because it is scandalous that any country doesn't have free universal health care. He should have challenged his opposers. "If you don't support the NHS then you support poor people dying in the streets." (which would have been pretty much correct for the Tories). When the 10p tax thing came along he should have stood up and said: We are right and we are not changing our decision. If some people lose a couple of quid then tough, those same people have a new hospital, a new school, child tax credits and a job. They are just going to have to lump it for the good of us all."

Instead he allowed himself to cave to that week's opinion polls and performed a pathetic, spineless U-turn. And now every little thing is ripe for pressure from the media and the back-benches. Brown looks weak whatever he does.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

today : unpacking from my holidays

One of the reasons that I have a link to Greg Palast is that I am a fan of his. His work is relentlessly depressing, confirming all that you thought about everything going to hell in a handcart (in fact just pulling into the car-park and ready to disembark) and the sheer amorality of a world run by globalised capital. But with jokes. It's a pretty difficult trick to pull off, but Greg manages to be write in a funny style. In one way this is a negative. Palast does come across like some guy in a bar with a slightly battered hat worn at a jaunty angle (the hat is another reason I quite like him - there are not enough people who wear hats anymore, at agles jaunty or otherwise) who will give you his version of the world over a series of ales. And this slight stylistic dishevelment does make it easy for people to dismiss him (and other protest people like Michael Moore) as NOT SERIOUS.

Maybe Greg should start wearing a pinstripe suit - looking like those he seeks to bring down; infitrating them by stealth.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

today : bon vacances

My blog has decided to take a spontaneous vacation, booking itself on a flight to foreign climes for a refreshing and well-earned break.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

today : Medicine Man

I am a great believer in medicine. I guess I have to be, given that I rely on them so much. I take an awful lot of painkillers to relieve chronic pain.

I love Strawberries and Strawberry Jam. My sister and brother cannot abide it. It all goes back to when they were given pills as children. The pills were always concealed in a blob of strawberry jam. Why I was never given jam with my pills, I don't know. But I don't possess that negative association.

Like food, medicines and treatments should taste and feel correct. Let me give you another example. I always take my co-
codamols in soluble form. The act of drinking the bitter dissolved pills is part of a ritual. The taste of them on my tongue is the first stage of pain relief. Taking them in dry tablet form is just not the same.There is a psychological effect in the way they are administered, which feels like it aids the actual chemical effect of them.

Inhaling Vick's does little to actually dispel the symptoms of a cold. But the smell of it conjures priceless memories of being cared for as a child and therefore the smell of Vick's is one of care and of getting better.

The medicine cabinet is full of memories.

A quick off-the-top-of-my-head list of evocative medicinal smells and tastes would include:
Tincture of Myrrh
Buttercup Syrup
Covonia Cough Mixture
Elliman's Rub (it smells like concentrated wood-shavings)

But the palliative effect of medicinal treatments also takes in actual feelings. The beauty of Whitfield's ointment is that it stings like hell for a few moments. Putting it in
between your toes to treat athlete's foot is marvellous. The sting makes me feel like it is actually attacking the fungus. Okay, it stings. But a sting isn't proper pain - it's the extreme cousin of the itch family of sensations.

Al this a prelude to a complaint. I needed some anti-septic ointment due to the fact that I was cruelly
attacked by rose bush whilst dabbling in the garden. Several thorny lacerations ensued. A visit to the chemist initially was disappointing. The only Germolene (my preferred brand due to it's wonderful aroma) available was some new-fangled odourless type. I simply don't understand the idea of odourless anti-septic cream. It's like making non-acidic vinegar or soda flavoured Whisky. I was about to leave empty handed when I spotted TCP ointment. I asked the chemist if the TCP ointment smelled like TCP and he assured me it did. So I bought it.

But when I got home I found that there was something wrong. It did
smell a little like TCP, but not really. The makers of the ointment had decided that adding menthol would somehow help with the odour. It's a bit like that flavouring that in one concentration is used as almond flavour, but is actually nothing like almonds, then in another concentration is supposed to be black cherry, but is actually nothing like black cherry. This TCP had elements of the TCP smell but just wasn't TCP-y enough. The makers had been caught out by their laziness. Not only had they betrayed the aesthetic of their brand by adding menthol to the mix. But they had made their ointment less effective by taking away the reservoir of positive psychological side-effects associated with each user's personal history of TCP.

As a protest, next time I'm getting

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

today : Maybe this time

When we first saw Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic convention, it was clear that he was a gifted orator. This is just one of the reasons why I want him to be the leader of the free world. I though to myself - now wouldn't it be nice if THAT GUY was running for Prez. His 'victory speech' this week was truly great. I know he had a partisan crowd in a party mood but he blew the doors off the place. It's rare to witness that surge of emotion that goes through a crowd as the speech huilds to a climax. It reminded me of the surge of noise that accompanied the great UK earthquake earlier in 2008.

But even though it is splendid to have a potential leader who can not only string a sentence together but can use language and rhetoric to inspire there is the question of substance.
And do my ears decieve me? Obama seems to be a man who is not scared of portraying the issues as complex, and describing them as complex. His speech on race was the first time I really wondered if he could be a serious contender. Most leaders ignore subtlety like Bush ignored New Orleans; the best they do is circle above it looking bemusedly out of the window.

Obviously, I am not American. But I guess I'm not alone. Already, just the fact that he is as close as he is has sent a huge message to the world. Previously, we were pretty pissed off with America's arrogant isolationism and tub-thumping dunderheaded Neocon blundering. Now we are thinking : maybe it was the government and not the people. Maybe the people are okay after all, and the idiot cabal does not represent them.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

today : three! word! chant!

Of course, now the race is on there is one crucial thing we must focus on. Which candidate has the best three word chant? We need something like 'Where's the Beef?'.

Of course Obama has the early advantage because he has a three syllable surname, which helps. I guess McCain, not having a three syllable surname is on the ropes already. Maybe people can chant Sen-a-tor!, or failing that Ov-en Chips!

Why Americans don't do spontaneous community singing like us more cultured Europeans I don't know. I guess some of them probably even struggle with the three word chant.

today : I hold my own fuel protest

In a world so full of things to complain about I have chosen to focus on one thing. Not for me the woman who abused me for being a cripple, when I didn't move out of her way fast enough in the entrance to the supermarket, and then went into full-on Jerry Springer guest verbal abuse mode when I chided her for being so impolite. Not for me the guy, whom so keen to push to the front of the queue in a shop, failed to leave me time to actually put my sticks back to the floor and barged me out of the way, knocking me to the ground. Not for me either the person whom, when parked in a disabled space without accreditation, also verbally abused me (in front of his small children, who were sitting in the back)when he saw me simply looking at his windscreen as if I might be looking for his blue badge. I was, because I saw him pull into the space as his wife jumped out and ran into the shop, but until he began his shouting and threats I'd actually made the decision not to verbally challenge him.

Instead I am beginning my own fuel protest. Like lots of people I am not happy with the silly increases in fuel for my car. However, unlike lots of truckers I am not thinking of blockading the motorway (like they don't do that every day anyway). My protest is more specific.

At certain petrol stations, I sometimes cannot even get fuel into my tank.

What happens is that I follow the protocol : disabled drivers honk their car horns and flash their lights to get the attention of the station staff. The idea is that someone comes out and helps you put the fuel in, a little like a full-service fill up in the USA or how it used to be in England 40 years ago. It saves the immobile from having to get out of the car and walk to pay.

Except someone doesn't come out because they are either stuck running the station on their own due the oil companies cutting costs, or they have no idea what to do because they are blockheads or haven't been trained due to the oil companies cutting costs, or they cannot be bothered because they don't get paid enough to care due to the oil companies cutting costs. If someone does come to help, then it means an annoying and humiliating relegation. The disabled driver is often less important than restocking the drinks cabinet, sweeping the forecourt or straightening the newspaper display.

That's 2.3 million drivers on the road who simply have to sit and wait until someone decides they might be in as much of a hurry as everyone else.

My suggestion is that all disabled drivers should just pull up to the pump and wait until someone helps them. The oil companies might start training their staff if they realise that their pumps are blocked all day by angry crips, refusing to move or unable to move due to their empty tanks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

today : vroom

After a two week posting drought I still haven't had time or inspiration to do anything. So instead of a real post I am presenting a picture of my new car.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

today : books yet to be wrote

Book One.
Title : Look At Me.
This is a factual book that explores the idea that, as the world gets smaller peoples' impulse to be noticed as unique individuals is becoming the major influence on society. It looks at the phenomena of personalised marketing, Reality TV. anti-social behaviour as an expression of a feeling of overwjelming 'dotness', the explosion in genealogy and the death of the collective mood for change. Lyotard + Friedman + Dawkins have synergised to attack our notions of individuality and individual freedom, leaving us with a caricature of real choice i.e. label shopping and the desire to make political choices based on personal impulse rather than collective good.

Book Two
Title : Really Rubbish Recipes
A collection of the most hideously inedible and unhealthy recipes culled from crap cookbooks down the years.

If anyone wants to commission me to write these then I will happily take offers. If anyone wants to nick my ideas then don't because it will cost you lots of cash.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

today : In praise of shoes

I am obsessed with shoes. Not, I might add, in some Candace Bushnell kind of way. I have little or no interest in whantever is the latest hot designer. But given that I am a middle aged male that is no surprise. Neither do I have some kind of fetish. My obsession is lifelong but purely practical.

The fact is that, as I was born with bilateral talipes, my feet are just not normal. They are shaped unlike anyone elses and have an eccentric way of behaving. As a child I realise that my parents sacrificed a lot to buy me shoes. This was for two reasons: firstly, in the 1970s shoes were rubbish. My strangely shaped feet would chew a pair into unwearable shreds in a few weeks. Secondly, shoes that were wide enough to fit me were rare and therefore expensive. This meant my parents were forced to take me out shopping for shoes sevarl times a year. I'd place my foot on the measuring thing that they don't have anymore in shoe shops and find that I was at least a G fitting widthwise, if not an H or an I, when the widest shoes were no more than a G. I also have one foot much shorter and wider than the other. Even the most experience footwear salesperson would tut and look askance when we asked if there was anything in my size. They would disappear into the back room for what seemed like hours on end, before returning, shaking their heads.

Occasionally I will find a pair of shoes that fit me perfectly. By this I mean a pair of shoes that don't cause me extra pain than I already suffer when I put them on. They never actually fit me perfectly, as even bespoke made footwear doesn't fit me perfectly, as my feet have detailed demands that would shame the Palestinians and Israelis in the detailed demands stakes.

So, I was delighted last year when I found a pair of shoes that fitted the bill. Not only were they rather comfortable , but have remained so for more than a year. And this is in the face of the fact that even the best shoes i have ever owned during my adult life have only lasted about 3 months or so before my strange gait wears them away. These particular shoes appear to be indestructible. They quickly zoomed to the top of my personally compiled 'best shoes of all time' chart.

Now the thing is, I decided that it would be sensible to buy another pair exactly the same, and so went on the interwebnet to find some. To my chagrin, it turned out that these particular shoes, which I'd bought in a sale for a tenner, were a highly prized limited edition Skate Trainer - namely the 'Globe Chad Thomas'

The good people who decide these things had not taken me into consideration when they strategised their marketing. One of the common side effects of disability is a rapid decline into relative poverty. I just don't have £148.50 to buy the last remaining size thirteens on the planet

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

today : crimes against culture pt2

...and while we're at it, can we please find out who it was who decided to 'adapt' Susannah McCorkle's perfect version of the The Waters of March in order to try and make us feel better about an electricity company that is fleecing the poor and elderly for more and more of their cash simply in order to keep the lights on and avoid hypothermia? These bastards should be wired up to their own supply for crimes against culture and also because they are greedy money grabbing amoral ****!

Friday, April 11, 2008

today : crimes against culture pt1

The fashion for using popular song on TV adverts is kinda fun. It's so obvious that I don't know why anyone didn't think of it until the late 1980s. Culture is resonant, and the association of certain tunes with adverts is a powerful thing. Currently, the singing dog advert for the VW Golf uses an old tune to brilliant effect.

However, there are some things that should be off limits. I am going to cite two current examples: the use of Edith Piaf to advertise spectacles and the use of The Irish Rover to sell butter.

The first one is just tasteless. Piaf doesn't deserve to be part of some cheap advertisement. You can just tell that the execs involved had no idea who she was until the 2007 film came out. And the joke is crap. No, rien de rien, no je ne regrette rien is translated in subtitles, and then the next part of the song is translated hilariously as 'apart from the fact that I didn't go to Specsavers'

Oh, the beautiful use of irony. My sides surely split with uncontrollable mirth.

At the same time, the people who make Clover - the non-butter butter - have decided to appropriate The Wild Rover and replace the words with some blather about eating Clover. Which is kind of blasphemous. Just because a song doesn't have copyright doesn't mean that it's fair game. The wild rover is a small but integral part of our culture - like Auld Lang Syne or Happy Birthday - and shouldn't be allowed to be butchered by these vacuous chancers.

Which is my point, really. This whiole mullarkey shows modern media types as shallow, insensitive fools who have no understanding of the way culture operates and no respect for culture as art, only as fleeting commerical opportunity.