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Last Build Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2016 09:19:12 GMT


Back in black

Thu, 15 Dec 2016 09:19:12 GMT

When people's blogs disappear or are updated for years part of me quite reasonably assumes that they're dead. I am not dead and am now uploading essays, rants, confessions etc etc at

Treasury Bounce 2010

Sun, 13 Jun 2010 05:22:56 GMT

One of the tragedies of the failed New Labour experiment is that it was always based on a repudiation of all historical precedent. Alistair Darling seems to be feeling the pinch of this somewhat. He has attacked the Tories for fiddling the figures to make it appear that government borrowing over the next period will be higher than it actually is, and to pretend that the rate of growth will be lower, all in aid of their plan to slash away at jobs and public services.I recently came across a very instructive lesson from history, from the notoriously dark decade of the 1970's, a decade we are repeatedly warned against returning to. As Andy Beckett makes clear in 'When the lights went out: What really happened in the 1970s', whenever the seventies are evoked we are shown a certain very partial picture, painted in stark and ominous Thatcherite tones, of what happened. We all know that in 1976 the prospects for the economy were so bad that Britain had to go 'cap in hand' to the IMF. But Beckett uncovers a darker and more complex picture of what went on. Callaghan did indeed enter very lengthy negotiations with the IMF, which had recently shifted from its original remit to adopt what we now know to be a harsh neoliberal line. In return for the loan it demanded huge cuts in public services. The Prime Minister himself, along with his increasingly rightwing Chancellor Dennis Healey had already been implementing a series of cuts to public spending in response to a series of runs on the pound and was not entirely averse to more. But he did manage to bargain the IMF, which initially demanded cuts of 4.5 billion, down to less than half that amount. He had quite a job getting it through cabinet, with Tony Benn in particular resolutely opposed. But the figures seemed to speak for themselves: with a loan due to be paid back to a number of countries by the end of December, the Bank of England would be left with only two billion in the kitty, and in the event of further speculative attacks on the currency, the country would be bankrupt.The cuts were carried out and the prospect of bankruptcy narrowly avoided; so far, so familiar. However, the story has a sting in its tail. When the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement was announced six months later, it was as if the crisis had never happened. In direct contradiction with what the Treasury had predicted would be the case, the PSBR was not 10 billion, as had been thought, but 5.6. The emergency IMF loan, and the cuts upon which it had been conditional, had been unnecessary.How had Sir Humphrey and the gang got it so very wrong? The answer is, they hadn't. Here we learn of a 'hallowed Whitehall tactic known affectionately to all insiders' as the 'Treasury Bounce', as a Whitehall insider is kind enough to explain:'You can't manage the economy tightly over a long period. You only get a chance once every decade to get the economy under control. What you need is a crisis that frightens ministers into accepting [your ideas]. ... It's what we call the Treasury Bounce.' Here we find a very resonant echo of what Naomi Klein would write about in 'The Shock Doctrine': a crisis designed and manufactured in order to push through changes in public policy which would otherwise be politically unacceptable.Callaghan's Government paved the way for Thatcher's attacks on public services and jobs. In much the same way, in 2009-10 New Labour were already talking of the urgent need for massive cuts, once again serving up a steaming platter of public sector spending reduction for the Tories to feast upon, allowing them to carry out "a fundamental reassessment" of the way government works. The kinds of cuts that are being planned for a huge range of government services are of the kind that never heal. If only Alistair Darling was able to read we might not have found ourselves in this dismal situation.[...]

In which I start blogging again

Mon, 07 Jun 2010 16:17:16 GMT

'My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from thinking; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something'. Bernardo Soares, The Book of DisquietEleven years ago I moved from Ireland to Portugal. From time to time people ask me why I chose Portugal of all places.I'm always a bit flummoxed when I'm asked this. Recently however I worked out the answer. The reason why I went to live in Portugal is that I wanted to go and live in Spain.I suffer from a certain indecisiveness. Bearing this in mind makes it much easier to decipher my own actions.Often I do things because I don't want to, and often I don't do things because I want to do them.Sometimes the things I wanted to do resemble the things I end up doing.Sometimes I end up liking the thing I do, but this is always conditioned by the feeling that there are things which I would rather have done, although I often still don't know what these things are or were.Very often I do something because it is the exact opposite of what I actually wanted to do, even when I know very clearly what that thing is. This could be something as simple as not asking for someone's phone number when I know that I want to do so.After I left Portugal I wanted to go to Brazil or Spain, or maybe Japan. So I went to live in China.Adam Phillips poses the question, what would you do if you were cured. This is inevitably a very complicated question.Sometimes I feel that if I could only look people in the eye when I'm talking to them about things that actually matter, this would be a measure of success.Acting changes things, radically transforms one's situation. Hesitating, failing to act, indeciding, to coin a word, does not.Hesitating is a clear sign that I'm censoring myself.However when I notice that I'm hesitating it's too late to act. Sometimes I half-act, I act without fully committing myself to the action. This is not the same as acting. I can't quite decide whether or not to wait and hold the door open for someone, so I hold the door half-open, and get in their way.The objective is to act decisively, to overcome the abyss between deciding and acting in one fatal leap. To launch myself over the chasm, and in so doing to make that space of indecision retroactively disappear, not to bridge a gap but to close the breach.To say something, to declare something to be true is an act. To write is an act.I enjoy writing. I only bring myself to write rarely. Most of the time I spend suspended in midair somewhere between these two points. I'm scared that I won't reach the other side, that I'll plunge into the shameful depths below. In the words of Bernardo Soares again, I plumb myself and drop the plumb; I spend my life wondering if I'm deep or not. I'm terribly scared of exposing my depths of shame and of opening myself up to a toxic mix of indifference and ridicule. My natural style is to demolish what I'm saying in the act of saying it. I almost certainly do this when I speak. It might be something I have to address and to change. It might not.There is a time and a place for not censoring myself when I speak.One of the things I most admire about Fernando Pessoa is encapsulated in the quote at the beginning of the article? essay? reflection? I'll come back to this.All of the people I most admire are prolific in some way. They trust in what happens when they start to speak and to write.Many people's lives are made up of hesitations, pauses.Others' lives are made up of one long statement that encompasses many many other statements, some of which interrogate or explain earlier statements, and some of which contradict one another.Then there is the question of dialogue; if one never speaks, never actually arrives at the point of articulating what appears at that moment to have the status of a truth, then one can never enter into a dialogue. This is self-evident.Perhaps I have nothing whatsoever of depth or originality to offer, or, more likely, very little. Maybe my insights and reflections merely replicate those of[...]

Dear Middlesex University

Thu, 27 May 2010 21:56:44 GMT


Dear ****

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

I apologise for any personal inconvenience.

Best regards

R. Willmsen

Mandeville & Wenlock

Wed, 19 May 2010 20:01:39 GMT


Hey Mandeville!

Hey Wenlock!

So how's things?

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

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

Yeah, but what kind of publicity?

What do you mean?

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

What's twitter?

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

Hmm. And tellitubbies?

Children's tv characters

And Morrison's?

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

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

I said he was a 'tory twat'

yeah, he found that hilarious didn't he.

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

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

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

what's the difference?

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

What's mount olympus?

It's a mountain in ancient greece

Where is it now then

(exasperated) What?

Did they move it?

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

you're starting to worry me slightly

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


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

what does that mean?

it means we're in really bad trouble

no the trimindi gau mosto bit

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

what are you suggesting?

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

*brilliant* idea!

Writer's Block: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Tue, 06 May 2008 19:52:39 GMT

NOT vote Conservative.

Exam Anxiety!

Tue, 06 May 2008 18:13:56 GMT


Evening Standard Cocaine Shock Horror!

Tue, 16 Oct 2007 19:35:58 GMT


The invitation for this year's Evening Standard Christmas Party

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

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

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

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

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

The First Emperors of New China

Sun, 14 Oct 2007 17:12:48 GMT

The current exhibition at the British Museum, The First Emperor, is a tribute to the man who ordered the building of that huge monument to himself, the tomb of the Terracotta Warriors. The focus of the exhibition is a small selection of artefacts from the tomb, including a number of statues of the warriors themselves. It is a blockbuster exhibition which attempts to match the scale and ambition of its subject. A short film which precedes the main part of the exhibition shows how Emperor Qin managed to conquer and unite what is now the territory of China. At the end of the film we see the map rapidly turning crimson and the word ‘Qin’ appearing on the map. ‘Qin’, we learn, gave origin to the western word China to denote what was called in Chinese the Middle Kingdom – or the centre of the world. The exhibition was partly criticised in the Guardian for offering an uncritical and revisionist account of the achievements of a man who history has generally remembered as a brutal tyrant who ‘massacred prisoners, burned books and slaughtered scholars’. The words ‘cruel’ and ‘brutal’ are absent from the exhibition. The key message of the exhibition, signalled clearly in that introductory film, is one that the Emperor himself would have been happy with: He was on a celestially-inspired mission to unite ‘All-under-Heaven’ and so to bring China into existence. The existence of China is, therefore, no historical accident: It was written in the stars. However, historians have on the whole ceased to regard all human history of the great achievements of supreme individuals equipped with armies and visions of a future world reshaped according to their ambitions. Also, it would, or at least should, be very hard in 2007 for any serious thinking person to sustain the belief that nations and states have a historical mission to exist, that they are the result of destiny and not of chance. We learn very little in the exhibition about the lives of those who actually built the tomb. There are some references to convicts being used, to the huge numbers of slaves whose lives were sacrificed to its construction. But the overall message is that this was the work of a visionary, an emperor creating a coherent and sovreign empire which has survived intact up to the present day. One key theme or, I would argue, purpose of the exhibition is that of continuity. Qin established the systems of weights and currency and was also largely responsible for establishment of the writing system, as well as beginning the building of the Great Wall. This grants legitimacy to the subsequent rulers of China: a series of dynasties have maintained China’s unity and preserved and guarded its treasures. The rulers of this empire have now generously allowed those who cannot visit the Middle Kingdom to enjoy at first hand a glimpse of its profoundly rich and mysterious cultural legacy. The way in which China chooses at different times to regard its previous rulers is very instructive. This is particularly true of representations on TV (1). According to the Asia Times: ‘It has been a tradition in China, both under the communists and long before, to criticize Chinese leaders indirectly but deftly by comparing them to misguided, wicked or weak emperors, ignoring the welfare of the people, or by comparing them to the wise and benevolent rulers of the past. Chinese readers - and today's television viewers - are savvy enough to read between the propagandists' lines and understand 2,000-year-old contrived allusions to current politics.’ The Chinese people, then, understand the significance of the different dynasties. Some of them represent more insular styles of rule, some more outgoing, some more brutal and legalistic, some wiser and more benign. Visitors to this exhibition are left to make their own connections between the great ruler[...]

I'm not happy about the amount people are supposed/prepared to pay for language classes...

Sat, 21 Apr 2007 22:42:48 GMT


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

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

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

I am once again in love

Fri, 23 Mar 2007 18:48:53 GMT


Just found out about this:

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

So I sent them this:

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

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


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

Unfortunately I can't go.

Bulgarians are weird

Wed, 21 Mar 2007 21:46:35 GMT


From a FAQ! on

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


Portuguese Apartheid Essay

Mon, 18 Dec 2006 11:57:03 GMT

In 1950-51 Gilberto Freyre conducted a tour of Portugal's overseas colonies at the invitation of the Estado Novo Government. At the end of a two-week stay in the largest of those possessions, Angola, he wrote the following:'Aqui, a presença de Portugal nao significa a ausência, muito menos a morte da África...Angola, luzitanzando-se, enriquece a sua vida, a sua cultura de valores europeus que aqui, neste mundo em formação, confratanizam com valores nativos ou tropicais, sem os humiliar: a oliveira ao lado da bananeira; a uva ao lado do dem-dem; a macieira ao lado da palmeira; o branco ao lado do preto'. This contrasts sharply with the conclusions of Gerald Bender in Angola under the Portuguese:'Africans in colonial Angola were expected to assimilate an almost pure, unmitigated Portuguese culture, barely modified by the slightest trace of their own numerically dominant culture'. Freyre's intention was to ascertain if his theories regarding Brazil could be extended to the other Portuguese colonies. He would subsequently write of his trip that he had been able to confirm an 'intuição antiga': 'Portugal, o Brazil, a África e a Índia portuguesa, a Madeira, os Açores e Cabo Verde constituem (...) uma unidade de sentimentos e de cultura' . These consisted in a predisposition for miscegenation and an absence of racial prejudice, both of which had their origin in the influence of the Moors, the Jews and of Africa and had served to create the paternalistic and 'socially plastic' character of the Portuguese. The Portuguese was 'the European colonizer who best succeeded in fraternizing with the so-called inferior races' .The publication of his first book Casa Grande e Senzala in 1933 had served to overturn the consensus on race in Brazil, which held that Brazil's lack of development was due to 'the ''debilitating' influence of the large black and mestiço population' . In the late nineteenth century Brazil had imposed ethnic quotas on immigration in an attempt to guarantee the country's 'ethnic integrity' . Freyre challenged these notions through detailing and celebrating the huge influence that the African and the Indian had had on Brazilian life.However, such ideas of the racial inferiority of the non-European were and had been common currency in Portugal for some time. In 1880 Portugal's most prominent historian Oliveira Martins had written:'Are there not (...) reasons for supposing that this fact of the limited intellectual capacity of the Negro races, proved in so many and such diverse times and places, has an intimate and constitutional cause? (...) Why not teach the gospel to the gorilla or the orangoutang, who do not fail to have ears because they cannot speak, and might understand pretty well as much as the negro?' Many of Portugal's most prominent colonial officials shared these racist sentiments. António Enes was 'a forthright racist, and what he says about the African and his place in the colonies is a truism long accepted by most Portuguese colonialists' . Mousinho de Albuquerque, Norton de Matos, Serpa Pinto and others 'continued to propagate the notion that Africans were inherently inferior' . Politicians in Portugal often shared these beliefs. In a speech in 1893 the MP Dantas Baracho stated the African didn't deserve citizenship rights, as he was inherently 'lazy, drunk and criminal' . The notion of the African as someone who had to be made to work was very current; Mousinho de Albuquerque spoke of the Africans 'recusando-se a toda a especie de trabalho' . Key to Freyre's work is the notion that the tendency to miscegenation is inherent in the Portuguese character. However, this attitude was not shared by many of those who held powerful positions over Po[...]

What fucking Tarot thing are you?

Mon, 13 Nov 2006 21:19:02 GMT

You Are The Fool

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

Your fortune:

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

(Apparently Lauren is Death).

Gearsticks and ...c ocks. And art.

Fri, 03 Nov 2006 22:27:26 GMT


Dear Hyundai,

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

Richard Gunby (Mr.)

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

Dear Mr Gunby

Thank you for recent comments regarding our current television campaign.

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

I hope this infomation is of some assistance to you.

Yours sincerely

Nicola Young
Customer Contact Executive
Hyundai Motor UK Ltd.

Tel. 08705 329980


Visit our new website at:

This document should only be read by those persons to whom it is addressed and is not intended to be relied upon by any person without subsequent written confirmation of its contents. Accordingly, Hyundai Motor UK Ltd disclaim all responsibility and accept no liability (including in negligence) for the
consequences for any person acting, or refraining from acting, on such information prior to the receipt by those persons of subsequent written confirmation.

If you have received this E-mail message in error, please notify us immediately by telephone on +44 (0) 1494 428 690. Please also destroy and delete the message from your computer.

Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this E-mail message is strictly prohibited.
Download this as a file

Care for a free fucking newspaper?

Mon, 04 Sep 2006 18:37:17 GMT


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

That's because it's worthless.

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

So's cancer.

So's dogshit.

So's tap water.

So are plastic bags from Asda.

So's a kick in the teeth.

So's South Africa (in theory anyway).

So's Willy the fucking whale.

So was school milk.

So's the Polish Express.

So are adverts on the Gumtree.

So's this.

And also this.

So's what pigeons eat.

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

Anyone up for a big huge massive game of Hide & Seek at the Barbican?!

Mon, 28 Aug 2006 21:09:31 GMT


It's just a mad wacky idea at the moment, but if a few people are interested it could be really good fun!

The end of Communism and the death of vinyl

Thu, 24 Aug 2006 18:11:17 GMT

How much is an album worth these days? On CD, surprisingly little, given that I haven't bought a CD since, erm, 2002. You can pick up a physical copy of the marvellous new Pet Shop Boys album for only £7.95 at HMV. Online, if you care to make a donation to the ailing record companies, you can get it track by track for merely 79p a pop. But why pay for a physical product? Music is now in the air, floating around for free. And according to Bob Dylan, it's not worth paying for:"It was like, 'everybody's gettin' music for free'. I was like, 'well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway'."There is of course a marked difference between price and value. I'm sure Dylan didn't feel the same way about the folk and blues discs he treasured when he was growing up. Tom Stoppard's new(ish) play 'Rock n' Roll' is on one level an elegy to rock music as preserved on vinyl. In one of the most memorable scenes the main character returns to his flat in Prague to find that all of his beloved records have been smashed to pieces by the Communist secret police. His immediate reaction is to go to the bathroom and violently throw up.Anyone who grew up with 12 inch LPs will immediately be able to sympathise. As someone recently wrote:Entire lifestyles built up around albums, smoking dope to albums, having sex to albums. You lent your favourite albums out with trepidation; you ruefully replaced them, on CD, when they didn't come back. Getting hitched paled into insignificance next to merging record collections with your loved one. Getting rid of the doubles made divorce unthinkable. Elastica once sang, of waking: 'Make a cup of tea, put a record on.' That's how generations of hip young (and not so young) people have lived.People's relationship with their physical albums - and singles too - was an intensely personal and jealously guarded one. Tom Stoppard chose several of his favourite tunes to be interspersed throughout the performance. His choices are fairly predictable ones, covering the broad canon of late-sixties early-seventies rock music, but then he is getting on for sixty or so; I would have made quite a different selection, with maybe more Motorhead and Momus and less Pink fucking Floyd and no Guns n' bleedin' Roses, but then I am only twenty-seven years old. In my mind, anyway. But I digress. There's no doubt that the songs he chose are those that have been most important to him, and the titles and names of the performers are displayed on a screen between each scene, emphasising just how much these little details are or were so important in the fetishing of each individual record. But if nostalgia for the days when rock music assumed such critical importance in our lives is one theme, the main one is the role of rock music in the ideological struggle against the repressive Czech regime. The characters argue bitterly and passionately about music and about politics. The polarisation of the debates about materialism, about sex, about human happiness, and about what could be endured (in the name of freedom) and what must be resisted (in the name of freedom) is very clear. There is an appetite for ideas and a willingness to explore the implications of a particular stance; just as a vinyl disc had two sides, every idea must have its counterpart, both in the mind and in the 'real world'. In the era of the two tribes, nobody could deny the existence of an alternative way to organise society, however pitiful and repressive that alternative might eventually turn out to be.Perhaps since the advent of the CD, and certainly since the revolutions of 1989 and 1990, the [...]

Faire Bongo partie de l'histoire!

Tue, 08 Aug 2006 08:37:05 GMT

He's laughing at you, you prickFlicking gamely as I was through a predictably-difficult-to-read edition of 'Le Monde' the other day, I came across the following headline:'Comment les Rolling Stones et U2 s'arrangent pour payer un minimum d'impôts'La presse néerlandaise a révélé, lundi 31 juillet, que le groupe U2 avait, depuis quelques semaines, lui déménagé U2 Limited, la société qui détient les droits musicaux du chanteur Bono et de ses trois comparses, de Dublin vers les quais d'Amsterdam. En conflit avec le gouvernement irlandais, qui a lancé une réforme fiscale et veut désormais taxer les artistes, U2 a décidé de confier ses intérêts à Jan Favié, directeur général de Promobridge, Promotone et Musidor, les sociétés néerlandaises des Rolling Stones.Comme ses prédécesseurs, U2, le groupe le plus riche du monde - 201 millions d'euros de revenus en 2005, pour 120 millions à Jagger et sa bande -, entend bénéficier des largesses offertes par la législation des Pays-Bas, qui n'impose les droits musicaux qu'à hauteur de 1,6 %. Cette exception européenne a été dénoncée à de nombreuses reprises par la Commission de Bruxelles et l'Organisation pour la coopération et le développement en Europe (OCDE) mais le gouvernement de La Haye résiste vaillamment aux pressions.Hmm, let's see. The richest rock group in the world, which made €201 million of revenue in 2005, which is more than I earn in two years, have moved their financial affairs to Holland, in order to take advantage of a somewhat overgenerous tax regime which has been condemned by the European Commission. You can find an interesting account (in English) of the groups's stance on paying their taxes here. In the meantime, I decided to find out what my old French friend Monsieur Petit-Choufleur, who was born in Wales to Parisean parents but learnt French from a free CD he got with the Daily Mail in 2004, thought of it all:"Alors, U2, Bono, le nome me semble quelque chose...ça ne sera pas le petit nain qui toujours nous dit que les problèmes du monde seulement seront résolus si nous, erm, donnons(?!) notre argent a la charité? Le superbranleur qui a dit que ce n'est pas une question politique, qui est tres bonne ami de George Bush, tellement que lui a donné un cadeau d'un ipod et une Bible?! Qui a declare que 'Blair et Brown sont comme les Lennon et Mc Cartney de la lutte contre la pauvreté'? Qui nous urge que nous achetions une téléphone portable rouge et un carte de credite de la même couleur de son autres grandes amis de Motorola et American Express?C'est incroyable, n'est pas? Bien sur, si les hommes riches du monde paierai ses impôts, nous aurions l'argent pour resolver tous les problèmes du monde, n'est pas?"Peut-être le petit nain Bongo est un 'liberal communist'. Dans le mots de notre heros le philosophe slovene Slavoj Žižek:Liberal communists do not want to be mere profit-machines: they want their lives to have deeper meaning. They are against old-fashioned religion and for spirituality, for non-confessional meditation (everybody knows that Buddhism foreshadows brain science, that the power of meditation can be measured scientifically). Their motto is social responsibility and gratitude: they are the first to admit that society has been incredibly good to them, allowing them to deploy their talents and amass wealth, so they feel that it is their duty to give something back to society and help people. This beneficence is what makes business success worthwhile.This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Reme[...]

Dear Lambeth Council...

Wed, 02 Aug 2006 21:16:04 GMT


Dear Lambeth Council,

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

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

Upon further investigation (ie. clicking on the link to 'Clapham Leisure Centre') I found the following website:
Another great offer to help you make 2006 your healthiest year ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

R. Willmsen

¡Coño, mira lo que comen los británicos!

Mon, 31 Jul 2006 18:35:00 GMT

Often, in my role as imparter of the English language to the overprivileged wastlings of the wealthier non-English speaking nations of the world, I am called upon to donn the mantle of George Orwell and to defend British food. I usually draw the attention of my students to the fact that, although British food is Not Up To Much, there is in the UK a huge variety of international food on offer due to our cosmopolitan multiculinary heritage.More recently, however, and especially given that I now have to live here myself, I have decided that we are in fact simply schizophrenic when it comes to food. For all that TV chefs have been kind enough to share with us the benefits of their hard-earned wisdom, the end result is a nation of people wandering round oversized, catastrophically overpowerful and overpriced supermarkets feeling very confused and depressed about the prospect of what they are going to have for tea.Understandably, a lot of people stick with a) what they can afford and b) what will fill them up as tastily as possible without giving them time to think about the nutritional consequences. This is of course all based on the widely accepted but basically erroneous understanding that the only people in the country who can 'cook' are the TV chefs and Nigel fucking Slater and his über-middle-class chums.On a very recent trip to my local Walmart subsiduary to pick up some very low-fat turkey rashers for a friend, stuck as I was in the queue behind some large, gingerish people, I took the trouble to inspect the contents of their somewhat overladen shopping trolley. It contained:6 boxes of Asda's own brand ready meal Chicken KievsA bag containing 6 bags of six different flavour crisps, making a total of 32 packets of crispsFour tins of Asda's own brand Baked BeansA breakfast cereal which appeared to be called 'Breakfast Boredom?'Some more crispsSeveral bags of Extra Special Chunky frozen chipsFour frozen Asda's own brand LasagnesA £6 DVD copy of the film 'Dude, Where's my car'?A large number of frozen pizzasFour frozen 'Indian style' nan-breadsA multipack of 'German-style' twigletsA two litre bottle of TizerA six-pack of Smirnoff IceAnother six-pack of Smirnoff IceA third six-pack of Smirnoff Ice, which seemed to be black in colour for some reasonA six-pack of Bacardi BreezersA second six-pack of Bacardi Breezers (to be fair, they may have been planning some sort of celebration)An apple (I am not making this up. Oh, okay, there wasn't an apple).The sum total of this high-fat bounty came to £47.13. I wanted to try and get hold of the receipt but at this point I was too busy trying to get the bleedin' plastic bag open and getting slightly annoyed by the impatience of the woman behind me (contents of trolley: Sixteen rolls of kitchen, erm, roll and four two-litre bottles of Asda's own brand Still Water for fuck's sake). I did pass them on my way out of the shop. Fatty Bum-fluff Football shirt Boy was perusing the receipt avidly. I think perhaps he was planning to eat it. I did briefly consider grabbing it out of his hands and making a run for it, thereby gaining a more detailed and specific record of their anti-nutritional shopping expedition which would allow more scientific analysis, but I was scared that they might catch me and put me on the front page of the Daily Mail along with the words 'Student Type Caught Red-Handed in Terror Plot to Mock the Lower Orders!'. Or, you know, something.It might make an interesting art project to go round Asda buying the m[...]

A History of Violence

Sun, 23 Jul 2006 09:41:09 GMT

"It’s very important to make the distinction between terror groups and freedom fighters, and between terror action and legitimate military action." So said the former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, at a commemoration last week of the sixtieth anniversary of the bombing of the King David's Hotel in Jerusalem. The attack was carried out by a Jewish 'resistance branch', disguised as Arabs, and killed ninety-two people, seventeen of whom were Jewish. It made an important contribution to forcing the British out of Palestine and to the foundation of the Israeli state two years later. The group that carried it out was led by the future sixth Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin.So when Israel insists that it has a long-standing 'problem' with terrorism, it has a very good point. That propensity towards using high levels of many different varieties of violence to get others to do what you want them to is now backed up by more advanced and expensive technology than mere milk churns contaning explosives. The BBC reported last week that the current Prime Minister had ordered the use of something called 'nocturnal sound bombs' in order to:"...make sure no one sleeps at night in Gaza".On Sandy Tolan summed up the situation as it stood about two weeks ago - before the attacks on Lebanon:Under the pretext of forcing the release of a single soldier "kidnapped by terrorists" (or, if you prefer, "captured by the resistance"), Israel has done the following: seized members of a democratically elected government; bombed its interior ministry, the prime minister's offices, and a school; threatened another sovereign state (Syria) with a menacing overflight; dropped leaflets from the air, warning of harm to the civilian population if it does not "follow all orders of the IDF" (Israel Defense Forces); ...fired missiles into residential areas, killing children; and demolished a power station that was the sole generator of electricity and running water for hundreds of thousands of Gazans. Besieged Palestinian families, trapped in a locked-up Gaza, are in many cases down to one meal a day, eaten in candlelight. Yet their desperate conditions go largely ignored by a world accustomed to extreme Israeli measures in the name of security: nearly 10,000 Palestinians locked in Israeli jails, many without charge; 4,000 Gaza and West Bank homes demolished since 2000 and hundreds of acres of olive groves plowed under; three times as many civilians killed as in Israel, many due to "collateral damage" in operations involving the assassination of suspected militants. What will be the consequences of Israel's refusal to let its neighbours sleep? On a demonstration in London yesterday, the leader of the British Muslim Institute drew confused cheers from sections of the crowd when he promised that those leaders who condone and promote Israel's right to terrorise adjoining countries will soon face 'revenge'.Unfortunately, unlike the Palestinians, Tony Blair and George Bush can sleep soundly in their beds. Such 'revenge' will not be enacted upon them, but on their citizens - namely ourselves. Given Blair's refusal to understand the connection between the wars in Iraq and the July bombings, it is quite unlikely that he has considered this. He knows he will never be at personal risk of terrorist attacks. (In much the same way, he will never have to rely on the National Health Service, which is presumably why he is so keen to privatise large section[...]

Wednesday After Work in the Park with Richard

Wed, 19 Jul 2006 19:10:02 GMT

An evidently confused woman walked up to me une fois in the centre of Dublin and asked me something in French with what sounded like 'cherche' and 'GPO' in it.Now she might just have been asking 'Vous cherchez le GPO, n'est pas?', in which case the answer would have been 'Sí (it's true, it's proper grammar and everything, look it up), je suis pas Joseph Connolly et nous ne sommes pas dans l'an 1916'. I evidemment presumed that she was asking me where the General Post Office (which was about 20 yards behind us) was, so I told her immediately. By pointing.My French has become much better now, danke schön very much. As for other foreign languages: I can do every word in Chinese except for tree, politics and, er, word, and I will hopefully soon very much impress my girlfriend during our Mystery Holiday in Berlin next month (NB: THAT BIT MEANS I CAN SPEAK GERMAN - R. Willmsen 22/03/07); I can speak almost as much Spanish as every other smug fucker out there who just happens to speak fucking Spanish. Oh yes, and I am also learning Italian. Very, very slowly.More significantly, I speak better Portuguese than José Saramago, and will one day have a job to prove it. Which is partly why, in Battersea Park on the Hottest Day Ever (does that mean it's going to start getting colder now?!), sparsely surrounded by lots of people speaking the less passionate, more bored-sounding variety of the Portuguese language, on seeing a young black family walking towards me along the path, I, thinking that they may well be Angolan or maybe Portuguese or something, thought that I might say to them in a smiley fashion 'Fala-se português por aqui!' (they speak Portuguese round here).I didn't say anything, thereby soundly killing off any possibility that I might a) the same day become the subject of an entertaining 'This sweaty guy we didn't know said something to us in a language we didn't understand!' anecdote or b) become the firmest of friends with some people for about 2 minutes. About sixteen seconds later another young black family walked past me, speaking Portuguese. In the treasured words of Alanis Morissette: You live, you learn.Incidentally, has anyone else in the imperial capital noticed that every single cafe in the centre of London (with the honourable exception of 'Brasil By Kilo') is suddenly run by Portuguese people?! They're everywhere all of a sudden, especially around here. Especially since I, you know, moved house. Quite a lot less Bangladeshi people too. That is not why I moved, by the way. I wonder if, one day, 'the Portuguese cuisine' will enjoy the same elevated position in our gastronomic hierachy as does that of our Polish communities. But as for competing with the Bengalis for a larger share of the cheaper end of the restaurant market...nem pensar![...]

Could China be a new cultural superpower?

Thu, 15 Jun 2006 15:52:21 GMT

Another profoundly idiotic, craven and predictable article by Martin Jacques in the Guardian about the inevitable and glorious rise of China gave birth to an interesting thought.In contrast to five years ago, the likely identity of the next superpower has become crystal clear. It is no longer just a possibility that it will be China; on the contrary, the probability is extremely high, if not yet a racing certainty. Nor does the timescale of this change have us peering into the distant future as it did five years ago. China is already beginning to acquire some of the interests and motivations of a superpower, and even a little of the demeanour. Beijing feels like a parallel universe to the US, and certainly Europe. There is an expansive mood about the place. China is growing in self-confidence by the day.And with good reason. There is no sign of China's economic growth abating, and it is this that lies behind its growing confidence. The massive contrasts between China and the US, both socially and economically, are enjoined in the argument over America's trade deficit with the China. The latter is deeply aware that its future prospects depend on the continuation of its economic growth and this remains its priority. But no longer to the exclusion of all else: China is beginning to widen its range of concerns and interests.So far so predictable: China is growing at an exponential rate and is beginning to challenge the global power of the US. My idea concerns this parallel between Chinese and American power, but at the level of culture.It's clear that the US as a global cultural superpower foments opposition to itself by crushing or buying off any attempts at cultural independence, so that you increasingly see the same films advertised at the same time in the centres of cities all around the globe, for example, and so many people's free time is spent watching films from Blockbuster video, not to mention eating at McDonalds and shopping at Wal-Mart and so on. This makes the United States a very obvious target for anger against injustice and inequality.China, on the other hand, has almost no cultural influence on this level, give or take the occasional martial arts epic, which is itself effectively a product of the Hollywood system. There are no global Chinese music stars, and very few if any recent global household names in any field. There is, thankfully, no global Chinese equivalent to McDonalds or Pizza Hut; in fact, the brands most beloved of young Chinese people seem to be American or European ones - NBA, KFC, the Champions' League etc. Aside from a few satellite Chinese speaking parts of the world, China has little or virtually no cultural influence to match its growing economic clout.Doesn't this mean, then, that its increasing international economic power will attract less notice and therefore less opposition? I'm thinking in terms of other developing countries, specifically Africa, the Middle East and South America, where the locally damaging effects of China's involvement are becoming more and more unavoidable (I wrote about some aspects of this here), as well as the catastrophic effects on the environment if every Chinese peasant did ever get to live the Chinese Dream. What China lacks, though, is anything like the very clear focus for opprobrium that US cultural products and brands represent.I don't know if there will come a point where China will need to start marketing[...]