Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Jamón Ibérico

You´ll have to excuse the lack of activity of late, between posting on the wonderful new MATBlog and moving into a new house, I´ve been a bit busy. So here´s a post that appears there too:

Madrid is the roadworks capital of the world. The just keep digging the place up everywhere you go, without distinction between rich neighbourhoods or poor. They just absolutely love opening holes in the ground, producing endless old jokes about digging for treasure. After a six week working trip back home, I got back here to discover they´d changed roads after actually finishing something for once - Jacometrezo Street. After dodging construction teams every day on the way to work for 9 months, there was something weird about the street.

Not that it was finished. Not that I could sit outside at the cafe without an accompaniment of drills and wolf-whistling mustachioed Ecuadorians. But that the street was exactly the same. Same arrangement, same traffic lights, same underground parking. Everything exactly the same. I stood about trying to work out what they´d actually spent 12 months doing. Then it clicked. What they´d done was change it from a flat, pot-hole free, perfectly adequate tarmac road to a brick road. According to the sign the Ministry for Economic Stimulus put up, they´d spent 2 million euros, countless interruptions to residents and business to change the aesthetic of the place.

The more you walk around, the more you can see that the PSOE´s 11bn stimulus has just been thrown in the appropriate directions to keep people working. No attempt to do anything of any actual use with it. Just keeping the construction industry from entirely collapsing. There´s clearly some serious pork going on, something that occasionally gets the PSOE in trouble, like with the general strike it provoked in Lebrija this February. Basically people pissed off in a tiny town near Sevilla were protesting that the state money being distributed through the trade unions was only going to members of the CC.OO and the UGT (the PCE and PSOE´s pet unions respectively).

The weird thing though is that aside from this incident Spain despite suffering a bigger rise in unemployment than all of the other countries in Europe put together, now topping the Eurozone league with 18.1% (a combination of historical high levels in the South, and the complete collapse of the two major industries, auto manufacture and construction), has experienced virtually no significant unrest. A handful of small strikes, some very specific problems in the North (related to the PNV losing the last round of elections there - largely due to extensive gerrymandering), and that aside the government has basically got a pass on the state of the place.

I read an interesting article a little while ago that shed some light on why this was. Spanish people have much bigger social networks that are insulating them from the recession. When people lose their jobs they´ve got a wider safety net based on large interconnected families. Young people especially tend to live with their parents until they´re much older.

But the flipside of this is that it becomes self-defeating circle. Employers continuously abuse the internship/apprenticeship system by hiring people just to fill regular positions, paying salaries that are impossible to live off in urban areas (often 600-700 euros a month), which people accept, because they can, which in turn means they never have any motivation to leave home and demand good housing and decent paying jobs.

Additionally, Spain, a European frontier state these days, has managed to avoid problems related to its large immigrant population (the largest group in Madrid is Ecuadoreans and nationally Moroccans), large numbers of whom came over to work in the burgeoning construction industry. The report put this down to several things. Firstly, the tendency of migrants to pack up and go home when the work dries up (one of the rarely mentioned aspects of the economic migration phenomena is that it´s self-regulating, peak migration tends to coincide with high employment), and secondly Spain´s massive black market.

Far more so than the UK, which has a fringe black market economy, small enough to be mostly contained in small enclaves. Spain has a thriving, publicly unavoidable parallel economic system, which keeps millions of people without recourse to conventional economic means afloat during the recession. Walk through almost any major Spanish city and it´s obvious; movable bazaars dot the street, brothels dot otherwise respectable streets, people wander into bars with lighters, tissues (bizarrely) or a wide variety of flashing tat to sell.

Weirdly enough all of this was supposed to disappear with European integration and modernisation. But the Spanish miracle was based on housing prices, selling land all along that massive and beautiful coast of theirs, the Marbella-zation of the whole country. The export of land got to such a point that whole communities were dominated by ex-pats to the extent that they were electing ex-pat mayors and the DWP now has a big branch in Madrid.

With that market completely collapsing (see the ITV documentary on the subject recently), Spain has fallen back on old habits; patronage, kinships networks and black markets; to keep people´s head above water.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

the dog shit politics panacea

Nazis do it. Greens do it. Even socialists do it sometimes. Every day graft, listening to people, asking them what they want, and putting in the work to try and get it for them.

The dog shit politics of making sure the little things are dealt with, and that groups set achievable targets, winning things that non-activist people are actually interested in. It helps build a rapport between people and political groups, and keeps people grounded in everyday life.

Left-wing or pro-working class groups should be at a natural advantage in this arena. In the first place they´re supposed to have a deeper understanding of the forces that are behind attacks on working class communities, so should have a better understanding of how to fight back. They don´t have the big disadvantage that far right groups do, in that they aren´t trying to peddle racism and they don´t have quite the pariah status that Nazis do.

Groups that have tried taking this approach have had varying degrees of success.

The group that made it the center of its political outlook, the IWCA, had a few early victories. It established bases in two London boroughs, Glasgow and Oxford, producing creditable results in the first three places, and steadily increasing their councillors to a high of four on Oxford city council.

Over time though the number of outposts shrank, as Glasgow withered away, Hackney left the organisation and Islington went quieter (is it still functioning?) and short-lived flurries of activity in Harold Hill and Thurrock seemed to disappear over time.

The IWCA´s trajectory seemed to prove that outposts could be built and people engaged, with good day-to-day community work, but that it was difficult to expand from that kind of base and that small-numbers of activists could become bogged down in electoral work and community campaigning.

The Socialist Party, a bigger, national organisation, has usually orientated itself in its day-to-day work towards the ´dog shit´ end of politics, whether that be in the trade unions or in community work. On the other hand it does have to wear its other hat as part of the Committee for a Workers´ International, being the historical consciousness of the entire international working class and all.

Over the past two decades they built significant local bases in Coventry and Lewisham, as well as picking up the odd councillor as opponents of NHS privatisation. The SP´s approach differs substantially from the IWCA, in that rather than seeing themselves as a sort of political wing of their communities, they have their own very tightly defined ideas on policy and theory, whilst still trying to attract adherents through practical everyday work.

Although the SP have had a degree of success where they´ve applied themselves in this way, the last year or so has seen them increasingly drawn into high-level trade union work in pursuit of the real long-term project - The Campaign for a New Workers Party.

Straight old-fashioned British Trots, the SP want a bigger sea of reformist workers to swim in, in order to win them over to socialism. Yet, as their rubbish attempt to stand in the last election shows, people won´t vote for you just because a workers´ organisation is involved. Their years of community activism, just like their trade union work has been unable to propel their wider ambition, and they remain restricted to historical footholds.

Which probably goes to show that whilst community activism can build a modest platform, it doesn´t expand your organisation dramatically unless you´re actually selling an idea that people want to buy into.

Meanwhile, a handful of anarchistically-inspired groups have also been doing similar sorts of activism, trying to engage people in everyday politics in a way that attracts them to the idea of a radically democratic society. Groups like Haringey Solidarity Group argue that they can make a real difference to people´s lives through campaign work and engage people in a different kind of political action.

I heard that the people behind HSG have maintained some sort of consistent organisation since the old Poll Tax Unions, which in itself is an achivement for a community group. The question is expansion. Community work is an end in itself, and on some level you´d certainly be happy to devoting your time to improving what you can for yourself and your neighbours. But there is still the question of putting yourself in a position to challenge things.

Groups that focus on elections often get sucked into to the constant, exhausting cycle of winning and maintaining representation, to the detriment of other work. However, groups without that focus often seem to spend much of their existence looking for things to get their teeth into. Without something to campaign on, activity can often dwindle and leave the same small group of people keeping the thing ticking over until the next significant issue.

Much of the energy that was going into groups like HSG has re-directed itself into the London Coalition Against Poverty, which with a broader focus and direct action case work to get stuck into, seems to be better at keeping people involved and occupied.

In terms of sustaining a permanent large-scale organisation capable of advancing the big aims though, the municipal anarchism model still seems to have a missing ingredient that prevents it from pushing on to the next level.

Another category of ´dog shit´ activists has emerged out of the disintegration of the Labour Party in the last few years. In Barrow-in-Furness, a 1997 splinter group led by the former constituency party chair stood in a by-election and lost their deposit. Subsequently they´ve taken a number of borough council seats and currently hold four, it might be more if they hadn´t had their own falling out and lost a load of seats to another independent splinter from the group. The all-women shortlists debacle that led most of the Blaenau Gwent CLP to leave, resulted in one MP and a bundle of councillors for People´s Voice candidates in the last elections (though many of them seem to have left for independent status subsequently) and school protesters took Gwynedd council off Plaid Cymru.

In the leftie news reccently were the Community Action Party, a mash-up of various political backgrounds, which until recently held 18 seats on Wigan borough council. They´ve split (obviously) and recently formed a People´s Alliance with the local SP and the Respect Party. George Galloway even came up to shake everyone´s hand.

The trouble these organisations seem to have is that being formed over local issues, they tend to subsequently split over them. They´ve also got very limited horizons, as well as an M.O. and a structure (in most cases semi-clientalist) that limits them in that way. The lack of resources is exposed in the homely, 1997 style websites.

They´ve got a lot of advantages though. Clearly they show up out of a need, and are identified with something that resonates with their electorate. There´s a meaningful and organic connection with the communities that throw them up, rather than trying to manufacture something out of nothing (and the ¨Save our XXX¨ campaign style doesn´t work if you haven´t got the links or the issue spot on - Colchester Save Our Bus Station did abysmally in local elections a few years back for precisely that reason).

But without broadening their appeal nationally, these groups will eventually outlive either their campaign or the particular local political figure that gave them life. Longer-term, only by broadening their appeal and linking with other groups can they sustain themselves.

The groups that are currently profiting out of community campaigning (the BNP and The Green Party) have a few things in common (aside from a shared love of rural idylls :P), firstly they have a significant national organisation that can sustain local groups all year round, stimulate new groups with resources, produce professional campaign material and maintain attractive, well-used and well-updated websites. This gives the outward impression of being permanent and modern organisations. They combine an organisational focus on the ´dog shit´ stuff, with the ability to intervene on national issues and throw out ´dog whistle´ sound-bites and policies to get new people involved and build up new groups. The two things necessarily compliment one another.

No group can have a national impact without both these elements in play, and that is the key to building something meaningful and permanent.

this was cross-posted from the awesome new meanwhile at the bar blog.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

What Alan Duncan says about our political class

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard Tory blogger Iain Dale being interviewed about Alan Duncan's latest gaff. Obviously he agreed that the comments were ill-advised and that perhaps Duncan might have to apologise. But he didn't get to what I thought was the heart of the matter.
Look at these two statements, the first of which was not the headline quotes that the papers ran with the next day. The second of which is Duncan's apology.

"No one who has done anything in the outside world will ever come into this
place ever again, the way we are going."

"The last thing people want to hear is an MP whingeing about his pay and
conditions. My remarks, although meant in jest, were completely uncalled

The papers all lead with 'MP whinges about pay', and quite right too, it's the money shot in terms of bang for your buck outrage. That's what Duncan responded to as well, noting that nobody wants to hear MPs complain about what are comparatively generous pay packages. The phrase 'they don't know they're born' comes to mind.
But I think there's something deeper to this, somewhere buried further inside people like Duncan that contains the real reason why they make comments like this. Look at that first comment again: For people like him the salary he gets wouldn't motivate anyone whose 'done anything' to go to parliament.
What he's saying, and I think this runs fairly deep among the majority of mainstream politicians is essentially anyone who doesn't earn considerably more than an MP (or isn't at least capable of it) isn't really much cop. Basically they can written off as having any skills worthy of bringing to public life.
The problem with that is that he's basically writing off 95% of the population. All the people who actually do all the work round here are basically little worker ants who need governing by clever chaps who can make lots of money. And they only way you bring them in is by greasing the wheels. People of quality are those that are attracted by and can make lots and lots of money. Basically we're all offensively useless because we can't muster the kind of success that they can.
And that was the question that should've been asked about these remarks. How many of our political class essentially regard working people in this country as idiots because they 'can't get on in life' and wish we could have a parliament made up of 'the right stuff?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

a lot can happen in forty years

"The Army's role might evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years. There is absolutely no chance of NATO pulling out." General Sir David Richards, Head of the British Army, on the occupation of Afghanistan.

Interesting statement that, more for the attitude than the policy. One of the problems with saying that staying they´re for that period of time is that it sees ¨nation-building¨ as being like a treadmill. Put in enough resources and stick it for long enough and you can change the place into what you want it to be.

The trouble with these plans is that it doesn´t cede any say on things to the people that live there. It gives, for instance, 30-40 years of guerrilla warfare to the insurgents. You´d think that over time they might start getting better at it, particularly given that they´ve moved away from the suicide bomber model (which results in your terrorist dying along with your victims, rather than learning from mistakes and passing on experience to others). It doesn´t ask the Afghanis if they want that long an occupation, and whether some of them might be inclined to rebel against a long-term foreign presence.

In fact the whole idea ignores any problematic developments in the political and social life of Afghanistan. Peace is always political. For example, a lot of analysts say that in Iraq the decision to work with Sunni militia against international Islamist extremists was a far bigger part of turning around that quagmire than the surge was.

Beyond the complete disregard for what the population there might actually do or want. I´m always intrigued by the apparent need that international forces have to set up law enforcement agency and armed forces to defend their new little states. It´s weird because usually countries are able to do that sort of thing for themselves. For instance, the Taliban were able to establish an army and a police force that was completely totalitarian, all without a blue-hat in sight. And, obviously they could only possibly be overthrown by being bombed by the Americans, so it must have been pretty robust, right?

New democracies are supposed to have a broader base of support than brutal dictatorships, so why do nations set up by international diktat seem to have so much trouble?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

ahhhh elections...

Now, I'm not out to criticise people trying to do stuff in solidarity with Iranian activists. But daftness is a pet hate of mine, so here goes.

Right so, today I read someone at the beginning of a very moving piece about what people have suffered after the Iranian elections reference Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the loser of the election. I've no problem with saying that per se, but is it not a little ridiculous from the perspective of your average anti-Islamic Republic type? Before the elections we were informed that Iran is a theocracy, a clerical tyranny and in general a totalitarian dictatorship.

People who pointed out that the real situation was more nuanced, with a greater degree of civil society, dissent and disagreement internal to the system were generally derided as being the useful idiots of the Ayatollahs. Now, I've no problem dealing in broad brush-strokes like. But doesn't saying that Ahmadinejad is the loser of this election actually rather endorse the electoral system out there?

On some level it means that the election was a meaningful contest between real alternatives, which was outrageously tampered with to the benefit of certain people within the power structure. Like there had been a coup d'etat to overthrow a relatively well-functioning democracy, that spent the previous 30 years electing rightful presidents. Surely if it follows that the protests are about a rigged election, then the last one Ahmadinejad went off fairly?

That's horse-shit though. Iran's is a managed democracy, where the Ayatollahs pick the acceptable candidates and pretend it's a real contest. There's no more legitimacy in all the old-school reformists lining up behind the green movement, than there is in the Ahmadinejads of this world. In fact, the Islamic Republic is probably going through one of its least brutal phases.

Why give the Islamic Republic the redoubt that they're evidently looking for - that they can just retreat to the old reformism and then we'll start saying it's a real democracy. Even if they'd decided they wanted Moussavi instead of the incumbent, it wouldn't have made any real difference. If people on the streets is a meaningful opportunity to enact real change out there, then more has to be done than insisting that they stick to the logic of legitimacy within their own system.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

rubbish bloody football

Year on year I like football as an industry a little less. Every year it just gets more ridiculous as a sport and seems to be further away from the things I actually like about the game.

To explain why, I´ll have to make a bit of a confession. My football supporting life started in a way that I now find reprehensible. From the safety of the Suffolk countryside I was a miniature Manchester United fan. Now in my defence this was 1992 and I´m sucker for a redemption story. The first football I watched was the last season of the old First Division. A Manchester United side with the likes of Mark Hughes, Bryan Robson and a teenage Ryan Giggs was busy choking its best chance of the title for a quarter of a decade. I have an idea the first football match I ever watched was a 0-0 draw on ITV with West Ham United. I was 8 years old.

By the time the Premier League came around I was throwing my pocket money at United scarves, shirts and mugs. They won the league that year, redemption for 26 years of being rubbish, or sometimes just good and gutless. I remained a red for a while. Even after I watched my first live football match, a 0-0 draw between my local team Ipswich and Coventry City. Weirdly enough it was from the Director´s Box and I remember being bored shitless. The next one was a 3-2 win for Ipswich over Manchester United. It was the year Town went down, so I guess it was 1995. I was 12.

I was changed a bit by that game. Obviously in a season in which they were terrible, beating the current league champions saw them go absolutely nuts. The next time I saw Town, a scrappy 2-1 win over Charlton in a then Division One match and they became us. I´ve subsequently had the misfortune to support them for the past 12-13 years, from season ticket holder to ex-pat. I still miss it.

Not to get too poor man´s Nick Hornby on you, but what really attracted me to watching football live, as opposed to on the telly, was the feeling of standing in the old Portman Road North Stand. Partially it was the feeling of adulthood (mostly derived from standing round a load of adults who were acting as childishly as I was), but probably most of all it was the most exciting thing that happened in a town like Ipswich. You went down, and you stood together with a load of people who cared about the same thing you did. They got outraged when you did, they felt off their heads with joy when you did, they swore when you did, they sang when you did. The genuine feeling of being in a crowd is unsurpassable.

And in truth I liked the glamour of my team being little underdogs, underachieving a little bit and living off a glorious past. I swear it meant more to us when we got promoted or when we did well, because there was just us in Ipswich, a little town that people put in shitty books about shitty towns.

And now that´s completely ruined. We´re owned by a multi-millionaire or billionaire or something, and we spend his money so we can hire Roy Keane and buy big Irish centre forwards off Sunderland or Manchester United reserve teamers. We make out like this really makes us happy, but when it works it has a hollow feeling - like Chelsea fans must be familiar with - that it actually has sod all to do with us. That buying the season tickets, making noise at the appropriate moments, throwing money in the coffers by buying the 2nd away kit or the tracksuit top, paled into comparison with a guy who runs promotion events having the cash to bring Celtic rejects back from the Irish League. If we fail we get bitter, and chase club legends out of the place, forgetting that the bloke gave us the most magical night of my footballing life(play-off semi-final 2nd legal 2000 - Ipswich Town 5 Bolton Wanderers 3).

This is the reality for a wild array of different clubs. Portsmouth fans wait with baited breath for a takeover to solve all their financial problems. Notts County got enough money to pay for Sven Goran Eriksson. Who the fuck even bought Notts County for fuck´s sake. QPR have Briatore, Sunderland are throwing money at bigger clubs' reserve team strikers like water. Manchester City ain´t half of it, most of the football league seems to be somebody's plan to get themselves on telly overlooking a Abramovichesque kingdom.

So, Now I sit, watching my mediocre team, with mediocre players bought from other clubs (with all our own kids shipped out), progressing (or not) toward the premier league nirvana. The shed I used to have a season ticket in made five times the noise, and was five times the fun as the massive 25m GBP monstrosity that they moved us up the other end to build one season. A ticket for one and a half hours ¨entertainment¨ costs me 27 GBP minimum, in an occasion where any natural atmosphere is drowned out in a dreary combination of goal music, pre-game music and a preponderance of supporters who never came to contribute anyway.

Live football is not as fun as it used to be. ¨Used to be¨ being the mid-90s, so we´re not even talking about nostalgia for terraces or hooliganism here. In fact, I´d go as far as to say that it´s not even as fun as watching it on the telly.

In a few years, the people that run football are going to understand that this circus cannot sustain itself. Let's be realistic, football is not intrinsically that interesting a game. If I actually want to watch a fascinating contest of epic proportions then it ain't a patch on Cricket or the Tour de France. People watch football to watch people. To see mental geordies outside St.James' Park when some loser/idiot comes to coach them, to watch people cry when they get relegated and to watch them be unhingedly happy when Burnley win a play-off final. The people watching on the telly are really there to watch us, not the game.

And when we've all gone, everyone will wonder what the fuss is all about.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

I can fix America

Helpful information for Democratic Party politicians interested in meaningful health reform: How hard is it to say the following? America pays significant more for its healthcare than any other country on the planet. Soon it will reach 20% of your entire productive effort. In exchange for this you get a health system which does not provide for a significant minority of people. Those that it does provide for worry constantly that they will keep their healthcare through periods of economic insecurity. Should they be unfortunate enough to fall sick, their insurance company will look for an excuse not to treat them, should they have been lucky enough to have passed the qualification for health insurance in the fist place.

I am a European. My country spends much less than yours does on healthcare. I have never worried about how I´m going to pay for my healthcare for one second. My healthcare is not rationed, I don´t worry about paying it, I don´t have to fill out any forms proving that I´m eligible, what care I receive is decided by my doctor according to need, without reference to how it will effect a company´s profit line. I will not die because of denial of care and my life expectancy is longer than yours.

What´s more, if I want better healthcare, I can, if I want to, pay for it. Private healthcare exists here if you want it. Most people do not feel they need it. Because I live in a capitalist country. Unfortunately, as much as I would like it have done, a state-owned public health system has not lead to the collapse of capitalism.

This situation exists across the developed world. Every single rich country (likes yours) manages to provide healthcare for the entire population without getting over excited that this will herald the beginnings of Stalinism. And they don´t just have a ¨public option¨, the government owns the hospitals, it buys the drugs, it hires and fires the doctors and nurses.

Stop fucking about. Tell the American people the simple unadulterated truth, the insurance company free version of it. Europeans love their healthcare systems, they think yours is barking and inhumane. It´s one of the things that makes us glad not to live in The USA. If you want to get this legislation passed, fuck the health insurance companies and go for it, stop mincing around. Generations of Americans will love you for it. Ask Aneurin Bevan, the founder of our National Health Service, and one to date one of the most popular British politicians of all time.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Honesty in parliament

I sympathise with the idea of independents standing in opposition to mainstream politicos whose faces have been buried in the public expenses troff. But a word of caution regarding Esther Rantzen´s mooted candidacy ... First off, if the point is that our democracy has been perverted and corrupted by the political class in this country, then surely it would be more to the point to be sending normal people with our values there, rather than politicians on an ego trip. Especially as Martin Bell´s impact on that sewer bit didn´t really go very far.

Secondly, given that the thing being debated is the abuse of public institutions, then perhaps the best choice is not someone who founded a charity that went bust four years ago (and had to be folded into Oxfam) largely as a result of paying exorbitant salaries to a companies that had 13 executive directors on large salaries (up to 90,000 GBP p.a.), despite just having 268 full-time employees (in 2004 wages took up more than half their income from donations). If I remember correctly (though I stand to be corrected) Ms. Rantzen was also on the pay roll in a consultant capacity, despite being a rich celebrity apparently doing work for charity.

Perhaps she can tell us from experience how you stop institutions set up for public benefit from being bled dry by well-meaning people who nevertheless feel the need of handsome renumeration for doing good.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

celebrities and us

Britain has a unique celebrity culture. On the one hand, aside from the Americans, nobody pays as much attention to the private lives of so many individuals in the world of entertainment. Nobody has the array of magazines, tv programmes and newspaper articles devoted to the Jade Goodies of the world that we do.

For Britain, famous people are almost a sort of aristocracy, with all the attendant baggage for us peasants that implies. A friend of mine used to work for a well-known international ticket company, in their Manchester box office. One night before a gig, a local celebrity comes in, an actress off Coronation Street. Her kid's going to see some live show - Bob the Builder or something along those lines. She's shown up with no booking code, no ID, doesn't even know what postcode it's booked under (her P.A. booked it apparently). Now my friend is good at his job and a nice bloke, so he's looking for a way to help her. Not because he knows who she is, but just because. Looking for any way to identify which tickets are hers. But this woman just can't help, she's got nothing she can tell him. So she pulls out the celebrity card, his manager recognises her, and insists that my friend doles out two duplicate tickets, which he dutifully does.

Now, any normal person shows up without anyway to prove that these tickets are theirs, not even booked in their name in fact, you see them for the chancer they are and send them on their way. But no, the celebrity aristocracy, already so blessed, gets little favour after little favour, their droit de seigneur and why not, it's only a few perks. So she stands in the queue, and demands one of the staff holds her place, whilst she takes her little one to the bathroom - a wonderful service, if only they could offer it to everyone. Then walks straight past the bar queue, and gets outraged when a glass collector won't serve her drink, and so on throughout the night. "Oooh, you'll never guess who we had in this evening?"

But the downside of being an aristocrat exists too. You get all this privilege, for little or no work, and people resent you for it. In fact, we really resent them for it. Not the shrink-wrapped, perfect-world US celebrity culture for us. We hate celebrities. Pick up Heat magazine if you don't believe me, or read the gossip column in The Sun. We adore slagging these people off, we love it when they get fat, or too skinny, or make a fool of themselves, or they fail. Half the time we prefer our celebrities to be talentless morons, there to be abused by the system or to make themselves look inadequate. It's almost like the only way we can bear to be the peasants is by engaging in the time honoured tradition of fool's day, where the world gets stood on its head, and we get to laugh at the motherfuckers on top.

Maybe there was a bit of all this in Steven Gerrard's court case. Putting aside the the so-sad-it's-funny nature of the Gerrard defence (as one friend put it, "he stood up after being elbowed in the head by my friend, of course I felt threatened and had to hit him 4 times"), Gerrard admitted that he'd been up to the DJ booth to demand they change the music and couldn't understand why the bloke wouldn't do it. Now, do you and I expect the DJ in a bar to change the music on our request? We might, on occasion, put a request to them, but the general assumption is that most places put the music on that they want to play. If you don't like it, you find somewhere else. This is normal mortal land. Gerrard and his mates first insist that they get control of the music. Then they end up in a fight about it. Even if the fight is six of one, half a dozen of the other, the expectation of these petty favours that come with a modicum of celebrity is pretty common. The refusal is too. Your average self-respecting man (not fanboy) doesn't think you deserve special favours because you're lucky enough to earn a lot of money for playing a game. The world has given you plenty already. If Steven Gerrard asked me to change the music in my house, I'd politely tell him to fuck off.

Whilst the acquittal itself might seem a little weird in some quarters (or typical in more cynical ones), the situation, a member of the celebratocracy throwing their weight around and not even noticing their doing it, is all too common.

Friday, 24 July 2009

different worlds ...

One of the unexpected side effects of Obama world is that on certain things there´s a disconnect between Obama´s old mates and your run-of-the-mill political/media establishment. The recent controversy with the Harvard professor being belligerent to a cop who´d accused him of breaking into his own home reminded me of an episode of The Boondocks about snitching. Huey Freeman does a retrospective about black people being culturally inclined not to talk the police, with some clips of people shutting doors in the face of various cops. Then they cut to some white people talking about how much they luuuuuuuurve talking to the police, ¨I mean, why wouldn´t you talk to the police? I looooooove talking to the police!¨

The half of the American population that thinks like this reckons that this police officer should get the benefit of the doubt. Well, because he´s the police, and more than that, maybe he technically did everything by the book and rather than do what they would all do, which is smile and nod and laugh along, Professor Gates told him to go fuck himself. In fact, there´s a long history of this in American culture. In some quarters the LA Riots for instance were where ¨a certain part¨ of the population were insisting on their right to behave lawlessly, loot and attack police officers, not responding to an outrageous miscarriage of justice and the kind of mass policing that led to something like 1 in 3 black males being detained by the police in any two year period. The 60s riots were nothing to do with fighting racial prejudice but some shite like black nationalism or anti-white racism.

Now, if I´d been on a long trip and discover my door jammed, I´d be annoyed. I might, had I managed to break into my house and sat down, got a cup of tea, by the time a police officer summoned by my neighbours arrived, it´s possible I would see the funny side of it. I probably wouldn´t maintain my cool if the cop was treating the whole thing too seriously after that. More than that, maybe I wouldn´t find it as funny if I was from a ethnic background that has a history of persecution from the police, and if I was thinking ¨I bet my neighbours wouldn´t call the police if Mr and Mrs. Kennedy from across the road were breaking into their house.¨ And additionally, I imagine if the police were called, and did find Mr and Mrs. Kennedy sat in their house, relaxing after a long trip, they wouldn´t start throwing their weight around and demanding identification.

Now police have rules to follow, but there are following rules and following rules. Now, I would imagine upon entering a room that an easy way to identify a burglar is to see if he runs away from the police. If he´s sat around and making himself at home, he probably isn´t robbing the place. So, even if procedure is to get him out of the house, search him, check his ID and all the rest, if you´re basically aware, through your instincts as a law enforcer, that a robbery is not in progress, you do this in an apologetic way, if at all. ¨I´m sorry, I couldn´t check your ID, you know, just doing my job, sorry.¨ If he tells you to go to hell, you probably leave it. You certainly don´t arrest him.

Now a lot of us understand why this whole thing would have pissed Professor Gates off, and, because we don´t ¨looooooooooove talking to the police¨, think it´s appropriate for him to tell the police officer concerned to fuck off. Well, we might think it was a silly thing to do, but we´d understand, we´d be sympathetic and we´d reckon when the officer arrested him, it was an arsehole thing to do.

Not, in WASP world. In WASP world, everything the police does is fine. We should always be polite and helpful, because the police always have our best interests at heart, and are never just being over-officious tools. And, of course, if we do complain, and tell the police to get to fuck, they have every right to arrest us for being abusive.

To the rest of us, we wouldn´t expect to be arrested for calling a random member of the public a dick, especially if they were behaving like, well ... a dick... Not in WASP world, in WASP land, the police are sensitive creatures who need special treatment, in case their poor wittle ears catch the odd swear word.

And this is where Barack Obama comes in. Now, he´s sooooooo establishment in everything he does. So much so that he´s not been brave enough to pass anything since becoming president. But the difference with establishment African-Americans, like Obama and Gates, is that racial profiling is so prevalent that, unlike poverty, it can´t be avoided even by them. Like the right-wing Atlanticist MP Shahid Malik who got detained and searched for explosives at Dulles Airport. Hence the disconnect, Obama can´t help but instinctively answer that question, because he´s experienced it. No doubt so had Professor Gates prior to being confronted in his own home. Of course, at the time of writing the President of the United States had already apologised ... there are some lines even he isn´t allowed to cross.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

aesthetics and the 25 year old male

It is possible that I am a victim of the 21st century physical aesthetic. Perhaps, I'm supposed to be above this sort of thing. But after nearly 26 years of existence I have to admit to myself that I have a problem: I am vain. Really, really vain. Not in terms of a preening, self-regard, but nevertheless featuring a constant and significant obsession with physical appearance.

I'm an ordinary-looking fella, slightly shorter than average, but re-assuringly taller than Tom Cruise (but not as tall as his wife). I'm reconciled with the height and looks thing. There's not a great deal you can do to change them. No, the things that obsess me, are the things I can change. These are, in order of how much I think about them; weight, hair and clothes. The latter is brilliant, because it's so easy to rectify (possibly the reason that clothes are at the top of the consumerism food chain). You can feel good about yourself purely by purchasing something and putting it together with other things (the tragedy is that you have to keep doing it, not just because of fashion but the good feeling about new stuff fades). The second one is trickier because of the maintenance requirement, as well as the possibility of dodgy haircuts.

The killer though is the first one. Now, achieving your ideal body is impossible without that most impossible of skills; self-discipline. You have two options, the first is curtailing your consumption of bad things, removing one of the main delights in being human - stuffing tasty food and booze down your neck. The second is regular exercise. The problem with regular exercise is that it's usually boring. It involves doing a repetitive task, on your own and takes up a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour every evening. Once you've made the decision to continue eating what the hell you like, you've basically committed yourself to another, entirely voluntary chore. Other chores are necessary. The kitchen must be cleaned or you lack crockery, unwashed clothes eventually start to smell. Fatness you can live with.

The consequences of evading this other chore is that initially you start to get soft around the edges, then bigger, then before you know it you're visiting slim-fast meetings. I'm at that sort of age, 25, where without the kind of metabolism my brother has (bastard) you can either commit to regular exercise, F-O-R-E-V-E-R, or acquiesce to expanding over the coming years and eventually being a fat bastard.

Now, the question is, why should I care? Thing is, I don't know why I should. I just do. Bodily aesthetic is something that pesters you 24-7. Jeans a little uncomfortable? Shit, should go for a run later. In bed at night, bit of belly, should renew that gym membership. And even though no-one around you notices, you can feel when things get slacker and when they get tighter. Every little change is multiplied double in your head. Things improve, suddenly it'll be six-pack central in a few weeks. Gets worse? Slippery slope to Johnny-Vegas-land.

One day I will get over this, and resign myself to the natural body shape for my lifestyle. Until then you shall see running up-and-down a Suffolk hill, getting depressed at how much fitter I used to be...

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Footballers I don't get

It being the Summer, with football teams frantically running around trying to pick up new players. They're always full of players I don't get. People whose value seems to grossly out of proportion to their talent, whose quality is invisible to their supporters, who a bewildering array of managers think are the business. This summer seems to be a busy one for "the inexplicables", particularly with a suspicious number of them being relegated last season.

As of this moment, someone has signed Stewart Downing for 12m, despite already having two ostensibly far better wingers. Another team has signed Emmanuel Adebayor for 25m, despite him being a lazy, arrogant tosser with a terrible first touch, and this team already have 6 other forwards (not only that but the money will go towards strengthening one of the main rivals)! Someone else has signed quick, but positionally rubbish full-back Glen Johnson for 17m, despite positional play actually being the most important thing about a full-back. The disease is not restricted to these shores and someone was mug enough to pay 9m for Didier Zakora and offer Jermaine Pennant a hefty contract. Fraizer Campbell, stand-out terrible on every Premier League appearance to date, apparently trumps the actually rather good Djibril Cisse for another manager.

Who next on the wheel of ridiculous?

Friday, 17 July 2009

Five word meme

So, a meme. You give people five words that remind you of them and you write a short piece talking about what the words mean to you. Jim Jay gave me these; Spain, Liberty, Teaching, trade unions and protest.

So, in exactly that order, I'll start with Spain. It's strange, when I was a bit younger I was always convinced that I was going to live abroad when I was older. There was a mixture of what was probably a bit of small-town snobbery mixed in with the feeling that the world was just too big to remain in your corner forever. The snobbery is interesting I think; back in the day that escaping the provincial upbringing narrative probably takes you to a big city and eventually to London, but modern communities are so fluid that moving to another part of the country isn't nearly exotic enough.

Despite that feeling, by the time I'd left university I'd left the country a grand total of four times : a family holiday to a French farmhouse that was on the verge of collapse, another to a Portuguese island full of pensioners, one trip to Italy to watch Internazionale v Ipswich Town and finally a short stay with a friend in Vienna.

I think there are three kinds of ex-pats, the first are the classic retirement villa on the Costa del Sol types (there are now so many of these that the DWP has a branch in Spain now, in addition to some towns having British mayors), who are unapologetically there for the weather and to enjoy life and couldn't give a shit about the local culture, people or language. These people have the most fun, worry the least and only have one complaint, the inconvenience of Spain having a native population. They don't worry if walking around in flip-flops in March makes them look like a tourist or about turning pink on the beach. The second are 'authenticos', who want to imagine they are the only foreigner in the entire fucking country who is actually making an effort, that they blend in so perfectly with their understanding of everything that they basically are Spanish. They're unbearably condescending to everyone else they come across and give advice like "try not to go on about differences between the UK and Spain, no-one cares man!" Finally there are all the people in the middle who make a bit of a effort but ultimately acknowledge that they're still foreign, have their own habits and pecadillos and are basically here to enjoy themselves and learn something. The difficulty is that although you'd like to be in the last group, the only way to achieve that is by feeling both the insecurity of the second group and the blunt pink-faced patriotism of the first group.


Imagine you were explaining the word democracy to an alien. First give him the standard definition: government of the people, for the people and by the people. Then invite him to examine and comment upon capitalist democracy, even at its best. I think the conversation would go like this...

- Democracy does not exist here
How do you mean, our leaders are chosen in free and fair elections?
- To whom do you refer?
Politicians and governments of course.
- But how are they your leaders?
They control the government.
- And what does the government control?
Everything; foreign policy, education, taxation; everything!
- But do they control what is made, how it is made and how it is distributed and to whom?
Well, no.
- And who does?
The people that own the capitalist companies.
- And they decide who does what, when they do it and what they receive for doing it?
- And how are they chosen?
They aren't. They own the things they control.
- How?
They bought it.
- From who?
From the people who owned it before them.
- And how they get it?
The same way.
- And who owned it first?
- Oh.

Liberty is meaningless in a society in which one part of society compels the majority to work in order to enrich that minority, in which that part of society holds permanent monopoly of the planet's resources and uses that to give orders to us all.

Teaching is something for which I have found I have a mixed bag of talents. I have no natural affinity for inspiring children, but manage to make lessons entertaining enough to hold the attention of adults. It has also revealed to me that any job, no matter what interest it may have at first, will eventually get old if you have to do it five days a week, 12 months a year. I remember when I'd just started, I was in a Summer School, and there was another teacher, "Good Tom" (to be contrasted with "bad Tom", the Director of Studies, so-called by the students, not the other staff). Kids of all ages loved him, he fit strangely with adults, though most of us warmed to him in the end. I envied his natural rapport with younger people, the instinctive relationship he had with them. Some of us (both me and "bad Tom") are stiff, cold and humourless, unremittingly adult and unable to ever feel that bond.


I've been in trade unions of various sorts for a while now, but I'm currently a lapsed member of the anarchist CNT. I lasted about a year there, before being finally put off by the cliquey feeling the place gave off (even if the majority of people I met were friendly enough). TEFL-teaching is not a friendly business for building workplace organisations, what with high turnover and as many levels of management as any government department. The thought that I'd ever manage to get enough unity to practise the CNT ideal model of trade unionism (decide everything is big worker assemblies) was enough to make me decide that taking ideological decisions on was what "bureaucratic" and what "revolutionary" was actually a bit of hinderence to doing what needed to be done - using workers' organisations to actually make yourself and the people around you better off and more confident. So I left and I'm putting my name forward for elected workers' rep (for another union, the CGT). If for me liberty means more than letting one class of society own everything, then fighting for that does mean us taking decisions together, democratically. But we don't need a schematic for how to do it, let's see what works.

I've never been a big protester, I've been to lots over the years, but I can never muster the requisite enthusiasm. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a crazy extremist revolutionary type, but if I'm going to strut around waving my red flag I want something tangible to come out of it. Call me a boring bastard, but I want a protest strategy to have some kind of potential victory written into the plan. Take boycotting coca-cola for instance. Now, Coca-cola are arseholes, complicit in all sorts of horrible shit. But I don't think not buying coke on principle is a political response to that. It's a way of making yourself feel better without changing anything. Coke know they aren't going to win back yogurt-weaving hippies with their Palestine-solidarity Mecca Cola and all the rest. They aren't interested in appeasing them, and to be honest people aren't interested in being appeased. Neither I nor anyone else is going to be convinced that coke are nice people, regardless of what they do. So they've no motivation to change. Now. Pick an issue. A winnable issue, call a boycott with a plausible end (say de-segregation of buses) at which point the participants will resume consumption of said product. That's a protest, that's a direct struggle with your opponent to change something. Then I'm a boycotter, then I'm a protester. I don't think anyone should get into this for the badge-wearing opportunities, let alone for the glamour. Because unless you're Swampie, it sure as fuck ain't very exciting.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

I don´t want to live in 2009

Recently, I belatedly got into the BBC drama series, Life on Mars. I´m spending six weeks in the homestead, my parents have it on DVD and I´ve got a lot of time of my hands. On top of that, I rather like John Simms (even if he had a significant hand in the film that launched this prick´s ridiculous career) and given that the show is on Spanish tv (even remaking it as La Chica de Ayer for Antena 3), thought I should get into it.

Anyway, it´s bloody good, cop gets hit by car, goes back to 1973, you don´t know if he´s dead, in a coma, insane or whatever. Lots of cool 70s cars and clothes, as well as one of the best TV characters of all time - Sam Tyler´s boss DCI Gene Hunt. It has an irritating tendency to moralise about 70s police work, as if modern policing was a fluffy politically correct fantasy world, but what can you do?

I really like their vision of 1973. Are people supposed to be nostalgic for times they never lived through? Maybe you can only truly idealise fiction. All I know is that 2009 is a terribly bland time to live through. For me, us naughtians are not only miserable but worse, fatalistic too. Not only to be expect things to be shit, we don´t even have any plan (or desire) to make them less shit. Our national culture is probably the worst off for repackaging whatever bollocks they happen to be selling over the water, or perhaps whatever Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell come up with to put on the telly. We drink mass-produced "Irish" cider with ice, because we saw it on an advert, even though we have a far tastier and authentic english one. There hasn´t been a good new band from these shores in about 10 years, so we just recycle mediocrities and pretend they´re good.

What important thing could really excite you about modern Britain? The coming Conservative government? The "radical reform" of our public services ? A great culture movement that will engage people in a way never seen before? Or maybe just more decades of being lorded over by glorified PR men...

Friday, 10 July 2009

Imperial hubris

I was just watching the mother of squaddie on Channel 4 News. Furious, she blamed the government for her son´s death, blown up in a lightly armoured vehicle venurable to roadside bombs. Moments later another squaddie expressed his disgust at the coming cuts to the military´s budget, and called the Prime Minister "a disgrace".

The reality is that this government or the next will cut government spending, and if you gave most people a choice, cut spending on the NHS or schools or cut spending on the military, they´d give you the same answer. That doesn´t make it easier for people who lose love ones because we´re waging a war that we can´t afford.

But that´s the point, whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of Afghanistan and its government, why is it that a archipelago just off the coast of mainland Europe should imagine that it needs to use its army and resources to support various governments in far-flung places all over the world. We don´t have the money, and at best these conflicts have a tangental relationship to our security (and most likely are actuallly detrimental to them). There´s no more reason that British troops should be occupying parts of Afghanistan than those of Sweden, Holland or Argentina.

From the soldiers and their families´point of view, they´re professionals asked to do a job, who feel they should be given the appropriate equipment to do it properly. If the British Army does it on the cheap, this is what´ll happen.

But, what if the money isn´t there? Surely the only argument, given that ´on the cheap´ is the only way that they can do it, is not to do it at all. That the British Army has no place supporting the government in Afghanistan, Iraq or any other far-off locale. Let other countries, those with money and pretensions to importance worry about all that shite.

And, if we weren´t busy invading places for a mixture of ideology, geo-politics and greed, what would we need an army for? Couldn´t we just say fuck it and spend the rest of the money on, say, windfarms and other forms of sustainable energy. We waste so much money make ourselves unpopular around the world, to "save people" who don´t want us to "save" them, wouldn´t it be better to spend it on helping people?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

say what?

Switched on the radio today on my way home from work. Radio One Newsbeat it was, talking about a story I´d already heard that morning, about how only 2% of council houses were taken up by people born outside the UK and that it wasn´t true they got preference over indigenous families. (I´m not sure why they needed a survey to illustrate this, when firstly there is not a single council in the whole country for which "being foreign" gets you points for the housing list, and secondly it´s just completely obviously untrue. What, is the country supposed to be full of housing officers who hate white people or something?)

Well anyway, when this news item had finished missing the point that disminished resources inevitably lead to bitterness and resentment amongst affected communities, which fairly commonly is directed at people they perceive themselves to competing with (heaven forfend anyone mention that the real problem is that we have a massive shortage of affordable rentable housing in general, that could be solved by, you know, the state getting some for people), it moved onto a reaction interview from ... Nick Griffin!

Now, I know the BNP picked up a couple of MEPs recently and people threw a bit of hissy fit about it. But Jesus, when did this bloke get accepted by the BBC as THE representative of "indigenous Britain"? You couldn´t find a single other person, other than the head of the Nazi Party to interview about this? Not enough problems with our politicians doing everything in their power to racialise every issue, and set people against each other, the state-funded media station is giving the head of a far-right group a platform as national anti-immigration spokesmen on the drive time news! Someone please tell me this didn´t go on across the network, for god´s sake...

Monday, 6 July 2009

the feel of the place

You ever feel like this country has a vague sort of malevolence in the air. There's something I can't quite put my finger on, it's just a feeling but it's there nonetheless. I suppose to notice you might have to spend some time away, but there's something angry and bitter about us. Like none of us are really happy, or feel like we have a stake in anything or anyone. I never normally this melancholy in the Summer...

Friday, 3 July 2009

In death we are all equal?

The front page of the times today carried a picture of Lt Colonel Rupert Thorneloe next to the headline "British commander is killed by taliban bomb". Alongside this, every single bulletin has lead with the story of his death. Mentioned briefly as an afterthought, the simultaneous death of trooper Joshua Hammond.

It surprises even a cynic like me that the press could be so nakedly elitist in its coverage. Any journalist coming across the story must surely have been aware of the pitfalls here. Two men, one an important officer and a commanding officer, the other a regular squaddie die at the same time. They both leave behind grieving relatives and friends, to whom they are equally important. Despite their different lives and statuses they both gave their lives fighting in a war ordered by their political masters.

Yet Lt Colonel Thornoloe gets tributes from the Prince of Wales, front page newspaper coverage, lead articles of the main evening news. The death of a trooper generates just a footnote, an illustration of how littlle our country cares for its soldiers, both living and dead.

(this even before we consider the complete lack of personalisation that ever occurs when an Afghan, civilian or combatant, dies)

Thursday, 2 July 2009

NuLabour speak: "RADICAL"

Ever noticed how government ministers and supporters always use the word "radical" to mean "this really right-wing, I mean, so right-wing you'll wonder what on Earth motivated me to join a supposedly left-wing party in the first place"?

Just a note on this quote:

"It is not taking people's retirement away from them," he said.

"I think this idea that a 25-year-old sits there worrying whether their retirement is 65 or 67 is complete rubbish."
Is it now official public policy that the best way to pass anything is to hope that people aren't paying attention? Is "ah, make 'em work another couple of years, the fuckers won't even notice until it's too late" actually a passable argument for these things nowadays?

And when, after a decade of debating this, will anyone mention the fact that pensions are in fact deferred pay, negotiated as part of our contract, and not, in fact "an unsustainable perk/burden on the tax payer"? A decent pension, quite apart from being a reasonable expectation in a wealthy, developed society, is no more of a perk than anyone else who through high skills levels, good fortune or a good trade union manages to get a good salary and terms and conditions. The question is not "why should I pay for something I don't get myself" but "why aren't my conditions so good?"

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

coming home

I´ve six weeks back in England coming, so I thought I´d make a list of things I´ll be glad to see again ...

roast beef and yorkshire pudding, stuffing, gravy, bicycles, pints, ale, bitter, custard, takeaway curry, fish and chips, being offered tea all the time, places that are green and not pale brown, primark, asda, people speaking proper english, Ipswich Town, cricket, the hot dog stand in the town square in Ipswich, The Duke of Marlborough pub,, SIM only mobile phone contracts, banks with no standing charges, (mostly) toll-free roads, two-storey houses, more than three flavours of crisps, pies, apple crumble, people arriving on time, food from parts of the world other than the one I´m in, people who are disparaging and cynical about their country, people whiter than I am, being able to walk at a normal pace without obstruction ...

(rosbif y pudding de yorkshire, pan relleno con salvia y cebolla, salsa de carne, bicicletas, pintas, cerveza inglesa/amarga, salsa inglesa, curry para llevar, pescado a la romana y patatas fritas, que ofrecen tazas de té a menudo, lugares que son verdes no marrón claro, primark, asda, gente que habla inglés de verdad, Ipswich Town, cricket, el puesto de perritos calientes en la plaza mayor de Ipswich, el Pub Duque de Marlborough,, los contratos de moviles, bancos sin cobras, autopistas sin cobras, casas (no pisos), mas que 3 sabores de patatas fritas, pasteles de carne, crumble de manzana, gente que llega en punto, comida de las partes del mundo que son acá, gente que denigra a su país, gente mas blanco que yo, andar a una velocidad normal sin obstrucción)

things I will miss ... tortilla, nightlife starting at 12am, eating breakfast at 7am after a night out, people being interested in where I come from, regular diversions which involve following people you´ve just met to wherever they happen to be going, learning a new way of expressing myself every day, free food with every beer, botellón/street-drinking, people selling you beers on the street, pretending to run away from the police when they pretend to chase you (see botellón), watching street-sellers doing the same with sheet + strings devices, taking three hours to eat out with friends, spanglish (talking and hearing), sitting in Templo de debod as the sun goes down, being called a guiri, calimuxo, drinking al fresco, boquerones, ham, a mix drink meaning about 100ml of booze, wine costing about a quarter what it does in england, feeling like I should join every overheard conversation in English and patatas bravas...

(tortilla española, comenzar la noche a las 12, desayunar despues, que a la gente le interesa de donde soy, seguir gente que ha acabado de conocer a cualquier sitio que esten yendo, comida gratis con cada caña, botellón!, gente vende cerveza en la calle, fingir huir la poli mientras fingen a perseguirnos (ve botellón), ver callejeros hacen lo mismo con sus productos en sabanas, el spanglish (hablar y oír), sentar en templo de debod durante la puesta de sol,
ser llamado un guiri, calimuxo, beber en terrazas, boquerones, jamón!, que una cubata significa 100ml de alcohol, vino barato, sentir como se debe entrar cualquiera conversación en Ingles, patatas bravas y tardar tres horas para cenar con amigos ...).

Monday, 29 June 2009

Ever noticed...

Ever noticed how the only comments ever published from Latin American contributors on the BBC are incredibly right-wing? Take this selection about the recent coup d´etat in Honduras, which are all busily waffling on about Manuel Zelaya being an evil socialist Chavez-a-like power-crazed megalomaniac for the truly awful crime of "buying votes with food" (well, if you´re gonna buy votes, feeding people in poor countries would seem a relatively harmless way to do it. Sounds like a win-win to me).

At what point do you look at stuff like that as a journalist and conclude that, perhaps, if he won his last election with around 50% of the vote, and was prepared to ask people in a referendum if they wanted to re-elect him, maybe 10 pages of hostile, english-speaking Hondurans with internet access is not exactly a representative sample...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Ban landlords

I looked up the word for landlord in my English-Spanish dictionary the other day, and staring back at me were the words "hijo de puta". What is it about collecting money for sitting on your fat arse all day that makes people utter pricks?

It´s not like they have to do anything more than a token amount of work for a living. The sum total of repairs affected to the property over the duration of my tenancy was the replacement of one shower head, and the disconnection of one faulty extractor fan. That apart he just comes round to collect the rent (actually, he pays someone to do that, being a busy man).

Such is the case with most landlords, whose entire economic model is based on doing as little as possible, whilst spending the whole duration of the contact plotting to keep the deposit. Buy-to-let is a horrendously easy way to make money, and even then people can´t do it honestly. In all my years of renting, reasonable landlords have been out-numbered about 10 to 1.

But then, the people that disproportionately suffer from arsehole landlords are alternately the poor, and the soon to be comfortably off (students). Yet, the amount of activism around poor quality privately rented housing stock, either from students´unions or from anti-poverty groups is virtually non-existent. The mainstream left seem to restrict themselves to oblique, permanently unanswered demands to start building council housing, rather than any systematic attempt at addressing the system as it is and making real improvements in living conditions. Ah well, I´ll just have to muse that I´ve been taken for a lot worse than the €40 this chump conned me out of, and see if these people want any help...

el orgullo viene antes de la caída

I wonder if there´s an equivalent in Spanish for the expression "pride comes before a fall"?
I mean forget that most of the world regards the Confederations Cup as a bit a friendly knock-about and most of the teams qualify by the default of being the least shite of truly woeful confederations.

The Spanish media bollock on about "The Red Legend" like La Selección hadn´t been utter dross for decades prior to winning the European Championships. Most of them were already talking about "the final with Brazil" and they´re pretty much certain they´ll walk the world cup. Well, back to Earth with a bump after losing to a side that only sneaked out of their group because Egypt imploded. Should do them good mind, they could do with reminding that no European side has ever won a world cup outside of their home continent...

Friday, 19 June 2009

Iran: More Belarus than Ukraine

Seeing as comparisons are where it´s at in the world of international politics, can I throw mine in? It´s all very well getting excited about the prospects of the protests in Iran, but does anyone realistically see a threat to the Iranian regime from this movement?

Authoritarian regimes world-over have got to be pretty accustomed to colour revolutions these days, following as they do suspiciously similar patterns the world over. Ahmadinejad looks like his situation is far more Lukashenko than Yanukovych. Like with the former, Ahmadinejad and his supporters rig elections that they´d probably win anyway, just for power hungry control-freakery of it. As a result they´ve both got enough popular support, certainly amongst the police, the army and the establishment, to see off students and liberals camping in parliament square for a bit.

Ahmadinejad will survive, the battered and bruised protesters will go home. Not that their man is much of a threat to the status quo anyway. For what it´s worth my hope is that they´ll succeed, if only because the manner of doing so (street protests) will in itself create openings of democratic space in Iran. I´m not optimistic though.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Internationalism is...

Making sure that the struggles of every people in every corner of that globe, their liberty and civil rights, all are worth exactly the same thing ... namely... worth criticising George Galloway and the Respect party for.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Maths with Florentino

Real Madrid´s annual turnover: approximately €350m.
Combined cost of Kaka and CR7 transfers: €155m
Value of CR7´s 6 year contract: €115m
Value of Kaka´s 6 year contract: €60m
So that´s 1 year of their annual turnover on two players.
Necessary increase in revenue to break even: €55m per year. (16% of current turnover)

How did it work out last time?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Europe moves right aka social democracy´s death-throes

The marquee social democratic parties in Europe are all fucked. The Party of European Socialists lost nearly a quarter of their seats in the last election and they were already a small minority in the European parliament. Look a bit deeper than that and you see that the big guns just fell apart; Labour Party 15.7% Parti Socialiste 16.5% SPD 20.8%.

In the three biggest European economies, all of which have governed their country (more or less) independently in the past, not one could convince in excess of a quarter of the electorate. The party still clinging to power in the UK did the worst, but the PS (in opposition) and the SPD (a junior partner in the governing coalition) did no better.

In fact, almost no PES affiliate Europe-wide actually came out of the Sunday as the largest party in their country (Greece, Malta and Denmark being the only exceptions), and only in a handfull did any of them poll more than 30%.

Now if it were in a few countries, then maybe I might think these had political explanations, just the usual toing and froing between the mainstream parties. But as a Europe-wide trend then it looks like the social democratic centre left could be going extinct.

Beneath the individual afflictions of different parties is their an underlying reason in our society for these parties to be drowning in the sea of history?

What sustained these parties over the course of the 80s and 90s was a mixture of things; the persistence, emotionally if not socially, of their historical base - the mass industrial working class - and the main other one was an ability to appeal to liberal-minded centrists in some sort of opposition to social conservatism and the worst excesses of neoliberalism. They succeeded by being a nicer version of the conservatives and hoping their traditional support didn´t notice.

Eventually of course their traditional support was going to notice that they were doing very little (if anything) in their interest, and either desert them, or (in the case of the younger generation) never turn to them in the first place. And the thing about all those centrists is that they´re fickle as hell, so they wander off as soon as something nicer and shinier comes along, or whenever it looks like this lot aren´t managing capitalism very well.

In the midst of a recession the problem gets exarcebated, because it´s their support that´s suffering, and they´ve nothing to tell them. Once you sign up for neo-liberal consensus there´s not a great deal you can do to support working people in a recession. So when it´s obvious the system isn´t working and you refuse to help people in any significant way, they start to leave you in even greater numbers.

With conservatively-minded people, especially economic, their support stands up even under globalisation and recession, because basically it doesn´t challenge any of their core beliefs. The problem are scrounging shower at the bottom, or, the mass of impoverished people who have now stopped voting. Your support base stays in tact and just asks that you do the same things only harsher. They wait for capitalism to sort itself out.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


The BNP get two MEPs and the whole political establishment wets itself, and Left starts hysterically throwing blame around for whoever may or may not be responsible.

Let´s get a bit of perspective here. Nobody really gives a shit about European Elections, hence the 34% turnout. It´s an insitution with fuck all power, that´s very far away and that nobody ever pays attention to. Unless it´s doing something we don´t like. Of that 34% turnout, the BNP managed to muster 6.4%, giving them the support of wopping 1 in 40 of those eligible to vote.

And the truth is, no-one who wasn´t a fascist yesterday, became a fascist today. Putting a bit of paper in a box doesn´t fundamentally change who you are. So, there´s no point wailing now about people actually voting Thursday, the views that they held on Wednesday. The problem didn´t happen when people put their hands up and said "you know what, this anti-immigrant/foreigner/asians party is for me", it happened over whatever the hell is wrong with our country.

Nor would swamping it with other ballots change anything. So let´s say that a higher turnout sends someone less nazi to the European parliament. It doesn´t make this country any less racist, it doesn´t mean that we´ve changed even one mind about how our society is or should be. It just means we´ve drowned it out with someone desperately clinging to some establishment party to show how they personally, aren´t racist, or are bothered by racism or something like that.

The sky doesn´t fall in because the BNP have MEPs. It changes nothing, other than re-iterating what people have been saying for years, the real job is making our country less of a breeding ground for those kind of views, and until people take that seriously then they´ll continue making headway.

Monday, 8 June 2009

building sandcastles

In the midst of a global economic recession and not one left-wing party, Europe-wide, makes a significant breakthrough.

Am I the only one currently thinking that you might be best off just giving up?

Friday, 5 June 2009

ay, que calor

In four weeks time I´m taking a break from the heat and going back to England. However brilliant thirty degree heat, six months of the year might seem in theory, it´s better for lying on the beach than for attempting to control eleven year olds in a second language.

At the moment I´m wondering if there will still be a Labour Party by the time I get back. Between the Blairites disgruntled by, erm, Gordon Brown being mean to them, the prospect of more trade unions disafiliating and at least one trade union hesitantly moving toward founding a new party, it´s getting pulled apart in a lot of different directions. 

I always think though, however much slagging the left in the LP always gets/got for making the party unelectable (or potentially so), for always complaining about the leadership and basically acting like they didn´t actually want Labour to win or like them very much, it´s always the right wing that takes its ball home when they lose. Ramsay MacDonald, the SDP, now the Blairites, it´s always the "populist" right who think that winning elections means activists shutting the fuck up and doing as they´re told, that are prepared to royally shaft the party when it suits them.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Europeos al español

If it weren´t for the major parties habits of flyposting every available surface, and hanging flags from every tree, then you might struggle to work out that there was an election in two days time. In all my travels around the city I´ve managed to see a grand total of two stalls (one PSOE, one PP) and a van from one of the random "EUROPE´s fantastic, they give us loads of money" parties.

You can´t escape the idea that aside from the Europhile cranks, no-one really gives a shit round here. And if no-one cares here, where the EU is largely credited for making Spain a developed country after years of Franco, then no-one is really going to care anywhere.

As for the results, it´ll be as you were as the PSOE and PP both hold onto their votes, the former because Rajoy is one of the most unpopular opposition leaders in Europe and the PSOE is actually trying to help people through the crisis (being on balance, the most left-wing government in any major Western European country), the latter because Zapatero is, despite all that, a pretty uninspiring human being.

The Izquierda Unida will once again tread water, managing not to deteriorate as badly as their Eurocommie cousins over the water in Italy. Which, with the exception of Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste seems to happening all over Europe. The reality is, for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the UK, the Spanish left is taking no more advantage of the crisis than they are.

Though the IU´s high tide was a good deal higher than any UK equivalent (for a variety of reasons, both historical and relating to the two countries electoral systems), the proof of the pudding in the Left-wing alternative pudding is in how its fortunes are changing in the face of the recession. Now, I´ve never said that it logically follows that economic depression equals a swing to the left. In fact often recessions produce a sort of stoic fatalism that makes people wait it out until the next upswing. If the consequences are global enough, local polite elites can avoid blame for them, even, as is the case in Spain, the effects are stronger locally than the global average.

More than that, if the recession really exposes the instability of global capitalism, and reveals how little it serves the general population, you should still expect a better hearing for those with an alternative. But not any old alternative. Preaching old-style social democracy seems to be no more convincing in bad times than it is in good ones. Neither do these parties seem to be able to articulate a fundamentally different vision of the future that appeals to anything more than the usual groups.

For years I´ve wondered whether I would join a functioning left party in the UK, if one existed. Well, the answer in practice seems to be no. The thought of desperately flyering for the bright mixed-economy nationalizations of the future makes me feel a bit queasy...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

I declare...

Manchester United will win the Champions League final. There´s been much pant-wetting over this Barça team over the past few weeks, especially round these parts. But, I´m gonna put my hand up and say something controversial: they´re overrated.

Let´s take a quick look book over the past couple of years, shall we? First off, this season, La Liga has been shite. Valencia. Shit. Sevilla. Shit. Villareal. Shit. Atletico. Shit. All of them, utter garbage. And above all... Real Madrid are shit. And yet, this Real side, that has conceded 12 goals in their last 3 games, that should´ve lost to Getafe at home, if that lot knew how not to take comically awful penalties in the 90th minute of big games, that couldn´t even get near Liverpool, despite announcing beforehand that they´d piss all over them. A team whose best player is Arsenal and Chelsea reject Lassana Diarra. They´re terrible. And you know what? They´ve cantered into second place after a mid-season run that saw them take 55 points out of 57.

And yet, give them a reasonably effective coach, Van Nistelrooy, with Guti and Robben actually playing regularly and well, and they beat this same Barça side (more or less) the title last year.

Barça have had one challenge this season. Beating Chelsea. And they shouldn´t have. They should have been dead and buried, long before Iniesta´s speculative last minute drive. They´ve ropey first-choice defenders, most of whom are injured. They´ve two fantastic midfielder and one great forward. But I don´t think Yaya Toure, the 2009´s Thierry Henry or Samuel "rich man´s Andy Cole" E´too will exactly scare Vidic and Ferdinand.

Manchester United on the other hand have actually won a difficult league, have a midfield that seems adept at suffocating creative types like Iniesta and Xavi, and the best defence in, well, the world. Oh, and the best attacking player on the planet (and a few other good ones). So they´ll win next week.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Is anyone else struck by how every attempted to explain exactly why MPs need such generous expenses actually makes you feel more annoyed? 

The greed of it is unsurprising. It´s when they justify it I start to wonder what planet these people live on. Like if people fronted up and said, "look, it´s an un-monitored expenses accounts. I got carried away and put stuff on it that I really shouldn´t have, I´m sorry". We might understand, we all feel the pressure of money, whether we´ve got a lot of it or not, and if you had such an arrangement you´d sure as fuck be tempted to put everything under the sun on it, government-funded or not. 

Then someone turns round and tells you, I need all these housing expenses so my husband can live and work in Southampton, whilst I have a constituency home in Luton and another house in London for attending parliament  (to give one example that was cited approvingly by David Aaronivitch) gave us. She needed all these houses to do her job and have a normal family life. 

But the thing about the lives that the rest of us live is that they´re full of compromises. If you find a good job in a different city, you have to make choices; are you prepared to change your life for the opportunity? Are you prepared to compromise your family life by commuting or living somewhere else? Or cause a massive upheavel by all moving to the new place and hoping that your partner finds another job? You weigh your options and you make the best choice for yourself and your family.

Being an MP shouldn´t exempt you from life´s difficulties. It shouldn´t be the case that because you are a Member of Parliament all of your problems must be solved at public expense. If you don´t want to away from your husband all the time, don´t take that constituency in Luton, or alternately move your family to Luton. Don´t expect the rest of to the foot the bill for you splitting your life in three places. Her argument isn´t that outrageous, it´s just that it´s her deciding to remove herself from the idea that she should ever have to endure the normal compromises of life. She takes home a salary that is far in excess of her constituents. It´s not an outrageous request that the cost of doing her job should be re-embursed to her. Beyond that, it´s not our problem how she organises her life.

And it´s the impoverished bewailing of the difficulties of their actually rather luxury lifestyles that really grates, more than the actually greediness.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

"natural" causes

I have three questions:

Firstly, if you physically crush a hundred or so people into a small space, forbid them to leave for hours on end, deny them access to food and water, in conditions that any reasonable person would think hazardous to health, how can any death in those circumstances be plausibly described as "natural"? A natural death is having a heart-attack waiting for the bus, or passing peacefully in your sleep. It´s not keeling over whilst being penned in by dozens of armoured, baton-wielding police.

Secondly, are the deaths of 30 year old males (who are apparently healthy enough to consider it sensible to attend potentially physically demanding protests) of "natural causes" unrelated to police brutality and particular police crushing tactics so common, and the deaths of people detained by the police so uncommon, that your first reaction to learning of such an event would be to automatically accept the explanation unquestioningly rather than to smell something fishy and speculate as much?

Thirdly, given the police force´s history of lying about similar incidents, including the Hillsborough disaster, for which one newspaper was forced to apologise for repeating police fabrications without question, and the De Menezes affair, in which the police were caught repeatedly and deliberately distorting the facts to justify the killing of an innocent man, when reporting such a story would you repeat their unlikely claims of protesters throwing bottles at paramedics rushing to help a hurt comrade, failing to provide the police as the source of the information, failing to quote any person at all, simply reporting it as fact or would you treat the accusation with caution; aware that it both sounds false and eminates from an organisation with a long history of lying to cover their mistakes and excesses?

If your answered these questions with (a) easily (b) accept unquestioningly or (c) report it as truth, so undeniable in fact that you needn´t even provide a quote or source; then congratulations, you must be a journalist for either the BBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Sun or any other major national news outlet.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


From the mid-1990s until last year we apparently lived through a period of prosperity, an economic boom. Apparently the economy was growing, lots of people were getting incredibly rich and average incomes were going up.

But how the hell could anyone tell? For most of us, prosperity meant stagnating real wages, and in the last few years a gentle decline in spending power as inflation accelerated with oil prices. Normal people couldn´t buy houses, couldn´t rent good ones either, they racked up massive debts, their pensions collapsed, they worked harder and longer for the same rewards. Their kids were getting a worse education, their public services were getting cut, packaged, sold-off, then jumping in price. They could see the state of their society deteriorating around them, as whole parts of the country were abandoned to antisocialism.

Meanwhile a small class of super wealthy arseholes systematically enriched themselves. They got the spoils of the ´boom´ and got absurdly, disgustingly rich. And we were told: leave them. Leave them or they´ll leave you. These people are financial heroes, they keep the whole thing from collapsing. If you challenge them, even for a fraction of their enormous wealth, they will give their marvellous bounty to someone else. They will pack up their ball and go home.

Don´t ask them for your wage increases, don´t ask them to pay taxes, don´t demand that their pay packets be within the bounds of basic human decency. For they are the geese that lay the golden egg, and they will take no questions, they will take no interference. Learn to love them, for their are your God.

And we obeyed. We took the paltry pay rises, we let them off their taxes, we stopped our mouths from uttering foul words that might offend the mighty beast.

And now? And now the great God has failed, his world is collapsing around him, and he comes to us to pay the bill. You: on the dole. You: take a pay cut. You: take this cut to health services and that cut to schools. You: slave labour for your dole check. Him: billions of pounds from the Chancellor of the Exchequer so his Empire doesn´t fall flat on its arse.

See, he can´t magic money out of nowhere, he doesn´t create anything. We made all the stuff he´s got, we made it in factories, offices and hospitals. And when it stops working he can only demand that we make it work again. All he does is sit at the top of the pile and accumulate whatever he can.

He had no right to it in the first place, and he´s got no right to it now. If the law says he does, then the law is fucked-up. And if we, the real law of the land, come along and destroy it, fine.

Better yet. While destruction might satisfy our need for revenge, surely taking it back will satisfy more?

Monday, 23 March 2009

arf! obscure foreign policy irony ...

Sadly, I´ve no longer got the archives to my old site, so I can´t point to the stuff I did about how the US and their allies rigged the Afghan constitutional process. Basically they went through this absurd "consultation process" that was run by their proxy administration and then voted on by the self-same provisional government.

This was the original model for governance in Iraq, get some CIA croney (Chalaba, Allawi, whoever), set them up as provisional president, write a constitution that gave the executive all the power, then make sure they´re the only face on TV and radio, and will thus inevitably triumph in the forthcoming elections.

In the first post-constitution elections in Afghanistan, CIA representative Hamid Karzai had 90% of all the media coverage in the entire elections, on both TV and radio, as well as the entire resources of state on his side (compare that to say Hugo Chavez, who apparently suppresses free speech, by shutting one of the dozen media corporations that are all massively hostile to his government and pump out propaganda 24/7).

And now, guess what, they´ve fallen out with Karzai and are trying to shoe-horn in a Prime Minister role with more power (appointed by them apparently!), so they can undermine him! On account of him being a corrupt fucker who deals with all sorts of dodgy Warlord types. Turns out having a democracy and checks and balances is vital after all...

Friday, 20 March 2009

tragedy and empathy

My flatmate has a very blunt way of expressing himself. Particularly after a few drinks. Well, more provocative than anything. As he and his drinking buddies woke me from my painfully disturbed night of sleep (I woke Saturdays, the rest of the world does not...), the talked animatedly. By the time half their number had departed and I´d finished showering and drinking my coffee they´d started a full-blown row that had brought an irate neighbour to the door. "Hombre, te aseguro, si podría callarles, lo haría... yo, yo no salí anoche, me he leventado por el trabajo, que comenza en dos horas. Yo preferiera quedar en mi cama..." Enraged neighbour went away more sympathetic than angry.

I settled down to follow their arguments, and turn the tone a little more comradely. Two friends had been talking of the tragic turn of events in Germany, where a seriously disturbed young man had ended the lives of several former schoolmates before taking his own. My flatmate, as he has expressed on a previous occasion to similar effect, had bluntly announced that he didn´t give a fuck about such things, just as the others didn´t care about the people killed everyday around the world, for reasons no purer than those concocted by this maniac.

Outrage ensued as the others castigated him for his callous, uncaring attitude toward the unfortunate dead. As I attempted to cool the temperate I took his side, by way of clarifying his arguments in the reasonable terms of the barrack room lawyer - "we´re not asking for anything unreasonable, sir". When I took his argument up the more reasonable it seemed to me. It´s easy to feel and express sympathy for the victims of arbitrary violence: to declare "we are all Marta" or to put up a poster of Madaleine McCann. After all, what do you actually have to do other than feel it. Marta´s killer is in prison, the police are/were searching for Maddie, however intense your empathy, there was nothing to be done.

My other friend was telling me, "we all know how terrible things are in Africa (sic), but this is different". Maybe it was the cultural proximity, the deliberate nature of the atrocity, but it was definitely different. For me the difference, and the reason why we don´t feel so profoundly for the horrors of everyday life, is the way in which we are responsible. Sometimes regular people carry acts of extreme brutality. No-one need condemn them, they are so obviously horrific that no one could. The authorities are dealing with them, they agree that these are contemptible actions. With the effects of poverty or tyranny, society, at least the power structures of our society are responsible. They will not be punished, things will not change, they will not be pursued, caught, made to pay.

There´s something to do about all that endemic stuff, something to take responsibility for. The thinks that challenge us, weigh more heavily than the things that we can feel strongly about, but that call for us to do nothing. The way society kills people is neglected even when close to home, even if it´s pensioners dying out of the lack of heating in the Winter, or for lack of aircon in the Summer. If the killing of the elderly through neglect had the same emotional impact as Marta´s murder, we´d have been storming parliament long ago.

This functionless empathy (Diana Syndrome you might call it) is a calling card to others in a destructive callous world. We all want to know that we aren´t entirely emotionless, that the tragedies of others still exercise. Safely expressed, without the need to do anything. Demonstrating against terrorism the same. We shall not be bowed by your bombs, as we support the powers that be in dealing with your tiny threat.

It´s understandable, but ultimately worthless, even self-indulgent. Which is why to some of us, the hollowness of it makes us angry.