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 ...).