Friday, 31 July 2009
When George Bush stridently proclaimed that no American citizen would ever stand trial in the International Court on his watch he wasn't kidding. Obama's attitude to international law has yet to be tested but there is little evidence so far of much change of heart in the American administration. International law and extradition treaties are something to be used by America when it suits, and ignored the rest of the time. Nothing will be allowed to get in the way of America's role as World Leader. Britain happily plays the part of most favoured poodle, rolling over on demand. That's why we invaded Iraq, and that's why Asperger's sufferer and UFO nut hacker Gary McKinnon will be shortly taking a trip stateside accompanied by a couple of crew-cut, grim faced US Marshals. The Empire strikes back and the British establishment does what it does best; America's bidding.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
A flu pandemic will be no laughing matter of course, and even if the death toll remains relatively small every fatality will be a personal tragedy. No one who has lost someone close to them wants to hear a lot of cod philosophy about life and death but the truth is that living is actually quite a dangerous undertaking; and is likely to remain so. I mention this because, and again I don't underestimate the misery that a flu pandemic will bring, because as a society we seem to be in the grip of an outbreak, not of influenza, but of anxiety. Never has a culture been so cushioned against misfortune, and never has a people been so worried about what might go wrong. Children are driven to school, to see friends, to take part in sport and other activities. Never allowed to just wander off and explore the world for fear of abduction, life is portrayed by parents, not as an adventure but as one long anxiety ridden quest for security.
A certain level of concern, as opposed to anxiety, is of course vital for our survival. If we aren't concerned about our kids getting run over we won't bother to teach them how to safely cross the road. If we aren't concerned about eating next year we won't save the seed corn and so on but increasingly we are seeing a rational precautionary principle being overtaken by levels of anxiety bordering on the clinical. It's no good sticking our heads in the sand regarding the threat from radical Islam, but the chances of a terrorist outrage bear no relation to the amount of time devoted to the threat in the media and the levels of anxiety generated. From knife crime to credit crunch to obesity, the list of things to worry about seems endless.
Politically all this has relevance because the more anxious we are the more we turn to strong leaders to look after us. The roots of fascism lie deep in our psyche and I am convinced that the rise of authoritarian government and the levels of anxiety in society are closely related. I am not adding to the levels of anxiety by suggesting that one moment people are wearing face-masks and washing their hands every five minutes and before you know it storm troopers are marching down the High Street, it's just that I think that a bit of collective bucking up and chilling out might not go amiss.
Saturday, 25 July 2009
As readers of this blog will know, I take more than a passing interest in the smoke and mirrors world of such things as escapology, wrestling and cons from find the lady to the kind of "long cons" portrayed in The Sting". Imagine how thrilled I was to receive an invitation to perform the staring role in such a production. Yes, I have just had a letter assuring me that over eight million US dollars is sitting in the HuaXia Bank in China awaiting my collection. All for a 50-50 split with the sender of the letter. You can't con an honest punter, cynics make lousy marks, and the second class postage was a bit of a giveaway.
Friday, 24 July 2009
The handful of workers occupying the Vestas wind turbine plant on the Isle of Wight are hanging on in there in the face of intimidation from both the company and the police. Solidarity seems to be building and we can but wish them well. In the short term of course, the workforce are fighting for some kind of job security in what ought to be an expanding sector of the economy. In the longer term actions like this may herald the return of class consciousness and class confidence as well. Another possible byproduct might even be the awakening of the green movement as they enter blinking into the real world of the logic of the market place. Not before time.
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
I have always had a bit of a soft spot for those political actions that are usually dismissed by the po-faced brigade as "stuntism". Of course stunts are in no way a substitute for collective mass action but we all know that. Many stunts require large amounts of bottle and not only the ones that involve being suspended from Tower Bridge by your toes. I once knew a Christian Anarchist (don't ask) who at the height of the Cold War decided to go leafleting in Moscow. He lasted about five minutes before the inevitable arrest and KGB interrogation.
I have only recently learned about a stunt from the past that sounds bang on target. A few days before Christmas 1938 about a hundred unemployed men rocked up at The Ritz, sat down and demanded afternoon tea much to the horror of the assembled toffs. So next time you think about looking down your nose at Ian Bone and Chris Knight's latest bout of lunacy, remember, it's all part of a wonderful tradition. Long may it continue.
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
If I am ever asked where I was when England beat the Aussies at Lords I will be able to say, hand on heart,"at Lords". Well, not actually at Lords in the sense of being inside the ground but rather as one of a number of blokes (what woman would be so daft) peering through the railing in the hope of seeing something of the action. With only a couple of wickets left to fall I thought I would find a pub with Sky and watch the closing moments. They don't seem to do pubs in St John's Wood or at least I couldn't find one. Why do the wealthy choose to live in such dreary places? The visit to Lords was actually part of one of my regular cross town hikes and I had arrived via Paddington Green, Church Street Market and Lisson Grove. The social contrast that you can encounter in a ten minute walk never ceases to amaze me. Anyway, well done England.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
I suppose you would be hard put to find two more dissimilar sporting venues than Lords and Bethnal Green's York Hall yet this weekend both of these venerable establishments have seen sporting drama of the first order. At Lords it remains to be seen if the Aussies will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or if the English team can break a 75 year jinx at the ground and take the match. Over on the other side of town York Hall saw in both the Jon Thaxton-Tom Glover fight and the McIntosh-Cleverly stand off for the British Light-Heavyweight Title examples of what is best about the sport of professional boxing.
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Boris Johnson thinks that the quarter of a million quid that he receives for his Torygraph column is "chicken feed". Goldman Sachs are set to pay out record bonuses this year and you really don't want to know how much their London HQ office cleaners are being paid. All good material for the traditional end of week pub argument. If you want to actually have some facts to back up your eye popping, six pint rant check out the Office of National Statistics website. Here is a little taster. Median gross annual earnings - £20,801. Now that is what I call chicken feed.
Monday, 13 July 2009
I called into my local Borders today to pick up the last ever issue of Lobster (it will continue online) and have a browse around. With a circulation of only 1000 I don't suppose that Lobster publisher Robin Ramsay has bought a lot of Tuscan villas on the proceeds but still and all, it is hardly a snip at four quid a throw. Mind you, considerably cheaper than The Idler that has now gone hardback can you believe and has a cover price of an eye watering £18. Clearly aimed at the idle rich rather than us work-shy pensioners.
I have never been able to understand those fans who insist that the only way to make cricket interesting is to turn it into some kind of hybrid baseball. The great thing about test cricket is that it's a bit like a good book: you can dip in and out at will and never really know what the next page will hold. By lunchtime yesterday it looked as though, despite Collingwood's patient and determined stand, that England faced a humiliating defeat. Enter tailenders Anderson and Panesar. Now there must be a thousand club players who are convinced that they can bat better than Monty Panesar but be that as it may, he and James Anderson clung on to salvage a draw in a truly nail biting finish. Lovely stuff.
Sunday, 12 July 2009
BNP leader Nick Griffin sounded like the voice of reason and moderation on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. Wot me a racist? No way guv. We had better all get used to this as Griffin is clearly going to be spending more time on our screens. Just a couple of small points. Griffin has realized that he just can't fail to score points by pointing out that the liberal elite don't want immigrants in Hampstead but that it is working class areas such as Dagenham that have to bear the brunt of newcomers putting further strain on an already overburdened social infrastructure. Well yes, but of course some immigrants do in fact go and live in Hampsead. The wealthy ones. Given the choice few would opt to live in the shadow of Fords rather than on the edge of Hampstead Heath. It's just that the poor, regardless of ethnic or national background, don't have that choice.
Griffin got in a terrible muddle when he started to try and define what it was to be "British" or "English" and got even deeper in the mire when Marr insisted on bringing Kelly Holmes into the equation. Was Holmes British, Black British, Mixes Race English or what? Griffin helpfully pointed out that she wasn't Welsh. Unlike Shirley Bassey I suppose Nick. There are lots of interesting things about Kelly Holmes. Outstanding athlete, able to motivate kids, seems a likeable enough woman. Surely the least interesting thing to do with Kelly Holmes would be to pigion hole her in an ethnic or nationality sense. But what can you expect of a man who admits to reading Mein Kampf at the age of fourteen?
Friday, 10 July 2009
I don't know how accurate a portrayal of the city of Baltimore it is, but The Wire is proving to be one of the best things on the box for a long time and certainly one of the more intelligent American progs. Underneath the brilliant dialogue and fast moving action there is some very neatly observed social comment and of course there are some great characters. For myself I'm just disappointed that Stringer, after a successful career as a gangsta dope dealer, is persuaded to sink to being a property developer. That what "business studies" does to you I suppose.
Good review of The Wire in Freedom a couple of issues back by the way.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
As is well known , it is one of the objects of this blog to keep you completely up to date regarding the leading edge of scientific research and once again we are on the case big time. Hard on the heels of the recent findings suggesting that a half decent cup of tea is just as good for re-hydration as water (and in some parts of London, cheaper) comes news that caffeine is the dog's when it comes to preventing Alzheimer's. (Independent Monday 6th, must be true) Apparently, to have the desired effect you will need to be drinking two strong cups of coffee a day or fourteen cups of tea.
So there you have it. I normally consume two strong cups of coffee and fourteen cups of Rosie a day so whatever the reason for the senile drivel posted here, it's clearly not caffeine deficiency.
Sunday, 5 July 2009
As Wimbledon and Henley approach their respective annual climaxes of champers and strawberries this seems like a good time to ponder that most English of obsessions, sport and class. At first glance it all looks pretty straightforward. Polo for the toffs, tennis for the middle class and football for the proles is surely just a reflection of the expense involved in participating in each of these sports and anyway with more money sloshing around in a single Premier League club than it takes to stable the world population of polo ponies , isn't all this a bit dated? Professional and amateur, gentlemen and players seem like concepts as old fashioned as the belief that victory at Waterloo really was assured on playing fields on the outskirts of Slough. Even the class division between league and union is not what it was. But don't let anyone tell you that class is irrelevant in modern sport. It's just that the distinctions are no longer quite so clear. Anyway, as in so many areas of life, it's in the margins, on the cusp, the interface of this and that, here is where the interesting stuff is to be found.
The truth is that sport has always crossed class boundaries. Two examples where the upper and working class have shared a common love of a sport disapproved of by the middle class are found in boxing and horse racing. Not that this shared love of ring and turf has led to any kind of equal relationship; far from it. In the case of boxing it was in the old time prize ring that the nature of the relationship was at it's most transparent. The aristos did the backing and the workers did, and received, the beating. In the multi-million pound industry of racing one class owns the racehorses while the other cleans the stables for the minimum wage. The stable-lads all hope to make it as jockeys, but of course few do. The two sports come together in the annual stable lads boxing tournament when the young lads perform for the entertainment of owners and trainers. I say "young" lads because the term is used to describe stable hands of any age; much like the colonial and Southern States "boy".
Rowing is usually perceived as a posh sport, and so it is but less well known is the strong working class tradition that has always existed in the sport. This tradition had it's roots in the tough world of Thames Watermen and Lightermen and these men might have been good enough to act as Royal Bargemasters but no way were the toffs going to have them competing at Henley. Just to be on the safe side the Amateur Rowing Association defined as professional anyone who worked at all. This led to the establishment of working class rowing clubs ( the clue is in the names, Putney Town and Thames Tradesmen for example) and a National Rowing Association that ran a parallel world of rowing totally segregated from the one dominated by the public schools and the universities. To give you a flavour of this I will just mention that an old mate of mine who was for a long time captain of one of these clubs once started his annual report in the club newsletter, "Dear Comrades"
This state of affairs continued until the 1950s when the ARA finally relented and allowed working class rowers to take part in the "official" sport. It was a merger not without incident. The story is still told on the river of the first time that Putney Town competed in the posh Molesey Regatta. The public school types were having fits as the oiks romped home in race after race. Finaly the Putney Towners set off to the committee tent to collect their prizes only to find, as the ultimate snub, the trophies standing on a table in an otherwise deserted tent.
Playing fields of Eton or not, they don't like it up 'em.