Friday, 26 February 2010

Football finance: doom

Portsmouth, a decent team with a good history, has gone into administration after being passed round shady companies like an unwanted present. Chester City, which has repeatedly gone bust, has been expelled from the Blue Square League, and Bournemouth faces a winding-up order too. Football's been the darling of the fast-buck crowd for 15 years - now the hangover's here.

Still, it's not all bad news. While Man U owes £700 million (!), Stoke is in profit and externally debt-free! It made half a million pounds on turnover of £54 million (up from last year's £11m) - with the support of a committed local owner. Of course, the profit is imaginary - Peter Coates has given the club £17m and plans to put another £24m in - so it's a rich man's plaything, but at least Stoke City isn't being milked for profit or used as a tax-efficient vehicle or whatever it is that happens at other clubs.

Let's hope we beat Arsenal this weekend. Ireland-England rugby too! And Villa are going to beat Man U in the FA cup… I hope.

Text us NOW!

Unlucky Dip has posted a couple of clips about 'interactivity' - old media's desperate attempt to appear responsive to the jerking knees of the Public as a means of filling space and because it feels uncool to be authoritative. Here's the one from Brooker's Newswipe: acerbic and accurate. And good swearing.

I'm with Cafferty: I don't want to hear what Mike from Upper Gornal 'thinks': I'd like to hear an expert's view. Unfortunately, even studio guests can be morons now - especially on science (must have a loon putting the anti-climate change view, or the pro-homeopathy view 'for balance') and other sensitive subjects.

Oh, and the plan to cut BBC 6music is insane. It's a distinctive service which fills a clear gap in provision. How about cutting Radio 1, or BBC3 - they're both travesties of public service?

Steve Bell: genius

(Nicked from the NSPCC's adverts)

'Britain does not participate in or condone torture'

Said Jack Straw, government minister, reading from the same script the Prime Minister and other ministers regularly reel off.

Oh yeah? It's not what the judge thinks - here's the paragraph which he withdrew under government pressure, and which has now been restored by the Court of Appeal.

"168. Fourthly, it is also germane that the Security Services had made it clear in March 2005, through a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee, that "they operated a culture that respected human rights and that coercive interrogation techniques were alien to the Services' general ethics, methodology and training" (paragraph 9 of the first judgment), indeed they "denied that [they] knew of any ill-treatment of detainees interviewed by them whilst detained by or on behalf of the [US] Government" (paragraph 44(ii) of the fourth judgment). Yet, in this case, that does not seem to have been true: as the evidence showed, some Security Services officials appear to have a dubious record relating to actual involvement, and frankness about any such involvement, with the mistreatment of Mr Mohamed when he was held at the behest of US officials. I have in mind in particular witness B, but the evidence in this case suggests that it is likely that there were others. The good faith of the Foreign Secretary is not in question, but he prepared the certificates partly, possibly largely, on the basis of information and advice provided by Security Services personnel. Regrettably, but inevitably, this must raise the question whether any statement in the certificates on an issue concerning the mistreatment of Mr Mohamed can be relied on, especially when the issue is whether contemporaneous communications to the Security Services about such mistreatment should be revealed publicly. Not only is there some reason for distrusting such a statement, given that it is based on Security Services' advice and information, because of previous, albeit general, assurances in 2005, but also the Security Services have an interest in the suppression of such information."

Oh my aching sides

Morning all. Slightly fuzzy today, but a lot to do: 2 PhD theses to read, a Renaissance literature class to prepare and my friends Cruel Brother are playing at the Chindit tonight.

Last night's Comedy Night at the Little Civic was excellent. Lots of people there and some very funny acts. Jim Smallman told tales of alcoholism, teaching and audience interaction which made up for his baseball cap, and Tony Law offered a routine which mixed self-reflexive stuff - like Stuart Lee - with occasionally surreal outbursts. He also seemed to imply that Michael Macintyre's routine is made up of other comedians' lines! Canadian humour, eh?

In between was a local act who swung between unfunny observation and very funny asides. I particularly liked his suggestion that Pete Docherty is the only celebrity not to have a shortened name like SuBo or JLo.

There's another one on April 1st, appropriately. Recommended.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Do your bit

Some of my students are holding a bakesale for Haiti on Monday - MC Building foyer. They asked me to donate 'unwanted books': I threw them out for the revolting suggestion, but I'll give them some money instead.

Smart, in so many ways.

Back In The Office

…and feeling as weary as Bruce Willis in Die Hard (pick your own number).

The concert at Symphony Hall was wonderful, though it was punctuated by coughing choruses, and the applause started the moment the last note was out, which annoyed me slightly because I like to let the music sink in a bit.

Still - great music, played excellently and a very big crowd (I was the youngest there, as usual).

Off to teach now…


I also want one of these - if they're as good as claimed.

The Bloom Box is a block of fuel cells which claim to be twice as efficient as other energy generators: 1 Box can power 100 homes. If it runs on fossil fuels, it produces half the carbon of other methods. If it runs on renewable energy, it's pretty much carbon neutral!

The Hegemon could easily run on one or two units (around £400,000 each, payback within 5 years). I could run my house easily on a mini-one. Google and EBay are already using them.

Facebook? Nah, I want Booklegs

I want:

Cameron's on the naughty step again

I mentioned a couple of days ago that David Cameron employed disgraced News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications. This is probably the origin of Cameron's implausible claim that he likes nothing better than playing darts and drinking canned Guinness.

Today, it turns out that while editor, Coulson employed a private detective who had just been released from prison for blackmail and had been charged with corrupting police officers. This makes his claim to have known nothing about his paper's wiretapping activities rather dubious - and rather clashes with the Tories' hysterical claim to be the party of law'n'order.

Evidence seen by the Guardian shows that Mr A, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was blagging bank accounts, bribing police officers, procuring confidential data from the DVLA and phone companies, and trading sensitive material from live police inquiries.

Mr A cannot be named now because he is facing trial for a violent crime, but his details will emerge once he has been dealt with by the courts. Coulson tonight refused to say whether he was aware of Mr A's criminal background, or of his return to the paper following his prison term. He said: "I have nothing to add to the evidence I gave to the select committee."
The latest disclosures bring to four the number of investigators known to have worked for the NoW while Coulson was either editor or deputy editor of the paper. All four have since received or had criminal convictions. All four are known to have used illegal methods to gather information.
The new details emerged on the day a committee of MPs criticised the "collective amnesia" and "deliberate obfuscation" of News Internationalexecutives over their attempts to cover up the phone-hacking scandal. 

I'd love to be wiretapping Tory HQ today!

Cultural vole

I'm teaching 6-8 this evening. I usually stay in the office all day, but I've decided to take the afternoon off this time: there's a fantastic concert over at Birmingham's Symphony Hall.

I'm really going for Vaughan Williams's dark, brooding Fourth Symphony, but the Tchaikovsky (Romeo and Juliet) and Chopin (Piano Concerto No 2) will be excellent too.

After teaching - Comedy Night at the new Little Civic. I always like a good laugh after teaching…

Poor Manchester City

Reduced to 11 international players worth only hundreds of millions of pounds, they were sent out defenceless against a Stoke team of journeymen - and lost 3-1.

OK, they had a harsh sending off, but they still should have dispatched us quickly: instead, we scored first (82nd minute), they immediately equalised (I knew that would happen), then Adebayor was defenestrated and we scored two in extra time to get through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 1972. They even fell for Rory Delap's long throw - the only tactic we've employed in the last two years!

Now we'll get hammered by Chelsea…

Still, bragging rights over Neil will be exercised to the full.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

UKIP bats for Britain once again

The MEP and former leader of UKIP (now led by an even madder Lord Pearson - europhobe, homophobe, climate change denier, xenophobe, religious bigot, expenses fiddling millionaire) Nigel Farage has reminded Europeans of British charm and good manners with a tirade of personal insults ('the charisma of a damp rag'; the appearance of 'a low-grade bank clerk' amongst other things), attached to a description of Belgium as a 'non-country'. He accused van Rompuy of being unheard of because 'I've never heard of you', which only displays his insularity - van Rompuy was Prime Minister of Belgium.

All rather cheeky from a man with all the charm of bird flu from an artificial country rammed together via conquest and bribery.

Here's the great leader - clearly a man of taste. Well done Nigel, diplomatic as ever.

You think you've got problems?

Most of you probably don't pay much attention to Ireland except when your teams lose at rugby, football, guerilla warfare and so on.

So you'll have missed a wonderful real-life soap opera recently: TDs (=MPs) resigning because they've not been made party leader in their first year, the Minister of Defence resigning in disgrace, the Minister for Potatoes resigning in disgrace, another TD resigning in a huff, all the banks going bust, the Prime Minister admitting that he regularly carried round suitcases of cash donated by property developers (while he was the Finance Minister he claims not to have had a bank account, the former Prime Minister who imported weapons for the IRA, who owned an island, a fleet of helicopters which he used to visit his shirtmaker in Paris and a €45 million estate while earning £IR3500 and tapped the phones of opponents and journalists… loads more.

The problem is that because it's next door and white, nobody thinks of Ireland as a postcolonial nation. In reality, it's just like the other colonies you were thrown out of: a foreign élite was replaced by an incredibly tight group of people who controlled the government, the judiciary, the law, business, industry, education and local government. They all went to Trinity College Dublin or UCD after attending two or three schools. The little people don't and never have got a look-in. Their job is to vote for the party their great-grandparents fought for in the Civil War (Fianna Fail, who accepted what the British gave them, or Fine Gael, who liked what the British gave them) without regard for the rotten economic and political state of the country.

The politicians are the bankers are the developers are the businessmen are the clergy are the politicians and round and round it goes in a carousel of complacency, greed and selfishness.

While minor weirdoes resign, have any ministers, developers or bankers gone to prison or really paid for their mistakes or crimes? No. No they haven't.

In the words of a recent Kenyan government minister: 'Now it is our turn to eat'. In Ireland, it's potato blight for most and banquets for a few. 'Twas ever thus.

All Hail Sachin Tendulkar

Obviously I'll lose most of my readers when I utter the magic word: cricket!

Tendulkar is one of the greatest Indian cricketers of his generation. Today, he smashed 200 in a one-day international against South Africa. 200 in a 5-day Test match is rare: it's never happened in a one-day, and he did it with only 3 sixes (i.e. six runs awarded for hitting it over the boundary in the air). This is the man who was booed a while ago for slow scoring. And he's almost 37 years old. 200 not out in 147 balls - a masterclass.

Respect My Authoritah

Blackwater, now Xe, is the most dubious of the privateer operations the US allowed to conduct armed operations in the countries it invaded. Lots of civilians were murdered by their employees.

Turns out that the company was helping itself to hundreds of US army weapons without permission - and giving them to employees who shouldn't have been carrying any sort of weapon.

Who signed the paperwork? Somebody calling himself 'Eric Cartman'. Which rather fits their attitude in the field.

Gordon hits out

Taiwan's Apple Daily excelled with its CGI extrapolation of what might have happened between Tiger Woods and his wife.

Now they've gone one better: Gordon Brown's violent outbursts in beautifully rendered graphics. It must be true - they couldn't have made this stuff up.

Own goal

UEFA thinks your team may go bust. While the FA and the Premier League have expressed absolutely no concern at all about Manchester United's £716 million debt (this is a sports team, remember, not a pension fund or developing country) and Liverpool's £400 million, UEFA is concerned that debt funding distorts competition and may lead to financial disaster.

The figures are stunning. They looked at 732 European teams' finances and discovered that 18 Premiership teams (Portsmouth and West Ham owe hundreds of millions more, but weren't counted because their financial difficulties led to withdrawal of their UEFA licences) owe more money than all the other 714 clubs put together. These teams owe €4.5 billion - 56% of the European total.

Of course, Portsmouth and West Ham's difficulties mark a significant wrinkle: they owe a small amount compared with Liverpool and Man United, but creditors are going to be much more lenient with a global brand name, whereas smaller teams will be encouraged, then ruthlessly punished for their hubris. This is perhaps the biggest problem: it means that the glamour teams can buy whoever they want and distort competitions whereas aspirational clubs won't be able to invest in players and resources by raising money on the financial markets, and therefore won't be able to challenge top teams.

UEFA's solution is the Financial Fair Play system, which requires teams to break even from 2012-13: this would stop clubs going bust, but wouldn't prevent distortion - clubs could still attract Moneybags to shovel cash in their direction (like Abramovich) as long as a return wasn't expected.

I'd like to institute the purest Marxist system going - that of the American NFL. It's helped by their college draft system of course, but I'm sure we could work something out. They have  a wage cap per team, and the bottom teams get first pick of the new intake - which might make for more interesting seasons too.

I think Stoke's OK - it lost £3m last year, which isn't disastrous. The owner and manager are canny individuals who seem to balance financial responsibility with ambition. Football clubs aren't all financial vehicles like Man U - some will remain community clubs, and others (unfortunately for some) are playthings for rich wankers.

Remember the old proverb: to make millions from football, start with billions and buy a club.

Don't let the buggers get you down

In case you missed it, the News of the World spent lots of money bugging lots of peoples' phones (illegally, of course). Not the phones of evil-doers, of course - investigative journalism isn't really that paper's forte. No, they hacked into the voicemail of sports players, minor royals and micro-celebs. For some reason, they did it it Gordon Taylor, head of the footballers' trade union, the PFA - and paid him £1m to shut up about it. One of their journalists went to prison for hacking into some prince's phone, and they claimed it was an isolated case. The editor, Andy Coulson, unconvincingly claimed that he knew nothing about it, but resigned anyway. Guess where he is now! He's David Cameron's director of communications! Ironically, given his party's clamour about Gordon Brown's alleged bullying, one of his journalists was paid £800,000 compensation for 'persistent bullying' by… Andy Coulson!

Er… the Guardian found that 91 people had been hacked, that the police knew, and did nothing about it.

Now the Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has issued a big report on privacy and the press, with a large section on Murdoch's paper. They condemn the paper for being obstructive and imply that the paper's executives lied to them, and criticise the police for not wanting to do a proper investigation.

What's News International's response? That the report is a political conspiracy between the Guardian and the Committee - not natural bedfellows given that the chairman is a Tory. It's an important report for media/cultural studies students because it raises issues about morality, journalistic ethics and justification and about press regulation. The Press Complaints Committee is run by the newspapers and is notoriously useless - but would you want a state committee overseeing what goes into the papers?

Ego corrective

I Googled myself this morning. Not, you understand, to see what people are saying about me, if anything. I just wanted to find the reference to a paper I published a couple of years ago.

The results were fascinating. I have a fairly rare name, other than in Ireland. But it seems that all the other people with my name are high achievers in their chosen fields.

They are:
A recently murdered gangster in Dublin who had 'people queuing up to kill him'.
2 doctors
1 Professor of Nuclear Physics.
1 professional soccer coach (albeit in the US).
1 Special Effects designer.

There's also an eponymous verse novel about an Irish pornographer, by Anthony Burgess. Not his best, to be honest.

Note to self: must do some work.

What are your namesakes up to?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Poor David Cameron. None too bright.

A long time ago, he said it was time to end 'Punch and Judy politics' - before spending the intervening period abusing Gordon Brown in an abusive student-debating fashion (and despite having a reputation for being utterly poisonous). In addition - his political strategist Steve Hilton was arrested for loutish behaviour - apparently top Tories don't need to actually buy train tickets.

Next up was Dave's silly Banana Republic-style personal posters. Then his sidekick Osborne announced that the solution to the banking crisis is to sell us the banks we'd already paid for and supported - at a low price. The only other problem with this brilliant wheeze is that we need the bank shares to reach 70p to get our money back. So selling shares to us at half price means that investors won't want the shares - so we'll never get our money back. He's going to be chancellor, by the way.

Now Dave's in trouble with the serious economists. He's been mocking Labour for weeks, suggesting that the International Monetary Fund (a bunch of reactionaries, by the way) might need to intervene in the British economy, as they did in the 1970s - a major humiliation.

Let's turn to the IMF. What do they say?

Oh dear. They say that David's plan to immediately pay off the debt we incurred saving David's banking friends and donors is a really bad idea. They seem to think that Gordon's plan to keep investing in the economy while reducing the £170bn deficit slowly is more likely to prevent ruin.

This government thing. It's not like having a jolly old chinwag down at the Bullingdon Club, is it?

Size matters

Apple has withdrawn a slew of iPhone Apps by small companies and individual focussing on sexual content - aggregators of pictures of naked women mostly 'because women… found the content getting too degrading and objectionable'.

What do you think? I'm not a fan of porn, taking a feminist stance on this, but I'm also concerned that major corporations shouldn't be the arbiters of what adults should or should not see - that's up to elected leaders. I'm also interested in the notion that there's an acceptable level of degradation.

However: that's Apple's right - it's their store. What does annoy me though is their inconsistency. While deleting apps by unknowns, they've retained the Playboy and Sports Illustrated apps. Why? Because, according to Phil Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing (and what an appropriate surname that is), Playboy is 'a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format'. 

Which is hardly a moral stance. If you're a highly successful pornographer, your products can't be objectionable. If you're an amateur, you're degrading. So size does matter. 

How capitalism works, folks. 

The last word on Steve Reich

I've been going on about him all week, I know. So I thought I'd post The Orb's Little Fluffy Clouds, which samples Reich's Electric Counterpoint and is generally constructed along the lines of his method and that of other minimalists: loads of electronic music derives from his sampling techniques (e.g. Aphex Twin, Radiohead's later work and lots of others).

Reich was highly amused by the sample, and told his record company not to sue, which was rather sweet of him.


After court, I took the opportunity to wander over to the Cathedral. Coventry, thanks to the sterling work of the Luftwaffe, hosts the ghostly shell of a fine medieval cathedral, linked to a fantastic 1950s modernist replacement (by Basil Spence), dedicated to peace and reconciliation. The rest of medieval Coventry was also destroyed, replaced by a seemingly endless concrete shopping centre, some of which sells tertiary education.

In the Cathedral, all the big names of mid-century art are represented by statues, stained glass, crosses and murals, notably Jacob Epstein, Sutherland and Piper. The pillars are slim, the organ is an absolute masterpiece, the architecture daring, beautiful… and yet. The art is stunning, but the building didn't quite work for me. I admired everything about it, but thought it fell short theologically (even though I'm an atheist, I do know a bit about this stuff - from my years as an altar boy). The problem is this. Here's the view down the nave towards the altar.

Stunning, I hope you agree. Modern and yet referring back to the vanished building. However, you wouldn't know from this direction that there are a set of beautiful stained glass windows along each side. You have to be standing where the ministers are to see them: i.e. transcendental beauty is denied to the congregation, which gets unrelieved concrete (just like living in Coventry) but available to the clergy. This is part of the the view they get:

This, to me, refers back to the days of the old Catholic Church, in which access to God was only through the clergy. The congregation at Coventry see concrete slabs - there's no hint of joy as they gaze directly ahead, other than in the tapestry at the end. Stained glass windows were previously used to tell stories to an illiterate crowd - now they just have to listen.

All Basil Spence had to do was reverse the direction of the folds in the structure which conceal the windows.

The short arm of the law

I spent the day in court.

Actually, I didn't. I spent the day in a waiting room. The poor architecture, institutionally-uncomfortable furniture, broken (and expensive) drinks machines and the being bossed about by patrician types with loud voices and sealed ears reminded me of work…

This case started in October 2008. It should have been fairly simple. Man threatens women with knife. I step in, we have a discussion (him: I want to stab you. Me: I'd rather you didn't stab anyone if that's OK with you), he runs off. The police stop him later, he still has the knife. He's already on bail for similar offences. Did he do it? Yes, he very much did.

Six months later, he's found guilty on the minor charges, imprisoned for 12 weeks. Then they keep him in pending the Crown Court charges. Cue two postponements and finally a day in court - miles from anywhere. We sit in another awful room for 6 hours until he sacks his lawyers. A whole day and thousands of pounds wasted (judge, lawyers, jury, court officials, translators for almost everyone). Another six months passes and it's scheduled for Wolverhampton. Then it's moved to Coventry 18 hours before.

What happens this time? We wait around for hours. Then he sacks his lawyers. He plans to defend himself. The judge (thankfully) refuses, as this would entail cross-examining his victim, who has already been given a screen for her safety. Then the prosecution, damn them, propose a solution: bind him over to keep the peace for two years and remind him that he is under a restraining order relating to the lady (they live only a few streets away and have nothing linking them except that he wants to hurt her).

OK, you might think, that sounds reasonable. I don't. People who attack other people with knives are, I'm guessing, mentally ill or at least irrational. Signing a piece of paper will make absolutely no difference.

On prison matters, I'm a bleeding heart liberal. I don't think that prison works. I think they should be the last resort, used only to hold people who are dangerous to society: most murderers, rapists, Bertie Ahern and, frankly, people like this guy. A secure mental hospital is perhaps the best place for him. What happened today was a grubby little deal to end an annoying case which clogged up their clearance rates. I wouldn't be surprised if it all starts again.

Grubby little 'news'papers

Anyone see the front page of today's Daily Depress?

Obviously, as it's on the front page of that paper, it's going to be utterly untrue, or at least so distorted that Picasso would find it too surreal. Unless, that is, Labour has published a document specifically about Daily Express readers. In which case, it's very likely to be spot on. The only mystery is why that paper is suddenly so coy about it - usually it's shamelessly bigoted. I hate this paper - it's like a cheaper, shriller Daily Wail. Big story today:

Tories to end scandal of rocketing parking costs

THE Tories yesterday vowed to end Labour’s war on motorists, which has created a “parking nightmare”

As if. The apocalyptic language which is way out of proportion. The implication that readers are engaged in some kind of 'war'. The misleading claim that it's Labour's fault (parking is council-controlled. Most councils are Tory). What a horrible, squalid little world…

Speaking truth to power?

I should tell you how my 'discussion' with The Hegemon's Maximum Leader about the ethics of giving honorary doctorates in law to the interior minister of an oppressive state with no academic freedom went.

Er… not brilliantly. Apparently, if a committee votes on something, then it's ethically right. My suggestion that business trumped humanist values was pointedly ignored, and she accused me of not wanting to admit students from countries with poor human rights records.

This is a sign of media training - I didn't mention students. I merely thought we shouldn't give doctorates to those in charge of abusing human rights - but that was a discussion she clearly didn't want to have (along with the question of whether a university should reward people who banned academics from teaching and publishing).

We can't turn away students from such regimes, on two grounds: firstly, we need their money. Secondly, a cursory glance at the court reports reveals that the UK is one such regime.

Still, it was fun having the discussion, though now she knows my name. My real one. We have a little list…

Monday, 22 February 2010

Glug glug glug

Here's an excellent way to present the fairly dry (no pun intended) statistics about sea level rise, by David McCandless of the Guardian's Datastore. As always, click on the image for a bigger version.

I'm pleased to note that before long, Hollywood will literally be populated by bottom-feeders, and not merely metaphorically.

Sent to Coventry

I'm a witness in a case which has been dragging on for a year and a half now. Tomorrow, I was planning to wander along to Wolverhampton Crown Court, three minutes walk from my flat, and finally give evidence.

But no. Despite having a date six months ago, I'm called today and informed that I'll have to be in bloody Coventry for 10 a.m. tomorrow - which means travelling through Birmingham in the rush hour wearing suit and tie, then wandering round one of Europe's ugliest cities before, no doubt, having the whole thing cancelled yet again. So no blogging from me tomorrow.

The whole thing has been an utter farce.

How management works

Having endured another encounter with the Maximum Leaders of The Hegemon, I have no words.

I merely point you in the direction of these clips on management values. Go from 4.53 of the first clip and the first two minutes of the second one.

Doonesbury gets it

I know some banksters will be on here making little points in their defence, but there really isn't one: entire states are heavily indebted because they saved the banking system, which has demonstrated that it's learned absolutely nothing, and is currently engaged in making government bonds even more expensive - the bonds required to cover the cash spent reviving the banks. Click for a larger version

Gordon is a Moron?

So the newspapers are full of reports (culled from Andrew Rawnsley's new book, The End of the Party, which I pre-ordered last year) that Gordon Brown has a ferocious temper and takes it out on anyone in the room, from advisers to secretaries.

I can't get too excited. It's not very socialist to treat the staff badly, but then he hasn't been a socialist for a long time. Nor is it a shock to discover that politicians have tempers or get stressed, particularly when we're in the worst recession in decades. It's only a surprise to some because politicians have spent too much time pretending to us that life at the centre of power is like one long wise-cracking episode of The West Wing rather than a combination of plotting, extemporising and panicking. A little more honesty would go a long way.

Tony Blair had his occasional rages ('the fucking Welsh' was one choice quote), but his general eery calm is far more frightening to me than Gordon's human anger and misery. Blair was messianic: he rose above mere democracy, and that's what led him into error. He didn't care enough to be stressed by events, or the voters. Gordon does - and that's endearing.

Poor Gordon is a bit odd - but then, to survive in politics, and in the Labour Party, and to want to govern, requires oddness. If you want some real horror, read Francis Wheen's Strange Days Indeed, about Britain in the 1970s. Extremely senior civil servants stripping off and rolling around on the carpet, royals, generals and newspaper editors seriously discussing a military coup, and a Prime Minister (Harold Wilson) talking about himself as the 'fat spider in the corner'.

All Reich Now

As I said a couple of days ago, Saturday would be spent at Birmingham Town Hall, at a performance of Steve Reich's Drumming, along with his Clapping Music, Nagoya Marimbas and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ.

The joy of them is partly the sheer skill involved in phasing together between 2 and 15 people playing similar lines often on the very same instruments, and partly the revelation that rhythm at its purest can be transcendentally emotional. Clapping Music is a virtuoso show piece: two people, a microphone and five minutes of clapping, occasionally resolving into synched sound, often 'out of phase'. Nagoya Marimbas is all glockenspiel and marimbas and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ uses the voices and organ as filler between the mallet instruments rather than, as you'd expect, carriers of melody.

Drumming isn't just drums - it's all the other percussion too, and it's hugely intense. Given that it lasts over an hour, it's hard work for the players and for some of the audience too. You can take it in two ways: zone out in some areas and let it wash over you, or listen intently for every tiny change - I mixed both methods. Letting it wash over you is a weird experience. There's so much going on that you start to hear instruments that aren't there: I heard clarinets, bar alarms and cellos, despite the fact that every instrument on stage was something to hit, other than a whistle!

I was a bit spaced out by the end. Luckily, next day saw me go home for my grandmother's 97th, which culminated in a mass family and friends snowball fight, as there's 5 inches of the stuff up there.

I let my grandmother win. It was her birthday, after all.

Is this the coolest job ever?

This would suit Calvin (of …and Hobbes) fame perfectly. Bristol University is looking for a

Dinosaur Preparator

Friday, 19 February 2010

You're about to elect these people

Sir Nicholas Winterton is a man with a history of racist jokes and outrageous expenses claims. He's also a Conservative MP. The Great British Public seems to have decided that his party (which disastrously privatised the railways, by the way) deserves power in the upcoming election. He has just announced that:

MPs should be allowed to claim expenses for first-class tickets because standard coaches are for "a totally different type of people".
After declaring himself "infuriated" with proposals from the new expenses watchdog to ban payments for first-class tickets during a magazine interview, the MP for Macclesfield told a radio interviewer that people travelling on standard tickets were "in a different walk of life" and their children might disturb an MP's work. "They want to stop members of parliament travelling first class. That puts us below local councillors and officers of local government. They all travel first class … So we are supposed to stand when there are no seats … I'm sorry, it infuriates me."

Kenny goes Irish

Kerrywoman tips me off to South Park as Gaeilge: yes, South Park is available in Irish. It got me thinking about globalisation. Irish is only spoken as a first language by 60,000 or so people, mostly because the British banned it - one of the major failings of the Republic is the stagnation of Irish as a spoken language, despite everyone learning it to 16.

So I imagine that dubbing South Park into Irish is seen as a way to persuade the youth that Irish is a viable language for everyday life (and no, I don't know what 'suck my balls' is in Irish). It's a great example of glocalisation, a horrible word which attempts to reproduce the hybrid product of globalisation meeting local culture.

Ironically for our religious and moral leaders, South Park in Irish wouldn't exist were it not for the Catholic Church. Why not? Here goes.

When the English captured Wales, they banned Welsh in public life, a situation that's slowly improving. Welsh survived solely because it was permitted in Chapels. The reason for that is that Protestantism insisted that everyone read the Bible in their own language and interpret it according to their own consciences. So even though Welsh was forbidden in other spheres, it was tolerated by the English authorities as the only way to get the Welsh to heaven. The language survived, and then started to thrive again in the twentieth century as it became a secular literary language again. One of the markers of this religious route is that Welsh swearing is mostly religious epithets - other words are adapted from English.

In Ireland, the population remained Catholic, despite the best efforts of the British. Catholicism demanded that the Bible and Church services be conducted in Latin, which only priests understood. He'd then tell you exactly what God meant, and you'd have to take his word for it. This lasted into the 1960s. The Irish language was completely banned and English made the only speech for public life and education. So it survived only round the edges and in secret - not even the Church would help. Numbers plummeted until only a tiny group still spoke it. When the time came to revive it, shock tactics were required - hence South Park as Gaeilge.

Globalisation's a funny thing.

Weekend release

Well, that's another week over. I've just been to the first-year English lecture: The Renaissance in 60 Minutes - fascinating as always.

On the menu this weekend is another trip to Stoke. My grandmother has reached her 97th birthday, though I'm not sure how much she knows about it. I'm fully convinced that she's immortal.

I'm also off to an all-Steve Reich concert in Birmingham (here's his Myspace page). It's my Third Reich concert (sorry, couldn't resist). He's a brilliant minimalist/post-minimalist composer, a very early adopter of sampling (twenty years before pop music caught up) and of African rhythms, particularly in the centrepiece of this weekend's gig, Drumming. Minimalism's brilliant: it hypothesises that within an overarching framework of repetition, tiny changes in pace, pitch and tone will take on huge significance.

Here's Drumming (part 1) and some of Piano Phase, one of my favourites. I'd also recommend his stunning tape loop voice-and-quartet piece about the Holocaust, Different Trains and the electric guitar piece Electric Counterpoint.

Neal and James - an apology

I need to add to my account of the Map Twats mini-break to Wales. In particular, my role in this fiasco.

I have a heavy cold. On the first night, I shared an airbed with Neal. Or at least, I did for a while. After a couple of hours in which he deliberately tried to wake me by bouncing the airbed most violently,  he fled with some cushions for the relative calm of the kitchen, hounded out by my snoring, which he ungallantly likened to a faulty chainsaw.

On the second night, I decided to make amends by volunteering to sleep on the floor. Alas, this noble sacrifice cut no ice when set against the alleged volume. Despite thinking that I didn't get any sleep at all, I apparently vexed my roommates mightily. My alarm call, in the end, was a large Gideon Bible hurled at my head by James: his hangover and my sinuses had finally combined to defeat his usual tolerance and good manners.

Unfortunately, I have form in this regard. I once took myself off to Basel/Basle (Switzerland) for a fencing competition. Accommodation was provided for everyone in a large comfortable room in the club's building. On the second morning, I gradually returned to consciousness, feeling every bruise and strain from the previous day's competition. As vision returned, I realised that the room was completely deserted and I panicked, assuming that I'd overslept and that the competition had restarted without me. Hurriedly, I threw on my cold, sweaty equipment and dashed up to the salle - where I discovered all forty opponents, sound asleep on a makeshift raft of mats and clothing.

The time was 6 a.m. I tip-toed out and returned a couple of hours later when signs of life could be observed. Between their English and my (limited) French and German, I pieced together the awful truth: 40 people, maddened by my snoring yet too polite to expel me, had evacuated the dormitory rather than wake me.

Shamefully, this was the only international competition in which I was successful. After every victory, my opponents ostentatiously yawned and explained with a wry smile that they'd have won had they been permitted a decent night's sleep, and I apologised, match after match, right through to the final…

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The finishing line…

I've just done a long and complicated lecture on the recession and its economic origins, while feeling horribly ill.

I suspect the students feel the same - very, very few attended the seminars. Perhaps, though, it's the lovely, lovely snow.

Meanwhile, I've received the new Doonesbury collection, Tee Time in Berzerkistan, which I might use for teaching PR/lobbying: Duke and Earl land the PR contract for a terrible dictatorship and rebrand it a 'global partner in the war on terror', dismissing the (fictional, obviously) dictator's ethnic cleansing as 'a housing problem'. I've also splashed out, on Kerrywoman's recommendation, on Diarmaid Ferriter's Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland, which should explain a lot.

Doing our bit for Human Rights

What kind of country is the UAE?

According to Amnesty, it's the kind of country in which Sheik Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan can be filmed shooting at, feeding sand to, beating, electrocuting with a cattle prod and then driving a motor car over and have sodomised Mohammad Shah Poor (an Afghan businessman with whom this charming member of the royal family and half-brother of the President had a dispute) and yet be acquitted on the grounds that his 'friends' drugged him, leading to this behaviour.

Here's some of the film:

The UAE also has a horrendous record on rape investigations, plays host to a large number of unpleasant UK tax exiles. This is what the US State department has to say about it:

There are no democratically elected institutions or political parties.
Problems remained in the Government's respect for human rights. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The Government restricted freedom of speech and of the press. The press practiced self-censorship. The Government restricted free assembly and association, and it restricted religious freedom by banning proselytizing of Muslims. The Government restricted the rights of workers, many of whom were not protected by labor laws. There are no labor unions. There were poor working conditions for some laborers, failure to pay wages, and abuse of foreign domestic servants in an economy in which 98 percent of the private sector workforce is foreign. There were no independent human rights organizations. Trafficking in women as prostitutes and very young foreign boys as camel jockeys continue to be serious problems, despite government pledges to end these practices.
The law prohibits, under penalty of imprisonment, criticism of the Government, ruling families, and friendly governments, as well as other statements that threaten social stability; however, the law was rarely enforced because journalists practiced self-censorship.
The Constitution does not provide for freedom of assembly and association. There are no political organizations, political parties, independent human rights groups, or trade unions 
A de facto ban dating from 2002 prohibiting 10 prominent intellectuals from publishing opinion pieces in the country's Arabic and English language media continued. In 2002, six academics from Al Ain University were also banned from teaching. Some of these academics were also among the 10 intellectuals banned from publishing editorials. Academic materials destined for schools were censored. Students were banned from reading texts featuring sexuality or pictures of the human body.

So what am I saying? That it's not a great place, all in all. No free press and specific evidence of a lack of academic freedom. So how do we treat these infringements of human rights, especially ones which touch on education? We give His Highness Sheik Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (a relative of Torture Man and minister of the interior with responsibility for the police) an honorary doctorate in a ceremony conducted at the Abu Dhabi's Police HQ, where presumably the long arm of the law dealt with poor Mr Poor's case with such dedication.

in recognition of his many achievements.
His Highness Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is a pioneer in the realm of change and development and has made an outstanding contribution to society. The award was presented in honour of His Highness’ considerable contribution to urban development, in particular his leading role in designing security and safety measures for the protection of residents of, and visitors to, the UAE.

What a role model. And obviously the good Lieutenant's sterling work in the UAE is a core concern of The Hegemon. This honorary doctorate has nothing to do with the business it's currently conducting with the UAE police at all.

Penny for Guy

Pity poor Guy Hands. The multimillionaire (possibly billionaire) financier and owner of EMI records (which has just decided to flog off Abbey Road studios) has sobbingly detailed the loneliness of his personal life:

“Because two of my children are still school age, my wife and they remain at our former family home in Kent when school terms are in session,” he said in his declaration. “I have never visited them there since April 1, 2009. They and my other two adult children visit me at our home in Guernsey.”
“I do not visit the United Kingdom for medical treatment and would not do so except on an emergency basis. I do not visit my parents in the United Kingdom and would not do so except in an emergency.”

Poor little Guy. Cut off from his parents and children. Denied the joys of Britain's high streets, rolling hills and myriad leisure opportunities. He can't even sue people in Britain because it might involve being in the country for over 90 days.

Why must he endure this misery? Is he a dissident? On the run from an oppressive state? Er, no. He doesn't want to pay the top rate of tax, so he's emigrated. He's taken the principled, brave and noble decision to spend more time with his money than with his wife, parents or children. Those poor kids - second best to a bank account - though I can't help thinking that with values like that, they're better off being exposed to a range of other people.

Doesn't your heart bleed? He's an asset-stripping scumbag who's brought EMI to its knees and used his expensive Oxford education to toil for Nomura and Goldman Sacks - the vampires of the global economy, and yet there's not the slightest sign that he considers himself part of any community other than that of the selfish ultra-rich.

We've all learned lessons and will move on

Specifically, my day-and-a-half away from Wolverhampton has taught me two things:
1. Never share a hotel room with a man who doesn't understand the difference between a twin and a double room. Additionally, don't volunteer to sleep on the floor out of sympathy for the third party who came along at the last minute.

2. Never trust the casual suggestions of a man who proposes a trip to Wales. He'll only reveal that his motivation was an encounter with a young lady he 'met' on Facebook. She will then vanish in a trice leaving us marooned in the worst bar this side of Pyongyang.

North Wales was, of course, heart-stoppingly beautiful. The sea was steely-grey, the mountains were shrouded in proper snow and the Travelodge had all the charm and facilities of a gulag. We visited my old Students' Union, an unlovely concrete shell due for demolition in a few weeks. The building's sickness had reached the hearts of its habitués. Gone was the packed, sweaty, thrilling Indie night. In its place, a soulless (and sparse) Athletics Union night, complete with mandatory rugby players wearing dresses.

I'm sorely disappointed with the young. We seem to be living through a cultural moment in which conformity is most highly prized - clothes and music were indistinguishable from the blandest of mainstream venues. I'm sure the pendulum will swing once again, but it's a depressing vision.

Still, another good result for Stoke City this week, given the referee's decision to turn out for Manchester City! And now, on to my global economics lecture. Under the weight of overwhelming popular demand, the Keynes/Hayek rap will make and appearance.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Resisting the banksters

American-focused, but relevant globally.

Henri Lefebvre, where are you now?

OK, I'm feeling slightly manic. I've just given a lecture on the philosophy of the quotidien (the Everyday) to a first-year group. It's a hard sell: we give them Anglo-Saxon Cultural Studies (Williams etc, which I love), and then I turn up and say 'all that categorisation stuff - never mind it - too structuralist. Here's some weird French people talking about ephemerality, collective memory and the intangible'.

I have no idea whether they got it, but hopefully I'll have raised some questions about epistemology and modernity…

And now for escape to the mountains…

007? Is that you?

A couple of weeks ago, a Hamas activist, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was murdered in Dubai. Ah, I thought, the Israelis are up to their old tricks again - stringing out peace talks while assassinating their opposition. It was just one of those events which won't hit the front pages, because at least in the West, Israel can do what it likes. See also: Israel's nuclear bomb.

The story was on the news again last night - the assassins were all travelling under UK, Irish, French and (ironically) German passports. Either the governments of these countries tacitly allow this to happen, or passports aren't as secure as our leaders lead us to believe.

The story's got a real 70s ring about it - assassinations, fake identities, dark deeds in backward places. It isn't the behaviour of a modern and civilised country: it's the behaviour of a 1970s South American dictatorship, or the British state in Northern Ireland. It also displays Israel's total contempt for Arab nations: sending in hit squads and assuming that no investigation will follow.

Israel is closely allied with the UK, and is a puppet state of the US. We mustn't fall into the trap of imposing certain values on some states, while permitting our friends to behave as they like. Write to your foreign affairs ministers and demand an investigation.

Economics… through the medium of rap

Ken MacLeod (my favourite Scottish Trotskyist science fiction novelist) posted this bizarre but accurate rap of the competing interpretations of the credit crunch. Perhaps I'll use it for my economics lecture on Thursday…

Try to cope without me

I've got a lot on today, including a very philosophical lecture to deliver. Then I'm having a couple of days off. I don't teach on Wednesdays, or on Thursdays until 6 p.m., so I'm off to see James. He's a schoolmaster, so he's on half term. The plan is to have a fine dinner in Chester then wander off to North Wales for a day: my old university, mountains, the sea - just what I need.

This is where I'm going: it's not like Wolverhampton.

On this day…

The Kerrywoman sends this piece from the Irish Times, 16th February 1867, about the (very) failed Fenian uprising in Kerry. The Irish Times was, of course, a Unionist paper: now, it's a liberal but still rather superior publication, rather bemused by the shenanigans of the natives and culchies.

This is a magnificent piece of colonialist/imperialist writing. The rebels are 'banditti' (e.g. no better than the Italian roving bands of robbers so familiar to readers of Radcliffe's Gothic novels, claiming victory by shooting a lowly policeman and stealing a horse. They operate by terrorising or attempting to trick the noble and loyal peasantry, and they're foreigners - worse, Americans, incorrigible rebels against the natural order. They're certainly not soldiers, unlike the heroic redcoats. I particularly like the horror of an armed uprising in a tourist spot. The Irish should know their place - as a picturesque land for English holidays.

FEBRUARY 16th, 1867: Kerry's Fenian rising proves a disjointed affair
FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Fenian Rising in 1867 turned out to be a disjointed affair which collapsed after various skirmishes, one of which was in Kerry and was described by the contemporary newspaper on this date. - JOE JOYCE
WE ARE most gratified in being able to state not merely that the Fenian outbreak in Kerry is virtually at an end, but that the peasantry, to a man, refused to have any participation in the movement. The Fenian army has dissolved of itself. It attacked an isolated coastguard station, robbed a gentleman’s house and stole his horses, and shot down one solitary policeman, and then moved in what order it could towards Killarney. When near the town, the leaders heard that there were constabulary and troops within it and in the neighbourhood. So, believing discretion to be the better part of valour, they gave the order to retreat. They took the picturesque road between the Toomey Mountains and McGillicuddy’s Reeks, through the gap of Dunloe – all places well known to every tourist who visited the Lakes.
As yet, no reliable account has been received of the actual numbers of those who thus engaged in overt rebellion. They have been estimated at 1,500, 900, 800, and even so low as 100. There is a bank in the Gap of Dunloe from whence a magnificent view of the surrounding country can be seen. The Fenians must have beheld the red-coated soldiers pursuing, and seen the glitter of the arms of those who dashed forward to cut off their retreat. Then it became a stampede for life – some hid among the woods or arbutus groves – some hid in the ravines or behind giant masses of displaced rock – others stole away through the mountain gorges – but the “army” has literally melted away. Even their leader – said to be named O’Connor – abandoned the horse of the police orderly, whom he had shot, and took on foot “to the hills”, where the troops are searching for him. We can all imagine what efforts were made by desperate men to induce or compel the peasantry to join them. Promises of plunder and partition of the Herbert estates, the spoiling of the peasant’s own little home, outrage on his family, and death to himself, formed the inducements and menaces of the filibusters. Yet, the peasantry, to a man, scorned alike their offers and their threats.
The whole country is peaceable, and the achievements of the Fenian braves consist in the robbery of a coastguard station, cutting a few telegraph wires, and shooting one isolated policeman.
The country about Killarney and Tralee is said to be well known to James Stephens. Some years since, he organised a Phœnixite conspiracy in this quarter. It is known that he has been in Paris very recently, and the attempted movements on Chester, Dublin, and Killarney seemed to have been planned by him. His object is solely to procure money, and a startling overt act, which could be magnified and exaggerated in the New York sensational press, would answer his purpose completely. We suspect that the leaders of this most insane and wicked raid in Kerry are Americans, who have managed to land in some of the creeks about Dingle Bay or Bantry. A few only of their followers are said to have been dressed in green. The rest bore a strong resemblance to the dilapidated specimens of humanity which were landed on our quays from the purlieus of the manufacturing towns in England. O’Connor, the reputed leader of the banditti, is a naturalised American, and served in the Federal army. Wherever agitation has prevailed, it has been traced to American emissaries, many of whom are known to have returned to this country, violating the solemn pledge through which they obtained liberty from a merciful government.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Holy (rock and) rollers

Why they've done it, I have no idea. But the Vatican, in the form of L'Osservatore Romano, its newspaper, has seen fit to issue a list of Top Albums. It's a bit embarrassing really - haven't they got better things to do? So here it is:

1. Revolver by the Beatles
3. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
4. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
5. The Nightfly by Donald Fagen
6. Thriller by Michael Jackson
7. Graceland by Paul Simon
8. Achtung Baby by U2
10. Supernatural by Carlos Santana

What do you think? Mostly MOR rubbish? I can't see much of a link other than it's 70s rock and that genre's spawn - too young for the Pope and too old for the rest of us. Though perhaps 2 is a reference to His Holiness's age and 6/7 hints at recent Irish Catholic sex scandals. Morning Glory is of course another sexual reference…

My top religious themed pop hits (and misses):
Idols - Altered Images
Something to Believe In - The Bangles
Maroon Bible - Beulah
Faith/Void - Bill Callahan (Chorus - 'It's time to put God away).
No Sects Please, We're British - The Bitter Springs
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath - The Cardigans
Jesus Spaceman - Catchers
Just Like Heaven - The Cure
My Angel Rocks Back and Forth - Four Tet
Hindoo Man - George Formby
Pam fi Duw? - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Palm Sunday - Go-Betweens
Not Even Jesus - Gold Blade
Christian Girls - Hefner
Sense of Guilt - Josef K
We Will Rise Again - Juliana Hatfield
By My Angel - Mazzy Star
Should The Bible Be Banned? - McCarthy
Mogwai Fear Satan - Mogwai
True Faith (or Ceremony) - New Order
Incense - Picture Center
In Heaven - Pixies
You Are The Way - Primitives
Every Night I'm Mentally Crucified - Prolapse
Sunday Girl - Richard James
The Evangelist - Robert Forster
Faith - Shack
J's Heaven - Slowdive
Barrabas! - SMASH
Catholic Education - Teenage Fanclub
I Saw The Light - The The
I Think We're Alone (Now) - Tiffany… er, maybe. I like it anyway.
Confessions - Violent Femmes.
Pilgrim Hold Your Lamp Up High - Brave Captain
Exorcisto - Girls vs Boys
Holy Are You - The Electric Prunes
Space Spiritual - Axelrod / Nat Adderley

Can you hear me, Neil Haynes?

In case you missed the big sports news of the weekend, it wasn't Ireland's narrow loss to France in the rugby (Thierry Henry should have played, he'd do well), but Stoke City's heroic result away to Manchester City in the FA Cup. Between Stoke's poor away record, Manchester City's status as the richest club in the world (most of their players cost more than Stoke's entire team) and our very predictable style (Rory Delap's long throw followed by a headed goal has been our signature for a very long time), they should have given us an enormous shoeing.

Instead, they huffed and puffed to a draw. They now get to play us tomorrow in the Premiership - with a depleted team - and again in the cup at Stoke, where we might pull off something miraculous. Only to then meet Chelsea, damn it.

Let's forget about fashion and go back to politics

David Cameron's announced his big new plan at a press conference complete with 'real people' saying suspiciously focus-grouped bland things designed to attract people who've never vote Tory before: sell public services to co-operatives. Not, you understand, the co-operatives founded by lefty types in the 19th century to pass on economies of scale rather than enriching middlemen.

No, Dave hates government, with its pension-providing, healthcare-arranging, schoolteaching meddling. He wants to privatise all that, but he knows that the British rather like the NHS and getting pensions backed by the 5th largest economy in the world. So he's dreamed up this co-op idea: that we could form a group to 'provide' services (e.g. open a school or social services centre) contracted by the state, in much the same way that Nike only brands trainers rather than making them.

What are the advantages to the Tories? Mainly, getting rid of 'big government' and the trade unions who are active in public service. It's ideological rather than beneficial. One point: if a council fails to provide an adequate service, you can sack them by voting them out. You also have a degree of oversight - you can demand documents, for instance. None of this will happen under the RyanGovernment model: weird cults and big businesses will start schools and their decisions and practices will be 'commercially confidential'.

The Swedes elected a rightwing government which permitted private groups to operate state schools - and equality has started to slip backwards in this most egalitarian of states.

Stand up for government. When it goes wrong (e.g. Iraq), it goes horribly wrong. When it goes right (the NHS, the Open University, pensions, education) it shows how great humans can be when they decide to work together rather than grabbing their personal piece of heaven. But then again, grabbing what you can is the core of Conservative ideology.