Thursday, 29 April 2010

A Transcultural and Transnational Invitation

Anyone in the Black Country next Wednesday is warmly invited to the launch of the Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research, of which I am a lowly member.

The launch will be from 4.30-7.30 in MC001, with an inaugural lecture on Arctic Studies by the renowned scholar Jan Borm. Warm white wine will no doubt be served.

The Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research (CTTR) provides a research environment for interdisciplinary investigation into the history and continuing pertinence of internationalism, cosmopolitanism, and other inter-cultural configurations of consciousness and identity, including the ways in which these are manifested in micro-cosmopolitan contexts (e.g. the national, regional, or local).

The Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research:
  • brings together the terms ‘transnational’ and ‘transcultural’ in recognition of the mutuality of spatial/geographical and aesthetic/cultural modes of identity;
  • emphasises the importance of longitudinal study from the eighteenth-century to the present;
  • is consciously multi- and inter-disciplinary, drawing its researchers from Literary Studies, Modern Languages, American Studies, European Studies, Linguistics, History, Politics, and other disciplines;
  • has an established international collaborative dimension, with active international Honorary Research Fellows and International Advisors representing a world-wide community of scholars;
  • provides opportunities for early career and post-doctoral research, post-graduate study, and public outreach.

The Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research hosts three sub-groups representing its principal focus areas:

Europe: Trend and Transformation (ETAT)

Global Culture and Identity (GCI)

Transnational Pedagogies (TP)

Booze Britain?

The British like their drink… as this 'documentary' demonstrates:

Your thoughts

The Guardian asked readers to design election posters. Some were sensible, artistic and classy. I've ignored them. Here are the ones which caught my eye.


I've missed my chance to be insulted by the Prime Minister. All the leaders are in the West Midlands because the last leadership debate is from Birmingham University tonight:
9.51am: Gordon Brown has just got off a train in Wolverhampton with his wife, Sarah. A lot of handshaking going on at the station. A lot of smiles from what I assume are commuters and then he's driven off in a car surrounded by an escort convoy.

Watching Channel 4 News last night, I was amused by the shot of two rozzers outside Gillian Duffy's house as though it was a crime scene, with the newscaster saying 'she hasn't been seen since Gordon Brown left her house some time ago'. Jesus, Gordon, I know she annoyed you, but you didn't have to murder her!

Hail to the Thief

Neal and I went to see Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story last night. As you'd expect, it was witty, entertaining, thought-provoking (the Goldman Sachs coup is stunning) but not entirely ideologically or economically sound - plus the usual lazy scenes of making fun of security guards. That said, it was the closest a modern American will ever come to promoting socialism.

The most striking elements were the revelations about Dead Peasant insurance: your employer may take out life insurance on you, based on actuarial calculations of employee mortality rates so that early deaths will make them a profit. 'Dead Peasants' is the term used in the industry. The other revelation was the sheer insulated arrogance of bankers, depicted by quotations from this Citigroup document (part 2 here) which exults in the replacement of democracy with 'plutocracy': rule of a nation by and for the super-rich.

Some choice quotations:
The US, UK and Canada are the key plutonomies - economies powered by the wealthy. Continental Europe (ex-Italy) and Japan are in the egalitarian bloc.
In plutonomies the rich absorb a disproportionate chunk of the economy and have a massive impact on reported aggregate numbers, like savings rates, current account deficits, consumption levels, etc. This imbalance in inequality expresses itself in the standard scary 'global imbalances'. We worry less.
We project that the plutonomies… will likely see even more income inequality, disproportionately feeding off a further rise in the profit share in their economies, capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven profitability, and globalization.
The earth is being held up by the muscular arms of its entrepreneur plutocrats, like it or not.
It gets better (or worse, depending on your political stripe) - the top 1% of households account for 40% of financial net worth, more than the bottom 95% of households put together. [2000 statistics]. The rich in the US went from coupon clipping, dividend-receiving rentiers to a Managerial Aristocracy indulged by their shareholders.
Society and governments need to be amenable to disproportionately allow/encourage the few to retain that fatter profit share. The Managerial Aristocracy… needs to commandeer a vast chunk of that rising profit share, either through capital income, or simply paying itself a lot. 
When the rich take a very high share of overall income, the national household savings rate drops, and vice versa. The behavior of the exceptionally rich drives the national numbers… We want to spend little time worrying about these (non)issues…
At the heart of plutonomy is income inequality. Societies that are willing to tolerate/endorse income inequality, are willing to tolerate/endorse plutonomy.
…the fruits of those profits could be taxes… we struggle to find examples of this happening. Indeed, in the U.S., the current administration's attempts to change the estate tax code and make permanent dividend tax cuts, plays directly into the hands of the plutonomy. 
The wave of globalization that the world is currently surfing, is clearly to the benefit of global capitalists… it is to the disadvantage of developed market labor, especially at the lower end of the food chain. There are periodic attempts by countries to redress this imbalance… But in general, on-going globalization is making it easier for companies to either outsource manufacturing… or "offshore" manufacturing.
Low-end developed market labor might not have much economic power, but it does have equal voting power with the rich. We see plenty of examples of the outsourcing of labor being attacked as 'unpatriotic' or plain unfair. Perhaps one reason that societies allow plutonomy, is because enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto-participant. Why kill it off, if you can join it? In a sense, this is the embodiment of the "American Dream". But if voters feel they cannot participate, they are more likely to divide up the wealth pie, rather than aspire to being truly rich. There are signs around the world that society is unhappy with plutonomy… But as yet, there seems little political fight. 

The rest of the document explains that democracy is a side issue, and advises its super-rich clients to 'play plutonomy' by buying shares in 'companies that make the toys that the Plutonomists enjoy'. There's no concern for the lives of the workers in any economy - simply advice on how to maintain the plutocratic system - sometimes by buying off the workers and suborning government - and how to reinforce it. The activities of the rich, it says, actively damage the lives of the others: and they like it this way. They don't even care about their countries any more: 'there are rich consumers and the rest, the rich are getting richer… and they dominate consumption', wherever they are ('Surely, then, it is the collapse of plutonomy, rather than the collapse of the US dollar, that we should worry about… If plutonomy continues, which we think it will, if income inequality is allowed to persist and widen, the plutonomy basket should continue to do very well')

the richest 10% of Americans account for 43% of income, and 57% of net worth… The rich are in great shape, financially. We think the rich are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years'. 
…we think that global capitalists are going to be getting an even greater share of the wealth pie over the next few years, as capitalists benefit disproportionately from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor. 
'What could go wrong? Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfranchisement remains as was - one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back… and there will be a political backlash… We don't see this happening yet…

So there you have it. In the US, UK and Canada, the mega-rich are to be admired and encouraged. The major problem is democracy: the idea that the poor have an equal vote. What's the solution for people like you and I? I'm moving to Scandinavia. They're rich countries which spread the wealth - they don't play 'beggar thy neighbour'. Oh, and don't vote Tory (or New Labour). They're the mouthpieces for Murdoch, Branson, hedge fund traders, Bob Diamond and associated scum, despite recent platitudes about fairness.

These guys, according to these documents need you to stay poor and they're not afraid to say so.

Oh god, I'm so depressed.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Don't Judge My Family

The Tories are planning to cut taxes for the richest 3000 families in the country, and for married couples (£150 per year - average cost of a wedding: £20,000). Will you stay in an abusive marriage for £3 per week?

Go Gordon

The scandal of the election has just hit.
Gordon Brown was heckled by a former Labour voter, Gillian Duffy who objected, in strong terms, to immigration, particularly from Eastern Europe and about pretty much everything else (we only have the tail-end on film here). They had a conversation which didn't go particularly well, then he got back into the car.
He still wore his microphone, and after berating his aides for setting the conversation up, described the woman as a bigot.

'that was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman .. . Whose idea was that?' It's just ridiculous ... she was just a bigoted woman

Now he's apologising all round and fudging what he said.
Of course I apologise if I have said anything that has been offensive, and I would never put myself in a position where I would want to say anything like that about a woman I met. It was a question about immigration that really I think was annoying.
I'm blaming myself. I blame myself for what is done. You've got to remember that this was me being helpful to the broadcasters with my microphone on, rushing into the car because I had to get to another appointment.
They have chosen to play my private conversation with the person who was in the car with me. I know these things can happen. I apologise profusely to the woman concerned. I think it was just the view that she expressed that I was worried about that I could not respond to.

Labour spin-doctor:

Gordon has apologised to Mrs Duffy personally by phone. He does not think that she is bigoted. He was letting off steam in the car after a difficult conversation.
No, Gordon. She is a bigot. I know it doesn't look right for the PM to criticise a pensioner, but she made a bigoted comment. You should have told her that. Now you've definitely lost the election.

Ho hum. Decades of Tory rule stretch out before us. The Tory press is going to push this for weeks, as will the BBC.

By Ganesh!

My esteemed colleague Steve Jacobs has just had a book published. It's called Hinduism Today, and will be the core text for anyone interested in or studying Hinduism in its modern, globalised state.

It's available here as well as at proper bookshops, and it's great. Buy one today.

Harping on…

I'm working on a book chapter about O. M. Edwards's Cartrefi Cymru, a piece of Welsh travel writing. One of the places he visits is Y Garreg Wen, the home of Dafydd Owain, a blind harpist and composer.

This is the piece he supposedly composed on his deathbed (presumably on a smaller harp). The second film uses the words added a hundred years later by John Ceiriog Hughes, the leading Welsh Romantic poet. They're about the deathbed composition and start with 'Carry my harp to me…'.

Blood diamonds are a girl's best friend

I teased a model for greed yesterday. Today's model story is similarly representative of a different world.

Naomi Campbell had dinner with Nelson Mandela and Charles Taylor, Sierra Leone's genocidal dictator. Taylor gave her a diamond, likely to have been mined by slaves or traded for weapons. Presumably he'd been impressed by her repeated convictions for her direct manner with the lower orders.

She doesn't like being asked about it:

Say cheese!

There's an interesting new exhibition on at Tate Britain from September: the photographs of Edw(e)ard Muybridge, a pioneer of photographing motion in the 19th century. He liked sportsmen, horses and naked women as subjects, and was acquitted of murdering his wife because the American jury thought that her adultery was a graver offence.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Are you doing a humanities PhD?

If so, don't read this. It's American, so the figures and comparisons aren't entirely relevant, but the general trend is accurate: PhDs take a very long time, a lot of people never finish, they fit you for a very narrow niche, and there are very few jobs in that niche. On the plus side, most humanities PhD candidates are so socially inept or nerdish that we're unsuitable for any other job anyway.

UK PhDs are shorter - 3 years minimum, 4 years average. I took a bit longer, but I was teaching basically full-time (not for full-time pay, I should point out) and I'm extremely lazy it took deep thought.


I'm almost 35 (I was studying for something from the age of 5 to 32), broke, I don't have a permanent job - and yet I'm having a great time and I know things about stuff you didn't care existed.


So ignore the Jeremiahs: postgraduate life is wonderful. Most of the time. And you may even get a job later. Perhaps even one related to your knowledge.

A blogger yearns to care about mindless stuff once more

There's been a lot of traffic through Plashing Vole today - mostly because someone put my Blair Peach piece on Twitter and somebody else highlighted it on Facebook. Even people in Nepal remembered Peach. Maybe this will finally earn me that coveted place on Redwatch.

But I'm more than an angry lefty. Apart from teaching today, I've been annotating OM Edwards' Cartrefi Cymru - book chapter due by the end of the week, aarrgh and listening to mediocre indie.

Today's choice was The Bardots' Eye-Baby. It's a lovely piece of work - a bit of C86 crossed with shoegaze which turned up several years too late for the party, and was therefore ignored. It's hard to get their music, but there's a download link here and Myspace here. No video, I'm afraid. Just imagine jangly guitars and mumbled vocals.

Cameron's lying scare tactics

What he's saying:

I think it is time to be honest about what has been happening in our country. There has always been violence. There has always been evil.
But there is something about the frequency of these crimes – the depravity of these crimes, that betrays a deep and fundamental problem in Britain today.
As I have argued for many years now, these acts of murder and abuse are just the most violent and horrific expressions of what I have called the broken society. I know I've been criticised for saying our society is broken and I know I will be again. But I am saying this as I see it.

What's actually true (from the Guardian's Reality Check):

The British Crime Survey, which is based on interviews with 40,000 people a year about their experience of crime, shows violent crime is down by 49% since 1995. The Cardiff University hospital data published last week also tracked a downward trend with a 15% fall in the number of people treated for wounds in A&E departments since 2001. This contrasts with the Conservative claim that violent crime has risen by 44% since 2002 based on an extrapolation of House of Commons library analysis of police recorded crime figures.
The fact that the murder rate in England and Wales is now the lowest for a decade at 651 murders in 2008/09 is a clear indication of the direction of the most serious violent crime. 

Nobody ever lost votes by frightening citizens and then promising 'more bobbies on the beat' and blaming an alienated underclass of feral benefit scroungers for the world's ills. What's interesting about the current figures is that crime has fallen substantially - usually it increases during recessions as desperate people commit crimes to survive. How Cameron can pay for more police and criminals is 'unclear' (by which I mean fantasy).

So remember: overall crime is hugely down over the past 13 years. Violent crime is hugely down too - across all ways to measure the statistics.

Ooh er

It's a traditional photographer's tactic - getting a public figure to pose in front of hilarious signs. The BBC's politics show recently had Cameron with a truncated sign in the background which left POSH on view, and there's an episode of The Thick of It in which the hapless new minister obscures an election poster so that the words I Am Bent are all that is on view.

It's Cameron's turn today. Childish, but funny. Photo by Michael Scofield.

Blair Peach - justice never done

Blair Peach was a young, peaceful New Zealand teacher who was murdered by the Metropolitan Police during an anti-fascist demonstration in 1979. An élite paramilitary unit, the Special Patrol Group piled out of their van, killed him with an illegal weapon, then lied about their presence. Despite a long investigation, including raids on their lockers and homes, none of the officers was prosecuted, despite 14 eye-witnesses and an internal police report - released today - which identifies the six officers, though the names are censored in today's release. They still aren't going to be charged with any of the offences committed while killing Peach and covering it up subsequently.

They haven't gone away: the SPG became the Territorial Support Group, a member of which killed Ian Tomlinson.

Peach's killer may be one of these five SPG officers, or another one I can't find a name for (with the illegal weapons found in their possession). Murray is now a lecturer in 'corporate social responsibility' at Sheffield University, ironically.

- PC "Chalkie" White: crowbar, small metal cosh (which he attempted to hide during the search), whip handle, whip, brass handle.
- PC Woodcock: US type truncheon, two knives.
- Inspector Hopkins: very large wooden truncheon.
- PC Greville Bint: Nazi regalia and memorabilia, a lead weighted cosh, bayonets    and swords.
- Inspector Alan Murray - resigned from the force in protest against the investigation.

This is an alternative list of names, printed at the time. I don't know which version is correct and the new report won't help. Freestone, Scottow, Richardson and Lake are names new to me, but White and Murray appear on both. I doubt Murray did it - he was a senior officer - but he was clearly an apologist for the tactics and attitudes of the SPG and bears the moral responsibility. 

      Why Am I A Socialist?

                                                                        gets people in and out of bed for £10k per year

      Monday, 26 April 2010

      Heavenly Harmonies

      Something soothing today - from the melodic side of Vaughan Williams. Namely, his The Lark Ascending, Violin Concerto and Serenade to Music. None of them are my favourites - I prefer his more angsty stuff and for string virtuosity, I favour Flos Campi, but they're all wonderful.

      I have a difficult relationship with The Lark Ascending. It's transcendently beautiful, but I struggled for years to play it, and never succeeded. More widely, it's been stolen by Classic FM and allied types as 'easy', 'smooth' and ultimately English, none of which are true (VW was a lefty troublemaker to some extent). Strip away the crap and you have an astonishing piece of work: the halcyon days of an idyllic country before World War One ended the Edwardian paradise. The Violin Concerto has a bit more grunt to it - there's misery and passion in there all right.

      Methodism in my madness

      A few more of my Bethesda Chapel pictures (rest here). Stoke was a hotbed of Methodism - the term covered various groups which gradually split from the Church of England (and each other) in search of a plainer and more egalitarian form of Christianity. From them, in industrial cities like Stoke, stemmed trades unionism and 'respectable' working-class culture.

      More lights

      Old Roneo machine

      Wrecked Roneo

      Flowers in the window

      Upper level

      Brass hinge

      Under the grey…

      In praise of decay

      I visited Stoke-on-Trent's Bethesda Chapel this weekend. It's known as the Cathedral of Methodism - a huge, plain, beautiful building which has been left to rot for decades. The mob were allowed in this weekend for the last time before restoration begins.

      I'm seeing it as a metaphor for the Labour Party, which was famously founded 'more on Methodism than on Marx' (unfortunately). It's a spare, elegant edifice based on sound principles - primarily equality and co-operation - which has been abandoned for flashier, short-term obsessions.

      My photo-essay is here. Click on these samples for bigger images.

      internal door detail

      Whatever the Methodist equivalent of a sacristy is.

      Light fitting

      Almost intact window

      light fittings

      Main body, ground floor

      Organ pipes

      The Chapel is being restored to public (and thankfully secular) use by the Historic Chapels Trust and other bodies - send them some money now. 

      P-P-P-P-Pick up a Penguin!

      I'v just received six books from the Penguin Great Ideas series - 80 (so far) short books of essays by prominent intellectuals. I already owned Marcus Aurelius's Meditations in this edition, and I've added Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Orwell's Books v. Cigarettes, Why I Write and Decline of the English Murder, William Morris's Useful Work v. Useless Toil, and Michel Foucault's The Spectacle of the Scaffold.

      To be honest, I've got most of these texts in one form or another, and most are available for free on the web (follow the links above). I bought them because these slim volumes are masterpieces of book design. Each one evokes the spirit and sense of the text: the Foucault features repetitive circles representing the atomised individual under the microscope of social institutions.

      Why I Write features a spare, plain cover with an austere typeface reflecting Orwell's suspicion of rhetoric.

      The Morris merges art and craft in line with his philosophy that anything which is useful is necessarily beautiful (he clearly never worked in the lower reaches of higher education).

      The Decline of the English Murder is a deeply embossed tabloid newspaper, complete with adverts,

      Books v. Cigarettes has an abstract design which reminds me of ashtrays and Venn diagrams, from the 1950s/1960s designs:

      while Benjamin's essay, which is about what happens to our definitions of art when artworks can be reproduced to infinity, features the spine of the book repeated over and over again, which I think is very witty.

      Penguins were invented in 1935 by Allen Lane (influenced by various other imprints) to make high quality books available for about the price of a packet of cigarettes. Design and typography were hugely important to the company, for themselves and as a way of distinguishing the texts from other cheap books. You can still buy the originals for pennies everywhere: green for detective novels, blue for biography, orange for fiction and so on. Even if you can't read, they do furnish a room!

      Bye bye England…

      I've been mightily impressed by Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party during this electoral cycle, and they're clearly working well together.

      So I have a cunning plan. Instead of aiming for complete independence for Scotland and Wales, they should campaign for English independence, then form a federal Republic without England (Northern Ireland can finally join the Republic of Ireland). Result: paradise. And the two nations together would trump England when it came to  deciding who got the United Nations Security Council seat. Then we'd see a much more mature world order.

      There's no down side - other than for England, which would be stuck with a Tory majority for ever…

      What else would I do?

      Thanks to 'anonymous' for posting the link to this as a comment.

      Events, dear boy, events

      After Stoke City's rather one-sided encounter with Chelsea yesterday, I'm minded to paraphrase Emperor Hirohito's announcement of Japan's surrender in 1945: 'the situation has developed not necessarily to Stoke's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest'.

      A couple of goals were debatable, but this was the worst performance by Stoke since our 8-1 Liverpool defeat all those years ago.

      Friday, 23 April 2010

      On this day…

      Shakespeare was allegedly born today, and died on this date. So did several other of my favourite authors: Michael Moore the rabblerouser, Paul McAuley, the speculative fiction writer (it's what we academics call science fiction to defend ourselves against accusations of geekiness), talented paedophile Vladimir Nabokov

      Joining Shakespeare in their graves on this date were Cervantes, Jules Verne and Wordsworth

      Here's Sonnet 71 by Shakespeare.

      No longer mourn for me when I am dead
      Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell
      Give warning to the world that I am fled
      From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
      Nay, if you read this line, remember not
      The hand that writ it; for I love you so
      That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
      If thinking on me then should make you woe.
      O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
      When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
      Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
      But let your love even with my life decay,
      Lest the wise world should look into your moan
      And mock you with me after I am gone.

      G'day, voters

      Though actually he took US citizenship long ago.

      Gordon the Big Engine and Henry the Green Engine

      Prompted by a mention on the radio yesterday, I dig out my old Rev. W. Awdry railway books, and discover that Gordon the Big Engine is competitive, surly, a dependable workhorse who hates to be beaten, and often the butt of jokes by flashier engines. He always gets through in the end, and is always at the heart of rescue operations.
      Gordon's important position as the engine who usually pulls the Express has made him proud, pompous and arrogant, with good reason, too; he is the strongest engine on Sodor after all.Because of his rank in the social order of the North Western Railway, Gordon expects to get the important jobs and either sulks when he doesn't, or gets jealous of those who do. Sometimes, Gordon acts as a bully… Sometimes Gordon shows a kinder side and gives the younger engines advice, usually after he has had some mishap as a result of his foolhardiness. Some of his advice isn't exactly honest, though, as James and Sir Handel have discovered.

      Amongst his rivals is Henry the Green Engine. Henry is vain, spiteful, patronising and snobbish, and winds Gordon up something rotten. He was owned by Sir Topham Hatt. He's painted green but burns coal, very inefficiently. Completely coincidentally, he looks like David Cameron.

      Here's a moral tale about poor Gordon:

      Election depression?

      Did you watch the latest leaders' debate last night? It was supposedly on foreign policy, but quickly degenerated into generalised sniping and wheeling out pre-prepared lines. Boring and unenlightening. Though no doubt all the commentators and newspapers will declare their preferred candidate as the winner.

      The British National Party are launching their manifesto in my beloved Stoke today, the utter bastards. They've picked St. George's Day because, despite their name, they're white English supremacists.

      Enough of this - it's getting too tedious for words. Let's have some music. Today's choice is a real treat - one of my guilty pleasures. Yes, it's The Bangles' Different Light and Everything. What can I say? Pop sass and catchy hooks with a dash of 60s folk rock and classic girl group in places, though the synthesisers have dated badly. As have the clothes and hair.

      Thursday, 22 April 2010

      Donor Cards: let's be selective

      From those good eggs at Class War:

      Meanwhile, have some fun with the Daily Mail Nick Clegg Headline Generator!

      The Daily Mail: Concentration camps Good, Proportional Representation Bad

      This is the front cover of today's Daily Mail, alongside the other rightwing newspapers, all of which have independently decided to gang up on harmless centrist Nick Clegg:

      The actual article Clegg wrote, 8 years ago, suggests that it's time we stopped behaving as though German = Nazi.

      As the Mail seems to appreciate the lessons of history, let's remind ourselves of the Daily Mail's attitude towards Nazism in the late 1930s (full article here).

      Acclaim for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists kicked off on 8th January 1934 with the unequivocal headline; ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’ Some Mail staff even wore black shirts to work. Lord Rothermere, the paper’s owner, wrote of the BUF in the 15th January 1934 issue that they were ‘a well-organised party of the Right ready to take over responsibility for social affairs with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Hitler and Mussolini displayed’.
      In November 1926, Italy’s fascist supremo dropped a hand-written line to G. Ward Price, the paper’s Chief Correspondent, congratulating him on his appointment as a director: ‘my dear Price, I am glad you have become a director of the Daily Mail, and I am sure that your very popular and widely circulated newspaper will continue to be a sincere friend of fascist Italy. With best wishes and greetings, Mussolini.  
      Through the 30s, the Mail was ‘the only major British daily to take a consistently pro-Nazi line’: it ‘stuck out like a sore thumb’ (Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933-39). Rothermere penned a July 1933 leader, ‘youth triumphant’, praising the Nazi regime for its ‘accomplishments, both spiritual and material’. True, he admitted, there had been ‘minor misdeeds of individual Nazis’ but these would certainly be ‘submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing on Germany’. So complimentary was the article, the Nazis used it for propaganda.

      Rothermere eventually struck up a friendship with Hitler – or ‘My dear Fuhrer’ as he invariably began his regular correspondences – and visited him numerous times. Rothermere and Ware Price were among only three or four foreigners invited to Hitler’s first ever dinner party at his official Berlin residence.
      In 1937, Ward Price – who ‘was believed to Rothermere’s mouthpiece not only by the public but by Ward Price himself’ (Taylor) – published a chatty memoir about his great mates Hitler and Mussolini entitled ‘I Know These Dictators’. Last revised and reprinted in August 1938 – when fascism’s dark intents were obvious to even the most ardent reactionary – the book called Mussolini ‘a successful man of the world who is expert at his job and enjoys doing it’ and spoke warmly of Hitler’s ‘human, pleasant personality.’ The chapter ‘The Human Side of Hitler’ (not a phrase you hear very often) revealed that, alongside his affection for kiddies and doggies, the great dictator was also partial to the odd chocolate éclair: Naughty but nice’, as the Fuhrer used to say.
      Price urged readers of ‘I Know These Dictators’ to keep an ‘open mind’ on fascism. Of Hitler’s initial wave of repression on gaining power, he wrote: ‘The Germans were made to feel the firm hand of their new master. Being Germans, they liked it.’
      The concentration camps – about which ‘gross and reckless accusations (have been) made’ – were just full of dirty Reds. The Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler took on his party rivals – by killing them all – was a sensible bit of forward planning avoiding the need for lots of silly arguments later on. Overall, ‘in every respect of the German nation’s life the constructive influence of the Nazi regime (was) seen’. The only people who suffered were a few troublesome ‘minorities’. 
      Lord Rothermere last visited Hitler in May 1938. While other papers condemned the regime’s brutality and oppression, the Mail still claimed Germany was ‘in the forefront of nations’ and that Hitler was ‘stronger than ever and more popular with his countrymen’. On 1 October 1938, after the signing of the Munich treaty in which Britain and France appeased Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia’s disputed Sudetenland region, Rothermere sent a telegram to Hitler: ‘MY DEAR FUHRER EVERYONE IN ENGLAND IS PROFOUNDLY MOVED BY THE BLOODLESS SOLUTION OF THE CZECHOSLOVAKIAN PROBLEM STOP PEOPLE NOT SO MUCH CONCERNED WITH TERRITORIAL READJUSTMENT AS WITH THE DREAD OF ANOTHER WAR WITH ITS ACCOMPANYING BLOODBATH STOP FREDERICK THE GREAT A GREAT POPULAR FIGURE IN ENGLAND MAY NOT ADOLF THE GREAT BECOME AN EQUALLY POPULAR FIGURE STOP I SALUTE YOUR EXCELLENCY’S STAR WHICH RISES HIGHER AND HIGHER.

      Good writing dies at the hands of search engine optimisation

      This is a very entertaining and thought-provoking rant about the corporate takeover of music on the internet. His major points: blogging and music magazines are in the business of speed and hits, leading to more and more inconsequential pieces, written worse and worse, and leading to homogenisation. There's no 'stumble culture' any more - finding an odd band by accident. Instead, coverage is predicated on exclusivity, getting there first and statistical analysis: more clicks leads to more advert revenue.

      Contains a lot of swearing. He's angry. It's a fascinating examination of the quality/quantity dilemma.

      sorry: I've deleted it because it's set to play automatically and it was driving me mad. See it here, especially if you're a media student. 

      Downfall's downfall

      Like me, you're probably quite bored with the rash of Downfall parodies on Youtube. They started quite amusingly, but soon became tired and unoriginal.

      The film makers have started to pursue Youtube to get them taken down, on copyright grounds. Unsurprisingly, this has provoked a reaction amongst the geeks leading to, you've guessed it, a Downfall parody.

      This one's actually worth watching - it's witty and informed.

      Hitler, as "Downfall producer" orders a DMCA takedown from Brad Templeton on Vimeo.

      Seal clubbable

      This is how to entrap a seal before carting it off for a banquet:

      Lucky London. Arrr

      One of the delights of British politics is the fringe parties: anyone with £500 can stand for Parliament (and you get it back if you poll 5%). It's been abused by commercial interests, and some of them are attention seekers, or just crazed, but they can offer a commentary on mainstream politics.

      So if you live in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency, you can vote for Mad Cap'n Tom, the Pirate candidate. Amongst other thing, he sees British youths' handiness with a knife as an asset:

      All British schoolchildren t'be trained in swordsmanship an' gunnery.
      Half of 'em be knowin' how t'use a knife already, this not be a stretch.
      Once got five gold runs on Blockbusters.
      Despite all appearances, is not a student. 

      Wednesday, 21 April 2010

      I didn't come here to talk about my policies!

      Refreshingly, some political parties don't spend their money on consultants, image advice, PR men and media spinning. Here's Lord Pearson, leader of UKIP, the golf club equivalent of the fascist BNP. It's worth watching all 4 minutes.

      Perhaps he should have invested in some media training after all…

      Pages and pages

      Only one book in the post today - Jean Mitchell's Storm and Dissonance: L. M. Montgomery and Conflict, bringing my spend on Anne of Green Gables books to £200+. Oh dear.

      Luckily, my friend and colleague Sarah has looted the 'university shop' (a marketing thing in the local shopping centre) of all the good second hand books it has on sale. She's presented me with a tour of 1980s Conservatism called Thatcher's Britain: A Guide to the Ruins which seems remarkably current, leafing through their current manifesto, and a beautiful Penguin Special, Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit's Trotskyist Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative (1968). Daniel Cohn-Bendit's still around, as a Green MEP.

      Terror! On the front pages

      If anyone reads the Daily Star other than David Cameron (who claimed it was his favourite), you'd be forgiven for assuming that a plane had gone down today, wrecked by volcanic ash.

      You'd only have to turn several pages and read a long way into the accompanying article to work out that the pictures are a reconstruction for a cash-in documentary on a low-rent TV station, of what might have happened when a BA flight flew through an ash cloud…28 years ago. There were no injuries.

      Strangely, copies of the Star were removed from airports today. As were some Star 'journalists'.

      Meanwhile, the world gets slightly better, death by death. Juan Antonio Samaranch died today, joining his old friend General Franco in hell if there's any justice (which there clearly isn't, given that Samaranch parleyed his association with fascism into a long and corrupt career with the Olympic movement).

      Sport seems to attract reactionaries, even fascists: Samaranch's predecessor, Avery Brundage, was an enthusiastic American supporter of the Nazis, though at least he didn't spend his career as a diplomat for an actual fascist regime. He dumped Jewish American athletes from the American team for the 1936 Berlin Olympics (best games ever, in his opinion) and allowed the Nazi salute - later expelling Smith and Carlos for their Black Power salute in 1968, and tried to have women banned from the Olympics.

      My sport - fencing - spent the 1930s glorifying fascism, nowhere more than in Britain, where Oswald Mosley fenced for Britain in between leading the British Union of Fascists. The Black Shirt itself was based on the fencing jacket of the period. A research project into his sporting activities will happen at some point, but anecdotally, there's no sign that his views were anything other than enthusiastically endorsed by the sports governors. Other political fencers: Churchill, Himmler, Heydrich, Franco and, thankfully for me, Karl Marx. Aviators and mountaineers were also prone to fascism - it's all that stuff about being above and beyond the masses.

      Book news

      I read a glorious, pointless book yesterday. It's Bad Vibes, by Luke Haines - his account/autobiography of the Britpop years. Haines was the misanthropic egotist behind The Auteurs, Baader-Meinhof and Black Box Recorder, as well as recording under his own name. In thrall to The Go-Betweens and Nick Cave, but adding his own splenetic misery, Haines uses the book to attack, well, everybody, while declining false modesty. Everyone else was shit, and he's a genius. According to him.

      A whole book of this would be unbearable, were it not for one thing: Haines is right. He is a genius and most other bands were rubbish compared with him. Unfortunately for our hero, the corporate world of music isn't really set up for misanthropic musical critiques. It likes singles and populist albums. And thus the stage is set for artistic ascension, critical approval and commercial failure. Which is a problem because, as Haines unflinchingly records, he likes fame, attention, money and drugs. All of which come to those who play the game - and he can't do it. The book's brilliant because Haines doesn't spare himself from unflinching criticism and scorn for his arrogance, petulance and narcissism, while dishing it out to everybody else too.

      Is that the acetate test pressing?

      Last Saturday was Independent Record Shop day, on which we were meant to give our money to small capitalists rather than big ones.

      Actually, the independent record shop is my natural habitat. Weeks of my life have been spent leafing through racks of dusty records by bands who reached No. 78 on the Indie charts with a split single on Fierce Panda or some such label. It's difficult to point to the indiest record in my collection, though Spare Snare's acoustic, Scottish cover of 'Say My Name', Teen Anthems' 'Welsh Bands Suck' and The Period Pains' 'We Hate The Spice Girls' all spring to mind.

      Going to an indie store is a special experience though - far better than the fake mateyness of HMV and the like. The checkout monkey recently addressed me thus 'Find everything you needed, buddy?' and added 'buddy' to every subsequent sentence. I didn't 'need' anything I'd bought, I couldn't find what I actually wanted, and we'd never met previously. Buddy, indeed.

      No, go to a proper record shop and there's no false bonhomie. It's like an assault course - difficult, often humiliating, but ultimately good for you. I spent a good chunk of my life at Cob Records in Bangor: seeing one of their yellow plastic bags is my madeleine.

      Cob was especially difficult for non-locals because as well as convincing the staff you were worthy to buy one of their records, you had to either speak Welsh or look apologetic for not being able to do so - learning a few phrases was essential (and a pleasure, I should add). Similarly, occasionally purchasing 7" singles by the staff's bands helped (this was the high point of Welsh indie - most of them produced, played on or supported Gorky's/Super Furries/David Wrench/Ectogram (with whom I'm still friends)/Melys/Serpents etc) and learning their children's names made it more likely that you'd leave the shop with only a few mocking comments about your taste in music. Buying music on the 'wrong' label was enough to attract opprobrium. OK, they would imply, you're feeding our kids, but don't expect gratitude if you think that Creation is socially acceptable. I got away with it, I think: my first two purchases (made blindly) were Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's Patio on 10" and Tindersticks' Kathleen, also on 10" - credible enough to serve as an entrée.

      I ran this gauntlet several times a week. I'd go in on Friday and go through the list of next week's releases, having perused NME on Wednesday. Then I'd return on Monday to pick up the loot. Usually, this would be a couple of plastic bags full of vinyl (I didn't have a CD player until 1998), sometimes more. Added to my order, the men (yes, all men) would have added 'stuff we thought you'd like/should listen to', which usually consisted of their own releases, or any old crap ordered in error and lingering in dark corners. I would, intimidated and pleased by their kindness, gratefully take whatever they recommended. The bags would be hauled over the counter (which was festooned by stickers and posters for bands which lasted, on average, for one gig or a single mention by sainted John Peel) and the pattern would repeat itself every week. I'd also call in at random times just in case interesting second-hand stuff had come in - leading to my large collection of Ankst's back catalogue and a big pile of Datblygu records.

      Leaving North Wales was a huge wrench for many reasons, but Cob was a part of this. My current location had an OK shop which closed within weeks of my arrival. Birmingham had a couple of good shops, but they're closing. Trips to Manchester are always fruitful, but I'm no longer so tribal. After having to sell 400 7" singles one summer to stay in my house and eat, something was lost. Internet shopping isn't the same. The very best indie outlets on the web are Action Records and Norman's Records (huge range, friendly people, authentic indie snobbiness) but the social aspects are lost: the smells, the cameraderie of slipping a record out of its sleeve to spin it under the light or work out which pressing it was before loudly declaring it inauthentic, the quiet nods of recognition when fellow victims are spotted, the shameful pleasure of purchasing a records despite the shop owner loudly announcing that 'this is shit, mate' and pressing a load of other things on you  - you can't get this on the web.

      Go to your local shop. If you don't, their employees will roam the streets. Record shops are Care in the Community for nerds. Download anything on a major label - buy the rest in your local shop.