Thursday, 6 November 2008

More genius from Prozacville

And *crash*, back down to earth Prozac brings us with a soft landing.

Though everything changes around us, we will still be the same as before.


Assuming the theory of evolution is true -- (and, yes, it is, Sarah Palin, I'm sorry) -- why haven't British people developed gills?

Why no webbed feet? A waterproof, retractable flap of skin that extends over the head?

'Like living in tupperware' my wife once said, back in the days she was happy not to live here.

Go on. Have a look. It'll be raining.

Oh it depresses me depresses me. Depresses me.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Now I can go back to sleep.

Well, thank fuck for that.

I stayed up late, to make sure this time. (Last two American elections I went to bed with a Democrat President-elect, to wake up with George Bush. You can imagine...)

Still, I must admit feeling a little underwhelmed by the whole thing, now, at 5am GMT. I don't feel any of the hope or change that I was promised. Just relief.

And I'm more than a little fed up, already, with the renewal of the over-inflated estimation of America the Greatest from the American 'left'. Yeah, I felt bad for a lot of people in the US who had to endure under Bush, but this 'Once again we prove that America is the Greatest country on earth' refrain is puzzling, really. And a little annoying. Amnesia is a terrific thing, eh?

Something has happened, something has changed, so I'm told. But I have a bad feeling that it isn't anything more than the birth of a new symbol. A new idealised container, in Kleinian parlance. Which might be something in itself, and might be worthy of some celebration. And certainly the importance of Obama's election -- as a symbol, as a reality -- for the blacks, and race-relations generally, in America, and beyond, shouldn't be ignored. That, unproblematically, is a Good Thing.

But how much will really 'Change'? In foreign policy? economic policy?

(Is it the comparisons with Kennedy, who's record never really bears up to the romanticised fantasia, that makes me nervous? I've heard at least a half-dozen references to a 'new Camelot' already. Innumerable 'new dawns'. Lazy, lazy, complacent hyperbole. Let's hope for something more... substantial.)

Good luck, though. It would be a really cynical bastard that didn't will Obama to live up to at least some of the hype.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Trickle down is melting?

A brilliant article from Simon Schama in today's Guardian.

I love Simon Schama, even when I disagree with him, which happily doesn't happen that often. He's just that right amount of completely barmy. And he writes 'on the edge', by which I mean in this instance 'very nearly over-the-top'. It's the closest I've ever read a historian emulating Angela Carter, which sums it up nicely, I think.

But there was one passage in particular I liked here:

The Bush presidency is the spectre haunting the feast in more than tactics. Although every conservative administration since Ronald Reagan has promised to deliver, through supply-side stimulation, economic growth without bloated deficits, they have never been vindicated in their blind faith in what Bush senior once rashly called "voodoo economics". Consistently, they have brought the US Wall Street crashes and recessions along with massive deficits; and yet somehow, the stake that history attempts to drive through the heart of their economic theology never puts the ghoul away.

No weight of evidence to the contrary has ever shaken the totemic belief that tax cuts can grow the economy robustly enough to compensate for drastic shortfalls in revenue. George W Bush clung to this belief even as the Clinton budget surplus was converted into a mountainous deficit, and John McCain continues to parrot the same belief with the shining face of a true believer.

And about time, too. I've lost patience, you see, with whatever misguided notions of 'neutrality' stop the press in this country, that country (and mine own, too), from blowing the whistle on this bullshit. For more than thirty years, from Thatcher and Regan and Mulroney to Cameron, McCain and Harper, right-wing politicians have foisted the lie that tax cuts, trickle-down, 'supple-side' economics stand any chance of working for any one but the very richest in our society at the expense of everyone else.

It is a lie. My first day of Economics 101 lectures at U of T they told us this. Well, first week. It can't be that big a secret.

Parliamentary privilege stops MPs from saying so, but why is the media so apparently happy to repeat these lies as legitimate 'policy', I wonder? (Ok, stupid question, I know. Sorry)

Anyway, good on you, Simon. Keep it up and all that.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Monsters in America

I've been too busy to post here for ages, but I found this -- very worthily -- doing the rounds and thought I'd like to bask in some of its ridiculous, but somehow strangely apt, glory:

JibJab - Frankenstein for President!

(Thanks to Magia Posthuma -- an excellent blog on the real history of vampires, by the way -- for posting it on from Frakensteinia, which I've never come across before but also looks curiously worthy of exploration...)

In reality? Obama strikes me as vampire-like, without all the capitalist overtones (the slightly exotic charmer?), McCain a werewolf (it's the eyes), Biden as Frankenstein (again, due to nothing more insightful than remarkable verisimilitude).

And Palin? Pit bull hockey mom?

Did you see Dead Set?

Mr. Romero, I think we've identified your next project.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Sweet Victory.... ish.

'Marx popular amid credit crunch'

So. Well well well. Not to be one to say 'We told you so...'

Karl Marx is back in fashion, says one German publisher, who attributes his new popularity to the economic crisis.
That's great, except isn't saying that Marx is 'back in fashion' demonstrating, first and foremost, a fundamental lack of appreciation for his concept of commodity fetishism?

"It's definitely in vogue right now," said the publisher's director Joern Schuetrumpf.

"The financial crisis brought us a huge bump."
Apparently so. The kids this season won't be caught dead without a hardback, gold-leafed copy of Das Kapital in their Gucci rucksacks and their diamond-studded, Arctic fox fur Cossack hats.

Unfettered capitalism is sooo 2007.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

STOP IT stop it stop it stop it

The BBC, especially. But everyone, PLEASE, stop asking for listeners'/readers'/viewers' opinions on things. We know shit, absolutely nada, and cannot be trusted. Haven't you worked that out already?

'Call in, write in, email us with your views' should never, ever, be heard on the airwaves again. If I want to whiff the ignorant, ill-informed, lienteric stools of the great incontinent masses, I'll hit the blogosphere, thanks a heap. :-)

When I listen to the BBC -- the BBfuckingC, fer Christ's sake! -- I want insight. Analysis. People with letters after their names. Respected leaders, movers and shakers, nattering on, explaining things. Even if they themselves are full of shit, I want to hear them spew that shit themselves. (Line up government ministers, bankers, regulators... the lot.) I don't really want to hear, nor particularly trust, Nick Robinson or other self-important reporters, but they, for now, are inevitable. What I certainly don't want is 'You, the Viewer.'

It's not that I'm elitist. It's not that I think I know more than everyone else. I don't call/write in to these things because I know that I know nothing, and I don't want to take up the very limited airwaves with my own uninformed drivel. That's why God invented the Internet and the blogosphere -- a public lavatory for ideas. And it's not like I believe everything I'm told by experts and specialists -- on the contrary, I don't believe most of it. But I want the chance to hear what I don't believe at least from someone who has some illusory pretext for having said opinion, who has thought about it for more than the minute of that particular news story. Especially when we're talking about this financial crisis. I don't get it all and, as I've argued elsewhere, I'm not sure that the banker-boys get it either, but I have no doubt whatsoever that 'Jon from Hackney' and 'Sue from Gateshead' know absolutely squat.

Ok. I think I've done all this before, and, like, within the last two or three months. Which shows I've either run out of things to say, or that this is one of things that especially pisses me off. If I don't write here ever again, you'll know why.

And here are Mitchell and Webb on the same issue. See? Experts do things much better. I'll keep my amateurish bile in cyber-space, so long as the pros do this good a job...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Quick Question

Ok. Who voted for this guy? Show of hands, please.


Seriously. I would really like one of the hand-up-their-ass animated socks who bestowed their sacred privilege to vote on this clown to write in and tell me what, in the name of something I can't fathom, made them do it. I don't care what else you say; insult my mother, threaten my pets, tell me where to stick it, what to eat. Whatever. Just tell me why.

My fault, really, for being so smug a couple of weeks ago. I watched the (English language) debate, and was actually quite pleased. Seriously, hold your chuckles. I heard a lot of shit, yeah, and a lot of lying and posturing (why did every leader start their discussion of arts funding with a catalogue of which instruments are played by various distant relatives?!? 'I can't read music, but my wife plays harpsichord... [no pun intended, unless someone can come up with a good one]'), but I realised that the level of debate in Canada isn't half bad. Well, compared with the UK consensus politics, where three parties are fighting over the same minuscule plot of land -- you know the one, that bit with an expectant hole and marked by a granite rock engraved with the word 'Thatcher'. And when compared of course with the Mickey-Minnie routine happening south of the border -- which to be fair is more interesting this year than it has been in the past.

What I saw in that debate were four leaders with some decent ideas, representing the centre-left (more centre but we're getting there) and one monkey who kept bashing his head against the button that said 'No comment', which apparently to 37.63% of Canadians sounds like Henry V. And so that 37.63% of you voted for the monkey. Muppets.

Maybe I need some perspective. It was only 37.63%. Scary, but could be worse. If the centre-left got itself organised, they would be a small, small opposition party. So there's hope, BUT only if...

If we are going to have real, serious debate in Canada, we need to get rid of this 'vote for a King' first-past-the-post system and organise a proper system of proportional representation. It really saddened me that the NDP seems to have abandoned that policy this time around (is Jack getting as delusional as the rest? Say it ain't so, Jack!), leaving Green leader Elizabeth May to make the argument on her own (and gaining some moral high ground, if not some seats, in the process).

PR will make our government representative, and make government work. Let's get on it and make it all matter for a change. (It might even do something to help that record low turnout pundits will wring their hearts about for a few days.)

But do I blame Harper? the smug, vacuous asshole blowing a foul wind across the Prairies? No. Anyone (just about) can run for public office in Canada. So, a big Medieval Torture Tour of Canada for another two or three years. The fruits of Canadian land and labour to be thrown at all of those who voted Conservative yesterday, a sentence to last until your next opportunity to get it right, i.e. when Harper reckons he might get another majority. (If you want to avoid that, by the way, insist that Canadian federal elections be run on a system of proportional represention? Please?)

What do we throw at these straw-brained democrats? In the interest of regional diversity, and to have fun with stereotypes, let's make the punishment provincially-specific. Logs up the asses of right-wing British Columbians. Wheat blighted by plague for Saskatchewan (50%+ of you voted Conservative! you've come a long way from the CCF, and it's not good!) Stinking cow-flesh at Albertans -- who are for me only saved from being chucked out of the federation by the Good Folks of Edmonton-Strathcona. Southern Ontario breaks my heart, and it's boring old fruit for you, I'm afraid. I wish we could do something special for the 905, like making you go away. Maybe the best thing would be for Toronto, finally, to secede, to leave you to stew in your own vacuity. (Though more NDP would have been nice, Toronto. Look down the road. Hamilton can help, yes.) Rotting cod for the Newfoundlanders... oh wait. They didn't elect a single Conservative to Parliament. That should put an end to 'Newfie jokes'... let's just hope they don't realise how stupid the rest of us are.

'Have you heard the one about the 37.63% of Mainlanders? They voted for Harper! Those idiots!'

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Yes, I laugh, too.

Excretera is feeling too mired in the shit lately, the bad kind, wading through the unremitting stench of American elections, the downfall of capitalism, etc. etc., AND now, to cap it all, I've finally been struck down by the Freshers' Flu. (What a dirty little bunch of snotty germ-bags first years are. Best avoided. Ew.)

So into this mucky-yucky haze of unreality I found myself Sunday night convalescing in front of the TV watching a repeat of a Graham Norton show (when else would you watch a Graham Norton show?), with special guests Harry Shearer -- yup, him off The Simpsons -- and Eddie Izzard. And you know, I forgot just how incredibly funny Eddie Izzard can be.

Proof, if it were needed, in the clip below, which I've played more than two dozen times from YouTube since Graham used it in his show. Apparently, you've all already seen it already -- 5 million of you have viewed this, though it might only be the same dozen or so over and over and over again (like the counter on this blog... it's just me logging in from different computers, really. I know it). But, for those of you who might have missed it, here it is.

It's a Lego dramatisation of an Eddie Izzard stand-up routine on Star Wars. I would love to add my own insightful commentary, on how it is a remarkable imposition of our mundane, bureaucratic reality into a world of fairy tale and omnipotent fantasy ('I can kill catering with a thought!'), but since that is Izzard's point already I'll shut up and just let him do it.

'Jeff Vader'. Oh! That reminds me. An update is called for on my 'Star-Wars-instead-of-Sunday-School' lessons for my boys. Watch this space...

Saturday, 4 October 2008

United Socialist State Republic of America


This from the pile of 'want to read' newspapers beside my bed, finally being recycled after a long and busy week.

It's not a remarkably original article, but Monbiot very neatly reminds us that the US is not a free market, that it only 'works' -- such as it does -- because of vast amounts of corporate welfare. That public money, taxes primarily from the poorest, is always used in the US (and Europe, too) to support and bail out and subsidise the richest and the largest companies.

I love way so many of the American free-marketeers are falling into Cold-War relapse over this.
According to Senator Jim Bunning, the proposal to purchase $700bn of dodgy debt by the US government was "financial socialism, it is un-American". The economics professor Nouriel Roubini called George Bush, Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke "a troika of Bolsheviks who turned the USA into the United Socialist State Republic of America". Bill Perkins, the venture capitalist who took out an ad in the New York Times attacking the plan, called it "trickle-down communism".
A lovely collection of images, no? I mean, totally mad, obviously. But... [and here's the second paragraph]:
They are wrong. Any subsidies eventually given to the monster banks of Wall Street will be as American as apple pie and obesity. The sums demanded may be unprecedented, but there is nothing new about the principle: corporate welfare is a consistent feature of advanced capitalism. Only one thing has changed: Congress has been forced to confront its contradictions.
What follows is a pretty thorough picking over of the evidence to back all this up. Very Chomsky-like, which is high-praise by any standard. So I heartily recommend the rest of the article, notwithstanding some legitimate criticisms of Monbiot on the Anarchist Writers blog: they made him their Muppet of the Week for his misunderstanding of what 'anarchism' really means (though surely anarchists need to target Greater Evils that that? well, I guess that's the difference between a 'muppet' and an 'asshole'); to which I say, yes, he should know better, so go do some homework and get that right but otherwise, good effort.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Dumb Dumber Dumberest

Could it be that, finally, Americans are starting to tire of the suffocation of debate and dampening of expectations that has led to idle-brained idiots like George Bush Jr. and (maybe) Sarah Palin getting within a sniff of the White House?

Bush claimed victory after debates only because he remembered to turn up, not fall over anything, memorise a handful of 60 second, meaningless anecdotes and... well, that was about it, wasn't it? As long as he didn't fuck up in some way so obvious that even Fox News couldn't re-spin it as an valid interpretation of the facts (e.g. he knew that Iraq is somewhere in the Mid-East, Idaho is in the Mid-West, Canada's up there that way and Mexico down there somewhere), he could claim a victory.

And I've never really bought the whole Obama=change thing -- do even Democrats? does anyone? does anyone really care how Obama sells himself, as long as he wins that election? -- but I'd be really curious to discover how McCain and Palin sell themselves on that same empty mantra of 'change'. Enlighten me, please, someone. Becasuse it seems that right now in the White House we've already got a pro-War, anti-abortion, oil-mad, root-tootin'-shootin', planet-hating, evolution-denying fundamentalist -- yes! why do Islamic religious nuts get called 'fundamentalist' and Christian religious nuts (most of whom believe in the same shit anyway) get called 'evangelical'? Let's call a spade a fuckin' shovel from now on -- folksy-charmer with an aversion to foreign travel and 'details'... I'm sorry. So the difference is where, again, exactly?

Sarah Palin is less of a pig in lipstick than she is Bush Jr. in a dress. And I know which one I'd rather kiss.

Sorry. Another stating the bleedin' obvious blog entry. I seem to specialise in that lately. There are better blogs out there with real news about what's happening in America. Go read those. I need to do this everyone once and a while. For my health, you understand. I need to let it out.

Erumpo, ergo sum.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

An end to it

Everyone can now put to rest forever, I think, the idea that I am a class-snob with the news that I have decided to unashamedly like Vampire Weekend. I think this should provide ample proof of my open-mindedness, regardless of any previous pronouncements, such as my firm belief that any one who has attended Eton should be banned from public office (sit down Mr. Johnson, Mr. Cameron) and that anality is the defining characteristic of the upper classes (based on the formula money=shit).

I mean, I still don't like VW as much as I like the Arctic Monkeys, which should go without saying really and should offer sufficient succour to those that fear I am being seduced by Tommy Hilfilger's new Autumn collection. I would still burn Tommy Hilfiger clothes on sight, naturally -- it's just with Vampire Weekend, mostly thanks to 'A-Punk', I would allow Ezra Koenig to change into something more appropriate to a popular musician before poured the gasoline.

I still retain the option to change my mind, of course. And if there next albumn is shit, or they decide somewhere down the line to go all medieval mandolin, singing songs in Middle English about knights' underpants -- and let's remember they just get away with the harpsicord as it is -- then I will say I always knew it, that such frat-boy, trust-fund rock was inevitably going to suck.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A few statements of the frickin' obvious

Sorry. Just need to get this off my chest. But I think we can all agree now a few basics:

Capitalism does not work -- market forces cannot sustain themselves. (Points awarded to Bakunin, I think. That means it's been a century and a half and political debate has yet to clue in...)

The market is immoral. The invisible hand wields one very sharp, fucking brutal knife with the expertise of a blind butcher in a bee-swarm.

Bankers, investors and financial organisations do not act in the public interest. They only act in the interests of greed for the few, and will always do so. When prevented from doing so, they will fight to be permitted to do so. Like a toddler who wants chocolate ice cream, then more chocolate ice cream, blames you when he feels sick, vomits in your hair and then insists you serve him more ice cream.

Don't feel bad if you don't understand the mechanisms of global capitalism. The traders in the City and on Wall St. don't either.

The political debate in the UK is on par with school-yard taunts heard at the 'finest', i.e. most exclusive, public schools. It's all very manipulative but essentially chummy and there's actually very little substance behind the words because nobody has a clue what is actually going on beyond the very high walls that shelter the privileged little shits from the scary world outside...

... but it still looks like Plato's Academy when compared with the medieval squabbling that is going on in the US. (Canada is in the middle of a general election... I'll get back to you.)

As bad as things are, if we leave it to the the Conservatives, in the UK, in Canada, and the Republicans in the US to try to right this mess it will only be a fuck of a lot worse.

That is all. And I do apologise. Completely self-indulgent. Nobody with a functioning brain need have read that.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

In praise of...

Most people who read this blog (yes, both of you) will already know this, but for the others that might happen across these humble offerings, maybe from Canada (are you listening?), you might not have heard about Ben Goldacre so I implore you, go to his website, Bad Science, and just revel in the first rate journalism and arguments.

He really has renewed my faith in empiricism and science itself -- well, given me faith in empiricism and science, which I was never too big on, to be honest. He gives rationalism a good name. And in pointing out the bullshit that tries too often to pass itself off as truth, he demonstrates how capitalists, in the shape of Big Pill Companies and the popular media, operate as skilled snake-oil salesmen of the most damaging sort.

Just go. Read the blog. Buy the book. Wear the t-shirt. (No shit! You really can...)

That's my public service for the month. Back to being a cynical, sniping asshole.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

I give up...

Exasperated Thursday morning. What can I say?


She's powerful. She's evil. She's, perhaps, the anti-Christ. Moose-hunting, gun-totin', flag-wavin', elitist, economic fantasist, God-loving', anti-rational misogynist -- yes! she hates women! make no mistake... at least, she hates women as much as, though perhaps in a different way, than this lot:

Really? I mean really? I mean, plastic, ok sure. I get that. But a doll? with a choice of a man's suit, a Lara Croft outfit or a school-girl uniform?

(Think of the middle aged Republican men... in their pressed suits... oh christ.)

I'm off to donate some more money to the SETI project. We're getting pretty desperate now.

Only American capitalists and the tabloid media could make me feel sorry for that ignorant, corrupt, reactionary politician. (I say 'politician' of course because irrespective of gender, she is all of those things, though I accept that you cannot look at her as a 'politician' irrespective of gender. The fact that she is a young woman would have been her one redeeming quality in this election that already has an impressive record of beating the living shit out of young women, IF it wasn't for the fact that the only reason she is there is that because she is a young woman... We're just never going to get it right, are we? We don't need feminism any more? oh, I think there's a way to go yet, don't you?)

The Guardian has the same report here. I don't know what it is -- they use the same pictures and interview, but maybe it's just when wrapped in The Guardian's warm, wooly liberal jumper, the irony becomes more evident than in that ITV, irony-free offering...

Friday, 5 September 2008

Scary things...

...late at night, after hockey practice. I can never sleep after training, I'm too wound up, even at one in the morning. My best bet is to sit on the couch with a cup of peppermint tea and watch BBC News 24 until sleep just grabs me. I don't fight it.

So the other night I'm drifting in and out of consciousness, on the couch with a hot water bottle on my back, and I open my eyes long enough to become aware of my surroundings to see John McCain droning on at me with a 27-inch head. Why, I wonder, do all Republican presidential nominees have something so undeniably of the monkey about them? In the cold light of day -- well, I say 'light', but this being Sheffield, there's actually not much of that around at the moment -- I realise its some sort of sublimation, an unconscious acknowledgement on the part of Bible-wielding Republicans that yes, Darwin was right, and we'll prove it to you by offering the world endless opportunities to examine glaring evidence of man's lineage.

But what was even scarier, the other night, was the whole performance of the convention, where we were presented once again not only with irrefutable proof of natural selection (and that it doesn't work in the US), but that there is an undeniably . If anyone had any doubts of America's Imperialist credentials, last week one Presidential candidate -- the nice, lefty one, at that -- stands before Roman columns and addresses his followers in a toga and crowned with a wreath of olive leaves. (I might have dreamed some of that.) This week, we get a funny little man standing before a crowd hysterical with adoration, all being seduced by inflamatory, hate-filled rhetoric and supporting all sorts of right-wing policies that promise to make a Once Great Nation great again by going to war.

Sound familiar?

Ok ok ok. A cheap shot. And not a very original point. And I'm realising that it's hardly a point I need to make. Because the RNC doesn't look like this, does it? But, in the twin-cities of St. Paul-Nuremberg, we are getting to see the Republican-American version of this sort of nationalism -- a laissez-faire fascism. (You like that? I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with it. Any more authoritative citations would be appreciated.) The policies, the hate, the fear, the penchant for fetishism, while decrying others' 'deprived' sexual practices; the crowd's cheers are all very America uber-alles (USA! USA!). But, this being America, of course there's no one forcing anyone into this compliance.

It all reminds me of that scene in The Life of Brian, you know?

I love that. Anyway, I particularly wish to applaud that man a few rows up, waving the placard that read: 'Peace Through Strength!' Alas, he must of been standing in front of the man with the 'Truth Through Lies' sign. And an honourable mention to the 21-year-old university student I heard interviewed the next morning on Radio 4 who, when asked why she supported McCain, responded 'Because he shares the values I hold most dear: protection for the unborn, freedom...' at which point she ran out of steam. Maybe she forgot the rest, but really, what more did she need to say?

Sorry if I'm not accompanying this rant with some intelligent analyses. I would cast my psychoanalytic-eye over the lot of them but well, I'm too busy at the minute to go out and buy a new throw for my couch.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Thomas King's Medicine River

A review I put up on goodreads on Thomas King's Medicine River.

Medicine River Medicine River by Thomas King

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Really terrific novel. After reading Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water I had very high expectations. This was a very different book, but no less enjoyable. While Green Grass, Running Water played decadently with meta-texts and inter-texts and was very upfront on its dealings with the Big Ideas, this book is much more subtle and understated, but as effective and, in many ways, does the same sort of thing, only not so loud.

The principle characters in Green Grass were flamboyant, grabbing the narrative and tossing it around wantonly, here we get Will, who so often seems to the one being grabbed and dragged and tossed about.

But at the heart of both texts is the trickster. In Green Grass, we get Coyote and Changing Woman and the Lone Ranger, Hawkeye, Ishmael and Robinson Crusoe (and a particularly mischievous narrator) ripping stories, past and present, to pieces, leaving Noah and John Wayne and others stunned and castrated and confused. In Medicine River this role is subtly staged by Harlen Bigbear. Like the trickster in Green Grass, Harlen trips through the text, trying to make good and set things right and create the world as it should be, and like a trickster it rarely, if ever, goes to plan, but somehow all works in the end as it should, according to some unwritten, easy code of righteousness, justice and balance.

So, Medicine River doesn't come with the bells and whistles of Green Grass, but there is a different joy to be had in its subtlety, the way it does so much without seeming every to try. Terrific.

(Incidentally, if you live in Southern Ontario, Thomas King is running in a by-election for the NDP in Guelph. Visit their site here and support him -- we need people like this in government!)

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Another slice of tofu, anyone...?

We're all going to have to go Veggie soon.

This article from today's front page of The Guardian:

Revealed: the massive scale of UK's water consumption

A vegetarian diet we all already know is better than a meat-based one for Oh! so very many reasons. Here's the numbers in terms of water:

Different diets have different water footprints. A meat and dairy-based diet consumes about 5,000 litres of virtual water a day while a vegetarian diet uses about 2,000 litres.

Before I get too smug, though, there are some other disturbing facts on water consumption here.

That's excretera's public service message for the day. Happy munching.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Another sec...

Back to the Russian-Georgia-South-Ossetia-USA mess.

Another useful, insightful article. This time from the New Statesman:

'Superpower Swoop' by Misha Glenny

On the one hand, says Glenny, 'Clearly, Russia has been goading and provoking the Georgian government for several years into making the big mistake.' But the US has also been playing its part, the neo-con hawks (lead by the always off-target Cheney) lobbying the Georgian government and allowing them to 'believe the farcical proposition that Georgia's armed forces could take on the military might of their northern neighbour in a conventional fight and win.'

Why? 'For the Bush administration (or for its hawks at least), the Georgian mistake presents an opportunity - let us recast Russia as a threat to global stability and a potential enemy.' In addition to reviving the Cold War paranoia that is so effective in governing America (remember the Project for the New American Century, where many of the neo-cons sharpened their claws), this has the added advantage, Glenny explains, in an election year: by shifting the focus from the economy (where Obama has the advantage) to foreign policy (where McCain has the advantage, inexpicably, since his foreign policy is the same as Bush's, which Americans profess to now despise) the Republicans are trying to ensure at least (gulp!) four more years of the same, Bush-by-proxy.

And don't forget the implications for Ukraine and Iran. Read the article.

PS. Incidentally, Jonah (now 3 -- Happy Birthday!) loves hearing all about this on the news. Everytime someone on the radio or television mentions 'Georgia' he thinks they are talking about his cousin. He thinks she must be very famous.

PPS. Explaing to Will the idea of 'bodies' (as in '... were pulled from the rubble', '... were laid out in a make-shift morgue') is a little more complex.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Schandmentel is back!...

For THIS guy!

Look at that. A face at which even a mother would like to throw rotten fruit. Medieval torture was designed with this guy in mind.

This is Dr. Tim Leunig, Lecturer in Economic History at LSE. He is also works for right wing think -- and I use the term loosely -- tank Policy Exchange. Now, normally I don't want to subject members of right wing think tanks to medieval forms of humiliation and torture (I just secretly hope that their caves collapse, burying them alive), but yesterday this fellow released a report, Cities Unlimited, calling for people, or rather the unemployed, to abandon Northern English cities, where regeneration projects have failed or are pointless because ... well, they're all Northerners, aren't they?... and instead move all these people down South, where they can all fly somewhere else more easily. (So, he hates the environment at least as much as he hates people, it seems.) And no, that's not an unfair paraphrasing. Check out the BBC report here.

Specifically, the report urges the expansion of Cambridge and Oxford, because obviously there are just thousands of unfilled academic posts, just waiting for the Sheffield's ex-steel workers and Liverpool's ex-dockers. And, really, who wouldn't rather live in Cambridge or Oxford?!? This guy makes a brain drain seem like a really good idea.

But, hold those vegetables for a moment and consider just how remarkably courageous a proposal this is to bring forward. Only a brave, radical thinker, a thinker so far tunnelled into the vast anal cavities of Oxbridge that all humanity has drained away into the darkness, could have come up with such an idea.

Now, here's the cruncher: he's right, you know. The report says that cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield expanded greatly in the 19th century, to meet the demands of the economy, the industry -- the mode of production -- of the time. Now, we have a new economy, a new mode of production that no longer requires vast numbers of people -- did I say 'people'? I mean labour -- in industrial areas; vast numbers of cheap, available labour are now required in the heart of those economies dedicated to the new knowledge/service economy, to keep low the cost of other commodities needed there (lattes, sandwiches, clean toilets, Tesco's shopping trollies).

So Leunig is right. IF you regard people as nothing more than labour, commodities to be kept cheap and readily available in a capitalist economy. IF living breathing humans mean nothing more to you than statistics in economic history books, or figures on balance sheets that prop up the profits of shareholders. IF you regard communities as collections of labour, and not places where people live, i.e. enjoy an existence that is beyond their utilitarian value to the economy. IF, in other words, you are an inhumane, Gollum-twinned number-cruncher -- or a lecturer in economic history, it seems -- who has no relationship to fellow humans (or maybe just Northeners) as something akin to cattle, or machines, or coffee beans: commodities that must be kept cheap and available.

In my other life, as a psychoanalytic literary/cultural critic, we have all sort of words to describe such a psychopathology, any of which might fit here: sociopath, depersonalisation, psychopath, normotic, schizoid, conservative capitalist asshole... take your pick.

So, I sentence Dr. Leunig to a Schandmental Tour of Northern England! Let them throw rotten turnips at him in Carlisle, potatoes in Newcastle, cabbage in Sheffield and tomatoes in Liverpool (they are the European Capital of Culture this year, after all).

But maybe we're being harsh. Dr. Leunig is an academic. An intellectual. And so as a man dedicated to the revelation of Truth I'm sure he would be more than happy to discuss these ideas and explain to us his reasoning in more detail. I notice his LSE faculty page helpfully provides his contact details. So why not give him a call at +44 (0)20 7955 7857 or fax at +44 (0)20 7955 7730. Or perhaps you would like to send him some thoughts via email -- which is; perhaps you'd like to send him some pictures of your local community (some very very large photos, that take up lots of room on his server), and I'm sure he'd be more than happy to help find you accommodation in the new boroughs of Cambridge and Oxford he wishes to construct.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Hold on a sec...

Ok. I'm no expert on all the mess that's going on in Georgia. (That's Georgia, in the Caucasus, not the state in America... I don't know if the rumours are true about Southern confusion, but Canadians have learned not to take anything for granted when it comes to the intelligence, or otherwise, of our southern neighbours.) However, I'm not liking a lot of what I hear.

Russia is hardly innocent. Certainly not a angelic defender of the rights and freedoms of the South Ossetians. I don't like superpowers, and I don't trust them. (Until, that is, Canada is a superpower, but I can hardly reveal that plan to you here, could I? By the way, any one remember the Canadian World Domination Home Page? Long gone, it seems, but happily remembered relic of the Early Web.)

But I also don't like the (mostly) narrow-minded, clichéd reporting of the conflict that I'm hearing, mostly from a Western media that, let's be honest, isn't world renowned for its Powers-That-Be busting, sceptical stance to the official truth.

In fact, it seems to me that the press have been suddenly awoken from a surreal Olympic dream to discover that, Oh! It's 1985. Or 1968, or 1956. Whatever. And yes, I can see Imperialistic aspiration at work in Russian actions. BUT, but but but... well. I'm no expert. But here are some links to stories I've read that offer a little balance, a slightly different perspective.

Mark Almond on Saturday: Plucky Little Georgia? No, the Cold War Reading Won't Wash
Jonathan Steele on Monday: This is No Pipeline War But An Assault on Russian Influence
Simon Jenkins on Wednesday: Bush Rebuking Russia? Putin Must Be Splitting His Sides

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Olympics again...

I'm totally addicted to the Olympics(TM), already, as ever. This, despite the contempt in which I hold the entire, bloated, consumerist enterprise. I hate myself, really, but nothing new there. I found myself watching weightlifting with Will and Jonah today -- weightlifting! Really. Not exactly an enthralling spectator sport. But I'm a hopeless procrastinator, desperate for any crumbs of televisual distractions for my hyperactive pre-schoolers that I can rationalise in any twisted way as being Good for them. You know, international sport, learning about different countries and all that. No. I don't really believe it either.

This weekend, Marina Hyde wrote a neat comment piece in The Guardian on why, fundamentally, the Olympics are despicable and morally corrupt. It's raises some of the same issues I did months ago, though this being Marina Hyde, it's much wittier and cleverer than I could manage here.

I can't be bothered to write about everything that pisses me off about the Olympics. The sport itself is fine, though why the BBC brings us dressage and archery and shooting and not fencing I don't know. And I hate the medal table: it is fundamentally wrong that a gold medal earned by a single man splashing around a pool for 60 seconds is weighted the same as, say, a gold medal earned by a full team-squad that struggles through a whole tournament of 90 minute games... oh. Now, see? You've got me started.

But I won't tolerate any talk of 'Olympic values', as they were once conceived. Commercialisation and (then) professionalisation make it very clear what the Olympics value. Picking Beijing as the host city, makes it even more clear. The elevation of individual achievement over team achievement, the awarding of the games to a country that efficiently deal with 'security issues'... there's little left to admire, really. Vacuous calls for World Peace? PLEASE!

Note to the BBC and everyone else: Let me just waste my time watching humans push themselves to silly extremes peacefully, without all the notions of nobility and honour. Just let me enjoy the orgy of capitalism and sport and self-loathing.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Magia Posthuma

After nearly two months away -- Canada and various campsites around the UK -- I'm dipping back, catching up with some reading. And making some new discoveries, so I thought I'd announce my blog-return with something new. I can't even remember where I got tipped to this, but I found reading Magia Posthuma very interesting. (If anyone can remind me who pointed this out, I would happy to credit it.)

Magia Posthuma is a blog dedicated to the study of vampires, but not in a vulgar, another-goth- freak-thinking-death-is-cool sort of way. As the blog's mission statement makes clear, it's about contextualising the idea of the vampire in the social and cultural history of knowledge.

It is the sort of history, the sort of project, that Foucault would applaud, and one that I find particularly fascinating. Just look at this summary, from the blog's sidebar:

Magia Posthuma is the title of a book written by the Catholic lawyer Karl Ferdinand von Schertz in 1704. In the book von Schertz examines the case of a spectre that roamed about and harmed the living. Several of these cases were known in Moravia where von Schertz published his book, as well as in neighbouring areas. Only two decades later, a similar case was investigated by Austrian officials in North Eastern Serbia. The local people called the spectre a vampire. This incident inspired the deacon Michael Ranft to publish a study on the mastication of the dead. Just a few years later, in 1732, another case of vampirism was investigated in Serbia. Reports of this investigation were published throughout Europe with the consequence that the interest in vampires exploded. Vampires became the topic of numerous learned articles and books. Cases of magia posthuma or vampirism, however, kept occurring. In 1755 empress Maria Theresa aided by her court physician Gerard van Swieten began passing laws against the exhumation and destruction of corpses as well as other acts of superstition.
Terrific, isn't it? Another example of a delicious disconnect in Enlightenment thinking. When totally ridiculous, impossible phantasies pass themselves off as rationally, even scientifically viable. Like spiritualism in the 19th century, or trickle-down economics in the twentieth.

Anyway. More on vampires to follow shortly.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Are we really so fragile?

Yup. I do believe that we are. But remember, the next time someone complains about 'being Canadian means only not being American', that that is exactly the point. Back in the mid-19th century, after failed Fenian invasions and before the debate between capitalist and socialist health care, some men with terrifically ridiculous facial hair said, 'We don't want to be them! Who's with us?' and the not-necessarily-so proud Dominion of Canada was born. (Apparently, things might be shifting on this... I'll let you know when I check in back home next week.)

But I'll take that sort of ribbing from Colbert any time. He's my favourite neo-conservative asshole. Well, the only one I don't want to punch in the face. Which, again, is the point, I know.

[Note for British people who might be wondering: it's like ITV buying the rights to the Match of the Day song. It would be like Manchester United obtaining the exclusive rights to sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' at Old Trafford. That bad, yes.]

Oh well. I'll miss the theme, of course. And I don't even think that the media has gone over the top with this one (though TSN's 'CTV saves "The Hockey Theme" Song' was a wonderful piece of attempted spin, even if it didn't really reflect the general mood.)

We will recover.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Great Book of bathroom Graffiti, Interlude?

What's with the dearth of quality bathroom scribblings in this day and age? This, today:
Reality is made of ants.
Very poor. Well, not bad. But have people stopped thinking while they shit? (And, if so, what are they doing?) Are witticisms being constricted? is it something we're eating? What happened to the art?
I'm starting to think that life is like a shit sandwich
Because it seems to me the more bread you've got, the less shit you have to eat
And why can't people commit random acts of kindness, and senseless acts of beauty?
You know, like Ramone and Louise, 100% true love forever?
That's the Lowest of the Low again. In what public forums are young men finding the place to smear their wasteful thoughts?...

... asks he who is 3 months into his new blog...

What a tragedy! The collateral damage of Web 2.0 are clean toilet stalls? I want my money back.

Still, I'm off to the Old Country in a week -- Home of Sneaky Dees, Capital of the Porcelain Literati. The site of classics like
God's Dead.

Nietzsche's Dead.
Jesus Saves!
(... but Gretzky gets the rebound!)

I'm coming home, Toronto. Don't let me down.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

What? Really?!?

File under 'Oh My! Haven't Things Changed!'

Apparently, the Communist Party in Russia is complaining about anti-Soviet propaganda in the new Indiana Jones film. (Here for the BBC report, here for a Toronto Star article.) You can read about it at the Communist Party's website; I can't, because it's in Russian and I don't understand Russian, but I loved the look of it. (It's where I got this picture.) It was the vision of.... sweet nostalgia.

The Star explains:
Russian Communist party members condemned the new Indiana Jones' film on Friday as crude anti-Soviet propaganda that distorted history and called for it to be banned from Russian screens.
"What galls is how together with America we defeated Hitler, and how we sympathized when Bin Laden hit them. But they go ahead and scare kids with Communists. These people have no shame," said Viktor Perov, a Communist Party member in Russia's second city of St Petersburg.

One is tempted to ask whether they bothered to wait for the translation. Chuckle, chuckle.

But, I mean, really? Complaining that the Western capitalists distort history, and calling for a ban? They have no 'shame'? Oh, please! What happened to the days when they simply wouldn't let the fetishised commodities of American capitalist pigs' Cultural Imperialism anywhere near the People's Screens, and in silent retaliation fund a insurgency movement in a Latin American country lead by a US puppet regime?

(It almost makes one nostalgic for the 1980s and the Cold War. Almost. No.)

Is this the end of history as we know it?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


It's not often in excretera that I get to leave the obnoxious stench of my anger and bask in sweetly-fragranced joy, but yesterday was one of those days. For those of you that saw my Facebook update the other day, I've spent the last 72 hours happily reflecting on watching Star Wars with my sons for the first time.

(For those of you for whom that means nothing, or, instead of joining in my jubilation would see this as another reason to pour scorn, can I kindly ask you not to piss on my parade, just this once? Please...)

If, on the other hand you are a man of a certain age, you'll appreciate where I'm coming from. As I sat there on a very small couch with one arm each boy (Will 4, Jonah nearly 3, for those of you keeping score) I definitely had one of those 'Yes, these most certainly are my progeny' moments. They were completely and impressively committed to the cause. (And I say that even though Jonah fell asleep somewhere soon after Ben rescues Luke from the Sandpeople, and waking up just as Ben is confronting Vader. But when he was awake, there was nothing less that 100% commitment. Read on.)

I shouldn't be too surprised that they were prepared to get right into it. Heeding the dire warnings of a friend (thanks Nathan!) whose son's first attempted indoctrination was greeted with almost total indifference, I was determined to approach the problem strategically, carefully building a solid foundation that could only ever lead to success. Weaning Will from firemen last year, I planted an interest in knights, and fed this with regular visits to castles and a medieval tournament recreation. Once that had nicely blossomed, I trimmed and tweaked its development, and introduced plenty of space games and images, culminating in a visit to the Space Age exhibit at the Weston Park Museum. And this week I harvested the fruit of my hard work. And it was yummy.

(Jonah? He's at that stage where I have no influence on him whatsoever. Only Will has any say over that boy now, so that wasn't really a problem. Note to Freudians: only the eldest son, it seems, has an Oedipal conflict with the father. The next son's drama is with the first. I'm scouring Greek literature to find a suitable metaphor. Watch this space.)

I had to decide which Star Wars film, of course, now that there are 6 to choose from, and though many purists will castigate me for even considering showing him anything other than Episode IV, please consider: there are plenty of four-year-old-friendly moments in The Phantom Menace (pod races, lots more lightsaber action). Plus, Will is very interested in origins -- he is the target audience for prequels. And consider kids today, growing up on Toy Story and effects-laden real action films, would they be at all impressed with the simplicity of IV - VI? Also on my mind was that there are also some not-so four-year-old-friendly moments (Anakin leaving mummy, Qui-Gon Ginn getting sliced in two), so I went with IV. A wise choice, in the end, I think.

Will never stopped asking questions which constantly tested the limits of my knowledge -- do you know what planet the band from the Mos Eisley canteen are from? Well then... (In brushing up on my Star Wars knowledge, so I can be the all-knowing Daddy my sons think I am, for this week anyway, I discovered this: Wookieepedia! Awesome. So now I know that the Modal Nodes are Bith from the planet Clak'dor VII. Thank you Wookieepedia! you've managed to prolong the illusion of paternal omnipotence for a few more days.)

Jonah can be counted on to scream 'Look! Daddy! Robot! Look! Two robots!' or 'Look! Daddy! Dark Vater!' When Vader is standing with Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing), Jonah screamed 'Look! Daddy! Dark Vater! Look! Daddy! Two Dark Vaters!' There was no way I could convince him otherwise.

Both Will and Jonah have an annoying habit of calling Darth Vader 'Dark Vater', which I actually figured out is not some cute childish mispronunciation but their damning assessment of my accent: in Toronto, all ts are pronounced as ds in the middle of words -- Beddy boughd some budder, etc., etc. --and so the little so-and-sos call him 'Dark Vater' because they are actually correcting what they assume to be my mispronunciation. Kids, eh?

A bit of a rationale: I was thinking the other day, being peppered with questions from Will about 'right' and 'wrong', 'good' and 'bad', how he isn't getting from me a Grand Narrative that explains all these things (No! let's blame culture and all it's post-modern, politically correct... no. On second thought, let's not). I knew, growing up, 'right' from 'wrong' in large part because of the way I was plugged into that whole God-thing. I knew that right was whatever someone told me would make Jesus happy, and anything else would condemn me to Eternal Damnation, etc.. So there were consequences. Now, obviously I don't want to burden my sons with that particular mythology (just look what it did to me!), so this seems like a good alternative. I'll let you know how it goes.

Putting him to bed that night, after talking a lot not just about lightsabers and Jedi Knights but also why nobody loves Darth Vader and it was wrong to blow up Alderaan, Will said, 'But it's just a story, right Daddy?' Lesson learned, job done, without forcing him to believe in any silly religious melodrama. (I much prefer this one...)

It's official: I am incapable of writing a short post.

Monday, 19 May 2008

I meant to draw more attention to this when I first read it in April. It's on 'the academic climate', an excellent post from the exquisitely titled and frequently brilliant I Cite blog. It's a testament to the quality of the post and the ideas that I -- whose memory is so... what' s the word? -- have remembered after all this time to come back to it.

The basic argument is that 'If academics were serious about climate change, we'd stop flying so much.' It's a debate that is long overdue. Here's a snippet:

What about ending small meetings, the small expert, invitation only conferences that solidify networks and often lead to edited volumes or special issues of journals? What about ending mega-conferences, the huge national and international conferences of over 5000 people? Are these really necessary? No one goes to every panel when 70 are scheduled at the same time. No one even attends all the panels in their speciality. No one even has face time with all the people they want to meet. Sure, it's fun to meet with friends, to see what scholar x looks like close up. But many complain about the big meetings anyway--they are impersonal, meat-markets, degrading, and, well, big.
And maybe it's no longer a question of if academics are serious about climate change, but maybe everyone else should be and start to put limits on these activities, for business as well as academia.

As I commented on the blog when I first read it, the illusion of a jet-set lifestyle is one of the few perks to a workforce otherwise battered and belittled at every turn. (Yup. 'Michael'. That one was me.) But that's no excuse, especially when there are plenty of alternatives nowadays, alternatives which not only include travel with less air-travel (I can highly recommend the train to everyone) but also plenty of e-options that are not only good enough but in some cases might actually be better. Am I the only one that feels that the whole 'conference thing' has been going on for so long that we've seemed to switch off and just go through the motions. Surely it's time to shake things up with some innovative methods?

I'm not saying 'no flying, no conferences', but surely there's a desperate need here for change?

Friday, 16 May 2008

Be careful what you wish for.

At last! A scribbling worthy of another chapter in the Great Book of Bathroom Graffiti!

I was in stall recently (Hicks building, for those in the neighbourhood, one of the floors hosting a math department or some such... you know, numbers and the like) when I discovered this desperate plea:

Why does this toilet have no interesting graffitti?

Come on, people. I need something to read while having a shit.

Fair enough. Which of us hasn't been there at some point? Except the only entertainment subsequently offered to this sad fellow reads like this:

Now, THIS is funny! Of course I have no way of knowing how funny, because I have no idea what it means. I used to be good at maths, of course, but that was before The Accident. So I don't know if this is funny because it is an ancient riddle, akin to that of the Sphinx, that somehow manages to simultaneously insult this person and provide a scathing critique on the state of humanity, or if it's funny because it's total nonsense and a dufusses (dufi?) like myself have no idea, or if it's funny because this is a mathematical representation of the Poo Riddle...

Any enlightenment from more enlightened souls enlightened about such post-Enlightenment things, would, as ever, be appreciated.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

No. It's not funny.

And it's not ironic, or clever. It's just shit. And regular readers -- both of you -- will know that I take shit very seriously. But this isn't the good kind of shit. This is some bad shit, and I don't mean 'bad shit' in that way young people have of making 'bad' good.

I mean the 1980s. So now you know which kind of shit I'm really talking about. And it seems that all vested interests have finally, finally, succeeded in reviving this horrible decade. I've been glancing at the fashion pages -- in the Guardian, obviously. I'm not an animal -- since 2001 and they've been saying 'Like it or not, girls, the puffball skirt is coming back in a big way this summer!' and finally, finally it seems that the word has listened to these Desperate Cassandras.

And so now we're stuck with 80s fashion, which was bad enough the first time around for those of us that are old enough to remember it (and let me reassure you, we don't look back upon it fondly. And if you do remember the 80s fondly, as they say of the 60s, then you weren't really there. Go back. And stay.)

But it's not just fashion. Oh were it only skinny jeans and big hair that terrorised us today! No. I don't even really care about what people are wearing, except that these things are indicative of larger cultural winds, and the air right now reeks of Conservative revivalism.

When did it become OK for normal looking young people to admit to voting Conservative?!? I mean, there were always some, you know, the ones that wore bow-ties to classes and had 'I WILL rule the world one day, oh yes!' etched all over their spotty faces, but not since sometime in the dark days of that horrible decade has it been 'OK' to be a Tory. Normally, Conservative students were despised and ostracised to the point where they were driven to take their revenge upon Society and the Pretty Girl that wouldn't go with them to the ball by becoming really really rich, or BBC political correspondents. And it worked, in a way. They ruled us, yes, but they were never happy.

(Then one of them took his ultimate revenge upon the world and became Leader of the Labour party.)

But now I see in the University of Sheffield newspaper students who otherwise seem to have been born to human parents admitting to voting Conservative in the last (local) election. And they haven't made any effort to protect his identity, so presumably he's not the only one who thinks it's 'OK'. [Quick clarification: 'It's time for a change' is not an acceptable reason to vote for anyone, let alone the right. If the best reason you can come up with for voting for some is that 'it's time for a change', stay home, turn on ITV and rot.]

So why has 80s fashion only come back in the last year or two, if fashion editors (the difficult 'middle child' of the newspaper world) have been trying to foist it on us since the cork popped on my Millennium bubbly? Because the politics and the economics are finally ready to support the weight of this cultural monstrosity. (Something about base and superstructure, if you like your socialism more scientific.)

And if you doubt that there is a correlation between these popular cultural movements and a changing socio-economic landscape, you can read about it right from the big, stupid, horse's ass itself, in a recent Daily Mail opinion piece. (I say 'opinion' - I mean bullshit.) Thanks again to the Daily Hate for pointing this out (because I will spend only as long on the Daily Mail website as I absolutely need to).

This is enough now. And it needs to stop.

But everyone thinks it's ok to have Boris Johnson as mayor of London, and Toffs running the world, because there's nothing wrong with greed and looking out for Number One and trickle-down economics doesn't sound like a bad idea and political correctness has gone mad and an equitable tax programme is dangerous social engineering and oh for god's sake I just can't go through all that again...

Where are the 1980s not happening all over again? I want to go there.

On a happier note, fortunately, at the very least, the music is better. And please, PLEASE, do not inundate me with posts about how great the 80s were musically. They weren't. I play this game: 'The 80s had shit music', I say. 'Oh not they didn't!' Sad-30-something objects. 'Ok,' I say. 'Name me one decent band.' And Sad-30-something riffs off the Cure and the Smiths before realising that this isn't going to be easy. Sometimes Sad-30-something can get 4, 5 even 6 bands before running out self-respect. But that's not the point. Even if you list 10, 11 decent bands, that's only 10 or 11 decent bands in a whole decade. How shit is that? Besides, surely most of those bands that were ok in the 80s would have been a lot better had they not been burdened with having had to be of the 80s. How much better would the Cure or the Smiths had been if they were of the 70s, or the 90s? (Close your eyes and hear any Johnny Marr riff produced by Butch Vig. See?)
Al Jourgensen: shit in the early 80s, and he got better and better the closer we got to the 90s, when, ta-da! And thank goodness for that.

Alright, that's the moment when my vitriol goes just that bit too far, and I've said something I'm going to regret. I know. I'll put the keyboard back under the desk now, and step away.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

On your heads be it.

Well, what can I say? I'm glad that I don't live in London?

As Prozacville puts it, who the fuck voted for this guy?

Nevermind. I suppose some thought it would be a good laugh, and some thought that he will do a good job for London. Well, you're both wrong. Idiots.

I'm in the mood for some medieval torture again, rather sooner than I thought I would be. But who do we punish for this crime? Boris Johnston? oh surely not. He'll have a chance, somewhere down the line, no doubt, to sit in a shiny, new, modern courtroom. And besides, we can't blame him if that many Londoners are so easily duped. Or stupid. And self-absorbed. That's hardly his fault. That's capitalism.

So, who do we blame? the Evening Standard? or all the Associated Newspapers titles for that matter? Don't be silly. You can't torture newsprint. It's unethical. How about the editor, Veronica Wadley, or her malformed attack dog, Andrew Gilligan? No, not them either. Frankly, fantasising about publicly humiliating these two on a light-hearted blog is too good for either of them. (Besides, I'm sure that Gilligan, at least, can claim some affinity with one protected species or another.)

No, this schandmantel I'm planning to fit around the people of London. All of them. And slap a big, stinky, blonde-haired turnip on each head, and let the capital reek and stink for four years until no one can bear it any more.

Honestly. I mean, really?

Friday, 2 May 2008

To caffeine or not to caffeine...

I'm a poseur. Thought I'd come clean. I spend day after day in cafés -- right now most often at Coffee Revolution, thanks to all -- drinking double lattés and marking and writing lectures or preparing seminars. But it's all a sham. Because what I'm really drinking aren't double lattés at all but double decaf lattés.

There. I said it, publicly. Now you know. The dirty secret, thus far known only to me and a few staff at Coffee Rev, is out.

But is it really so wrong?

I'm ashamed to order them. I stand proudly at the counter, throw a loyalty card down and declare, 'I'd like double latté, please!' and then mumble, under my breath, as close to the ear of the person taking my order as they'll let me get, 'Actually, can you make it a decaf?' the last word pushed out through a half-closed mouth, lest someone at a nearby table read my lips. Then I feel as though I need to make excuses. 'I'm... er... not feeling well, you know. Had three cups of tea and four double espressos already, so, you know, I need to bring it down a bit...'

Bullshit. I'm fine, I just can't handle the amount of caffeine I used to. It makes me jumpy. Anxious. More than two caffeinated drinks a day and I start to get the shakes. Makes me feel like I'm falling out of my chair, leaving my skin busy ferreting away on the laptop at the table without me. So fuck it. I'm cutting down -- not cutting out, only cutting down -- on the caffeine.

But the shame. Oh the shame! I'm almost afraid to go my favourite café (plug: Remo's in Broomhill), where well-hardened coffee drinkers know no other way. Going in there and asking for decaf coffee would be like going into Picasso's studio and ask him to knock-up a pretty picture of dolphins to hang in the bathroom, or asking Bartók to write a little ditty for a toothpaste ad. (Though the real reasons I don't get there as much as I used to are that a) I don't walk by it everyday on the way to and from work and b) it's not quite the same, just, finding respite from the world in the perfect little café and the perfectly constructed little cup of joy, when your two-year old and four year-old are climbing up the walls, making a zoos on each table with sugar packet animals and building trains out of every chair in the place, even the ones that caffeine-wired young intellectuals are sitting in. (Sorry for the mess, Remo.)

So what's all this about? leaving aside my issues with getting older/looking like a wannabe/losing my cred amongst the proper café denizens? Nevermind that. Is this OK? in at least some scale upon which we judge such things? I'm still drinking Fairtrade, obviously. It's still frothy and steamed milk poured on water that has passed through ground coffee beans. It's just that the beans... you know. Have been neutered.

It's not like I've got alternatives. If I'm working, what I'm drinking needs to be hot, obviously. But a drink of 'Big Red Berry' tea just doesn't cut it. It's not just the taste. To drink tea so overtly would simply announce, rather more loudly than I need to, my caffeine-castration, which would be taking public self-deprecation to unnecessary extremes. And it's not just myself I'm thinking of here: I really feel uncomfortable around people who too proudly drink bad herbal tea in public. It's like sitting on the bus beside someone who's tattooing themselves with a pen knife. Where do you look?

So, again, is it ok? Or should there be a separate section of the café for people like me, one with soft cushions, ABBA playing on a continual loop and 'SHAME' spelling out in neon above our heads?

Friday, 18 April 2008


Bit of a dearth of inspiration this week, I'm afraid. I did promise myself I would try to write once a week, just for the practice, you know, but after a week of worrying about hockey results and writing lectures, I've been caught short. I haven't really need to use public toilets, either (how does that happen?), so I haven't even been able to poach others' little scribblings of wisdom.

BUT, I've been no less angry. And I've been thinking about punishment -- that is, how to get at those who deserve to pay for their transgressions against decency and justice. And not those for whom mechanisms -- feeble, insufficient mechanisms -- already exist and whose crimes should, in theory, not go unpunished. Like Osama Bin Laden or George Bush, for whom benches in war crimes courtrooms are simply being kept warm. I'm thinking about those people who will otherwise escape justice, those people whose crimes, to be fair, aren't on that scale, but by god they deserve something. Those people for whom a simple slap just won't cover it, you know what I mean?

And then I think we've missed something when we moved to our carceral society and our more 'Enlightened' conceptualisations of punishment. And then I learned about the Schandmantel. Now this is an ingenious little device. In case you can't be bothered to follow the link, it's sort of like a lighter version of the iron maiden (which apparently -- and this I didn't know -- was just an eighteenth century invention... those silly Gothic writers!). Coming into use in the 13th century, the schandmantel was simply a barrel, made of wood, that convicted prostitutes and poachers were forced to wear as corporal punishment. People would tease them and throw rotting fruit and vegetables at the wearer.

Now what a great idea, I thought. And I got to thinking that it's the modern day poachers and prostitutes that we'd really like to punish: not real prostitutes, of course, but real poachers, fine, and anyone of that ilk. Let's leave the categories open; we don't want to limit our scope here, we might be on to something.

Now, I realise that with this glorious new idea I'm going to disappoint you with my first conviction, but I think we need to fit one of these for boy-Tory and Downing Street loiterer Nick Robinson. Evil? No. But a prostitute? Most certainly a self-aggrandising media whore if ever there was one, always happy to serve the establishment and trying to set right-wing political agendas -- his opinions -- rather than do real political journalism. A poacher? Absolutely. And I don't mean that he has hunted and brought down the Big Game of the political jungle. No, I mean that he has plundered our world of its natural resources -- reason. He has killed intelligent political debate, carved-up the carcass and turned it into the in-demand commodity of gossip and tittle-tattle. (Come back Andrew Marr; all is forgiven.)

A soggy carrot up each nostril and a wet, browning cabbage over his head. I think that would do it. Maybe stick a leek in one ear, pull it out the other, and see which end turns to compost first.

Please let me know if you have any ideas for who might look nice in one of these schandmantels. It might become the in-thing to be seen in this season. Remember to include what fruit, or vegetable, and in what state of decay, you think appropriate.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Great Book of Bathroom Graffitti, Chapter 1

I'm hanging out talking Tom Stoppard and Travesties
Lenin, James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and me
We're smudging the line between the workers' calls
And the petty bourgeois with beer, graffiti walls...

The Lowest of the Low, 'Beer Graffiti Walls'

I love that song.

Anyway, I found this today on a bathroom stall at my University (Sheffield... the men's toilet near Coffee Revolution, if you're in the area). I had to share it with you:

Are you Satisfied with Satan?

To which I found this response was thoughtfully added:

No. Not really. Many people say I do the Devil's work; so far I have had zero pay and the hours are long. Meanwhile, he minces around, all cloven-hooved, giving it the big 'I Am' (Satan) when he is supposed to be preparing the Armies of Darkness to take over the world. I haven't received so much as an unholy water pistol yet!

'The Devil makes work for idle hands'. Well, he should start with himself, the bone idle cunt.

Sir, I salute you. ('he minces around, all cloven-hooved'. Brilliant.) And to which list of complaints we can add that is not an equal opportunity employer, quite obviously favouring (like all other organisations) white Über-men.

Though I hear the dental plan is not bad, actually.

I think it's a funny day when even those worshipping the Lord of Evil, Prince of Darkness, become disillusioned. Doubtless Daily Mail readers (I just cannot stop reading the Daily Hate Myself -- see my previous post) will soon be writing in, complaining about how this Inferno of Eternal Damnation isn't the Great Force it was once and is going to the dogs because of the namby-pamby, work-shy, bureaucratic, anti-social Politically Correct, New Labour-voting ASBO-wielding celebrity paedophiles. (A new tag, J? 'severe disappointment in pledging your soul to Lucifer and His Evil Minions'?) I, for one, will toast the day, raise a champagne flute of blood and turn the lights out as the last one of them scuttles out the country.

No doubt this will become a new game for me to play here... I've always liked the wisdom one can glean from the bathroom stalls and beer graffiti walls, as the song goes. However, I appreciate that I then risk further confusing my purpose: the more I write about shit, the more I say shit, the more I talk about toilets and bathroom stalls, the more strange Google hits I'll incur and the more the casual reader really will think that this is a blog about poo.

Well it's not.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Don't do it, London.

Now this is scary. (The Guardian/ICM poll, not the picture, I mean. The picture is courtesy of Beau Bo D'Or. Pure Brilliance.)

On the (very) off chance that anyone who is eligible to vote in the London mayoral elections is reading this blog, I feel compelled to inform you that, apparently, you are totally fucking mad. I mean screaming, head bashed around with a toxic stupid stick by a day-glo gorilla in a leisure suit MAD.

Well, no. Some of you think it would be a jolly good idea, that Boris Johnson is just what the City needs to push onward and upward into this brave new century of global financial challenges and enterprise. You are lost, and I have no hope of changing your mind. But for those of you that are thinking it would be a joke to vote for Boris Johnson for mayor, a real hoot, a rip-roaring laugh to have a floppy, dopey stuttering clown in such an important job, I appeal to you.

Incidentally, I'm calling him Johnson and not Boris because I think he's getting away with too much with this cutsie little 'Boris' moniker, like he's not really a dangerous, right-wing nut but only a harmless little cartoon character with a funny accent. Well he's not and Johnson can't be allowed to get away with it any more.

(What do you mean, 'What about Ken?' Ok, well... but he's earned it. Especially after that whole Thatcher-undermining-democracy thing. Apparently. I wasn't here for that. And besides, if you don't want to vote for Livingstone, for God sake's vote for one of the other real politicians in the race.)

But let me be clear: This is not fucking Eurovision, where you select some shit act who sing off-key about fast food to represent Britain so that you can have fun listening to Terry Wogan cringe and laugh as your nil point just shows again how you so get irony more than everyone else in the world. Johnson will not do irony when he gets into office, just shit policies.

If you want to know just how bad a decision electing Johnson would be, please let me share with you the case of my home city, Toronto. When Premier Mike Harris (proto-neo-con right-wing anti-democratic villain, for those of you that haven't had the pleasure) devolved more power to municipalities and created the Megacity of Toronto, Torontonians for the first time had the opportunity to elect a real mayor with critical importance in their lives. And we elected Mel Lastman, a former furniture store owner, because he was, I think the saying goes, 'a character'. And what was his first act as mayor of this Great City of Toronto? he launched a public plea for Geri to re-join the Spice Girls in time for their Toronto show on their World Tour.

Hey, don't laugh. That was about as good as it got. And Toronto suffered for a very long time. So now you know why you don't elect novelty candidates for important jobs. Johnson would probably pull the same Spice Girls stunt, given the opportunity (and might just), but he would also do much, much worse.

It's one thing to elect a monkey for mayor of Hartlepool, but this is London we're talking about. (Nothing against Hartlepool, of course.) Not only is it the capital, and the hub of the country, no, it's not just about being embarrassed by a charming gaffe. London is a vibrant, multicultural, modern city. It is also the home of the City, the financial juggernaut that, left unchecked, would force not only London but the whole country into a laizzser-faire, deregulated nightmare.

And Livingstone serves as a buffer again that. It's not just that Johnson would be a joke and an embarrassment -- though he would be that too, make no mistake. It's that he would bring disastrous policies that serve only that one part of London, that elite (an impressive, shameless,.... filthy elite it is too), but a tiny minority nevertheless.

If in doubt, ask the BNP: they've told their supporters to give their second choice vote to Johnson. And that's only part of the problem. Johnson would not only privilege his white constituents, but also the rich ones, as he'll inevitable turn out to be one of those lizard-faced capitalist masters of the universe (or a cross-dressing Thatcherite clown, which amount to much the same thing, surely).

It seems to me, looking at those polling statistics from the Guardian, that Ken draws more support from non-whites and women, and Johnson has more support from white males... so, if the white males want to have their little joke, or actually like the idea of a City-friendly Tory in the mayoral chair, then there's a simple solution: disenfranchise them. Take the vote away from white men. They've had it too long anyway, and if they're going to piss it away on a practical joke, they obviously don't appreciate it any more.

In the nineteenth century, when only white men had the vote, they used to argue that they couldn't extend suffrage to all women, because then they would use their votes irrationally, in their silly, feminine, childish way, and vote for sentimental causes, like welfare and education for all. I'm not kidding. (References on request.) So now, we can use the same logic -- the defence of our values -- to deny white men the vote: clearly, if we keep letting white men vote, we'll keep getting bureaucratic, sphincter-tightening politicians forming governments that represent only the narrow interests of capitalism and patriarchy.