Sunday, January 31, 2010

John Terry in the News of the World



Above: gigantic image of John Terry that appeared in the Guardian last year.

With predictable cynicism the News of the World (a Murdoch publication) has used the new ruling against super-injunctions to gain permission to publish a "scoop" of such intrusive personal nastiness that it is a wonder the writer Guy Basnett can get away with this sort of thing. Other writers have rushed to give their sanctimonious opinions, although it is unlikely that their own private lives would withstand the same degree of scrutiny. The story illustrates what is wrong with the British newspaper industry in general and the Murdoch press in particular.

The report (spread across several pages) details how England football (soccer) captain John Terry is having / has had an affair with the wife of a friend. Several grainy photographs illustrate this article. The views of John Terry's own wife are not clear.

The malicious glee with which this story has been received by journalists reminds me of Wtewael’s Mars and Venus surprised by the gods: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Mars_and_Venus_Discovered_by_the_Gods-Joachim_Wtewael.jpg

Sorry to quote Sir James Frazer two days running, but this in turn reminded me of what Frazer wrote about fertility rites surrounding ancient vegetation cults, and how they were later formalised into the legendary stories of classical antiquity ("…Mars was originally not a god of war but of vegetation... responsible for the harvest"). If we accept that John Terry is Mars in a new retelling of an old narrative, then this is how we expect heroic figures (who are different from mortals) to behave. If the narrative follows the set course John Terry will be untouched by the hysterical invective, will overcome his enemies, and will go on to "ascend to celestial heights" (however we interpret celestial heights in this context, presumably World Cup victory).

John Terry is already one of the most influential "role models" (I hate that expression) in the United Kingdom, and I can't see this episode damaging him in any significant way. If anything, his archetypal status has been confirmed (assuming I am interpreting Frazer correctly). It will be interesting to see how he overcomes this ritual setback-test and delivers tribal prosperity (not fertile corn and vines obviously, but possible a national "feel good").

I realise Frazer's work has been criticised, but the more I read him I am convinced that modern human behaviour has been determined thousands of years ago in the rituals of the prehistoric past. Everything is more or less fixed - attitudes, social organisations, the way we consume etc. Therefore the more we understand the past, the more we should be able to predict human behaviour.

You can get an idea of Guy Basnett's other work here: http://www.journalisted.com/guy-basnett

In 2008 Beyoncé Knowles produced this narrative which gives another view of the subject http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIkRiqxWcYU



Is Carole Malone the nastiest woman writing in journalism? Also, her writing is so bad and the things she says are so unsubstantiated. I hope the News of the World has given her a separate glassed-in cubicle - my idea of hell would be to share a general office with Carole Malone.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Traitor" and "murderer"



Above: the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre where the Chilcott enquiry is being held (the florid building on the left is Westminster Central Hall).

Tony Blair has appeared at the Chilcott enquiry into the Iraq War. Pages of newsprint and hours of broadcast coverage have analysed his appearance and the answers he has given. It would be pointless for me to add to this commentary.

I can however talk about where (in my opinion) Tony Blair fits in our political culture.

As he left the enquiry there were shouts of "traitor" and "murderer".

Societies function much better when there are scapegoats onto whom all the ills of the people can be loaded. The scapegoat is then sacrificed, society is cleansed, the people can "move on". Sir James Frazer wrote about this sacrificial proxy ritual in The Golden Bough (particularly Chapter LVII Public Scapegoats, the expulsion of evils).

Whether this will work depends upon proving the point that Tony Blair acted unilaterally and "presidentially" in taking the decision to go to war. He seems to have admitted as such in his answers yesterday. In any case, the genius of New Labour was to take the unwritten British constitution (which functioned like Common Law in terms of precedents and agreed understandings) and to say "if it is not specifically prohibited we can do it" - and so almost by stealth they installed a presidential style of government.

Under a representative parliamentary system we are all guilty of the Iraq War. If however it is established that Tony Blair usurped the parliamentary system and established a presidental system then he (and one or two others) are guilty and the rest of us are off the hook. It's an important point in terms of the future of the Labour party (which is tainted by the war), the future of relations with the Middle East, the national sense of morality etc.

But Tony Blair is a slippery individual, and it is not clear how his sacrifice could be carried out (except in terms of his reputation, but that seems irredeemably trashed anyway).

In the Guardian George Monbiot endorsed this campaign http://www.arrestblair.org/

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Scaffolders



Above: scaffolders at work above a London street. Apologies for the poor image. Three reasons account for the blurred picture: it was a murky day; I didn’t want to distract the scaffolders and cause an incident; I didn’t want to be arrested by the police for using a camera in London.

Scaffolders are a sub-category of construction workers, and form a distinct classification of working class culture. The trade is of great antiquity, and manuscript drawings from the middle ages show scaffolders at work on cathedrals, castles and other public buildings (and probably Stonehenge itself was erected with the help of scaffolders). The skills employed have hardly changed – metal tubes (formerly wood) are put together in upright and horizontal formations, scaffolding boards laid down, layer after layer constructed until the desired height is achieved and the whole linked by ladders.

There are approximately twenty thousand working scaffolders in the United Kingdom. Salaries for scaffolders are between £12k and £24k – far too low for the heavy lifting and poor conditions (dirty, cold, often unsafe) they have to endure. I don’t wish to make a political point, but I cannot help thinking of Members of Parliament complaining ad nauseum about how hard they work, how hard their employed family members work (on the public payroll), how much they deserve to get in pay and expenses and golden goodbyes.

Scaffolders have to be physically very fit and have considerable stamina and powers of endurance (they have a Spartan disregard for extremes of temperature). Despite an ostensibly gruff “gertcha” indifference to others, they are very responsible in their work – a necessity since the safety of others depends upon their skill. Social culture revolves around a network of pubs located throughout greater London.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Burns Night



Above: intially I had some doubts, but it was actually quite nice.

Yesterday was Burns Night. I read in a newspaper over the weekend that Haggis was being sold as a convenience meal in supermarkets. I went into Sainsburys and I saw a cabinet full of haggis (including vegetarian varieties) and so I bought one.

We had it for dinner last night. Not that I have any Scottish ancestors (my brother suggested it would be more appropriate for us to have Cumberland sausages). But poets should be honoured whenever possible, and in any case why should Alex Salmond appropriate Burns Night for his own jingoistic purposes (I am sure that Robert Burns would be appalled by SNP nationalism).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Maharaja exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum



Above: leaflet they gave out at the Maharaja exhibition.

One of the exhibitions I went to see late last year was the Maharaja exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I meant to go and see it again, but it closed last week so that chance is gone. I also meant to buy the full catalogue, but at £35 I'm not sure if I can justify the expense.

The exhibitition was about "royal" India, the semi-autonomous princely states that made up two thirds of the sub-continent prior to 1947. The exhibition was publicised and reviewed as a display of extravagant bling, but it was much cleverer than that. It was really an explanation of how power is communicated.

Power is projected through two main channels: abstractly through written laws (interpreted and enforced) and visually through physical displays. Both of these conceptual manifestations interest me. I was fascinated by the exhibition's practical demonstration (in pictures and objects) of the Hindu idea of darshan which explained so much that previously was not clear.

One of the great historical puzzles is how British rule in India lasted so long. Viewed objectively, it seems ridiculous that a tiny country the other side of the world could subdue and dominate a vast territory containing many hundreds of millions of people. "Divide and rule", superior weapons technology, ferocious intimidation - none of these arguments are convincing (and would subdue a country for ten years maximum before back-firing on the occupiers).

The Maharaja exhibition illustrated how notions of darshan were incorporated into the way British imperial power displayed itself, which seemed a new way of looking at things.



Above: not all of the reviews of the Maharaja exhibition have been good. This article, which appeared in The Guardian, said it was patronising. Other reviews have dismissed it as just glitter (which makes me wonder whether the reviewers bothered to read the captions).



Above: this book (by political scientists Susanne Hoeber and Lloyd Rudolph) is one of the most interesting I have ever read. As India reinvents itself as an economically powerful and confident nation it will have to come to terms with its history (currently mostly interpreted through juvenile expressions of nationalism). Like France (only more so) they will have to cope with the realisation that during an extended period of foreign domination a very large minority (perhaps even the majority by a small margin) of their population were collaborators.



Above: immediately after reading Reversing the Gaze I read this memoir by a British official employed by the state of Hyderabad in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It illustrated the way in which very ordinary people from Britain could enter the ruling class in India (an intoxicating process that most of them never really recovered from). The British rule of India was on the whole bad for the United Kingdom, but became impossible to stop once once it had gained momentum.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Television



Our television broke yesterday. I have ordered another one, which will be delivered next Friday. In the meantime my brother went into an old cupboard (as a family we never throw anything away) and eventually produced a small black and white analog television. The cream plastic had gone yellow, and as you can see it is very grubby. We calculated that it must be at least thirty-five years old. We plugged it in and incredibly it worked.

Watching the fuzzy monochrome picture is like looking into the past - even the current news takes on the tinge of the 1970s. And the choice of only four channels was strangely liberating. Choice is not always good, and too much choice can be debilitating and stressful.

My other brother (lives in Norfolk) has a mega-TV. Recently he upgraded to the full Sky HD package, but has found (to his annoyance) that you can't switch channels when the adverts come on (the adverts follow you, sound and everything, in a small box in the top right corner). And I thought: that sounds like the Murdoch evil empire.

Friday, January 22, 2010

London Hippodrome in Leicester Square



Above: the curving signage of Burger King intersects with Frank Matcham's neo-classical red sandstone and terracotta facade, crowned by a statue of a charioteer (a reference to the original hippodrome in Constantinople).

The London Hippodrome in Leicester Square. Formerly a music hall designed by the distinguished theatre architect Frank Matcham and opened in 1900. It later became The Talk of the Town.

Currently closed and under refurbishment, it is scheduled to reopen this year.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"I'm a fat man waiting to happen"



I put on 5lbs over Christmas. Today I finally lost the last of those pounds and got my weight back to the pre-Christmas level. I mainly did this through running (on a treadmill as it is impossible to run on the roads in this weather).

It was boring, it was tiring, but I made it happen.

I'm also trying to eat more healthily, following David Catudal's TV advice. Never had sweet potatos before (mashed with butter, which I admit was not in the David Catudal recipe). The coconut oil we use for roasting and frying. The yacon root powder is a natural sugar substitute (David Catudal has frightened me off artificial sweeteners). The almond milk is nice, but at £8 per litre not really practical (also no good for tea, although it is fine in coffee). I'm also taking CLA.

"I'm a fat man waiting to happen" one of the presenters said, and I thought that's my problem exactly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cadburys

Not good news that Cadburys has been bought by Kraft. The government seems impotent to stop foreign corporates swooping in and trashing British companies. Other governments stand up for their people, but not ours.

Having seen what has happened to Terry's (it was featured on Newsnight yesterday) I will never buy a Terry's Chocolate Orange again.

Trade Union leaders have appeared on television blaming "Thatcherism" for the continued incidence of corporate takeovers, but this is a lazy and historically wrong analysis. The process was set off by Tony Benn when he was Minister for Technology in the late 1960s and leading industrial "rationalisation". We took a wrong turning in the 1960s and have never really recovered.

You can see how it happened in episode 2 of the excellent 2000 documentary The Mayfair Set.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zXiGQU64SY&feature=PlayList&p=768DE4F399464F36&index=0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NW--y3RLfh4&feature=PlayList&p=768DE4F399464F36&index=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2g1qU-MO_D8&feature=PlayList&p=768DE4F399464F36&index=2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGMdT_5A_b8&feature=PlayList&p=768DE4F399464F36&index=3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pm3HB_AAeQY&feature=PlayList&p=768DE4F399464F36&index=4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnjCDBl_SAw&feature=PlayList&p=768DE4F399464F36&index=5

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Painted Veil



Above: I nearly went to see The Painted Veil when it was showing in Leicester Square. But I was too tired, and thought I would go another day, and then never got round to it. I've regretted this ever since as it is a film that needs to be seen as projected film and on a large screen.

One of the films I saw over the Christmas holiday was The Painted Veil, directed by John Curran and starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. I think it was on Channel 4. It's a film I've long wanted to see (it was made in 2006).

Set in China in 1925, the film shows an imploding society on the edge of imperial annexation - the characters are carried in palanquins; pulled in rickshaws; experience resentful defiance by the humiliated Chinese (although ultimately it was imperial Japan that dominated, not the western powers).

The use of colour, and the photography of the beautiful and unusual (to me) landscapes, is excellent. The piano music stayed in the mind hours after the film finished. The subtleties and ironies of Somerset Maugham's plot were engrossing.

Edward Norton was exactly right for the lead part, especially the slight weakness he has around the mouth, which added so much to his characterisation. He is a compelling actor. I had to look up his biography to check he was not British, so realistic was his accent.

Music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMK_f8NihIY&feature=related

Monday, January 18, 2010

Charismatic



Above: the West Lodge Hotel near Cockfosters.

On Friday evening I met friends for dinner at the West Lodge Hotel in Cockfosters (a country house hotel in a large park right on the northern edge of London). I had never been there before. The building was outwardly smart but inside was a bit shabby.

The meal cost £80 per head and was nothing special - it was worth about £30 per head.

When we arrived the lounge was full of Hull City soccer players who were staying at the hotel before their match against Spurs on Saturday. They were all in little groups at various tables. Apart from the fact they were wearing their Hull City kit they were unremarkable.



Above: some of the Hull City players in the lounge of the hotel.

Midfield player Nicky Barmby then came into the lounge and sat down at one of the tables. In the ten minutes or so after Nicky Barmby's arrival the other players changed - not in an obvious way, but subtly. They looked towards him, they changed the way they were sitting so that they were facing or half-facing towards him, their conversation was punctuated by pauses in which they seemed to glance in his direction.

The interesting thing was that Nicky Barmby hardly said a word - he just sat there half-slumped in one of the chairs, looking bored.

It appeared to be a text-book case of charismatic projection (as defined by Max Weber). Obviously I didn't like to stare, and someone was talking to me, so my attention was distracted. But I have seldom seen someone exert power over others in such a clear cut way.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Straw man

On Saturday I went into a neighbouring county to see an ancient custom that is held every winter (the custom is not entirely continuous - there was a break for about seventy years before it was revived almost exactly as it had been before).

The custom involves the creation of a man of straw (actually someone dressed up in sheaves of straw) who is paraded through the town and generally celebrated before the straw is burnt in a ritual bonfire. Traditionally a ploughboy was used as the straw man. The expression "straw man" means to create a scapegoat or proxy on which all the ills of a community are placed and then destroyed.



Above: the event has become a folk gathering of some magnitude, with twenty-eight teams of Morris dancers, Molly dancers and Sword dancers performing throughout the town (in the dismal grey weather). The pubs in the town were a focus of these dances. Here you can see some Morris dancers enjoying a drink outside the Black Bull.



Above: in the market place was a plough decorated for the Plough Day celebrations (although technically Plough Day is the Monday following the first Sunday of the year). Later this plough was taken in the procession, immediately behind the straw man. The straw used to decorate these ploughs should be the last sheaf to be harvested the previous summer.



Above: "Old Glory" Molly dancers. The men are dressed in labourer's clothes, in what seems to be an expression of traditional working class culture. The faces are blacked as a disguise (in the past these celebrations were frowned upon by the landowners, mainly because of the heavy drinking and riotous behaviour that accompanied it).



Above: the band of the Old Glory molly dancers. The band consists entirely of women, with blackened faces, wearing heavy black clothes, and wearing hats trimmed with masses of ivy. We are used to the Cecil Sharp / Percy Grainger prettified version of English folk culture - Old Glory recreates the more primeval (and slightly sinister) original tradition.



Above: the straw man leading one of the processions through the town (he has turned to look back).



Above: following on behind the straw man and the plough came the various folk dancers.



Above: more of the procession, which gives you an idea of its picturesque appearance.

Formerly these customs were widespread throughout the country (and all of Europe). Sir James Frazer writes at some length in The Golden Bough about the creation of straw representations of the corn deity (at one point identified with the "dying god" Adonis). In this case the "sacrifice" of the straw man is meant to ensure the fertility of the soil, the return of warm weather, and the prospect of a good harvest in the summer months to come.

More about Old Glory:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXqroWCsGFQ

Saturday, January 16, 2010

David "Danny" Blanchflower

David "Danny" Blanchflower, former member of the Monetary Policy Committee, speaking at Citiwire NMA this week:

(from my notes)

* The Bank of England base rate will be less than 1% for the next five years.

* Germany is about to go back into recession.

* Effectively (ignoring the government's manipulation of the figures) the United Kingdom will not come out of recession until 2011 at the absolute earliest.

* Unemployment will rise to 3 million.

* Youth unemployment is creating a lost generation.

* Two and a quarter million people are not employed and are not unemployed - they have dropped off the labour force.

* More 23-year-olds are unemployed now than at any time in the past twenty years.

* Wages will remain low for a very long time.

* House prices will fall another 20 to 25%.

* The UK consumer is in for a shock - inflation will reach 8% within three years, and that will come on so quickly it will take everyone by surprise.

* The UK's credit rating is secure - there is no prospect of the UK being down-rated unless unemployment reaches four million.

* Social unrest is a serious possibility (when asked what the best investment to be made David Blanchflower said "a gun" because of the risk of social breakdown).

Presumably the politicians know all this, and yet they are not saying a word to the rest of us. David Blanchflower was sacked from the Monetary Policy Committee when he started to speak out of line. What is to be done?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jonathan Ross



I'm not sure what to make of the departure of Jonathan Ross from the BBC. He was a moderately funny interviewer, but not (in my opinion) worth the millions that he was being paid. I don't really see that his talent is all that unique.

Also, the BBC seems to be a bit slow in bringing forward new entertainers.

For instance, football (soccer) players are highly paid, but they don't hang around for several decades so that everyone gets bored with them. Also there is a working and on-going process whereby younger players are constantly being brought forward and challenging the established players. You can see this process in Jamie Redknapp's current series on Sky 1 Football's Next Star (I could only watch one episode - it consisted of sobbing seventeen-year-olds realising they have failed while Sky pokes a camera in their face and asks them how they feel).

The BBC could make any moderately-talented entertainer a success simply by putting them on television every week - repetition builds reputation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Battle of Gododdin

Very interesting programme on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday evening about the Battle of Gododdin in 600 (probably). The battle was between the remnants of the Brythonic kingdoms (successor statelets created after the departure of the Romans) and the invading Anglo-Saxons (the Anglo-Saxons won). The text is fragmentary, with a disputed timeline, and split between "Scribe A" and "Scribe B".

The presenter and various commentators on the programme all seemed to be following a pro-Welsh agenda (at the end the presenter quoted, with seeming relish, that the Anglo-Saxons were "evil men". Also irritating were the comparison's made with soldiers fighting today in Afghanistan. The list of names that prefix Prime Minister's Questions each Wednesday cannot compare with the genealogical grandeur of the Battle of Gododdin's individual commemorations.

There was no reference (not even in passing) to JNL Myres theory that after the Romans left the province of Brittania regressed into anarchy, and therefore the incoming Saxons may have been regarded as the better option for the average British family. The poem seems to disprove Francis Pryor's tendentious and highly-suspect theory that there were no Anglo-Saxons in the first place (presumably he hasn't read the Battle of Gododdin). There was too much jabbering by "experts" and not enough of the poem itself.

But these are minor points - it was a very stimulating programme.



Above: excellent retelling of the ancient legends by Kathleen Herbert - privately printed and now almost unobtainable.

Above: big picture book on the history of the Celts. We are used to thinking of them as a marginal people on the edges of the British Isles, but they have a fascinating pan-European history. I was given this book over a year ago and I still have not found the time to read it, although it is more pictures than text.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The birds



During the cold weather I have fed the birds (I feed them all year round, but in the winter I give them extra including the suet pellets). The Niger seed (Guizotia abyssinica) is for finches. Normally I buy the birdseed from Vine House Farm.

http://www.vinehousefarm.co.uk/index.php



Above: at a church fete last year I bought for 10p this copy of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which deals with the effects of pesticides on bird populations. I havn't read it yet. It's a British first edition (not that it's valuable - the book was published first in America where a first edition would be worth money).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Subscriber



Above: subscribers get these books of vouchers (the muddy mark was from one of the cats).

No magazine with my Observer today. I didn't discover this until I got home. I thought at first that the girl behind the counter had taken glossy mags from the newspapers to while away her time (the shop wasn't busy and there were no other customers apart from a young family with the mother and her small daughter at the counter and the father trying to get down bottles of pear cider while simultaneously half-standing at the counter and holding onto the reins of his infant son, saying to his wife, as if it were her fault: "I can't get them while I'm holding onto him...").

Then I thought the colour supplement might have been a victim of the bad weather and consequent distribution problems.

Then, inside the book of vouchers, I discovered a paragraph that said if any part of your newspaper is missing ring the listed number and they will send it to you. As if anyone is going to bother to do that. As a marketing professional (I use that title loosely) this paragraph niggled me, as it indicated an on-going problem they were aware of but did not intend to solve.

As Seth Godin might say, if you can't deliver on your promises you have no business being in business.

Editor of The Observer is John Mulholland.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Spectator



The snow and bitter freezing temperatures continue, disrupting distribution of goods and services and compelling many people to stay indoors (all I have done today is drink tea and read). Because of distribution problems The Spectator magazine has decided to give its most recent issue away free on the internet. A friend has forwarded me the link, so you can read it here: http://www.spectator.co.uk/spectator/



Above: I was in the House of Lords in November attending a Reception (not as glamorous as it sounds, just another pressure group meeting I was doing the PR for). I went into one of the loos and saw this copy of the Spectator, so the magazine is obviously read at the very seat of power itself. The loos at the House of Lords are disappointing - functional and banal, not at all the Puginesque thrones you might expect.

The Spectator is edited by Fraser Nelson, an alumni of Glasgow university. He is likely to become an influentual philisophical influence on the country if the forthcoming election goes the way everyone expects. In this week's failed coup against Gordon Brown he was interviewed by Radio 4's PM, describing the attempt as "inept".

Inept is really inadequate to describe the farcical events of Wednesday afternoon and evening. It was like the plot of the film Valkyrie. Thank goodness this is not a police state and Gordon Brown does not have access to piano wire.



Above: this was the cartoon in the Guardian following the failed coup. Note the subliminal headline underneath. Did they position this deliberately? (Michael White appeared on today's Dateline London and made a reference to dictator President Mubarak when discussing the plot against Gordon Brown).

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Experience of winterreise

The current experience of winterreise in the United Kingdom emphasises how vulnerable we have become due to the fanatical centralisation of our retail infrastructure. Fifty years ago most goods and services were within walking distance. Literally every village had a butcher, baker and candlestickmaker, with family-owned farms supplying local family-owned shops.

Now you have to drive at least five miles (or ten if you live in the country) to an out-of-town mall and buy food from the southern hemisphere and goods made in the Far East. The impact on local patterns of employment has been a disaster. And in extreme conditions the mind-bogglingly complex and expensive distribution system breaks down.

Few villages now have a local shop. The last of the post offices are disappearing (thanks to Peter Mandelson). And (going off at a tangent) the government is still trying to frighten the country into accepting GM food - if any attempt is made round here to grow GM crops I will be joining the protestors in direct action.

Is it unrealistically romantic to hope shops can be relocated within communities? Or must we accept that people want (indeed need) to buy Kiwi fruits in January and thus must have the just-in-time St Vitus dance of modern retail distribution. You decide.

Here are a few village shops that are bucking the trend:



Above: the ideal of locally produced food locally sold. No airmiles, no doubts about provenence, no suspicians about animal welfare (you can see for yourself how the animals are kept). And as the overheads are low the prices are are extremely reasonable for the quality.



Above: cabinet maker. Handmade furniture that will last several lifetimes (and keep its value). No need for plastic doors and windows churned out by fly-by-night companies and sold by even more dubious companies.



Above: village blacksmith's forge. I suppose it is over-romantic to expect a return to the horse (although it would be nice to have some parts of the county out of bounds to the internal combustion engine, and to have LGVs restricted to certain routes and certain times). I would guess this blacksmith is working for love rather than money.



Above: incredibly the library system once extended to village communities. Long gone now. Even town libraries are under threat.



Above: interestingly, people (particularly children) still visualise villages as containing shops. Not sure that "community shops" are the answer. Family-owned enterprises have staying power.

The Culture of winterreise:

Music https://secure.wesleyclassics.com.au/library/images/MR301119.JPG

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Review of 2009 - (2) the Expenses Scandal

"Scandals" involving the government are an established feature of political life in the United Kingdom. They can be manufactured by the Opposition to discomfit incumbent ministers; they can be manufactured by the media as a way of providing narrative that will help sell newspapers; they can arise spontaneously from genuinely scandalous behaviour, neglect, corruption etc. The more obviously-manufactured scandals usually have the word "gate" affixed to the title.

The 2009 Expenses Scandal was a colossal event that shook the entire political class, rocked the government, and has far-reaching implications for the future of central (and indeed local) administration. Like the Dreyfus Affair, it is a scandal that blew up in the face of the Establishment. I have carefully watched the way the scandal has unfolded to see what general information it provides about the way "Scandals" are used as part of the political process.

1) The original offence (that politicians were helping themselves to pubic money) was so well-known that it hardly seemed newsworthy. Like most scandals it might have fizzled out, until a newspaper (the Daily Telegraph) decided to take it up. Even then, it might have been contained had political leaders acted together.

2) Streams of information, in themselves of piffling insignificance, began to flow into the public domain. Who cares whether the Home Secretary charged 88p for a bathplug to her expenses? It was laughable, but hardly in the league of ghost rendition camps, or dispossessing the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, or even losing data entrusted to government departments.

3) David Cameron (Conservative leader) broke ranks with the political class and decided to attack the government by demonstrating how he would deal with the situation were he to be in power. This was a high-risk strategy as his party was as implicated as the rest, but the strategy paid off. From this point the Scandal became an on-going issue.

4) Inexplicably the government acted as if it were "guilty". It thus became a focus for all the indignation and pretend-indignation that began to be generated. Instead of a few major sackings/resignations, it had to endure months of self-inflicted torture.

5) The power of narrative drive began to establish itself, and the Daily Telegraph exercised great skill in releasing details on a day by day basis. Almost everyone in the country was aware of the Scandal and equipped to have a view. It especially enabled people to make moral judgments about their political representatives.

6) Party and factional loyalty seemed to break down - this in itself is very unusual and needs a lot more study.

The sheer number of public reputations dragged through the gutter has been immense. There has been no scandal like this, and it will have far-reaching consequences (Ann Widdecombe was saying that the number of resignations and stand-downs created by the scandal will mean a big chunk of the next House of Commons will be made up of inexperienced new MPs, leading to an easy ride for the next government). The expenses scandal was the foremost media event of the year and needs to be thoroughly studied to reveal its true importance (perhaps Newsnight will do some ten-minute dramas similar to the ones it produced about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq).

Monday, January 04, 2010

Pensions

As I travelled to work this morning I listened to the Today programme on Radio 4.
 
There was an item on pensions, Evan Davis blithely agreeing with the interviewee that the demise of final salary pensions was "inevitable" because they were too expensive.
 
Too expensive for whom?
 
The demise of final salary pensions is a direct result of the over-supply of cheap skilled labour, so that companies no longer have to compete to attract employees with good pensions, non-contributory health care, longer holidays etc.
 
If the labour market were to be closed (through effective migration controls) we would soon see the position start to reverse.
 
Unrestricted inward migration must inevitably lead to the abandonment of the social welfare system, including the NHS.  Depending on your political standpoint this may be either a good thing or a bad thing.  But to pretend it is not going to happen is dishonest.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Last day

It's the last day of the holiday for me today. I've been off work for two weeks. I am not looking forward to going back to the office tomorrow (it will be alright when I get there, but for the moment I am suffering from Sarte's nausea of the threshold).

It was 3.30 am by the time I went to bed last night. As I switched off the electric light the windows seemed to be full of a translucent whiteness, as if it were June and the dawn had already arrived. Looking out I saw that a gentle dusting of snow had fallen over the landscape, and a bright full moon was shining down from an indigo-blue sky, a few fluffy white clouds drifting past.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2010



Above: almost by accident I find myself turning into a Guardian-reading vegetarian. Except that the Quorn roast was tasteless rubber and I left most of it. And I will definitely be voting Conservative just as soon as the election arrives.

Normally I make lots of New Year resolutions, but this year all I am doing is continuing the 2009 programme.

So:

1) I am just going to read two newspapers a day, instead of trying to skim-read everything (and actually read nothing). Several weeks ago I took out a subscription to the Guardian, and usually choose one other paper on impulse, depending on the headline. I selected the Guardian mainly because it was a good offer (£5.23 per week) and also because of the Review section on Saturday. But I am not sure about the way this has turned me into a "Guardian reader" with all the attendant baggage. And also the newspaper's distribution is not brilliant and you don't have to miss many days to start making a loss on the transaction. So this may change half-way through the year.

2) To help the environment, and because of animal-welfare issues, I will only eat meat twice a week - Sundays and Wednesdays. And I will get the meat from Hambletons in Rutland. I'm also doing this because I need to reduce my cholesterol-level.

3) I am not going to fly anywhere.

4) I will continue to follow David Catudal's TV workouts and his diet tips (including coconut oil, unsweetened almond milk, avoiding artificial sweeteners etc).

5) I will stop worrying about work.

6) I will clear all my debts and put all my savings into gold.

7) I will stop watching rubbish television and concentrate more on my research and writing, especially three big projects - my exploration of the local county; my analysis of social structures; my interpretation of historical anthropology. I used to think that "one day" I would be a published writer (a serious published writer - I have already had lots of rubbish stuff published to do with work). Now I realise that it is the research and writing I enjoy and I don't care whether I have ten readers or ten thousand.

8) I will work harder at my photography.

9) I will cut negative and unpleasant people out of my life.

Oh, and there is one other objective that is so confidential I can't write about it here, or even indicate its existence by giving it a number...



Above: "Guardian-reading vegetarians" were used as a metaphor in Mark Lawson's play What Did I Say? which was one of the funniest radio programmes over the Christmas holiday.