Two things last week on the poignancy of happy expectations being crushed.
1. The last scene of Henry IV Part II. I saw the Royal Shakespeare’s Company version beamed live at the cinema, with Antony Sher playing Falstaff. It’s a melancholy play anyway, about sickness and mortality, but Falstaff takes on a new lease of life on hearing that his glamorous young friend, the Prince of Wales, has finally become king. Then comes the procession. and Falstaff greets the new Henry V-
My king! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!
I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
Falstaff and Prince Hal in happier times
Antony Sher took a long while to turn round to show his face, so the audience had time to dread the disappointment in it.
The second was this cartoon of the Set Text welcoming its readers:-
English academics on Twitter found their hearts breaking when they saw this.
JK Rowling has donated £1 million to the Better Together campaign. Rowling is a long-standing Labour supporter
By Rosie Bell (via Facebook):
When J K Rowling wrote best-selling children’s books that even children who didn’t read, would read, she was a force for betterment.
When she showed that a writer could hit the jackpot she was a creatives’ beacon of hope.
When she insisted that the popular film adaptations or her books should not be Hollywoodised she was a patriot.
When she recalled her own years of being a single mother dependent on welfare payments and reiterated her support for Labour she was a good socialist.
When she donated considerable sums to clinics treating multiple sclerosis and campaigned for research on the disease because of her own mother’s illness she was a heart-string puller.
I think Scots may have even been a wee bit proud that this unassuming woman of considerable achievement chose to live in Edinburgh. At least one coffee house has put up a plaque noting that she used to hang out there.
But now she is a bitch; a whore; a traitor; a Tory; a deluded wee hen, all with added sweiry words. Oh, and English as well.
All because she wrote a sane, reasoned article on why she thought Scotland should not go independent and contributed some money to a campaign she believed in.
No wonder I hate this referendum.
Since Game of Thrones has come up in the comments thread, here’s a video which covers both Game of Thrones and Edinburgh:-
Recently George Monbiot compared the foreign jihadists in Syria to the International Brigade in Spain.
What was said about the International Brigade – that every one of them who came back wrote a book?
If they didn’t write books, they certainly read them via the Left Book Club. They were serious minded comrades who led a rough life in Spain in devotion to their cause
If their modern counterpart are the likes who join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) then intellectual standards have slipped.
“their discourse is notably different from that of their fellow mujahideen from Muslim countries. Although these Western fighters, like their counterparts, focus a great deal on death and on their desire for martyrdom and the accompanying rewards of the akhira (hereafter), many of them also seem keen on enjoying life in the dunya (i.e. in this world) until martyrdom arrives. Many of the Westerners speak of jihad as “fun,” stressing the thrills of life on the front (gunfights, jeep rides, etc), as well as the availability of leisure activity and the access to many aspects of modern life. They also emphasize the perks of jihad and taking war booty – good eating and free use of appropriated luxury accommodations and cars – and all this without having to give up the gadgets and even the same snack foods that they enjoyed back home.
In fact, the jihad fighters from the West bring with them the lifestyle and youth culture with which they grew up. This is expressed particularly in their references to rap culture – such as the violence-steeped music of rapper Tupac Shakur (one jihadi even created and shared a humorous montage showing the non-Muslim Tupac with a cross on his chest “hanging out” with Osama bin Laden) – or references to violent video games like “Call of Duty.” These influences, which are flagrantly alien to traditional Islamic culture, appear repeatedly in their discourse. These fighters do not perceive their duty as requiring them to abandon all aspects of the lifestyle to which they are accustomed.
Furthermore, in contrast to jihad in the Islamic tradition, which is a religious duty carried out solely to express devotion to Allah and the Muslim community, many of these young jihad fighters from the West are making it personal, focusing on their own actions and glorifying their own role in it – as can be seen from the selfies, Instagram photos, and the like that they share and circulate. Their heavy use of Photoshop and other software to enhance images is another practice borrowed from Western Internet culture, as is their writing, with its abbreviations and alternative spellings punctuated by exclamation marks. This combination of Islamic and Western aspects has the effect of making their da’wa more accessible and appealing to young people living in the West.”
Fortunately these fascist dickheads are burning their passports, so with any luck they won’t come back to the place where these were issued.
The well-heeled urbanite, in tailored threads, bicycles with pleasure through the traffic-clogged streets of Jakarta. Meet Monocle Man.
Monocle Man is the hip sophisticate who reads the magazine Monocle.
a magazine that is in general focused on a particular brand of well-heeled global urbanism, the go-to source for articles on . .. such new-urbanist obsessions as bicycling (“Kenji Hall goes for a little bike ride — in the middle of traffic-clogged Jakarta with the city’s governor, a Spanish MotoGP world champion and the ambassador of Denmark”),
I’m glad to hear that bicycling is a new-urbanist obsession. Of course in some countries like Denmark and Holland it’s merely how you get about but in Britain it would be good news if it became the same sophisticated activity that it was in the 1890s, when titled ladies pedalled about London and the beau monde showed off their cycling gear in the Bois de Boulogne.
Those rich folk turned to automobiles but poorer people picked up second-hand and then cheap mass produced bicycles. Cars, in Britain, were for the elite. When they began to be owned by the general public, they were also used differently from how they are today – for excursions and holidays, not for day to day transport. You got to your work on foot, by bicycle and by public transport while cars did not become the habitual way of getting to work until the 1960s. The film Made in Dagenham, about a strike in 1968, showed the factory workers arriving by bicycle. In 10 years time it would be by car.
So part of cycling campaigning is to make cycling normal urban transport and not a lifestyle choice. The Guardian, for instance, has good articles about cycling but they are in the Life and Style or politics section of the website, not Transport.
I heard a talk by Professor Colin Pooley co-author of Promoting Walking and Cycling; New perspectives on sustainable travel. A study was undertaken in four different towns/cities, (Leeds Leicester, Worcester and Lancaster) among various communities on how people made their choices of transport for short urban journeys. The summary of the key findings can be found in Understanding Walking and Cycling.
The authors demonstrated that, even in areas of England where ‘utility cycling’ is relatively common, most cyclists still perceive themselves to be part of a marginalised group; this compares starkly with studies in Europe that have revealed the extent to which cyclist believe they are confirming to a societal norm.
While attitudes to walking and cycling . . are mostly positive or neutral many people who would like to engage in more active travel fail to do so because of:-
1. Concerns about the safety of the physical environment – for cyclists that is traffic, for pedestrians, scary streets
2. Difficulty of fitting walking and cycling into complex routines
3. Walking and cycling are “abnormal”
Certainly cycling is seen as a desirable activity. Why else would Google put up this image for Mother’s Day.
Capes? Have they never heard of Isadora Duncan or watched The Incredibles?
But although bicycles are seen as a carefree family occupation – look at the advertisements for Center Parcs, for instance – they are not used as ordinary urban transport.
The key message that comes from this research is that at present in Britain using the car for short trips in urban areas is convenient, habitual and normal. . . Alternatives to the car – especially cycling and walking – are perceived to take too much effort, need planning and equipment that causes hassles, and may be risky and uncomfortable. They also run the risk of being perceived by other as eccentric or odd.
Common remarks from those interviewed by the study:-
“It’s not a cool thing for a girl to be on a bike”
“People assume that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t drive.”
There were various suggestions for remaking cities and towns for walking and cycling:,-
1. Fully segregated cycle routes on all arterial and other busy roads
2. Making pedestrian routes more welcoming (widening pavements, removing street furniture, better lighting, keeping them clear of ice and fallen leaves)
3. Restricting traffic speed on non-segregated residential roads;
4. “Strict liability” so that pedestrians or cyclists injured in an accident involving a motor vehicle do not have to prove fault in seeking compensation;
5. Urban design that makes eg shopping centres convenient for cyclists and pedestrians.
There are a range of bodies that could effect these changes from central government to private businesses.
Professor Cooley was speaking to a converted audience, i.e. 150 cycling members of the public and sympathetic councillors. To us he made three important points:-
1. A good urban policy is against the use of cars, not the ownership of them.
2. It should not be assumed that it is sufficient to change attitudes and make people more environmentally aware. It is necessary also to make the changes that enable people to translate these values into actions.
3. Do not base policies about walking and cycling on the views and experiences of existing committed cyclists and pedestrians. They are a minority who have, against all the odds, successfully negotiated a hostile urban environment to incorporate walking and cycling into their everyday routines. It is necessary to talk. . .to non-walkers and non-cyclists, potential cyclists and walkers, former cyclists and walkers . . to encourage them to make more use of these transport modes.
The Leader of Edinburgh City Council, Andrew Burns, also spoke. Edinburgh has achieved 4% to 8% work rides within 8 years, with a target of 15% by 2020. Councillor Burns cited Munich and Cologne as cities that have made progress in cycling. The utopias are Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
Edinburgh has a strong campaigning group, Spokes, and a sympathetic council, and so has achieved better cycling than the average in the UK, in spite of its chilly, windy climate, hilliness and (the council falls down here) pot-holed road surfaces. On some of the cycle paths at peak hour it’s like the M8 for traffic flow. So it can be done. But it needs political will.
However, to finish with another quote from Professor Cooley (paraphrased):-
“The politicians report that the electorate will not accept changes that will make it easier to walk and cycle, yet speak directly to the electorate and they are happy with these changes.”
Andrew O’Hagan tells a fascinating story of what it was like to ghost write Julian Assange’s autobiography. He did this under contract with Canongate Books, a hip publisher based in Edinburgh.
O’Hagan has got hold of a character who could be one of fiction’s great monsters with a toddler’s grasp of other people’s motives and rights. Assange holed up talking without interruption for 3 hours at a time is strongly reminiscent of Hitler in his table talk and his lashings out at everyone as he sits in one of his bunkers (Ellingham Hall, the Ecuadorian Embassy) has been portrayed in Downfall. He has real enemies and he has imaginary ones as well. The many people who fall out with him do so because of envy or malice.
His paranoia has its comic side:-
He appeared to like the notion that he was being pursued and the tendency was only complicated by the fact that there were real pursuers. But the pursuit was never as grave as he wanted it to be. He stuck to his Cold War tropes, where one didn’t deliver a package, but made a ‘drop off’. One day, we were due to meet some of the WikiLeaks staff at a farmhouse out towards Lowestoft. We went in my car. Julian was especially edgy that afternoon, feeling perhaps that the walls were closing in, as we bumped down one of those flat roads covered in muck left by tractors’ tyres. ‘Quick, quick,’ he said, ‘go left. We’re being followed!’ I looked in the rear-view mirror and could see a white Mondeo with a wire sticking out the back.
‘Don’t be daft, Julian,’ I said. ‘That’s a taxi.’
‘No. Listen to me. It’s surveillance. We’re being followed. Quickly go left.’ Just by comical chance, as I was rocking a Sweeney-style handbrake turn, the car behind us suddenly stopped at a farmhouse gate and a little boy jumped out and ran up the path. I looked at the clock as we rolled off in a cloud of dust. It said 3.48.
‘That was a kid being delivered home from school,’ I said. ‘You’re mental.’
There are some good moments with Assange, the expert hacker and courageous activist:-
At the time of the Egyptian uprising, Mubarak tried to close down the country’s mobile phone network, a service that came through Canada. Julian and his gang hacked into Nortel and fought against Mubarak’s official hackers to reverse the process. The revolution continued and Julian was satisfied, sitting back in our remote kitchen eating chocolates.
That is why I didn’t walk out. The story was just too large. What Julian lacked in efficiency or professionalism he made up for in courage. What he lacked in carefulness he made up for in impact.
But on the whole the Wikileaks endeavour suffered from that symptom of the internet age, the short attention span, the hook, the click-bait and the Twitter storm of petty feuds:-
He’s not a details guy. None of them is. What they love is the big picture and the general fight. They love the noise and the glamour, the history, the spectacle, but not the fine print. That is why they released so many cables so quickly: for impact. And there’s a good argument to support that. But, even today, three years later, the cables have never had the dedicated attention they deserve. They made a splash and then were left languishing. I always hoped someone would do a serious editing job, ordering them country by country, contextualising each one, providing a proper introduction, detailing each injustice and each breach, but Julian wanted the next splash and, even more, he wanted to scrap with each critic he found on the internet. As for the book, he kept putting it off.
Assange makes a virtue of scientific journalism, where readers take the raw data and process it for themselves. But of course we can’t do that any more than we can make our laptops from oil, metals and silicon. We need context and background information to gauge whether a piece of information is significant or trivial.
I thought, if Julian was serious and strategic, that WikiLeaks should not only bale stuff out onto the web, but should then facilitate the editing and presenting of that work in a way that was of permanent historical value. Perry Anderson of Verso Books had the same thought, and I put it to Julian that the WikiLeaks Map of the World should be a series which provided for a proper academic study of what the biggest security leaks in history had revealed, with expert commentary, notes, essays and introductions. It would provide the organisation with a lasting, grown-up legacy, a powerful, orderly continuation of its initial work.
Julian came to lunch at my flat in Belsize Park. Tariq Ali came and so did Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review, as well as an American editor for Verso called Tom Mertes. Anderson’s idea was that Verso would publish a series of books, or one book in which each chapter showed how the US cables released by WikiLeaks had changed the political position of a particular country. A writer who knew, say, Italy, would introduce the chapter and the same would be done for every country and it would be very meticulous and well-made. Julian gave a big speech at the beginning, the middle and the end. He clearly liked Tariq but had no sense of him as someone who knew a lot more about the world than he did. Although the idea for the book had come from Verso, Julian preferred to give a lecture about how most academics were corrupted by their institutions.
…. . Anyone else would have jumped at the chance of the Verso project but as Julian drove off in a taxi I knew he would never call Tariq about this or lay any of the groundwork they’d agreed. Julian was already more concerned about claiming the idea for himself, an idea that he would never see to fruition. The meeting had called for responsible action, when what Julian loved was irresponsible reaction.
Everyone has one rule for themselves and another for the rest of the world but Assange takes this to the nth degree:-
Julian was getting a lot of flak in the press for making Wiki-employees sign contracts threatening them with a £12 million lawsuit if they disclosed anything about the organisation. It was clear he didn’t see the problem. He has a notion that WikiLeaks floats above other organisations and their rules. He can’t understand why any public body should keep a secret but insists that his own organisation enforce its secrecy with lawsuits. Every time he mentioned legal action against the Guardian or the New York Times, and he did this a lot, I would roll my eyes, but he didn’t see the contradiction. He was increasingly lodged in a jungle of his own making and I told Jamie it was like trying to write a book with Mr Kurtz.
He was in a state of panic at all times that things might get out. But he manages people so poorly, and is such a slave to what he’s not good at, that he forgets he might be making bombs set to explode in his own face. I am sure this is what happens in many of his scrapes: he runs on a high-octane belief in his own rectitude and wisdom, only to find later that other people had their own views – of what is sound journalism or agreeable sex – and the idea that he might be complicit in his own mess baffles him.
He has the common tendency to fight far more bitterly with those who share his world view than those who outright reject it:-
the Guardian was an enemy because he’d ‘given’ them something and they hadn’t toed the line, whereas the Daily Mail was almost respected for finding him entirely abominable. The Guardian tried to soothe him – its editor, Alan Rusbridger, showed concern for his position, as did the then deputy, Ian Katz, and others – but he talked about its journalists in savage terms. The Guardian felt strongly that the secret material ought to be redacted to protect informants or bystanders named in it, and Julian was inconsistent about that. I never believed he wanted to endanger such people, but he chose to interpret the Guardian’s concern as ‘cowardice’.
He’s full of repugnant sexism and anti-Semitsm:-
They certainly had transcripts of our interviews, sittings in which he’d uttered, late at night, many casual libels, many sexist or anti-Semitic remarks, and where he spoke freely about every aspect of his life.
As well as wasting time to a heart-breaking degree, those who engage with Assange find themselves out of goodwill and out of pocket. Canongate tried to salvage the autobiography and published what they could.
Canongate Books, the Edinburgh-based publisher, has blamed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s “failure to deliver” the book he was contracted to produce for plunging into operating loss.
Accounts, which have just become available from Companies House, reveal Canongate tumbled to an operating loss of £368,467 in 2011, from a profit of £1.08 million at this level in 2010. Canongate acknowledged this was its worst performance “in many years”.
For Andrew O’Hagan it hasn’t all been a minus. He came out with a great story to tell, and that’s enough pay off for any writer.
(H/T – HJ)
European and UK policies towards land management increase the likelihood of flooding, according to George Monbiot:-
The story begins with a group of visionary farmers at Pontbren, in the headwaters of Britain’s longest river, the Severn. In the 1990s they realised that the usual hill-farming strategy – loading the land with more and bigger sheep, grubbing up the trees and hedges, digging more drains – wasn’t working. It made no economic sense, the animals had nowhere to shelter, and the farmers were breaking their backs to wreck their own land.
So they devised something beautiful. They began planting shelter belts of trees along the contours. They stopped draining the wettest ground and built ponds to catch the water instead. They cut and chipped some of the wood they grew to make bedding for their animals, which meant that they no longer spent a fortune buying straw. Then they used the composted bedding, in a perfect closed loop, to cultivate more trees.
One day a government consultant was walking over their fields during a rainstorm. He noticed something that fascinated him. The water flashing off the land suddenly disappeared when it reached the belts of trees the farmers had planted. This prompted a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water and then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable, a hard pan off which the rain gushes.
One of the research papers estimates that – even though only 5% of the Pontbren land has been reforested – if all the farmers in the catchment did the same thing, flooding peaks downstream would be reduced by about 29%. Full reforestation would reduce the peaks by about 50%. For the residents of Shrewsbury, Gloucester and the other towns ravaged by endless Severn floods, that means – more or less – problem solved.
David Rich has a very good, and very depressing article on Dieudonne and his kind:-
“Making common cause” between Holocaust deniers, neo-fascists, the pro-Palestinian left, and the revolutionary Islamists of Iran is precisely what Dieudonné has spent the past decade trying to achieve. Originally from the political left, he has moved via anti-Israel rhetoric and the fascist Front National (FN) to the establishment of his own Parti Anti Sioniste (PAS, or Anti-Zionist Party). Alongside him in the PAS is essayist and filmmaker Alain Soral, who underwent a similar journey from the Marxist left to the FN before finding a political home with Dieudonné.
There are not many political movements that can embrace the neo-fascist right, the anti-capitalist left, and Iranian revolutionary Islamism. Dieudonné is close to FN leaders—Jean Marie Le Pen is godfather to one of his children—while also attracting fans who consider themselves to be left-wing radicals. He was a guest in Tehran of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and received Iranian funding for a film project. Historically, movements that successfully pulled off this kind of balancing act have tended to rely on anti-Semitism as their glue, expressed through the lingua franca of conspiracist anti-Zionism, and PAS is no different.
Strikingly, for a party that calls itself anti-Zionist, PAS’s political program makes no direct mention of Israel or Palestine. This is parochial, patriotic anti-Zionism, in which Zionism is portrayed primarily as a subversive, corrupting presence in French society.
Radio 4’s The Report had the journalist Helen Grady interviewing Dieudonne’s friends and followers. Sometimes they said “Zionist” where they obviously meant “Jewish” and sometimes they said, “I’m not antisemitic but Jews run everything”. Also, Dieudonne gave them the thrill of saying, or just hinting at, the forbidden. – not just “you don’t say that” but “you can’t say that” because it’s illegal in a state with laws against Holocaust denial. This was interpreted as special treatment for Jews while other minorities are fair game.
I was sorry the reporter didn’t ask them to explain who these Zionists are and what are these utterances that are so dammed by the laws – not that I agree with Holocaust denial laws or anti free speech and expression laws in general. In fact I would like to know how much these laws exacerbate the sense of resentment that is one of the emotional bases of Fascism. Certainly breaking them, or hinting that you were, gave the audience a lovely outsider frisson.
Some of these gagged folk came from immigrant communities – their parents from North Africa say – and they had good words to say of the Front National – at least they’re honest when the rest are hypocrites.
It was your worst gibbering blog thread taking flesh, with hideous whiffs of the 1930s, in all their bizarre irrationality.
Rich concludes with a warning for those who think It Can’t Happen Here:-
. .it would be complacent to assume that Dieudonné’s anti-establishment appeal, expressed through angry, transgressive satire and political stunts, could not find a British audience. The personal followings of Nigel Farage MEP and George Galloway MP demonstrate the appetite in the UK for charismatic, populist anti-politics. .. A Francophone comic with a taste for the surreal is likely to have trouble finding a mass audience in Britain; but his populist anti-politics, carrying a coded anti-Semitism and transmitted via social media, may have better luck in finding an audience..
The anti-establishment comedian who thinks all political institutions are a waste of time is Russell Brand, but to do him justice, he is nothing like as malevolent as Dieudonne, and I can’t see him doing Holocaust jokes or chumming up with David Irving. I can’t see him getting in bed with UKIP either, which is the closest thing here to the Front National. I don’t keep up with popular culture, and there may be obvious candidates for the Dieudonne role that I’ve missed.
Respect was a party that pulled in some of the political groups that are attracted to Dieudonne:- the pro-Palestinian Left and Islamists, and no doubt Holocaust deniers would pop up in such a crowd. Gilad Atzmon would be the obvious entertainer, but he’s not a man of any great charisma or the popular touch. However, it’s hard to think of the neo-Fascist right finding a home there, and Respect is now mostly a fantasy in Galloway’s head.
Christina Odone, former deputy editor of The New Statesman, in the course of arguing that religious believers are being pushed out of public life by a new intolerance, drew attention to the Law Society revoking permission for a conference on traditional marriage to be held on its premises.
Suppose it had been a conference on the need to reinstate traditional legal prohibitions on Jews. Or Catholics. Would it then have been unreasonable for the Law Society to say that you can not hold such a conference on our premises?
Suppose it was a conference on the need to revoke voting rights for women? Or re-impose coverture marriage? (Which was, after all, for centuries the “traditional” form of marriage under English law.) For what group does opposition to equal protection of the law become an acceptable conference subject matter for the Law Society to provide a venue for? Would Ms Odone care to specify?
Almost certainly, it does not occur to Ms Odone that there is any parallel with coverture marriage, or the controversy over Jewish emancipation, etc. But, of course, that is precisely what is going on. Indeed, the fight over queer emancipation is almost completely a re-run of the fight over Jewish emancipation, with exactly the same arguments being run — they are offensive to God, giving them legal equality goes against the authority of Scripture and Western tradition, they will corrupt any institution they are allowed into, they prey on minors, they are predatory recruiters, they spread disease — and almost exactly the same fault lines showing up in social debate.
Do read the whole thing.
Pace Jim, I like folk music. I also admire Pete Seeger, a vigorous campaigner on the behalf of many causes and a man with a strong sense of public duty.
So here’s a Youtube clip.