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London. Built by “us”, now owned by “them”

February 26, 2015 1 comment

Has it ever occurred to you, on your trips to visit London, how many people come to visit the sights, and how many work there every day, yet nobody knows anyone who actually lives in London? (Outer boroughs don’t count. Nobody visits Kingsbury or Chipstead.)

The London of today is obviously a product of the centuries of its being conquered, as well as the centuries in which London, itself, was the centre of half the world it was conquering in turn, accumulating its riches and building splendid monuments to its empire.

And after World War Two, it rose out of the rubble of the Blitz attacks with new housing, socialised healthcare, public transport and world-famous, publicly owned brands making airplanes, cars, machinery, you name it.

And then came Thatcher, and the redefinition of “us”. The sellout of public assets. Factories, brands, infrastructure, real estate–and air. Real estate has become an convenient investment for billionaires worldwide, housing prices have gone through the roofs, and regular people have moved to Kent, Essex, Surrey and other counties sprinkled with lifeless dormitory towns. Ironically, if you can afford to live in central London these days, chances are you don’t have a job to commute to anyway. (And no, Blair, Brown or Cameron have certainly not changed direction since the ironclad wench took the rudder.)

Ian Martin laments the decline of the social fabric that used to serve “us” and hold “us” together, a downward spiral so monumental, it’s a wonder no private equity fund has commissioned an architect to cast it in concrete and glass as the next piece in the collection of absurd skyscrapers dominating today’s London skyline.

I say “we”, although the greatest trick Thatcherism ever pulled was this redefinition of “us and them”. Suddenly, people in your own family were voting Tory. Mrs Thatcher’s chief information officer, Rupert Murdoch, was telling us that the firemen and the dustmen were our enemies. That the women of the NUT and Nalgo were the mad, selfish defenders of a doomed elite. The Tory government went after the local authorities, telling us that government itself was our enemy. You were just going: “Hold on a minute, if you’re the government …” and then they shouted: “Oh, God, look! The Falklands!”, hired more expensive PR guys and carried on privatising.

The city that privatised itself to death by Ian Martin

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Immigrants comin over ‘ere…

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Stewart Lee, easily the 41st best standup comic out there, if not, say, 34th even.

In this bit from his Comedy Vehicle show he takes the anti-immigration stance of the British UK Independence Party (UKIP) to its final and utterly convincing conclusion. (Spoiler: it’s bad news for particles of energy. But great news for the UK’s immigration statistics.)

stewartlee-snap

Now a lot of people’ve been saying they’re voting UKIP as a protest vote, which is sort of understandable. When we were young a protest vote, you voted for someone nice, who might not get in, like the Greens, didn’t you, or some funny silly amusing party, like the Raving Monster Loony Party, or the Liberal Democrats.
People’ve been voting for the UKIPs as a protest vote, and they’re nasty, and they might get in. And then what kind of protest is that? That’s like shitting your hotel bed as a protest against bad service. And then realizing you’ve now got to sleep in a shitted bed!

Short link: http://wp.me/p1DZIc-oE

Don’t give in to the temptation… (Gaza)

August 11, 2014 1 comment

Here’s a comment on the ongoing (and age-old) Gaza conflict I’ve found in the Spanish daily El País. Yamila Fakhouri, professor of penal law, author and herself a Palestinian, makes some very valid and important points to dissolve some recurring simplifications and stereotypes on Palestinians, and on Hamas in particular. Mostly, Fakhouri argues, the conflict doesn’t just boil down to religious extremism. Rather, the protest and conflict goes deeper, back to an anti-colonial struggle for independence. While some Palestinians do resort to Islam to assert and stress their identity in the face of the Jewish state that wields control over them, Palestinians as a whole are far from being religious extremists. But there is a real danger extremism will grow if new, productive avenues of political negotiation keep getting blocked. Some noteworthy passages below. Translation and emphasis mine.

Por favor, no caigan en la tentación. (Original article in El País, Spanish)

Yamila Fakhouri: Please don’t give in to the temptation
Don’t stick us Palestinians into the same bag as Osama Bin Laden.

In Gaza, Hamas is currently in power, an organization elected at the ballot box in 2006, which is more the product of a number of factors to do with an insufferable corruption among Fatah, as well as with the frustration with Fatah leaders’ fruitless policies, rather than with an actual muslim radicalization in the region. The objectives of Hamas’ armed wing, for now, don’t go beyond those of any struggle for freedom. Please don’t misunderstand: The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is — first and and foremost — not a religious struggle. It’s a fight over land. Beyond this, apart from how much or how little appreciation these organizations [like Hamas] can gain for their positions, they also dispose of a network of social assistance for the families, mostly in Gaza, which lack everything that would allow them a life in dignity. That, in turn, contributes to the support and sympathy they receive from the population.

On the other hand we have the Western powers’ hypocrisy, the abandonment, even the clandestine support for such a situation of flagrant injustice which has lasted for 67 years. That, in turn, contributes to large parts of the Palestinian people seeking hope in religion, for consolation, as a symbol of identity. But those same powers reacted outraged [once Hamas had been elected]… and the EU cut their funding.

On the other side of the rectangle we have Netanyahu and Sharon, equally if not more radical than Hamas leadership, however with more resources and an enormous history of dead Palestinians behind them. They both occupied the position of Prime Minister and nobody seemed to be scandalized. There were no consequences, neither economic nor otherwise. At the end of the day, Israel is a democratic state based on a secret service that commits extrajudicial executions, keeps minors in prison and people under arrest without trial — kidnapped, to put it simply and technically — it is considering lifetime imprisonment for minors and adults and it regularly uses torture as a means to obtain information, as the organizations working in the area are by now growing tired to report.

In Palestine, there is radicalism: civilians kill themselves and they chant slogans as much as they burn flags in front of TV cameras in the name of Allah, yes. And the more one continues to seek security and fight against terrorism by way of collective punishment, by death, by taking vengeance, by infringing on the most basic human rights, through injustice — the more radicalism there will be.

[…]

Recognizing the causes of the conflict isn’t only desirable, it’s necessary to be able to analyze the phenomenon and to offer appropriate measures to contain it. Recognizing it and working on solving these aspects are the only things that can generate change and progress, which can never be achieved by punishment (alone).

I’m thinking about this and writing these lines on the AVE [high speed train] from Madrid to Barcelona, freezing from the air conditioning in my short pants and my spaghetti strap top. I don’t identify with any creed nor religion. I dance salsa. I’m a doctor of law. And I am also a Palestinian. Just like thousands of Christian Palestinians who suffer from the same problems as their Muslim neighbours. Just like the children who die from the bombs the Israeli army shoots at them as they’re playing on the beach. Just like thousands of brothers and sisters, in Palestine, in Israel or elsewhere, religious or not, who above anything else in this world would like to live in peace.

Please don’t be tempted to stick us all into the same bag as Osama Bin Laden, or into the one of the most stubborn caste of Zionists who rule Israel these days.

Short link: http://wp.me/p1DZIc-ot

On the understated liberalism of ironic stupidity

March 11, 2014 1 comment

You know when you hang out with your buddies who you’ve known for years, sometimes decades, and no matter what you say, they know how to read that against the backdrop of your past actions and words? And how often you’re glad nobody else hears what you say, because they’d be bound to get the different levels of sarcasm and irony all wrong and take your utterings literally? Which is likely to result in you getting punched in the teeth or slapped upside your head with a handbag — by the very people who you feel most sympathetic for? (I would’ve expected them to at least hi-five me.)

There’s little else that feels as comfortable as being blindly understood regardless of the level of literal stupidity that comes out of your mouth. But then you meet new people (which is a good thing, mind you!) If you’re lucky, you instantly click and find you share the same kinds of views, and you find out you do so because you realize that new acquaintance is fully fluent in sarcasm and has all the right comebacks for your remarks? It’s like a match made in heaven! Sometimes, however, you meet new people and you realize whatever you say causes massive confusion in the other. That’s when you have a problem on your hands. That’s where you’d have to do the obvious thing and snap out of sarcasm mode, and instead speak in plain text. Oh the humiliation! But with the kind of near-pathological knack for understatement and sarcasm that I have, I flat-out refuse to explain myself. Au contraire, I like to use sarcasm as a kind of light meter to detect the degree of brightness in my new interlocutor. If they fail to spot even the most ridiculous of utterances on, say, the wenches, or the bloody foreigners (I’m half-immigrant myself, by the way, and some of my favourite people in the world are women), I know it’s not worth going much deeper. If they do pick up on the impossible stupidity of what I’ve just said, we have a basis for communication and, dare I say, a friendship might not be too far off. (Somebody understand me!)

I’ve often thought about ways of giving an innocent person a heads up. It’s probably not their fault if they’ve grown up in an environment where people just say exactly what they mean, with no twists and turns to it. But then I abandoned the thought to avoid going through the tedious task of teaching someone how to assess the presumable seriousness of an utterance against the real world of modern thought and latest facts available. Not to mention that what they secretly think of me plays an important role, as well. If they take me for a moron to begin with, they won’t bother trying to find the brilliance that I’ve ever so carefully and painstakingly wrapped into several layers of double-entendre and irony. (I occasionally like to flatter myself.)

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David Simon on America as a Horror Show

February 3, 2014 Leave a comment

On one of my favorite political talk shows, Bill Moyers on PBS, David Simon has made it so beautifully plain how America treats those losing out in this economy that’s become more and more detatched from any social goals or responsibilities. In short: America does not care about its worth-less people. He talks about how the legislative process has been bought, how not only Obama, but any president, no matter how well-meaning, faces a rigged game, and how those earning minimum pay or below may soon become too many, and so their lives will end up being destroyed. And this is where the war on drugs comes in…

By all means, do watch the entire interview, but the section from 20:00 onwards packs too much punch, I wanted to print the transcript here below. (Video and transcript from billmoyers.com)

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DAVID SIMON: I am so aware of what– at this point of having covered it for so many years of what the drug war means in terms of being effectively a war on the poor. That’s all it is. It has no meaning in terms of narcotics or anything like that. That’s the shell game.

BILL MOYERS: But you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t connect that, would you, to the power of capital to buy the legislation.

DAVID SIMON: It’s the power of capitalism–I don’t know if I think it’s that much of a plan, I’m not that much of a conspiracist. I think there are a lot of extra people left over when the factories all go to the cheapest labor. And you know, if you’re going to move to the manufacturing base to the Pacific Rim and to Mexico and wherever else– you’re going to have a lot of extra people. And that’s going to make you nervous. And those people are not going to have– well, you’re either going to have to pay them to be extra, which we don’t have– we’re not that selfless. We’re cutting back on welfare.

You’re either going to have to pay them to be useless, you’re going to have to find a way to completely reorient them and place them in the service economy in ways that they are not now relevant for. And that’s a lot of money, we don’t want to spend that money. Or you’re going to have to hunt them, hunt them down. And that’s what the drug war became. You know, we left one last industry in places like West Baltimore and North Philadelphia and East St. Louis; we left one last factory standing. We left the drug corner. And it was very lucrative and very destructive. And then we made that illegal and then we made the laws against that so draconian that we could basically destroy lives. And then to make it even more laughable as a capitalist enterprise, we started turning over the prisons to private companies. And so they can, certain people with the contracts can find a profit metric in destroying these lives.

Part two of the same interview can be found here. As always, insightful and stirring.

Short link: http://wp.me/p1DZIc-nd

Mister Amnesia: David Cameron (Exhibit B)

December 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Last night the world learned the sad news of Nelson “Madiba” Mandela’s passing. He lived to be 95 years old, after being released from his 27-year prison sentence around the age of 70.

As one would expect, the internet reacted with a tremendous and fairly appropriate outpour of sadness, grief, best wishes to the Mandela family, as well as inspirational Mandela quotes (both proofed and unproofed) and the occasional few hundred youtube videos. News sites released their long-prepared and elaborate summaries, eulogies and collections of Mandela-related galleries, quote compilations and “most important stages in his life” type reports. All well-prepared in advance during Mandela’s periods of illness earlier this year.

And as it behooves any self-respecting world leader, one gave speeches, released letters of condolences and did one’s best to place oneself as closely to Mandela as humanity would endure without bursting out laughing or starting to pelt the hypocrites away from the pulpit with rocks.

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(Food) Stamping on those in need

November 9, 2013 Leave a comment

In his latest “Real Time” (8th Nov 2013), Bill Maher summed up the hypocrisy of faux-pious stamping on the poor quite nicely.

It’s okay if you don’t want to feed the hungry or heal the sick or house the homeless. Just don’t say you’re doing it for their own good. Don’t say you’d like to help people, but your hands are tied, because if you did it would cause a culture of dependency or go against the Bible or, worst of all, rob them of their freedom: To be sick and hungry.
Just admit you’re selfish, and based on how little your beliefs mirror the actual teachings of Jesus, you might as well claim to worship Despicable Me.

Short link: http://wp.me/p1DZIc-lL