Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sleazy Died Today

I saw his work in my teens, but I would not have known his name.  He was an anonymous craftsman, simply a worker on our lord’s estate; those pieces of plastic I so carefully placed on my cheap stereo.  How many people share this experience?  To millions he is invisible, but to a small minority he is a monument on their hometown’s hillside.  Will they gather there tonight; talk of the old days, and forget about why it all went wrong?  It was as a designer he made his money; it was his music that made his reputation; albeit limited to the crazies and the curious… It was also his money that allowed him to create his art. Technology’s freedom: studio sound from Aldi’s.


Look!  There’s David Herbert!  He’s running after Henry DavidMr Thoreau

Catching up, he overtakes; there’s a scuffle; I see fists, a heavy punch…

He’s got the trumpet!  And jumping on Henry David’s back he wacks him around the sofa.  Gee up little Roman!   Playing Charlie Ives he calls him Saint Augustus.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Civilisation in a Shed

Irrational prejudice. It is often ignorant and ill informed. Nevertheless, sometimes how true! Literature is a good example. Certain writers can be disliked, even if they have never been read. You pick up a smell in the air, and your nostrils go all wobbly…. Henry David Thoreau. I just know I’m not going to like him.

I have not read Walden, and know hardly anything about its author, yet I’ve got an opinion on him? Yes, I have. I can feel it when I go into a bookshop; I can sense him in the corner: that pungent smell, and his eyes far too keen to make contact. What do I think he’s like? Quite pompous, a little precious, pious of course, and too satisfied with his own lot; a self-conscious saint. In short I think he’s a well-heeled hippy without the Marijuana. Have you read him? Am I so very wrong?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Brecht and Buddha

It is a yellow room, and the Buddha sits amongst a fountain of blue; lord of his citadel, the ceiling his strange crown.  In a meditative pose he listens carefully to the introductions, and our mild applause.  Will he like what he hears, these new phrases and odd sentences?  Or is he uneasy about this strange art? Can he trust this man? Who crosses borders with nothing but words in an old rucksack. I see his posture shift; how he wonders for a moment: will he jump the high walls around my doctrines…   It lasts only seconds.  He sits serene, an enormous monument, and listens and meditates.  Once again in charge, so confident and secure; once again a fortress inside his own temple.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


The Therapist

To draw them in
Close towards you
A whole nation
Silent on the couch.

Quietly they talk,
Water around rocks,
About their memories.
You draw them out

Bodies shaking,
Convulsing slightly,
As you pick out 
The broken stones

And odd stories.
You draw them out,
With words and pincers
You pull out

Their pain and grief
To leave that history
Quietly in your bin.
The river running free.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


What would the world look like if you only read the Guardian’s Dominique Moisi on France and the international scene?

Take the recent strikes in France.  We learn they are a reactionary attempt to maintain the good life.  An overblown romantic revolt over some trivial policy change, with young emotions unleashed on just two additional years on the pension age.  Those pampered French again!

…this movement is an expression of exasperation with the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, which blatantly favors the super-rich over the majority of working people in this country… The Labor Minister who introduced the reform, Eric Woerth, got a job for his wife on the office staff of the richest woman in France, Liliane Bettencourt, heir to the Oreal cosmetics giant, at the same time that, as budget minister, he was overlooking her massive tax evasions. While tax benefits for the rich help empty the public coffers, this government is doing what it can to tear down the whole social security system that emerged after World War II on the pretext that “we can’t afford it”.

The retirement issue is far more complex than “the age of retirement”.  The legal age of retirement means the age at which one may retire.  But the pension depends on the number of years worked, or to be more precise, on the number of cotisations (payments) into the joint pension scheme. On the grounds of “saving the system from bankruptcy”, the government is gradually raising the number of years of cotisations from 40 to 43 years, with indications that this will be stretched out further in the future…

The trend is for qualified personnel to enter the work force later and later, having spent years getting an education.   With the difficulty of finding a stable, full-time job, many depend on their parents until age 30.  It is simple arithmetic to see that in this case, there will be no full retirement until after age 70. (In effect this will reduce pensions, as people will retire before this age.  See also Mark Weisbort for a sharp critique of Sarkozy and his plans.)

That detail about the Labour minister is just the kind of thing to spark off a strike…  Is there something he is not telling us?  Let’s have a closer look at the Professor.

Friday, 5 November 2010


For the Left there are two 1960’s.  The haute couture of Paris 1968, and the prêt-á-porter of America, Brazil and the rest. The Parisian revolt has to a large extent become lost to mythology; now a part of the institutional memory of French intellectual life (or that fraction of the intelligentsia which appears in the mainstream media; and on its fringes – the celebrities of the academic world: Deleuze, Foucault, Guattari…).  This significantly distorts the decade; for by turning the political dissent into high class pop music it forgets the hard graft of the anti-war activists in the States; and the desperate struggles in other countries; the student deaths in Mexico, another rebellion in that famous year.  It also prejudices us against the present: witness the Anglo-American media on the current French strikes; where the strikers have been treated with irony and disdain

These differences are reflected in the intellectuals of that generation; nicely captured by two recent articles.  In an introduction to a Nick Turse piece Tom Engelhardt writes of the impact on him of Noam Chomsky’s After Pinkville; with its call for the resistance to do more to stop the war in Vietnam War.  This exemplifies the purpose of all Chomsky’s political work, which is to change the political facts, by supporting radical groups and providing them with information and analysis.  He encourages his audience to think and act; not to admire his virtuoso technical skills.  His is not the gold tinsel of grand intellectual theory; the sort of Selfridges window display we often see in academic journals and in books from university presses.  The other piece is about the Maoist turn of a section of the fashionable Left in France…