Monday, August 29, 2005

Strange Visitations (and GK Chesterton)

I have just checked the list of referring sites on my 'Sitemeter' record page. For those of you without blogs or without a 'Sitemeter'- type account, 'Sitemeter' is a web tool that allows you to track how many visitors you've had and which tells you, amongst other things, from where these vistors have come - ie it records the webpage which the visitor was looking at before she/he visited yours. Normally, my record of referring sites shows a list of the usual valued guests together with the odd random 'Google' search for ducks or something. However, over a few hours on the 28th of August my record shows that this site had 35 visitors in a straight row who were referred here by 35 different sites which I have never seen in the records before. Moreover, most of these referring sites are American and have nothing to do with politics or ducks at all - they're mostly family diary/holiday blog sites. I can't see any link to my site on these blogs and neither does there seem much reason why someone should move straight from there to mine.

I am intrigued. Why would this happen?

This mystery comes at an appropriate time, because I am half way through reading a collection of GK Chesterton's 'Father Brown' mystery/detective short stories. If you haven't ever come across 'Father Brown', it's well worth a read if you like the idea of quick-to-read, easy-going but ingenious pre-First World War detective fiction. It's written in a rather genteel and leisurely kind of way, and there's a little Roman Catholic theologising, but Chesterton's dry humour keeps it very readable. It's interesting, too, in that Chesterton often leads us to sympathise with the 'criminal' in his stories and Father Brown is a strikingly non-condemnatory amateur sleuth.

Anyway, I digress. If you have any ideas, theories or, indeed, if you are one of these strange visitors please let know. I'm hoping it has something to do with a notorious, but chivalrous, international criminal called Flambeau. Probably not though.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

I am a Nervous Wreck

That's why. I haven't been able to do a spot of work all day - spent most of it checking the over by over updates on the web. I watched the last 30 minutes or so on TV and spent much of that time hiding behind sofas while emitting squeaking and/or gibbering noises every now and again.

Just had to go for a pint with my dinner to calm down. Feel a bit better now.


Snowball has an interesting post on cricket, CLR James and Mike Marqusee. Well worth a look. The 'James-Marqusee thesis' Snowball outlines seems completely nuts to me, but it's an interesting read.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Hugo Chavez

First of all, apologies for not posting anything for a while. I've been busy and away from York (and watching rather too much cricket*). More apologies - in advance this time - because it's likely I won't do a lot of blogging for the next couple of weeks**.

So anyway, Richard Gott has an interesting piece (which I think, is possibly an extract from his new book "Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution") on Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, on ZNet.

Chávez, now 51, is the same age as Tony Blair, and after nearly seven years as president he has been in power for almost as long. But there the similarities end. Chávez is a man of the left and, like most Latin Americans with a sense of history, he is distrustful of the United States. Free elections in Latin America have often thrown up radical governments that Washington would like to see overthrown, and the Chávez government is no exception to this rule.

Chávez is a genuinely revolutionary figure, one of those larger-than-life characters who surface regularly in the history of Latin America - and achieve power perhaps twice in a hundred years. He wants to change the history of the continent....

The Americans would have dealt with Chávez long ago had they not been faced by two crucial obstacles. First, they have been notably preoccupied in recent years in other parts of the world, and have hardly had the time, the personnel, or the attention span to deal with the charismatic colonel. Second, Venezuela is one of the principal suppliers of oil to the US market (literally so in that 13,000 US petrol stations are owned by Citgo, an extension of Venezuela's state oil company). Any hasty attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government would undoubtedly threaten this oil lifeline, and Chávez himself has long warned that his assassination would close down the pumps. With his popularity topping 70% in the polls, he would be a difficult figure to dislodge.

A few days ago an ultra right-wing fruit-cake called Pat Robertson, who seems to have built a lucrative career out of appearing on TV to scare the desperate and impressionable poor of America into making large credit card donations for Jaysus (payable to P Robertson), called on the Bush administration to assassinate Chavez. He described Chávez’s Venezuela as a “launching pad for Communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent” and went on to say "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it" and that Bush should 'take him [Chavez] out'. There is some small amusement to be had in watching Robertson now trying to explain that when he said these things he didn't actually mean that Bush should assassinate Chavez - oh no. However, though I wouldn't normally bother too much about what crazed Rolex watch wearing televangelists are saying, the urging of the assassination of a foreign head of state by this particular crazed Rolex watch wearing televangelist is rather worrying. Robertson is particularly close to the Bush administration. It doesn't seem too outlandish to speculate that perhaps Robertson was speaking with the tacit approval of the Whitehouse - he was, possibly, testing the water to gauge public and international opinion on the subject of US intervention in Venezuela. The mealy mouthed response of the US Government when asked to condemn Robertson's comments (by Jesse Jackson amongst others), I think, adds fuel to the speculative fire here.

Gott, above, suggests that the US is unlikely to intervene in Venezuela. It's certainly been very reluctant to do so since the botched coup attempt in 2002. As Gott suggests, the fact that the US is bogged down in Iraq together with its heavy reliance on Venezuelan oil (now exacerbated because of Middle East instability) means that it would be highly difficult to act on Venezuela at the moment. Perhaps, if the Bush administration did indeed have a hand in Robertson's pronouncement, Robertson's words were meant only as a kind of shot over Chavez's bows. However, the possibility that the neo-cons may, just, be considering some kind of desperate military throw of the dice in Venezuela can't be discounted. What Gott says, further on in his article, it seems to me, might suggest that, actually, the Bush admin regards Chavez as some sort of 'clear and present danger' which must be dealt with fairly rapidly or not at all - Gott writes:

worrying for the Americans is the time Chávez has devoted to the Middle East, successfully courting the governments that belong to Opec, the oil producers' organisation, some of whom have been labelled by the Americans as "the axis of evil"... Soon he [Chavez] will be helping to show the new Iranian president, using the Venezuelan example, how to increase the revenues of a state-owned oil company and channel them into programmes to help the poor.

A growing political alliance between Venezuela, other S American countries and Iran. Can the neo-cons allow this to develop? The emergence of a loosely allied anti-US bloc, driven by state-development type politics and with collective control over a substantial proportion of the West's oil supplies, it seems to me, must look very very alarming to the realpolitikers in the US State Department. Moreover, the fact that this emerging bloc is driven by a left-wing regime, experimenting with popular democracy and workers' control of industry and talking socialism must make the whole thing look absolutely terrifying. One of Chavez's aims, after all, is to spread the Bolivarian Revolution across South and Central America. Perhaps, in the face of all of this, the US just might be so desperate that it really is seriously considering some kind of military intervention in Venezuela.

* Yes, my secret is out - I like test match cricket. It's OK, so do a lot of lefties - Mike Marqusee and Norman Geras (gulp!) for example. I should like to point out that I've enjoyed watching England cricket matches for a long time - this isn't just some liking cricket because England are doing well in the Ashes flash in the pan kind of thing.
** I'm not quite sure why I'm apologising - it's my blog and I'll blog whenever I blooming well like - but, still, it seems to be blogger ettiquette to apologise in such circumstances. So then, please accept my (highly insincere) apologies.


Chavez says that Robertson's call for his assassination expresses the wishes of the US elite.

According to Chavez, the dominant political and economic classes of the U.S. are “entering a phase of desperation now, at the beginning of the 21st century,” which is why they are interested in resorting to acts such as assassination. Chavez also mentioned that the Fox New Channel had presented a former CIA agent, who said, “one must put an end to Chavez before he puts an end to us.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Magic Numbers

The Magic Numbers, if you've not heard of them, are a rather good band who specialise in unpretentious, straight-forward, and rather infectiously uplifting harmonic guitar pop. It's not just their music which makes them stand out from the crowd, it's their appearance too - they don't conform to the usual straight-jacket standards. While Top of the Pops is usually stuffed to the brim with near identical, preening, model-perfect girls and boys, The Magic Numbers are refreshingly different. They are scruffy (real scruffy - not designer scruffy), overweight and they don't look like they'll be doing any make-up or shampoo adverts in the near future. It was all too predictable, then, that when they agreed to appear on Top of the Pops, their looks were ridiculed by the idiot Richard Bacon. Apparently, Bacon made some crappy joke about the band being fat and the band decided to walk off in disgust. See here for a report.

Bacon is one of those loathsome media 'personalities' who's carved out a niche for himself in the d-list world of TV presenting (after having been sacked from Blue Peter for cocaine use) through making continually snide, smirking remarks at other people's expense whenever he is allowed on the box. He clearly thinks he's some sort of oh-so-clever cheeky-chappie bad boy. In reality he's just a nasty, egotistical little cock.

Anyway, I'm glad that The Magic Numbers walked off. People like Bacon may think it's clever to joke about other people's appearance - and too often the victims of such bullying abuse think that they just have to take it. I hope that the band's snubbing of the programme gives a lot of people who don't conform to the media's ludicrous standards of physical apearance some heart. This may seem like just a little thing. But it's not. Many people's lives are blighted (and sometimes destroyed) by the pressure that's heaped on us all to look a certain way. The pressure is particularly heavy on women of course - every year thousands of women and girls (some as young as 10 or 11) develop eating disorders or depression, and some kill themselves, because they are ashamed of the way that they look. It's no surprise that the huge increase in instances of anorexia and other manifestations of extreme personal anxiety about one's appearance in the late 20th century and into the 21st century has developed side by side with the expansion of the reach of advertising and marketing. It's not just advertising of course - 'lifestyle' magazine and TV representations of femininity and masculinity (but femininity in particular) are just as psychologically coercive as a Gap or Max Factor advert. Witness the recent spate of teen dramas - Buffy, The OC, Hollyoaks, Dawson's Creek, Miami 7 (??) - they all feature girls who look almost exactly the same. The media puts enormous pressure on people (particularly the young) to conform to this certain physical type - it makes the exceptional (those few who correspond to the age's understanding of physical attractiveness) into the supposed norm. The price for looking normal - for not being one of those physical freaks who could get a modelling contract - is often an internalised sense of inadequacy and a nagging, vague sense of shame.

It's difficult to work out how to resist these kinds of pressures. Very often we don't realise that they are present. Sometimes, however, the injustice quite obviously comes to the surface - the cruelty is manifested in a direct manner and becomes plain to see. It's when someone's told that they are fat or ugly. It's when someone is sneered at for not wearing the right clothes. In these situations the only thing to do is to tell that situation's particular mouth-piece for stifling, impossible social conformity to go and fuck themselves. That's what The Magic Numbers did. Good on them.

Solidarity with the SSP

The Scottish Socialist Party are asking for support. Four SSP MSPs have been summarily suspended from the Scottish Parliament and will not be paid for the month of September. Unlike many other MSPs and MPs the suspended SSP representatives don't have lucrative second jobs, consultancy positions or places on company boards of directors to fall back on. The financial suspensions also mean 28 members of staff will go without pay for a month. The MSPs were suspended for mounting a peaceful, silent protest, lasting five minutes, at First Minister’s question time.

More details here and here.

Please sign the online petition to register your support.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Patriotism is for Wankers*

One of my few pleasures in life at the moment is to ostentatiously whistle La Marseillaise whenever I pass some bonehead in an England shirt in the street. I would whistle The Red Flag or The Internationale, but the chances are that boneheads don't know what they are so, instead, I choose the French national anthem. Well, you have to make your own fun, don't you? Anyway, as someone with an extreme aversion to tribalism/patriotism I was glad to see Monbiot's article in The Grauniad today,

Meaders has already drawn attention to Monbiot's article, but it's such a good piece that I'm going to quote from it too.

Monbiot points, contemptuously, to the recent rash of media prattle about 'Britishness' and 'national identity' - and in particular to the Daily Telegraph's list of the 'ten core values of the British identity'. These are, the Telegraph informs us, "non-negotiable components of our identity" - oh really? Among them are "the sovereignty of the crown in parliament", "private property", and "the family"- Well hip, hip, HURRAH! It is impossible to read through the list without imagining that you are hearing the words enunciated in the accent of blustering, ruddy-cheeked, handlebar-moustached and slightly whiskey sozzled, retired old Colonel. Try it.

As Monbiot cheekily points out 'If there is one thing that could make me hate this country, it is the Telegraph and its "non-negotiable components"'. Hur, hur. He then goes on to say:

'I don't hate Britain, and I am not ashamed of my nationality, but I have no idea why I should love this country more than any other. There are some things I like about it and some things I don't, and the same goes for everywhere else I've visited. To become a patriot is to lie to yourself, to tell yourself that whatever good you might perceive abroad, your own country is, on balance, better than the others. It is impossible to reconcile this with either the evidence of your own eyes or a belief in the equality of humankind. '

I feel some Eugene Debs coming on.

*(as Samuel Johnson famously said)

Friday, August 05, 2005

West Bank Banksy

This is worth a look. The Guardian has pictures of 'guerilla artist' Banksy's latest project - a series of graffiti images stencilled/painted on the illegal West Bank wall.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Scientists Clone Dog...

... with amusingly stupid-looking eyebrows. You'd have thought that they'd clone one that didn't look like a comedy freak wouldn't you?

I can't stop laughing when I look at it. It's stopping me from working.

May I Send You Somewhere Else?

Unfortunately, I've not been able to blog for a while and probably won't do anything substantial for a few days more - got a spot of work on.

So I'll just point you in the direction of a few things I've read recently and which you might like to look at.

Secondly, Richard Gott's essay on Blair from the same issue of NLR is quite an entertaining read. An extract:

"Blair’s many biographers have pored over his life’s choices to reveal the figure of a grey and essentially conventional lawyer, with little aptitude for management, poor inter-personal skills and deep ignorance of the outside world, who frequently evokes religious faith as a substitute for rational thought. This is one of his two most unusual characteristics. Blair is not an ordinarily religious man; he is by many accounts a ‘religious nut’, a ‘New Ager’, a man who obeys his own inner voices and takes scant notice of religious authority....

Blair’s second unusual characteristic is his ability as an actor. Both at Fettes, the Scottish private school he attended in the 1960s, and at St John’s College, Oxford, where he was a mediocre law student, he was an accomplished thespian, appearing in the classics, in comedy revues, and fronting a band. His capacity to act and to put on an act, to perform his lines, and to diverge from a script when circumstances demand, has become the hallmark of his career as a politician... "

Third, Ben Watson on 'Philosophising Post Punk' in Radical Philosophy.

Fourth - Eric Hobsbawm reviews Goran Therborn's latest book on family, patriarchy and power.

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