Your scholarly room

Lots of hits over the last few days from people looking for “market managerialism”, or sometimes “what is market managerialism”. No idea why that topic should be popular at the moment, or indeed what they’re finding here that’s relevant. Can anyone enlighten me?

Another recent search term is less hard to understand. Today someone found their way to this blog after searching for

very crude naked ladies pics

I welcome all new visitors, although in some cases I wouldn’t necessarily want to shake their hand. Come for the boobs by all means, but stay for the radical politics, music videos, autobiographical musings and bad jokes. But I must demur at “very crude”. All you can find here in that line is a couple of links to sensitive and artistic naked ladies pics, which are not the same thing at all. Apart from the naked ladies – that element is constant.

Constant, and rather odd when you start to think about it. More years ago than I care to calculate, I remember leafing through a copy of H&E belonging to a friend’s older brother with a mild, amused interest – oh look, there are some women with nothing on… and there are some men with nothing on… and there are some more women with nothing on! All vaguely shocking and transgressive – you knew that people generally took care not to be seen with nothing on – but it didn’t do anything for me (or to me). Then, a few months later, I was on a school skiing trip in Switzerland when I happened on an advert in a magazine featuring a naked woman in a Viking helmet, standing behind a waist-high shield and covering one breast. The effect of this fairly anodyne image was electric and instantaneous; it seemed to go straight from my eyes to my crotch without passing through my brain. Puberty had well and truly arrived, and henceforth the sight of a woman who was… you know… I mean, not wearing any… I mean, you know, in the nude… would turn my head and turn me on, more or less whether I liked it or not.

Realistically, our (my) reaction to p0rn – not to mention our concept of what constitutes p0rn – has to be something that’s learned, culturally-determined and culturally encoded (relatedly, see this discussion of the meaning of the words “naked woman” through history – “naked” has always meant “scandalously under-dressed” but hasn’t always meant “absolutely not wearing anything whatsoever at all”). Some years ago Susanne Kappeler argued that it’s all about sadism and power: a naked woman in a magazine is on display in very much the same way that a shot elephant or a captured slave might be displayed, as an invitation to the man looking at the picture to vicariously celebrate the power over women wielded by the man behind the camera. It’s alarmingly persuasive, but I don’t think it’s the whole story (and not only because there are female erotic photographers); there’s a weird quality of compulsion, even powerlessness, in the way men look at women. (I don’t believe that overrides the more conventional power relation described by Kappeler, though (pace Joe Jackson) – everyone’s more vulnerable naked than clothed, being watched than watching.) I also wonder, when did I learn that way of seeing? Not, surely, between the look-at-the-funny-naked-people half hour with H&E and the Oh. My. God. p0rn thunderclap in Switzerland.

Whatever is ultimately going on, the experience for me was – and, let’s face it, to a pretty large extent still is – an unthinking, automatic, instant reaction to certain images; images which are likely to work the same trick for other straight men. (That said, my ‘certain images’ aren’t going to be exactly the same ‘certain images’ as someone else’s. Pynchon takes this idea to its extreme in Gravity’s Rainbow, where he has a spy being sent a message written in an ink which will only become visible when treated with his semen – and accompanied by an image which calculated to induce immediate orgasm in him and him alone. Yow.)

Ultimately Tom Robinson was right about this (as about much else) – pictures of naked young women are fun. But they’re also odd: a culturally-determined image that’s also a law of nature (or that’s certainly how it feels). In the immortal words of a comic song I heard on the radio years ago,

Men like naked ladies -
The only exceptions are when
They’re either
Guardian readers
Or they prefer naked gentlemen.

Well, one out of two’s not bad.

You talk so hip

In the previous post, I wrote:

not only is the personal political, the political is personal: which way you’re heading, and how fast you want to get there, depends to quite a large extent on something as imponderable as who you are

Which is why I’m rather ambivalent about Andrew Neil’s monstering of Chris Mounsey, he of Devil’s Kitchen.

Mounsey says himself that when he wrote the posts that made Devil’s Kitchen famous he was in part railing against his own situation, and that he’s calmer and happier now. This is good news, and I sincerely wish him well. But that’s not all there is to say.

From my very occasional reading of DK I had formed the impression that the writer was a middle-aged Scot who had missed his chances or been robbed of them, had no real prospect of finding them again and was now taking solace in blaming everyone but himself. It turns out that Chris Mounsey is English and in his early 30s. He’s also an old Etonian; which is to say, his education cost his parents a minimum of £28,851 a year in today’s money. As of 2007/8, 95% of UK tax-payers have a post-tax income of £46,800 or below. Anyone as low down the rankings as the 96th percentile would need to commit nearly 2/3 of their income in order to see their son through Eton; I think we can confidently assume that the income of the senior Mounseys puts them in the top 2-3%. In other words, Chris Mounsey was born into the elite.

Here’s an example of what Chris Mounsey used to get angry about:

The Tories want parents and other organisations to have state funds to set up their own schools.
Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove issued the call in a speech to the NASUWT teachers’ union conference.

And can you guess what the union response was? Go on – have a guess.

Was it (a) yes, what a wonderful idea: we’ll show you how a school should be run, given how much we profess to dislike the constant state interference, or was it (b)…

The union did not want to run a school, [union leader] said. Schools should be “democratically accountable” and not operated for and by “the pushy and the privileged”.

Ah. So, schools should not be run for and by “the pushy and the privileged” unless those pushy and privileged are the union members under state sanction.

OK, so this is fairly stupid. Gove suggests a system under which state funding would be used to set up new private schools; these might be excellent or might not, but would sink or swim outside the state system. If standards were low, the government would have no way of raising them; at worst, in other words, this would mean messing up the education of the children unfortunate enough to go to those schools. If standards were high, on the other hand, this would benefit those particular children but nobody else. Anyone who is concerned with providing a consistently good universal service – rather than providing an excellent service to a few and never mind the rest – won’t touch such a scheme with a bargepole. No national teaching union could ever endorse such an idea – Mounsey’s professed outrage is either spurious or stupid. As for his parting shot, I’m not even sure what it means – joining a union, signing up for the collective defence of working standards and employment rights, makes you “pushy and privileged”? Brane hertz. All in all, what we’ve got here is someone with one set of beliefs affecting to be shocked and outraged that someone with a completely different set of beliefs doesn’t agree with him. Or, to boil it down a bit more, someone having a rant at his political enemies. Mounsey, like Gove, doesn’t believe in trade unions, or in state provision, and I shouldn’t think he’s too bothered about the provision of a consistently good universal education. The union leader believes in all three, and so Mounsey hates her.

That was fairly stupid, but it’s not the passage Neil quoted back at Mounsey. The post continued as follows (WARNING: nasty stuff ahead). Continue reading

And I decline

Here’s a late response to the blog theme tune meme, and a tune I can’t believe nobody else has picked:

Maybe it’s just me.

At its most basic, there’s definitely something that appeals to me about songs with far too many words, and songs that nobody understands. At one time in my life Prefab Sprout’s first album meant an enormous amount to me, precisely because some of the songs are so resolutely personal – not in a Kate Nash sense, but in the sense of mapping out a mental landscape which could only ever make sense from the inside (“Oh no, don’t blame Mexico!”). In this song, I like the way the playfulness and sheer high spirits of the music works together with that ridiculous cataract of words (“LEONARD BERNSTEIN!”). And the rueful, headachey conclusion – “Time I had some time alone” (truncated from this video, unfortunately) – I’ve had days like that.

But it goes a bit deeper. The personal is political, and not just in the sense that one will get you to the other. To put it another way, not only is the personal political, the political is personal: which way you’re heading, and how fast you want to get there, depends to quite a large extent on something as imponderable as who you are. Someone who likes well-chaired meetings that run to time will join a different party, with different goals, from someone who likes to keep talking until everyone’s agreed – or someone who likes to handle disagreement with his fists. See also the debate that Daniel kicks off from time to time, regarding the association between the political spectrum and the undesirable trait of BACAI (where ‘B’ stands for ‘being’ and ‘AI’ ‘about it’). (The debate hasn’t got very far as yet – we’re more or less agreed that most of the Decent/Euston crowd is positively committed to BACAI, but generalising from that is hard.)

As for me, I’ve always been temperamentally drawn to no-holds-barred abolish-everything ultra-leftism. If you read Debord, or the early Marx – or even if you start reading Capital at volume 1, chapter 1 – it seems staringly obvious that communism is not going to involve capital formation, or commodity production, or wage labour, or money. (Whether it would involve law is a separate question.) Obviously the maximalism that this vision implies can only be theoretical in anything other than a pre-revolutionary situation, but maximalism on the plane of theory isn’t nothing:

If constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.
– Karl Marx to Arnold Ruge, September 1843

(The original strap line of my old blog was adapted from that quote.)

Or you could just say that I’ve got a weakness for nihilism.

Qu’est-ce que le nihilisme ? Rozanov répond parfaitement à la question quand il écrit : “La représentation est terminée. Le public se lève. Il est temps d’enfiler son manteau et de rentrer à la maison. On se retourne : plus de manteau ni de maison.”

“No more coats, no more home.” It’s possible, I suppose, that Rozanov was talking about nothing more than planting a bomb in a theatre, which has never struck me as a valid political tactic[1]. I’ve always read that passage more metaphorically. It’s the image of everything disappearing at the end of the show that’s stayed with me. Picture it: you’re just emerging from a consensual illusion and returning to reality, when you realise that the reality you thought you were returning to was itself a consensual illusion, and it’s gone. You wake up… and then you wake up.

(Right? Right!)

What this perspective gives you, I think, is a sense of how provisional all our social arrangements are, a sense that everything solid could melt into air[2]. It’s just a ride, in other words, and we can change it any time we want. And that in turn goes together (for me at least) with a kind of ironic optimism: in terms of political programmes there’s nothing out there I can actually identify with, but there are lots of points where closed-down possibilities can be nudged open. And lots of stuff that we don’t actually need to preserve – which brings us back to the song. Clear the floor to dance!

[1] Not everyone agrees with this point, it should be said. Alfredo Bonanno made a pretty good fist of arguing for indiscriminate, spontaneous anarchist violence in his 1979 pamphlet Concerning terrorism, certain imbeciles and other matters. “What if we don’t want to wait for the ‘big day’, and we begin to do something, here and now, to stop defending ourselves and begin to attack power? … What would doing this make us – would it make us terrorists?” Maybe not terrorists as such, but it would certainly make you voluntarist, adventurist, substitutionist, deeply irresponsible and ultimately rather apolitical. To put it another way, it would make you a bunch of dangerous headbangers.

[2] I’ve read that this is a mistranslation deriving from Ernest Jones’s inadequate grasp of German, and that what Marx actually wrote was more like “all fixed reference points go up in smoke”. I don’t know if it’s an improvement or not – the “melts” version is more vivid and poetic, but it has a dreamy, Tempest-like quality which doesn’t really go with historical materialism. More research needed. Have any German-speaking Marxists read this far? (I did say I was an optimist…)

Career opportunities

Jim asks:

I’d really love to know how to go about earning a crust (or even half a crust) out of freelance writing. Yes, I’m aware that’s the Holy Grail for every blogger but if, dear reader, you’ve worked out how to achieve it, I’d be eternally grateful for your advice.

As it goes, my career as a freelance writer overlapped with my time as a blogger, but not by much – I’ve been blogging since a few weeks before the last election, in 2005, and I last sold an article in September 2007. I’ve had a few things in collections of blog posts, but my experience of turning bloggery into money is zero.

However, Jim also mentions that he’s soon to embark on a PhD thesis, and I can trutfhully say that I supported myself through my PhD thesis as a freelance journalist. The bad news is that it took me five years to complete my thesis, in which time I gained no academic experience at all – this is not recommended. I did look into the possibilities of doing bits of teaching, but concluded that the rate of pay was so low, relative to the living I was managing to make as a writer, that I’d effectively be doing it for nothing – and I couldn’t afford to do it. I got my first permanent academic post six years later.

So the first thing I’ve gleaned from my career as a freelance journalist is that it’s laborious and time-consuming work, and it will soak up time and effort which you could have done with keeping back for other purposes. It’s hard. When it’s going well it’s also one of the best jobs in the world – but even then it’s hard work, and it will cost you.

As for how to do it, three golden rules.

Rule 1: On getting the work. The rule is: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That doesn’t mean that you need to have had Condé Nast executives invited to your christening – although if they were, you certainly won’t have to read self-help posts like this. It means, work your connections. If you haven’t got any connections, take an educated guess on which of your friends has got connections and work them. Don’t bother cold-calling, doorstepping or otherwise propositioning an editor you don’t know. There are 100 other ambitious unknowns who could write the article you want to write – or something which would look as good as that article to people who don’t know your area, a group which will probably include the editor you’re trying to pitch to and will definitely include his or her boss. Not only that, but out of those 100, 50 are younger than you, 20 are slightly better-known and three know the editor, or say they do.

Getting a start in journalism is all about having some kind of personal connection with someone who can take a chance on you. If you know the editor – even slightly, even tenuously – and you can persuade him or her to let you have a go at something, then you’re in. If not, not. So if you don’t know any editors, you will need to change that situation. (I should say, incidentally, that this isn’t current advice – it’s based on my experience in the early 90s, when the journalistic climate was positively balmy compared to now.)

Rule 2: on getting more work. Once you’ve got your foot in the door the advice changes. All you need to do then is get the work done. Get it done, whatever it is; get it done on time, to the exact specs you’ve been given. I used to work on programme support for the Channel 4 ‘Real Lives’ strand – an odd gig which involved watching the programme, writing a 1000-word précis and recommending at least three books & at least three Web sites for the ‘Find Out More’ section (this was often the hardest part). I’m quite proud of my work on the Wallis Simpson programme, for no other reason than that I got the tape at 10.00 one morning with strict instructions to get the work filed by 5.00 at the latest – which I did, complete with three URLs and eight (count ‘em) book recommendations. That was a good day.

Anyway, rule 2 can be stated just as bluntly as rule 1: if you do exactly what they ask you for – whatever they ask you for – and do it on time and do it well, then you may get repeat business. Not ‘will’, but definitely ‘may’ – and if not, you definitely won’t.

Depressed yet?

Rule 3: on next month’s work. If you can write, and if you’re in touch with commissioning editors, and if you can write to order, to length and to deadline, then you should be able to make enough to live on… for this month. However, you will also need to eat next month. You know how you had to work to get your first commission, and your second, and your third – shmoozing, pitching ideas, scrounging for repeat business? Fancy doing that again and again, month after month, indefinitely? Me neither, and I don’t believe anyone actually lives like that.

Hence Rule 3, which comes in two parts. Rule 3.1 is: get a regular gig. Better still, have a regular gig lined up before you make the leap. I embarked on my PhD knowing that I had first refusal on at least £5,000 a year’s worth of work from my previous employer. £5,000 a year isn’t a lot – rule 3.1.1 is get another regular gig – but it’s a big improvement on £0.

It gets worse, I’m afraid. Rule 3.2 is: be prepared for when the work dries up. Freelance writing work is inherently precarious. Editors move on, magazines close, production companies take their writing work in-house, once in a while you may even screw up an assignment and fall out with an editor. (The advice here is, of course, don’t ever do this. But the chances are that you will.) Freelancing isn’t a fallback – in the immortal words of James Thurber, falling back on journalism would be very much like falling back full-length on a kit of carpenter’s tools. Have something in reserve – some other marketable skill, or just a couple of months’ rent money stashed in an account you never touch.

I have to say, as if this post wasn’t negative enough already, that I don’t know if I’d be able to pay the bills for five years if I was starting out as a freelance journalist today. Certainly the nets I dropped a couple of years ago – when it looked as if academic freelance work (that’s another story) was drying up – almost all came up empty: most of the outlets I wrote for have closed, and there’s very little call for the kind of stuff I used to write (“if you’ve got a great idea for a column, keep it for your blog”, one editor told me bluntly). But then, if I was starting out as a freelance today I wouldn’t be trying to write the kind of stuff I wrote in the 1990s, or working the contacts I had then. I wouldn’t tell anyone to go for it!, but I realise I’m not in a position to tell anyone definitely not to.

In other news*, Toby Young is an unmitigated idiot. In all of my five years as a freelance I made a point of taking a week off in summer and disconnecting completely from work. This in no way prevented me from paying the bills, despite the fact that I was writing Web pages for Channel 4 and sub-editing German computing advertorials rather than, say, for instance, writing a column in the Guardian and having my million-selling autobiography made into a film. Tosser.

*OK, not news** as such.

**Inasmuch as the column dates from 2008, I mean, not the ‘unmitigated idiot’***. I was going to blog on it at the time, but it infuriated me too much.

***Although that too.

Indonesian Cryptozoology Latest

That last post left me thinking Red Pepper, eh? Blimey, that was a long time ago… (My involvement with it, I hasten to add, not the magazine itself, which is going strong. (Well, strong-ish. “In Autumn 2007 Red Pepper relaunched as a bi-monthly magazine with more emphasis on the role of its website.” To be fair, these are hard times for print magazines all round. I also noticed this: “In contrast to the mainstream media, Red Pepper’s content comes directly from an international network of writers based in the alternative movements for radical social and environmental change. Given our limited resources, we are unable to pay writers for their contributions, although that is our long-term aim.” No, I’m saying nothing. Lips, sealed.))

Anyway, it all seems like an awful long time ago, until I consult the perpetual present of the Web. It’s the book, you see – reviews of the book haven’t been abundant (although there have been some) and I want to start hustling it a bit more. At the very least I want to make sure that the review copies that have gone out have got to the right people.

So, Google, who’s Books Editor of Red Pepper?

You know, I’m almost certain it’s not him.

Maybe they call it Culture Editor? (They did in my day…

…as you can see.)

Oh well, I’ll just have to write to Hilary.

There will be emus in the Zone

Searching the Lovefilm catalogue the other day, I was delighted (and slightly amazed) to find that you can rent Chris Marker’s La Jetée from them – not only that, but that Sunless comes on the same disc. I don’t really want to say anything at all about La Jetée, except that everything you’ve heard about it is true: it’s half an hour long, it’s in black and white, it’s told almost entirely in stills with voiceover, and it’s the greatest film ever made. Well, one of. Top ten, definitely. The title, incidentally, is much less romantic than it sounds – for a long time, before I saw it, I thought it meant something like “the leap” or “the throw”, très kierkegaardien. It actually refers to part of a 1950s airport – “the pier”, I guess it would be if you translated it.

Sunless is a bit more conventional, inasmuch as it’s 90+ minutes long, shot on film and in colour. Unlike La Jetée, though, it’s not narrative; it’s more of an essay or a long poem in the medium of film. And it’s also the greatest… well, one of the greatest films ever made. (Top ten, no question.) It’s shot mostly in Guinea-Bissau and Japan, and to begin with you could take it for a travelogue. But Marker’s not interested in places so much as people: people in streets, in bars, in markets, in boats and on quaysides, caught by the frank, intelligent, appraising gaze of the man behind the camera and returning it in kind. His eye is extraordinary: the film stock he’s using frankly isn’t great (in purely visual terms it’s more like watching a news report than a feature film) but he creates, or finds, some truly beautiful compositions. The composition of the film as a whole is remarkable, too: just as it seems it’s starting to sag, around the 80th minute, he pulls the whole thing together and makes you realise what it’s about. It’s about revolutionary politics, in part, and about how the struggle to turn an unjust world upside down is always continuing. But at a deeper level it’s about time: how time destroys everything and defeats everyone, and how we need to live within that situation and do justice to it, and about art as a way of bearing witness to it and resisting it.

Fantastic, beautiful film. (And quoted on a recent waxing by a popular singing group called the Kasabians, apparently.)

I wrote about Sunless once before, in the February 2000 issue of Red Pepper; it was my contribution to a “lost classics” feature called Memory Hole. Here’s what I said then:

Chris Marker is best known here for La Jetée, a thirty-minute science-fiction film composed almost entirely of still pictures and the avowed inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. In fact Marker is a prolific film-maker, working mainly in the documentary idiom; he is also a deeply political artist whose films attest to his passionate engagement with the left. However, while many of Marker’s works have been distributed in English versions, their uncommercial nature has consigned most of them to oblivion. One which richly deserves to be retrieved is Sans Soleil (Sunless).

The film opens uncompromisingly, with several seconds of black screen followed by a snatch of film showing three children in Iceland in 1964; this represents a moment of happiness, the narrator explains. The film is a meditation on the loss of time and the particularity of place. Marker watches the people of Tokyo honour their dead; in Guinea-Bissau he performs an act of commemoration himself, evoking the long forgotten revolution of Amilcar Cabral and its wider effects, in Portugal and elsewhere. In Japan, he juxtaposes traditional street festivals with department-store imitations of American style, rituals to commemorate broken dolls with the struggle over the building of Narita Airport. The film is also extremely beautiful, with frequent freeze-frames to pick out a single face, a single glance.

Marker’s leftism is rooted in a deep interest in people and how they live their lives; perhaps his nearest parallel outside cinema is John Berger. Sunless conveys this political passion with heart and style.

Yeah, that still holds up. Not so sure about this one, though (reviewing another film I’ve recently found on Lovefilm).

Nanni Moretti has a lot on his mind. He’s working on a musical, his wife is pregnant and elections are looming. On top of all that, he’s making a film: this film. Aprile takes Moretti’s film-making to a new level of autobiographical intimacy. A disenchanted left-winger, who follows current events so attentively that he wraps himself up in newspapers, Moretti is an appealing everyman. His story ends hopefully – little Pietro is born, the left wins the elections – but without any real conclusion. Aprile celebrates personal and political achievements, but reminds us that everything is still to play for.
– Michael Travis

That’s from the film review slot in the May 1999 Red Pepper. Having finally seen Aprile, all I can say is, Up to a point, Mr Travis. I can forgive the reviewer for missing what’s now the most famous sequence of the film – Moretti shouting at the TV during a debate between Berlusconi and Massimo d’Alema: “D’Alema, say something left-wing! Not even left-wing, say something civilised! Reply! React! Say something!”. That sequence has hung round d’Alema’s neck ever since (as well it might) but it wasn’t that well-known in Britain at the time. But there are so many small errors – Moretti gives up on the musical to make a radical documentary about the elections, which isn’t “this film” (and never gets made); he’s not an “appealing everyman”, unless your idea of Everyman is an Italian Woody Allen, a middle-aged man who’s so anxious about everything in his life that he never shuts up about any of it; and he doesn’t so much “[wrap] himself up in newspapers” as buy every paper he can find, cut out all the political stories and stick them all together to make one giant newspaper with pages ten feet wide, only to give up trying to make sense of it and wrap himself up in it (although admittedly that would take a lot of words). And there’s one really big error, regarding the ending of the film. It’s not inconclusive in the slightest: Moretti (or ‘Moretti’) has completely turned his life around by the end of the film. He’s stopped worrying about the baby (who is beautiful, incidentally); he’s given up the political film and thrown away his collection of press cuttings (“why should I keep a collection of things that make me angry?”); he’s started work on the musical again; and he’s made a general-purpose resolution to be bold and not to hold himself back, symbolised by a voluminous cape that he wears for the last five minutes of the film (which makes him look ridiculous, but that’s part of the point). It’s not a brilliant film, but it does have a brilliant ending – not least its closing scene, an extended sequence from the shooting of the musical – and Michael Travis missed it completely.

Mind you, he did have an excuse, what with being non-existent (or fictional (another Top Ten nominee behind that link, incidentally)). I was editing the Red Pepper culture pages at the time, and I’d had an offer of a review of Aprile; unfortunately it fell through, leaving me with a space to fill and no time to fill it in. So I read a couple of other people’s reviews of Aprile and I did the best I could. And I have to say that, judged as a review written by someone who hasn’t seen the film, it’s not all that bad.

I’ll do a proper writeup of my time on Red Pepper some day; for now, I’m afraid, it’s a story for which the world is not yet prepared.

Just watch me now

This week (if you’ll excuse the steal) I’ve mostly been listening to the Dandy Warhols’ 2008 album Earth to the Dandy Warhols.

By way of an introduction:

Turn that way up.

There are three things I like about this album. Firstly, the drug thing. When I was a regular gig-goer, I used to start with a can of Red Stripe and follow it with a can of Special Brew. The main point of the exercise was the enveloping alcoholic hit of the first swallow of Special Brew: an almost physical sense of falling backwards, sinking into an alcoholic haze. Some kinds of music conjure precisely this kind of befuddling onslaught – and I don’t just mean ‘psychedelia’. (“I wouldn’t say Doll by Doll are a psychedelic band,” Jackie Leven once corrected an interviewer. “We’re an acid band.”) Take the Beta Band, for instance. Some of their songs had a distinct acid edge to them, but this strikes me very much as cannabis music – in its soft quietness and its insistent precision, and in the way the track seems to take itself apart, come to a halt and then reassemble itself:

The Dandys are no strangers to mood-altering substances. As an album, Welcome to the Monkeyhouse had a distinctly speed-y sound to it. By contrast, Earth to… has a fairly intense downer-ish quality (and let’s face it, calling a song “Valerie Yum” is a bit of a clue). Full-on would be one word for it: a sound that leaves you feeling crushed, enveloped, sated. Intense but not unenjoyable, if you’re in the mood.

The second thing about the Dandy Warhols is that they’re very rock’n’roll; you could almost say they are rock’n’roll. In terms of musicianship and originality they’re pretty ordinary, but that’s part of the point – they’re what a pretty ordinary band would sound like if they were convinced they were the coolest band in the world. As I said about their previous album (which is a bit hard going, I have to admit) what they do isn’t so much rock’n’roll as the sound of what rock’n’roll sounds like – the sound of the process of the form being realised. Very arty…

…and then again (back with the Dandys) not arty at all, because the sound of the process ect ect is, fundamentally, the sound of three chords being cranked out. And that is, let’s face it, a fantastic sound. Lou Reed said somewhere that he’d never had any desire to go beyond rock’n’roll, because he still felt there was a lot to be done with those basic rock chord changes. Listening to the next song, you feel he’s proved himself wrong (sorry, Lou, you’d nailed it for all time by 0:22) but at the same time right (that’s a seam that will take plenty of digging).

Back at the Dandys album, the track after “Wasp in the Lotus” proves it all over again: a perfect three-chord trick, utterly simple and predictable, utterly beautiful.

I like the stunned, languid quality that song has, and the way it just keeps on going; it makes me imagine watching the sky start to lighten, too tired to go to sleep. I particularly like the way the horns come in towards the end, and the raw, unpolished, “just slap it down” sound they have – very rock’n’roll. Ed Kuepper would probably have a fit if you called Laughing Clowns a rock’n’roll band, but what I’m talking about here is very like the immediate, noisy production the horns used to get on Laughing Clowns albums. Laughing Clowns reformed last year; it’s a trumpetless lineup, but Louise Elliott’s sax here has the same raw, punkish quality I hear in the Dandys’ brass.

The third thing, finally, is related to the dogged endlessness of that last track, and the three-chord trick generally: minimalism. Three chords, did I say? The Dandys aren’t the first band to see what happens if you hit one chord and stick to it…

…nor were Stereolab, come to that…

…but I don’t think you’ll hear it done better than here, in a track which originally bore the marvellous (and very Dandy Warhols) title “The World The People Together Come On”. Listen out for the chord change – it’s at 2:13 (at the end of the second verse).

Nice video – especially the first minute or so. I could just fancy a can of Special Brew now…

I don’t wanna seem crude

So there I was in W.H. Smith’s, queuing up with my Radio Times, when… actually I wasn’t buying anything, I was hanging around the magazine racks waiting for my wife and daughter to get finished in Build-A-Bear; I just thought that would take too long to explain. In any case it’s only a bit of scene-setting, I might as well have been getting the Radio Times. Shall we start this again?

I was in W.H. Smith’s – that much is true – when my attention was snagged by a display stand opposite the tills. There, where you might expect to see something by Bill Bryson or an Ordnance Survey road atlas or a new variety of chocolate orange, was this:

Just Kate Moss with no clothes on. Move along, nothing to see here.

Whoa. Tracks, stopped in.

Now, I’m a man of the world; the idea of a magazine printing pictures of Kate Moss naked doesn’t shock me. I have long been aware of the existence of pictures of Kate Moss in the nude; I know that more than one photographer has been granted the opportunity to take pictures of Kate Moss starkers, and more than one of the resulting pictures of Kate Moss in the buff has escaped onto that Internet. I’m quite relaxed about the idea of pictures of Kate Moss letting it all hang out; pictures of a bare Kate Moss are fine by me.

(And people pay consultants to get hits on their Web pages! Piece of cake.)

Kate Moss nue, Kate Moss nackt or Kate Moss desnuda (see what I did there?), it doesn’t bother me. Or indeed surprise me – the model in question has been notably relaxed about doing the whole nude bit. But it was a bit of a jolt to see that image displayed in my face, or rather around waist height. For a moment it took me back thirty-odd years, when I used to get the train home from school every afternoon and hang around the magazine stall furtively glancing at the covers of Der Spiegel and Stern. For some reason German news magazines in the 1970s quite often put topless models on the front cover, which was more than English top-shelf mags did; once or twice Stern even featured a flash of bush, which left the teenage me simultaneously aroused and genuinely shocked (on the cover! can they even do that?). Transgressive stuff there from Gruner+Jahr. (NB “shocking” and “subversive” – not the same thing.) My German isn’t great, but de.wikipedia seems to be saying that a group of women sued G+J in 1978 over the sexist objectification of women in Stern, and frankly I’m not at all surprised. The next time I saw anything like that I was in Schiphol airport, having a drink at a café completely surrounded by hard-core pr0n and thanking the Lord I didn’t have any children with me (“Daddy, what’s ‘hot wet pink action’?”).

It was a striking display, anyway – and a cursory examination confirmed what the visual grammar of that cover rather strongly suggests, i.e. that there are pictures without the masking tape inside. (And I do mean cursory – there are times and places for studying pictures of naked women, and standing opposite the till in W.H. Smith’s while waiting for one’s wife and daughter is neither.) A more leisured investigation later confirmed that Ms Moss is one of eight models featured in the issue; that Love, although it’s essentially a fashion magazine, prints rather a lot of elegant monochrome nudity; and that it’s not the only one – there’s a howlingly expensive mag called Purple which seems to specialise in naked female celebrities, while still ostensibly appealing to well-off women who like looking at posh clothes rather than well-off men who like looking at bare ladies. (I guess it’s possible that Purple‘s core audience is well-off women who like looking at bare ladies and posh clothes, but that seems too small a niche.)

There’s been a two-way traffic between fashion photography and the classier end of soft pr0nography for some time, with several people working both sides of the street; they both involve posing impossibly elegant women to look attractive, after all. Classy soft pr0n as fashion photography seems new, and rather odd – although it’s a trend that may have been brewing for a while: take this (NSFW) from a 2008 issue of W magazine, originally captioned “Christopher Kane’s cashmere sweater with polyester paillettes and glass beads”. Hands up anyone who thinks that’s a picture of Christopher Kane’s sweater.

So what’s going on? I considered the possibility that (to rework the saying about music) “if it looks too rude, you’re too old”. Back in the 1970s, when I wasn’t gawping at Stern from a safe distance, I did occasionally buy my very own copy of Mayfair or something – sometimes accompanying it with a copy of New Society or Omni, research purposes you understand…. Back then the combination of (a) a nice-looking woman and (b) no clothes was all a young lad would ask for from his top-shelf mag – which was just as well, as that was all he was going to get. But that’s a long time ago; maybe Kids These Days demand action sequences and extreme closeups, and anything short of that just doesn’t qualify as pr0n. Conversely, maybe nudity’s a tired old Anglo-Saxon taboo, and we’re all relaxed and European now. I don’t think that’s it, though – the reaction to those photos has been far from ho-hum (NSFW). I guess it’s partly a case of “pushing the boundaries” (yawn), getting attention by doing something slightly more outrageous than the last time – and what Love did the last time was a nude Beth Ditto photoshoot, so you can see the logic of going for the multiple-supermodel approach. In the case of American magazines like W and Interview, there may also be a bit of a transatlantic cultural cringe (directed our way for once), with the perception that the Europeans are so cool about nudity and Americans need to stop being so prudish – and massive over-compensation as a result. (That comparison is valid to some extent, but it’s pretty hypocritical either way round. I don’t think American men feel any differently than French or German men about looking at naked women – they all like doing it and think they have a fundamental right to go on doing it. It’s just that one way of putting naked women on display gets labelled as relaxed (or exhibitionistic), while another gets labelled moral (or uptight).)

I think there’s also something going on about the status of professional photographers, in this age of Internet-enabled mass amateurism, and the status of printed magazines. Which is, after all, something of vital interest to a shop like W.H. Smith’s: anything that makes printed magazines seem a bit less dispensable is good news for a printed magazine shop. (I initially wrote ‘physical magazine’, but if you write ‘physical magazine’ over and over again it starts to get distracting. Whatever did happen to Health and Efficiency?)

I think what caught my eye at the weekend was somebody’s USP. (No, not Kate Moss’s. Settle down.) Sure, you can take pictures of what you want when you want, and sure, you can download pictures of more or less anything you can imagine, but have you got a picture of Kate Moss, dressed in nothing but a pair of high heels, artistically lit and printed on large-format glossy paper? You haven’t? Well, isn’t this your lucky day – look what we’ve got here. Right here, just by the checkout.

(Title courtesy of Stuart, cutting to the chase in his inimitable way.

I saw a lady and she was naked!
I saw a lady, she had no clothes on!

Great song; the S/M imagery is particularly appropriate, bringing out how compelling and overpowering this kind of experience can feel (“Why she want to pick on me?”). It’s a hard life being a man, you know…)

What happened once in Italy

I’ve written another paper, this one for presentation at the Alternative Futures and Popular Protest conference in Manchester at the end of the month. Here’s the abstract:

‘Just plain comrades’: Italian armed struggle groups and the mass movement, 1972-80

This paper will look at the difficult and contradictory relations between large-scale radical movements and ‘armed struggle’ groups in Italy in the 1970s. I shall argue, firstly, that the scale and duration of the ‘armed struggle’ phenomenon makes it impossible to dismiss as an nihilist aberration; this was in some senses a social movement in its own right. Secondly, I shall argue that the armed milieu was closely related to the broader radical movement, but that its evolution was conditioned by different social and political factors. I shall trace the different fortunes of the armed groups and the mass movements in three periods (1972-5, 1976-7, 1978 9), looking at the conditions under which armed groups formed and dissolved. Lastly, I shall look at the ways in which the political exclusion of the mass movements appears to have contributed to the growth of the armed groups, concluding by suggesting some parallels with the British government’s current anti-terrorist strategy.

And here are the references:

Balestrini, N. (1989), L’editore, Milan: Bompiani
Balestrini, N. and P. Moroni (1997), L’orda d’oro (revised edition), Milan: Feltrinelli
Del Bello, C. (a cura di) (1997), Una sparatoria tranquilla: per una storia orale del ’77, Rome: Odradek
Della Porta, D. (1995), Social movements, political violence and the state, Cambridge: CUP
Echaurren, P. and C. Salaris (1999), Controcultura in Italia 1967-1977, Boringhieri: Turin
Edwards, P. (2009), ‘More work! Less pay!’ Rebellion and repression in Italy, 1972-77, Manchester: Manchester University Press
Jamieson, A. (1989), The Heart Attacked: Terrorism and conflict in the Italian state, London: Marion Boyars
Monicelli, M. (1978), L’ultrasinistra in Italia 1968-1978, Rome: Laterza
Moroni, P. (1994), “Origine dei centri sociali autogestiti a Milano”, in Francesco Adinolfi et al, Comunitá virtuali. I centri sociali in Italia, Rome:Manifestolibri
Moroni, P. (1996), “Un certo uso sociale dello spazio urbano”, in Consorzio Aaster et al, Centri sociali: geografie del desiderio, Milan: Shake
Moss, D. (1989), The politics of left-wing violence in Italy, 1969-85, London: Macmillan
Piazza, G. (1987), “Movimenti e sistema politico: il caso di Autonomia operaia” (unpublished thesis), Università degli studi di Catania
Progetto Memoria (1994), La mappa perduta, Milan: Sensibili alle foglie
Progetto Memoria (1996), Le parole scritte, Milan: Sensibili alle foglie
Tarrow, S. (1989), Democracy and disorder, Oxford: OUP
Tarrow, S. (1998), Power in movement, second edition, Cambridge: CUP
Vinciguerra, V. and M. Cipriani (1999), Oppressione, Repressione, Rivolte: Storia d’Italia dal 25 luglio 1943 ad oggi, online
Wright, S. (2002), Storming Heaven: Class composition and struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism, London: Pluto

What I really wanted to do was get into why particular armed groups formed at particular times – for instance, there was a flurry of group formation around 1978-9, which seems to be traceable to the contradiction between the vitality of the mass movement in that period and the closure of political opportunities. Having said that, the key period for the smaller groups was 1974-5, which was a period of growth and innovation rather than blockage. More research required!

Greetings to anyone arriving here from Socialist Unity, by the way. Have a look around – you’ll probably find something of interest behind this tag, this one or this one. (I think my favourite’s this one, though.)

Read us a story

I considered voting Tory the other day.

It didn’t last – I knew within a minute that I just couldn’t do it – but for a moment it really seemed like a good idea. I was reading Ross McKibbin’s piece in the LRB about the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF, the government’s latest system for funding academic research, gives a lot of weight to “impact”: deliver[ing] demonstrable benefits to the economy, society, public policy, culture and quality of life. 25% of the final rating will be decided on the basis of ‘impact’, and funding for university departments will be decided on the basis of those ratings. McKibbin does a great, if inevitably depressing, job on unpacking all the many things that are wrong with this idea; if you haven’t read it, go and read the piece now (it’s not paywalled). Suffice to say that ‘impact’ criteria will be so hard to meet, in just about any discipline, that the government might as well just have announced that it was cutting university funding by 25%; it would have saved us all a lot of time and effort.

So I was sunk in McKibbin-induced gloom when I read this line:

David Willetts, the shadow minister for universities and skills, has said that the Conservatives will delay the REF ‘by up to two years to establish whether a sound and widely accepted measure of impact exists’.

I could have kissed the man (and yes, I do know who David Willetts is). Certainly voting Tory suddenly seemed like the right choice. For a moment it really seemed like a good idea, but I knew within a minute that I just couldn’t do it. You’d have to leave the house intending to vote Tory, walk down the road planning to vote Tory, and when you got to the polling booth… bear with me, this part is hard to talk about… In the polling station you’d have to get your ballot paper, and then you’d have to take it to the polling booth and in the polling booth you’d have to… I mean, you’d actually have to pick up the pencil and you’d have to…

No. Best draw a veil, I think.

On one level I’m not a Labour loyalist – I gave up on the party some time around 1992 and have never voted for them since. (Green, mostly, or any token Leftist who’s available. Might have voted Lib Dem once, possibly.) Deeper down, though, a Labour loyalist is precisely what I am: the question “Labour or Tory?” causes me about as much hesitation and heart-searching as the question “What’s your name?” On that basis I was surprised that Andrew Rawnsley was surprised to hear that Roy Hattersley had decided to pan his book sight unseen (I had not realised that Roy possesses such advanced critical faculties that he is able to decide that he will give a bad review to a book before he has actually read it); can he really have thought that career Labour politicians would sabotage the party’s chances for the sheer joy of sticking the knife into Gordon Brown? Apparently he did:

There has been little loathing lost between Lord Mandelson and Ed Balls. Tony Blair will campaign for a Labour victory despite the oceans of poison … that flowed between him and Gordon Brown. It may be hilariously bogus for these men to pretend that they are all good friends. But there is also something quite awesome about their ability to subordinate so much venomous personal history in the greater cause of retaining power for their party. … Despite the odds against Labour, despite the epic deficit that will be inherited by the next government, despite all the hatreds that seethe below the surface, they will still fight to the last ditch to stay in power.

But of course they will – what else would they do? Not even Mr Tony Blair actually wants a Tory victory. (Not sure about Patricia Hewitt – although I love Alex’s “signalling” idea in comments to that post, not least because it confirms my main point.)

It’s been interesting, now an election is looming, to see Labour starting to tap into these deeper reserves of support; in any case it makes a change from endlessly trying to impress us with their patriotism, fiscal rectitude and intolerance of yobs. Our own candidate, the ghastly Lucy Powell, recently sent round a ‘questionnaire’ concluding with two tick-box questions: which party you intended to vote for, and whether you would prefer a Labour or a Tory government. This is a Lib Dem seat – gained from a right-wing Labour MP on an anti-war vote – which the Tories have zero chance of winning. (Even the Lib Dems have written them off: they’ve started telling us that the Greens “can’t win here”.) But a Labour or a Tory government… hmm. If that’s dog-whistle politics, then tickle my tummy and call me Rover.

With all that in mind, this from Jenny Diski was interesting:

In 1979, there was a strike at the National Theatre that caused trouble with a Simon Gray play Pinter was directing. Fraser writes: ‘“Union selfishness and violent behaviour at the National” was what convinced Harold to vote Tory in May. I too voted Tory but that was quite unashamedly in order to see a woman walk into No. 10. Neither of us knew much about Mrs Thatcher’s politics.’ She got her wish, Mrs Thatcher did walk through the door of No. 10, but ‘subsequently, Harold, by his own account, regretted his vote.’

That’s nice to know. Diski also comments on the radical stands Pinter took – “always of the astonished variety”,

as if, having read or thought nothing on the subject previously, he woke up one morning and discovered that there was torture or tyranny occurring in the world beyond. Then he’d pronounce it a bad thing in a poem, a one-act play or a speech to the rest of us who were assumed to be entirely ignorant of such events. Sometimes he, Antonia and other fascinating famous people attend a lily-waving demonstration outside the wrong kind of embassy to bring his awareness to the notice of the entire world. His rage at corruption and the misuse of power was wholly admirable, but his sense of it as a brand new, unpleasant discovery was odd, I always thought.

Travelling light makes it easier to see things with a fresh eye, I guess; and seeing things with a fresh eye is a good thing, I guess. But I lean more towards Robert Wyatt’s answer when asked about his ‘politics’ – I don’t have ‘politics’, just certain loyalties. I’m also reminded of Marc Riley’s brisk demolition of Paul Weller, and in particular Weller’s 1980s re-emergence as a beacon of Leftist integrity -

Who loves the Queen and who votes Tory?
Come on, joker, read us a story!

Hey! Hey!

Congratulations to Dr Phil, as one to another! I started my first permanent academic job the other day – only four and a half years after I graduated, although it sometimes felt like longer; it’s a career I can warmly recommend to anyone who’s motivated enough to seek it out.

Phil’s also been on the memes again, as indeed has Splinty. I quite like this one:

Since leaving my teeny bopper past behind me my musical tastes have evolved in a shamelessly snobby direction – first electronica/dance, followed by indie, then a detour into heavy rock, and for the last seven years or so back to the bleepy beaty side of things. It’s the sound of the future, man. At all times I’ve dismissed the mainstream with a derisive snort, and quite rightly so – most of it is pap. But now and then one song stands out among the dross and gets its hooks into you. You can’t get the bloody thing out of your head and to your eternal shame, you really like it. This post is dedicated to three such songs from the 80s, 90s and 00s.

I quite like this one, apart from the ‘shamelessly snobby’ part. I mean, I used to listen to Mixing It – in fact I used to tape Mixing It and dub the good tracks onto another tape; I’ve still got six of them, including everyone from Astor Piazzola to People Like Us by way of DJ Spooky, Bill Frisell and FSOL (who recorded a 25-minute piece, including samples from their interview on the programme). I put it to the honourable blogger that some of us were listening to the Faust Tapes at the age of 13, found our first Beefheart album a letdown (all a bit, y’know, conventional) and were for a long time baffled by the very concept of music to cop off by, since most of our favourite music induced sensations of alienation, disorientation and Angst. I’m not particularly proud of that last part – but then, I’m not proud of any of it; I just did have rather spiky and esoteric musical tastes in my 20s and 30s. (Then I discovered folk – but that’s another story.) It’s not better or worse than “the mainstream”, it’s just different. I’m not saying that everything is equally valuable – as musicians, FSOL were a much more interesting proposition than JLS. I am saying that “mainstream” is no guarantee of mediocrity – and obscurity certainly isn’t a guarantee of quality.

So here are some songs of which (as Jake Thackray said about a religious song of his) I’m not very… ashamed.

2000s
No, not Fireflies. Unlike Andy, I like Fireflies, but I don’t think it’s anything to get embarrassed about. For one thing, I think there’s a bit more going on there than Laurie says. Yes, it’s a sweetly pretty reverie set to sweetly pretty music and given a sweetly pretty video (and yes, that kind of thing does slip down very easily in hard times). But isn’t it also a song (and video) about loneliness, and the kind of isolation from which we seek relief in fantasy? (A fantasy whose inevitable come-down, bringing with it a renewed awareness of the underlying need for human contact, is all the harder to bear for being unassuaged by reality – since we live, as we dream, alone.) On the other hand, I may be reading too much into it.

More importantly, it’s hard to be embarrassed by anything that wet. Anything I’m going to admit to being ashamed of liking is going to be brash, emphatic, big. So let’s start as we mean to go on, with a big arrangement, a big sentimental tune and a big voice. Actually five big voices. Five big Latvian voices, singing in Italian. One of the few great flaws of the Eurovision Song Contest is Italy’s longstanding refusal to take part, but these guys made up for it handily.

I don’t think the Italian is perfect – “Ora e poi” should be “D’ora in poi”, shouldn’t it? – but the singing is lovely. I was slightly disappointed when the last singer came on – I was hoping they’d carry on wandering on throughout the song and the stage would end up packed with them, rather like Colin Newman’s contribution to People in a room. (Although on second thoughts Eurovision have a limit of six people on stage, so that would never have worked.)

Moving swiftly along…

1990s

No, listen. Seriously, click the Play arrow and listen.

God knows I can’t be bothered with anything she’s done since this song, and I really hate the influence she’s had on music (or I suppose the influence her influence on Simon Cowell has had on music); there’s a right place and a wrong place for going crazy with the melismatic grace-notes, and the wrong place is almost everywhere. But this song is a marvellous bit of deep soul. (Way better than Faithless, anyway. Back on the current song, is that a hat-tip to Green in the second verse? You decide.) Play it, anyway – listen all the way through, and if something doesn’t happen to you when she hits “sweet destiny” the second time, I despair of you.

1980s
Speaking of Scritti Politti, have you heard this? Doesn’t belong in this post, because it’s fantastic and not remotely embarrassing. “My fragility, my discre-e-e-tion”… (Better than the album version, too.)

Moving on… I am quite genuinely slightly embarrassed to say I own a Donna Summer single, and that it’s not I feel love. But this is extraordinary:

Zeke Manyika raved about this single in the NME – said he liked the drumming, and the singing reminded him of Zimbabwean choral singing & made his hair tingle. I’d agree with all of that, and put in a word for (a) the bass and (b) Donna’s singing, both of which are pretty fine too. This came out just after the invasion of Grenada; I remember thinking that with new verses it would have made a terrific protest song. (Better than “Amber and the Amberines“, anyway.)

1970s
It was the Desperate Bicycles’ second single, “The medium was tedium“, that enabled me to “get” punk. I liked the Desperate Bicycles because of their attitude and because they sounded a bit like Stackridge. They didn’t sound particularly punk, but that wasn’t really the point – as a band they were very punk.

None of which is embarrassing as such, but this is. As far as I was concerned, this was the “Medium was tedium” of disco – the single that enabled me to Get It. (And indeed Dance to It.) I still think it’s pretty good of its type, although I admit I haven’t played the video all the way through.

1960s
I was a young man way back in the 1960s… Actually I was at primary school way back in the 1960s, but music was already making a pretty deep impression on me. I remember hearing “Days” for the first time (and “Plastic Man”), I remember the Tremeloes and Marmalade and Amen Corner, I remember all kinds of stuff by the Beatles, and I have very fond memories of this:

No, shut up, that’s lovely. No, it is. Oh all right, it isn’t, but it sounded pretty damn good when I was eight. Nice intro, too. (Did John Lennon rip it off for Dear Prudence? Probably not.)

And I tag… you, dear reader. Go to it.

No sad songs for me

Oh, go on then. Picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Phil and Splinty, here are some of the saddest songs you could ask for. One per decade as required, although my musical memories go back a bit longer than totherPhil’s. (Back to this, if you must know – although I’d never seen that rather peculiar promo before tonight.)

Moving along, here’s one from the 1960s.

An early example of Scott Engel’s way with a song. Trundles along quite happily for a couple of minutes, then something strange and quite desolate happens. The good bit is almost immediately smothered by a ludicrous kitchen-sink big finish, but I think it’ll stick in your mind.

For the 1970s, Splinty’s had the obvious candidate; no song said She’s utterly gone and I’ll never, ever see her again like that one. But this comes close:

In the 1980s we get on to songs I actually knew at the time. I remember listening to this album in the winter of 1981, wrapping Christmas presents at my parents’ house – it’s a happy memory, which ought to disqualify the song. But it’s not a happy song; it’s really, really not a happy song.

You know that song Never Be Alone (a.k.a. We Are Your Friends)? I’ve always thought that was partly about fans’ imaginary relationship with pop singers, à la Rubber Ring (“A sad fact widely known…”) When I was 21 Julian Cope was my friend – it felt as if he’d not only read my mind, but been to places I was afraid of going in my mind and reported back. (When I read Head-On, years later, I discovered that the second part of this was quite correct.)

Runner-up: Anthony Moore’s Nowhere to Go, probably the most desolate and despairing piece of music I’ve ever heard; almost too despairing. That and Swans’ God Damn the Sun, which goes right over the top but redeems itself by being beautiful.

The 1990s go to Robyn. His saddest single song is probably She Doesn’t Exist, but the album version is meh. This, on the other hand, will pin your ears back. I’m not quite sure why it’s such a sad song, except that it seems to be about being lost and lonely – lost inside your own head (a mood it shares with the the previous song).

Hon mensh: Peter Blegvad, Something Else (Is Working Harder).
Yes, and don’t it feel like nothing’s real…?

2000s: oh, you’ve got to hear this.

I’d heard it a few times & simply heard a wistful, sweetly pretty song; then I read an interview in which KC explained that the song’s about his daughter, and specifically about talking to his ex-wife on the phone. Promise you’ll tell her…

Happy listening. Well, sort of.

Update 17/2/10 “With your repertoire, you could nominate the saddest song of the 1790s” – the Mrs.

Don’t know about that, but I do feel duty bound to bring to your attention the

Saddest Song Of All Time

Take it away, Tony. (No, that photo isn’t great. The album came out in 1976 and the sleeve has dated rather badly. The music hasn’t. That’s the thing with folk.)

If there’s a sadder song than that, I’m not sure I want to hear it.

A parting on the right

The police forces of England and Wales implemented a new set of rules for recording crimes in 2002-3, following earlier piecemeal adjustments in 1998-9. The National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) was designed to be more victim-friendly than the counting rules which had preceded it: rather than the police insisting on corroborating evidence before a crime was recorded to have happened, a crime was to be recorded whenever one was reported unless there was evidence to the contrary. There was a certain amount of resistance to these changes, which had the direct effect of apparently increasing the crime rate and the indirect effect of lowering the police’s clear-up rate. Nevertheless, the Home Office felt very strongly that police figures were far too low – the British Crime Survey, based on reports from a representative sample of individual victims of crime, suggested that only about 25% of predatory crimes were getting into the police figures – and the changes duly went through. Comparability was also an issue, although less of an issue with each passing year of data being produced under the new rules. The Home Office has in any case made it very clear that there is no comparability of police crime figures between 2002 and 2003, making available figures like the ones from which the graph below was compiled.

As you can see, there’s a strong correlation between the impact of the NCRS and the amount of evidence typically left by the offence. Recorded burglaries weren’t greatly affected, but recorded crimes of personal violence – where supporting evidence is particularly thin on the ground – went up by almost a quarter from one year to the next, on the basis of nothing other than a change in counting rules.

Now, there is no particular reason why the average member of the public should know about all this. It’s inconceivable that anyone with a professional or academic interest in crime or policing wouldn’t know about it, though; it would be like claiming expertise in English history and getting the date of the Battle of Hastings wrong. So this was an interesting story about the Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling.

Sir Michael Scholar, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, has warned [Grayling] that the way he used figures for violent crime were “likely to mislead the public”. … Mr Grayling’s office arranged for a press release to go out in every constituency in England and Wales, purporting to show that violent crime had risen sharply under Labour, as part of a campaign spearheaded by Mr Cameron about “broken Britain”. But Mr Grayling had failed to take into account a more rigorous system for recording crime figures introduced by the Home Office in 2002. … Mr Grayling has used comparison between the figures before and after the rule change to suggest that the Labour government has presided over a runaway rise in violent crime.

“I do not wish to become involved in political controversy but I must take issue with what you said about violent crime statistics, which seems to me likely to damage public trust in official statistics,” Sir Michael wrote in a letter to Mr Grayling yesterday.

Mr Grayling replied by promising to “take account of the request by the Statistics Authority, particularly with regard to the changes to recording practices made in 2002-03″. But he insisted that he would “continue to use recorded crime statistics, because they reflect an important reality; that the number of violent crimes reported to police stations, and particularly serious violent crimes, has increased substantially over the past decade, even taking into account any changes to data collection”.

But we don’t know the number of violent crimes reported to police stations, because we don’t know the number which are reported but not recorded; that number is not recorded, surprisingly enough. (There was a proposal a few years back to keep separate tabs on ‘incidents’ (i.e. everything that comes over the front desk or over the phone) and ‘calls for service’ (the subset of incidents that the police do anything about), but as far as I’m aware it didn’t come to anything.) In other words, Grayling has not only managed to ignore a really basic piece of statistical general knowledge; he’s gone on to ignore a correction by an expert in the field, responding in a way which demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what he’d just been told.

The question this leaves is, is David Cameron’s first choice for Home Secretary very, very dishonest, or just very, very stupid?

Green and yellow pinky-blue

Andy did a reasonably good job of making a left case for the findings of the National Equality Panel – it’s true that New Labour have implemented policies aimed at the people at the bottom of the heap, and it’s certainly true that some of the inequalities that remain are more intractable than they were in the 1970s. Andy concludes that this government has taken “a sincere but flawed approach to reducing social exclusion” involving “pushing up the wages of the poorest”, but that this was ultimately vitiated by New Labour individualism: the government “failed to acknowledge that equality has to rest upon shared sense of community, and that community is alien to the spirit of free market capitalism”.

It’s always good to be reminded that there is still a Left case to be made for some of this government’s actions, but I don’t think Andy has joined enough of the dots here. While Andy notes that “for the Blairites, poverty reduction was the target not promoting equality per se, as they did not want to reduce the income of top earners”, I’d go further. A system that generates enormous profits for a few thousand individuals is not just part of the context in which poverty reduction takes place; that system is actually producing and reproducing poverty on a huge scale. I also think it’s worth noting that the vein of compulsion mentioned by Andy runs right through Labour policy on social exclusion, however beneficial it may be in practice; SureStart itself began life as a Home Office project, with medium-term crime reduction as its goal. This is certainly a government which doesn’t want to see anyone starving or illiterate, which is all to its credit. But that genuine commitment goes along with an underlying view of the poorest groups as a problem – a potential source of crime and disorder – and an even stronger commitment to policies likely to keep them poor.

This isn’t a very flattering picture of our Labour government – a Labour government! – but there’s very little evidence that either class politics or egalitarianism has any influence on New Labour policy. Assuming that they must be in there somewhere can lead to some strange misreadings. Andy notes:

The proportion of young people going to university increased from 15% to 28% between 1988 and 1992; but while the proportion of young people from the most affluent 20% going to university rose from 20% to 37%, the proportion from the least affluent 20% increased from just 6% to only 7%. The paradox is that increasing access to higher education has disproportionately benefitted the already better off.

Paradox? What paradox? I see no evidence that New Labour’s drive to increase access to higher education was ever intended to benefit all classes equally; that’s certainly not how it’s been implemented. It hasn’t even been sold that way – Neil Kinnock’s Joe Biden moment was an awful long time ago. These days it’s decent hard-working middle-class people we’re supposed to be concerned about – and when politicians use the words “middle class”, they might just be talking about the middle class and not the working class.

I also thought – like Liam – that these findings demanded to be read alongside the bad news from the British Social Attitudes Survey, published the same week. Indeed, I thought the two shed light on each other. Liam:

”only two in five people (39%) now support increased taxes and spending on health and education,the lowest level since 1984 and down from 62% in 1997.” They add that “support for redistribution from the better off to those who are less well off has dropped markedly. Fewer than two in five (38%) now think the government should redistribute income from the better off to those who are less well off, down from half (51%) in 1994.”

Here’s the punch line: “The shift to the right has occurred mainly among Labour supporters in the wake of the changed stance taken by their party. For example, since 1994, the belief that government should redistribute income has fallen among Labour supporters from two thirds (68%) to half (49%). Among Conservative supporters, in contrast, attitudes have barely shifted at all (from 26% to 24%).”

This to me is a final, sad rebuttal of all those arguments against breaking from Labour to the Left. Yes, millions of working people identify with Labour and with Labour values – but the meaning of “Labour values” can change. Not completely, not evenly and not overnight, certainly, but it still changes. What’s to stop it? After 13 years of a Labour government which regularly proclaimed itself to be the best, fullest, newest and truest expression of Labour values, it would be amazing if the new version hadn’t started to take root. Millions of working people identified with Labour, and New Labour took them with it – and now that New Labour is on the rocks, they’re more available for right- and centre-right politics than ever before. The New Labour project didn’t just set back the prospects for socialism in Britain – would that that had been the worst it did. It wrecked the only viable vehicle for building social democracy, and dispersed and demoralised its natural constituents. A really dreadful piece of political vandalism. Robert:

After the party’s over, my friend
There will be nothing you can put your finger on,
Just a parasol

That goes for any Party.

And yes, I saw it all coming. I wasn’t quite gloomy enough, if anything – I didn’t foresee the possibility that Blair might succeed and then fail. Certainly a future with no Labour Party worth mentioning seems slightly more likely at the moment than one where Labour thrives as an SDP mk. II.

Here, anyway, is a piece I wrote for the eleventh issue of Casablanca in 1994. It was published in the short-running “A gloom of one’s own” series. Most material in Casablanca was either anonymous or pseudonymous, for reasons I was never quite sure about; this one appeared under the name of Brian Parker, for reasons I’m definitely not sure about.

Gloom

Just what is it that makes today’s Left so different, so depressing?

When I was an infantile leftist there were two main groups on the Left, the Campaigners and the Believers. (Three, if you count the Labour Party Members). The best kind of Campaigning, it was generally agreed, was going on strike. The rest of the Left would immediately rally round and offer comradely advice – to stay out for as long as it took (the Trots), to stay out forever and picket everyone in the world until they came out too (the anarchists), to make the rich pay for the crisis (the RCPB(M-L)). Campaigning by leafletting, blocking the traffic and so on was not so good: this made you a Single-Issue Campaigner, and you would usually only be allowed into the Left after most people had gone. (Being on the Left means knowing all the Issues). And if you Campaigned by harbouring foxes and releasing chickens nobody would even talk to you except the anarchists, but that didn’t matter because it’s about something much bigger than just like politics, right.

Like many people, I rapidly graduated from Campaigning to Believing. This is considerably less strenuous, as it consists mainly of (a) finding the right Line and (b) recruiting more Believers. The idea is to ensure that, come the inevitable collision with History, you will be equipped with (a) clean ideological underwear and (b) plenty of witnesses. Being a Believer isn’t a bad way of meeting people and it does get you out of the house (usually on Tuesday evenings, for some reason – so three proletarian cheers to the BBC for moving Barry Norman to Mondays). On the other hand, it is fairly pointless. Realising this, many Believers gravitate towards Campaigning organisations, sometimes in quite large and organised groups. Others attempt to unite the Left, presumably on the basis that if you assemble a large enough group of Believers it will automatically turn into a Campaign. The only problem with this strategy is that the idea of uniting the Left is in fact a Line in its own right and thus only attracts its own Believers – just another strand in the Left’s great dayschool.[1]

About the Labour Party Members there isn’t much I can say, never having shared their belief in the capacity of a Labour government to enact socialism – I suppose every movement needs its dreamers. Actually the rest of us always tacitly relied on the Labour Party. The way it worked was that the press and the BBC would attack Labour for being left-wing – or praise them for being left-wing, it didn’t really matter – and we would attack them for not being left-wing enough. Even the anarchists used to join in, attacking Labour as a way of getting at the Left as a whole. It was quite a good recruiting tactic, while it lasted.

That was how I used to see things – I’m less optimistic nowadays. Most of the Believers have never quite recovered from the end of actually existing Stalinism – arguing about whether Cuba is a deformed workers’ state just isn’t the same somehow. You don’t get the same class of Believers these days, anyway – whatever happened to Red Flame? or Big Stripe? These days there’s hardly anyone doing any Campaigning, either, apart from those young people who sit down in front of trees, play didgeridoos and tell us they won’t get fooled like we did. (They call themselves ‘zippies’, apparently – I grow old, I grow old). Good luck to them, anyway – they’ll need it, now that the Labour Party thinks the Criminal Justice Bill isn’t such a bad idea.

Ah yes, the Labour Party. It’s not Labour’s abstaining on the Criminal Justice Bill that bothers me, or their refusal to support the signal workers; it’s not all the weird stuff which Tony Blair apparently believes (cannabis should stay illegal, the electoral system couldn’t be better and the middle class bore the brunt of the recession – Dan Quayle eat your heart out). It’s true that Tony Blair went to a minor public school, but then so did Prince Charles, and look how well he’s turned out. It’s not fair to attack Blair for coming across as smug, ugly and dull, either – put next to John Major, who wouldn’t?

What bothers me (and I’m amazed it doesn’t bother more people – that’s depressing in itself) is Tony Blair’s obvious intention of redefining Labour as a kind of Socially Responsible Mildly Reactionary Party, somewhere between the Right of the Liberal Democrats and the Left of Melanie Phillips[2]. If he succeeds (which means winning two elections – look at Bill Clinton[3]) Labour will have ceased to exist as a party of the Left. If he fails (which seems highly likely – look at Bill Clinton[3]) Labour will probably just cease to exist. Either way it means that, for the first time since the Labour Party was founded, there’s no party worth voting for with any kind of commitment to the Left – which is an uncomfortable prospect for Believers and Campaigners alike.

What makes it even worse is the odd references to ‘socialism’ from Blair’s direction – a ‘socialism’ which, for the first time in history, says nothing about either collective rights (except those of ‘society’) or individual freedoms (except the freedom to ‘achieve’). It’s as if they’d realised that the Left could never be completely defeated while we still had a language to call our own. (We’ve still got ‘Comrade’, I suppose, and ‘Point of order, Chair’[4], but that’s about it).

It’s almost enough to make you envy the Greens. But not quite.

NOTES
[1] This refers to the Socialist Movement (and indeed a number of other initiatives, before and since).
[2] I’m quite pleased to have called that one right (Ms Phillips was still writing for the Observer at this stage).
[3] I don’t know what this referred to. Don’t bother looking at Bill Clinton.
[4] At the first Chesterfield Conference, I was deeply impressed by the person who raised a point of order at the Saturday night social. To his credit, the MC refused to take it.

It really, really, really could happen

A quick repost from the pre-blogging era, partly prompted by this from Will:

I think that New Labour’s pantheon can only be truly understood in terms of the band that they modelled themselves on: Blur. Consider the following four typecasts:

Front man: charismatic show-pony who drops his aitches and pretends to be into football, inspires visceral hatred in some, but without whom the show would never have really got on the road.

Grumpy side-kick: the one for the ‘real fans’, who supplies substance and grit, threatens to leave about half-way through, but remains on board on the condition that he is allowed greater influence.

Show-off socialite: party-goer and purveyor of ‘dark arts’, not liked by the old faithful (and despised by Grumpy side-kick) but useful for winning over the mainstream.

Dave Rowntree

This immediately rang a bell, although when I looked again it turned out that I hadn’t compared Tony Blair to Damon Albarn immediately after he became leader of the Labour Party. (Drat.) In fact, I’m not entirely sure who I was comparing Blair with, although clearly I wasn’t a big Blur fan. This, anyway, appeared in the tenth issue of Casablanca in 1994; if memory serves it ran alongside a cruel but accurate pastiche of John Smith by the redoubtable Ellis Sharp, hastily rebadged as a message from beyond the grave. (We had fun.)

Think big – think Blurgh!

“Obviously Kurt was irreplaceable. We were all in shock for a long time after his death. It must have been two, maybe three days later that we first looked at it as a vacancy. And then someone suggested Donny…”

Freelance communications co-ordinator Marco Bitzer is being modest. In fact nominations for the post of lead singer with Nirvana opened approximately four hours after Kurt Cobain’s suicide was discovered – thanks very largely to Marco Bitzer. It was also Bitzer who suggested the candidate now seen as certain to succeed Cobain, Donny Blurgh.

To some eyes Donny Blurgh was not the obvious choice for Nirvana. Cobain, widely regarded as the godfather of grunge, was a depressive, drug-addicted slacker from the American Northwest. Blurgh (rhymes with Chris de Burgh) is a 23-year-old management consultant from just outside Guildford. Bitzer explains.

“People tend to think Nirvana under Kurt were just crash, boom, bang-a-bang, thankyou Sam – and that’s nonsense. They actually had some nice tunes, if you turned the volume right down. Credit where it’s due, I think the band had got a lot more – respectable, shall we say? – over the last few years: and that’s certainly the direction Donny’s intending to explore. Then there’s the youth thing. You realised Kurt was pushing thirty? Well, pushing 28, but point taken. Donny’s only 21, so he hasn’t got that kind of historical baggage. Some people say he hasn’t got any baggage of any kind, ha ha ho ho!”

“Of course people say, will it still be grunge? I just say, it’s grunge if you say it is. Respect to Kurt, but some things have got to change. You don’t get to be a superstar these days by strolling on stage in an old pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. They say Kurt didn’t even wash his hair half the time! If you look at Donny, he’s friendly, he’s polite – well turned out, nice smile, nice shoes – and he’s only just turned twenty. I’m trying to line him up some TV: the autocue will love him. I’m told he’s putting a new spin on the whole youth appeal thing – don’t do drugs, respect your parents, call policemen ‘sir’, that kind of area. It’s what Kurt would have said if he’d lived, more or less.”

One area which is often overlooked is Donny Blurgh’s musical abilities. Says Bitzer, “They tell me he sings in the bath, ha ha ho ho! Seriously, I’m sure he’ll be a great lead singer, really great. When you get down to it there are only three essentials in rock music: a distinctive musical vision, a good camera presence and a face like a frightened hamster. No, I’m kidding – only two of those are essential! Although a musical vision is nice, if you can get it reasonably cheap.”

“For myself I’ve got every confidence in Donny Blurgh. He’s young – did you know he’s only just eighteen? – he’s fresh, he responds well to guidance. I’ve had a few sessions with him already on the corporate focus, image, mission, values front and he’s been taken on board pretty much everything I said. In fact I sometimes got the impression he was repeating back everything I said word for word!”

I remarked that this certainly smells like teen spirit.

“How do you mean smells? Oh, as in “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, yeah. Ha ha ho ho”.

What’s interesting about this, looking back, is the ambivalence about who Blair actually was – a contentless creation of spin and Millbank, or a serious and committed reactionary. And let’s not forget, both possibilities are fairly bizarre: I initially wrote “a serious and committed reactionary who had somehow ended up leading the Labour Party”, but for a corporate suit to end up in that position is just as surprising; they’re both the reverse of what you’d have expected from Labour before Blair. I think what Blair’s performance at the Chilcot Inquiry has brought home is that it’s not either/or: he’s a high-profile image-driven reactionary, and a deeply serious empty suit. Above all, he’s committed: committed to being this bizarre hybrid, the reverse of anything a Labour leader had ever been, and then to taking us into his dream with him – first the Labour Party, then the world. Perhaps the least surprising thing that happened at the inquiry was Blair’s failure to apologise – the occasional failure of the world to live up to his expectations might be disappointing, but why would he ever need to apologise?

(Next: more from Casablanca, this time foretelling the destruction of the Labour Party. Just call me Cassandra.)

Grodunkley Sprunkley rides again

Breaking news from LinkedIn:

Apparently writing these isn't as easy as it looks on xkcd

Congratulations, Jamie!

(Apologies to Charlie and Campbell.)

Cheerful tidings

Partly pre-empting my next post – which is going to start with a bit of post-dormancy navel-gazing about what I’ve been doing while I haven’t been blogging – here’s a Web site I’ve just set up:

More work! Less pay!

It’s for my book More work! Less pay!, which is out very shortly. It’s coming out in a prohibitively expensive academic hardback edition, unfortunately. Hopefully, if it gets a bit of buzz behind it, the university libraries of the world will get through that edition and I’ll be able to push for a paperback.

The Web site includes links to the publisher and to Amazon, a link to Henry’s review on Crooked Timber, an excerpt from the Preface and the book’s table of contents; taken together, they should tell you all you need to know about what the book’s about.

Or almost all. There’s also a ‘Q&A’ link, which currently goes nowhere much. Qs which I’m intending to A on the site include

What’s with the title?
and
What’s with the cover?
and possibly
What’s this got to do with the Decent Left and the government’s Preventing Violent Extremism programme?

All other suggestions are welcome.

Also welcome is publicity from any bloggers reading this who have bigger audiences than mine (which probably means all of you). If you’re interested, the front cover can be seen in greater detail here.

Update

30th November

It’s out! It’s actually, physically available! I’ve held it in my hands (just now, in fact) and can confirm that it’s a lovely piece of work; I haven’t spotted any errors yet, and the cover design works really well. Coming soon, I hope, to a library or a conference or a book reviews section – and possibly even a bookshop – near you.

Too pale a hue

June? June?

Oh well – I’m back, probably.

What’s been happening? Looking back at the last two posts, both those papers got rejected; in one case it was more of a “revise and resubmit”, so I’m not particularly distressed. The other was more of a “hit the back wall without bouncing” rejection, which did stop me in my tracks for a bit – but I’ll get a resubmission out of it. And my book is almost out, and almost has its own Web page (a holding page as I write this, but I’m going to fix that RSN).

I was going to kick this blog back into life with a few thoughts on blogging, or a political meme that drifted past in the summer, or some thoughts on the mainstreaming of Fascism, or possibly even my long-planned post on the ethics of armed struggle. (Armed struggle: I’m agin it.) Instead of which, I’m going down that time-honoured route to a blog post, the comment that got too long for the comment box. Sparked off by something on Daniel’s site, which has an odd sort of big-fleas-little-fleas appropriateness about it.

First off, how about a bit of Tronti? (Borrowed from my book, which is out soon.)

Capitalist society has its laws of development: they have been formulated by economists, applied by governments and endured by the workers. But who will discover the laws of development of the working class? … We ourselves have put capitalist development first, workers’ struggles second. This is wrong. We need to reverse the problem, change its sign, begin from first principles: and the first principle is the struggle of the working class. Where capital is developed on the social scale, capitalist development is subordinate to workers’ struggles: it follows on from them and has to shape the political mechanisms of its own production accordingly.
Mario Tronti (1964), “Lenin in England”

More generally – Tronti and the workerists argued – capitalist development is parasitic on workers’ intelligence and creativity, which they use in the refusal of work. You get the job done with half an hour to spare and sneak off for a fag; your employer cuts your working day by half an hour and cuts your pay accordingly. Result: profit. You do eight hours’ work in six hours; your employer increases your workload by 33%. Result: profit.

And so to Thomas Friedman.

we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public [i.e. state] school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.

[the] problem will be reversed only when the decline in worker competitiveness reverses — when we create enough new jobs and educated workers that are worth, say, $40-an-hour compared with the global alternatives. If we don’t, there’s no telling how “jobless” this recovery will be.

Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.

For a start, the “untouchable” theme is a striking example of Friedman’s legendary tin ear. To use “untouchable”, as a noun, to refer to people at the top of the heap – people who will thrive while the rest of us struggle – is bizarrely insensitive. To do so when what we’re struggling against is competition from low-wage countries, like, say, India – ugh. Brane hertz.

The “work-smarter-not-harder” stuff in the last paragraph quoted above is pretty insulting, too – at least, it is for those of us who have been hearing it from management gurus, year in and year out, ever since the last recession. The sermon changes from year to year – sometimes there’s just no money around; sometimes there’s lots of money but lots of people competing for it; sometimes it’s neither of the above but the world is changing! – but the message is always the same. There’s always some compelling reason why we’ve got to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to achieve this and save money on that. We can’t just get on with our jobs – that would be wrong. (More to the point, it would mean we didn’t generate more profit than we did last year. See Tronti.)

But Friedman has something more specific to say here. Something that goes roughly like this:

“Only a minority of American workers are doing well out of globalisation – everyone else is getting shafted! As nobody could possibly have predicted (except for everybody but me)! So we need to move all American workers into that minority! And the key to that is education, government-provided education in particular! And what we need to do to government-provided education is, oh, damn, time’s up.”

I was particularly struck by the line about the $40-an-hour jobs. He’s literally proposing to fix the problem at the margin – by moving everyone who’s being affected by global competition into the margin of jobs so skill-intensive, and skills so specialised, that they can’t be done for less than $40/hour. Because if they could be done cheaper they would be, and if they’re done cheaper on the other side of the world, hey, them’s the breaks.

In The age of insecurity, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson liken globalisation to a strong wind – a conventional enough image these days. They then say that the anti-protectionist orthodoxy is a bit like saying we should deal with this strong wind by opening all our doors and knocking down walls where possible. (That wind is out there whether we like it or not! It’s a fact of life! It’s the way the world is!) Friedman has been urging on a process which other people said should be resisted or slowed down, because it would lead to disruption and immiseration on a large scale. He’s now claiming that it has led to large-scale disruption and immiseration – and his only solution is for the 80% to clamber on board the 20%’s lifeboat. And if that doesn’t work, well, it’s probably the fault of the government.

Come write me down

I’ve written another paper (hence the no blogging). No prizes for guessing which area this one’s in.

Albertazzi, D. and McDonnell, D. (2009), “The parties of the centre right: many oppositions, one leader”, in Newell (2009a)
Allum, F. and Allum, P. (2008), “Revisiting Naples: clientelism and organized crime”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies,13(3)
Bardi, L. (2007), “Electoral change and its impact on the party system in Italy”, West European Politics 30(4)
Berselli, E. (2008a), “Quando la politica diventa un format”, la Repubblica 18 September
Berselli, E. (2008b), “L’antagonismo ex parlamentare”, la Repubblica 15 April
Bertinotti, F. (2008), “15 tesi per la sinistra”, Liberazione 13 November
Bordandini, P., Di Virgilio, A. and Raniolo, F. (2008), “The birth of a party: The case of the Italian Partito Democratico”, South European Society and Politics 13(3)
Briquet, J.-L. (2007), Mafia, justice et politique en Italie: L’affaire Andreotti dans la crise de la Republique (1992-2004), Paris: Karthala
Bull, M. and Newell, J. (2009), “Still the anomalous democracy? Politics and institutions in Italy”, Government and Opposition 44(1)
Buzzanca, S. (2008), “Sinistra Arcobaleno, un voto su due al Pd”, la Repubblica 17 April
Campus, D. (2009), “Campaign issues and themes”, in Newell (2009a)
Capano, G. and Giuliani, M. (2003), “The Italian parliament: In search of a new role?”, Journal of Legislative Studies 9(2)
Capoccia, G. (2002), “Anti-system parties: a conceptual reassessment”, Journal of Theoretical Politics 14(1)
Carbone, M. and Newell, J. (2008), “Towards the end of a long transition? Bipolarity and instability in Italy’s changing political system”, Politics 28(3)
Chiaramonte, A. (2009), “Italian voters: Berlusconi’s victory and the ‘new’ party system”, in Newell (2009a)
Corriere della Sera (2008), “Berlusconi: Veltroni nei fatti e’ inesistente”, 17 September
Corriere della Sera (2009), “Parisi: via chi ci ha condotti nel pantano”, 21 February
Croci, O. (2001), “Language and politics in Italy: from Moro to Berlusconi”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies 6 (3)
de Marchis (2008), “Anche il modello Roma ha ceduto e al loft parte la resa dei conti”, la Repubblica 29 April
della Porta, D. and Vannucci, A. (2007), “Corruption and anti-corruption: The political defeat of ‘Clean Hands’ in Italy”, West European Politics 30(4)
Donovan, M. (2009), “The processes of alliance formation”, in Newell (2009a)
Edwards, P. (2005), “The Berlusconi anomaly: Populism and patrimony in Italy’s long transition”, South European Society and Politics10(2)
Edwards, P. (2008), review of Briquet, Mafia, justice et politique en Italie, Modern Italy 13(3)
Edwards, P. (2009), ‘More work! Less pay!’ Rebellion and repression in Italy, 1972‑77, Manchester: Manchester University Press
Fabbrini, S. (2006), “The Italian case of a transition within democracy”, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 8(2)
Fusani, C. (2008a), “Rifondazione non trova l’accordo; Drammatica conta per la segreteria”, la Repubblica 26 July
Fusani, C. (2008b), “Ferrero nuovo segretario di Rc; Vendola sconfitto: ‘No scissione'”, la Repubblica 27 July
Giannini, M. (2008), “Dal Pd opposizione senza sconti: non daremo tregua a Berlusconi”, la Repubblica 18 April
Gilbert, M. (1998), “In search of normality: The political strategy of Massimo D’Alema”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies 3(3)
Ginsborg, P. (1990), A history of contemporary Italy: Society and politics 1943-1988, London: Penguin
Ginsborg, P. (2001), Italy and its discontents: Family, civil society, state 1980-2001, London: Penguin
Kimber, R. (2009), Political science resources
la Repubblica(2006a), “Elezioni, Berlusconi non molla: ‘Non li faremo governare'”, 21 April
la Repubblica (2006b), Speciale elezioni 2006
la Repubblica (2008a), Speciale elezioni 2008
la Repubblica (2008b), “Veltroni: ‘Il dialogo si chiude; Berlusconi ha strappato la tela'”, 17 June
la Repubblica (2008c), “Berlusconi: ‘Pm sovversivi'; E attacca Veltroni: E’ un fallito'”, 20 June
la Repubblica (2009a), Speciale elezioni 2009
la Repubblica (2009b), “Prc e Sl fuori anche dall’Europarlamento; Mpa bene in Sicilia, ma e’ lontano il 4%”, 8 June
Maltese (2008), “Il morso del Caimano”, la Repubblica 21 June
Newell, J. (2006), “Characterising the Italian parliament: Legislative change in longitudinal perspective”, Journal of Legislative Studies 12(3)
Newell, J. (ed.) (2009a), The Italian general election of 2008, Basingstoke: Palgrave
Newell, J. (2009b), “Introduction: a guide to the election and ‘instructions for use'”, in Newell (2009a)
Newell, J. (2009c), “The man who never was? The Italian transition and 2008 election”, paper presented at PSA annual conference, April
Pacini, M. (2009), “Public funding of political parties in Italy”, Modern Italy 14(2)
Paolucci, C. (2006), “The nature of Forza Italia and the Italian transition”, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 8(2)
Paolucci, C. and Newell, J. (2008), “The Prodi government of 2006 and 2007: A retrospective look”, Modern Italy,13(3)
Pasquino, G. (2004) “The restructuring of the Italian party system”, paper presented at PSA Annual Conference, April
Pasquino, G. (2009), “The Democratic Party and the restructuring of the Italian party system”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies 14(1)
Pridham, G. (1990), “Political actors, linkages and interactions: Democratic consolidation in Southern Europe”, West European Politics13(4)
Russo, F. and Verzichelli, L. (2009), “A different legislature? The parliamentary scene following the 2008 elections”, in Newell (2009a)
Serracchiani, D. (2009), intervention at national meeting of Partito Democratico groups, 21 March
Shore, C. (1990), Italian Communism: the escape from Leninism, London: Pluto
Sinistra Critica (2008), “Sinistra Critica vince la scommessa. Ora ricostruiamo dall’opposizione sociale“, 15 April
Tarchi, M. (2003), “The political culture of the Alleanza Nazionale: an analysis of the party’s programmatic documents (1995-2002)”, Journal of Modern Italian Studies 8(2)
Veltroni, W. (2007), “Un’Italia unita, moderna e giusta”, speech to Partito Democratico, 26 June
Vendola, N. (2008), “Noi predichiamo il cambiamento ma il cambiamento non ci riconosce”, Liberazione 16 November
Vendola, N. (2009), “Un cantiere aperto“, 8 June

It’s a ‘transition’ thing; I’m defending the idea of an ‘Italian transition’, despite the fact that the transition’s been going on for 17 years now and shows no sign of ending. That, and saying what I think of Walter Veltroni (although you do have to be fairly diplomatic in academic papers).

I guess I’m hoping that someone somewhere will look at the sheer range covered by these two papers & think “wow!”. Although I concede it’s more likely that they’d think “why?” (Because I was asked, would be the flip answer – but I jumped at the chance, both times. Why? Well, because the area I’m interested in lies… somewhere in between. What can I say, it’s a big area.)

Overreaching can be a problem. John Otway thought he was going to amaze the world when he followed Really Free with Geneva, a heartfelt orchestral ballad – his first song was awkward, energetic and hilarious, and now this! is there nothing he can’t do? Instead of which the reaction was …and now this! what’s he think he’s doing? Mind you, it didn’t help matters that Otway can’t, when you get right down to it, actually sing, as such – no handicap if you’re working in the awkward-energetic-hilarious area but a bit of a problem on the heartfelt-ballad front.

Glad I’ve got it done, anyway. Have I just done an Otway? It’s a worry. (Mind you, he seems to do all right.)

(I’ve) read it in books

Last night I dreamed an angel kissed me, Solpadeine

I’ve just finished a paper. I never have much trouble writing, once I get going; my problem is always that I try to get the kitchen sink in, while also being vaguely provocative and gnomic in the manner of Debord or Garfinkel or Nils Christie. So I spend far too long reading all round the subject, then wear myself out trying to fit it all together, then produce something everyone thinks is a bit off to one side of what they were expecting.

Anyway, here’s the bibliography, which I compiled over a happy (if dull) couple of hours this afternoon, listening to Robyn Hitchcock’s album Luxor (and especially its mysteriously euphoric last track, “Solpadeine”). Question for anyone who recognises more than a couple of those names: what discipline am I in? (It’s not a guessing game, I’m genuinely curious.)

Ashworth, A. (2000), “Is the criminal law a lost cause?”, Law Quarterly Review 116
Ashworth, A. (2006), “Four threats to the presumption of innocence”, International Journal of Evidence & Proof 10(4)
Ashworth, A. and Zedner, L. (2008), “Defending the criminal law: Reflections on the changing character of crime, procedure, and sanctions”, Criminal Law and Philosophy 2(1)
Ayres, I. and Braithwaite, J. (1992), Responsive regulation: transcending the deregulation debate, Oxford: OUP
Babcock, B. (1982), “Fair play: Evidence favorable to an accused and effective assistance of counsel”, Stanford Law Review 34(6)
Baldwin, R. (2004), “The new punitive regulation”, Modern Law Review 67(3)
Bates, E. (2009), “Anti-terrorism control orders: Liberty and security still in the balance”, Legal Studies 29(1)
Benjamin, W. (tr. Edmund Jephcott) (1986 (1921)), “Critique of violence”, in Benjamin, W., Reflections, New York: Schocken
Black, J. (2002), “Critical reflections on regulation”, Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy 27(1)
Black, J. (2004), “Law and regulation: The case of finance”, in Parker, Scott, Lacey and Braithwaite 2004
Blake, M. and Ashworth, A. (1996), “The presumption of innocence in English criminal law”, Criminal Law Review
Bottoms, A. (2003), “Some sociological reflections on restorative justice”, in von Hirsch, A., Roberts, J., Bottoms, A., Roach, K. and Schiff, M. (eds.), Restorative justice and criminal justice: Competing or reconcilable paradigms?, Oxford: Hart
Braithwaite, J. (1982), “Challenging just deserts: Punishing white-collar criminals”, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 73(2)
Braithwaite, J. (1989), Crime, shame and reintegration, Cambridge: CUP
Braithwaite, J. (1997), “On speaking softly and carrying big sticks: Neglected dimensions of a republican separation of powers”, University of Toronto Law Journal, 47(3)
Braithwaite, J. (2002), Restorative justice and responsive regulation, Oxford: OUP
Braithwaite, J. (2005), “Pre-empting terrorism”, Current issues in criminal justice 17(1)
Cane, P. (2002), “Tort law as regulation”, Common Law World Review 31(4)
Carson, W. (1970), “White-collar crime and the enforcement of factory legislation”, British Journal of Criminology 10(4)
Christie, N. (1977), “Conflicts as property”, British Journal of Criminology 17(1)
Coffee, J. (1991), “Does ‘unlawful’ mean ‘criminal’?: Reflections on the disappearing tort/crime distinction in American law”, Boston University Law Review 71(2)
Cooter, R. (1984), “Prices and Sanctions”, Columbia Law Review 84(6)
Crawford, A. and Newburn, T. (2002), “Recent developments in restorative justice for young people in England and Wales: Community participation and representation”, British Journal of Criminology 42(3)
Cruft, R. (2008), “Liberalism and the changing character of the criminal law: Response to Ashworth and Zedner”, Criminal Law and Philosophy 2(1)
Flint, J. and Nixon, J. (2006), “Governing neighbours: Anti-social behaviour orders and new forms of regulating conduct in the UK”, Urban Studies 43(5-6)
Garfinkel, H. (1956), “Conditions of successful degradation ceremonies”, American Journal of Sociology 61(5)
Hood, C., Rothstein, H., and Baldwin, R. (2001), The government of risk, Oxford: OUP
Hoyle, C., Young, R. and Hill, R. (2002), Proceed with caution: An evaluation of the Thames Valley Police initiative in restorative cautioning, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Kamenka, E. and Tay, A. (1975), “Beyond bourgeois individualism: The contemporary crisis in law and legal ideology”, in Kamenka, E. and Neale, R. (eds.),  Feudalism, capitalism and beyond, London: Edward Arnold
Kamenka, E. and Tay, A. (1986), “The traditions of justice”, Law and philosophy 5(3)
Lacey, N. (2004), “Criminalization as regulation: The role of criminal law”, in Parker, Scott, Lacey and Braithwaite 2004
Loader, I. (2006), “Policing, recognition, and belonging”, ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 605(1)
Parker, C., Scott, C., Lacey, N. and Braithwaite, J. (eds.) (2004), Regulating Law, Oxford: OUP
Pashukanis, E. (1924), “The general theory of law and Marxism”, in Beirne, P. and Sharlet, R. (eds.) (1980), Pashukanis: Selected writings on Marxism and law, London: Academic Press
Paulus, I. (1977), “Strict liability: Its place in public welfare offences”, Criminal Law Quarterly 20(4)
Pavlich, G. (1996), “The power of community mediation: Government and formation of self‑identity”, Law and Society Review 30(4)
Pavlich, G. (2005), Governing paradoxes of restorative justice, London: GlassHouse
Shapland, J., Atkinson, A., Atkinson, H., Colledge, E., Dignan, J., Howes, M., Johnstone, J., Robinson, G. and Sorsby, A. (2006), “Situating restorative justice within criminal justice”, Theoretical Criminology 10(4)
Sherman, L. (1990), “Police crackdowns: Initial and residual deterrence”, Crime and Justice 12(2)
Simmonds, N. (2005), “Jurisprudence as a moral and historical inquiry”, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 18(2)
Simmonds, N. (2007), Law as a moral idea, Oxford: OUP
Stapleton, J. (2004), “Regulating torts”, in Parker, Scott, Lacey and Braithwaite 2004
Van den Haag, E. (1982), “The criminal law as a threat system”, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 73(2)
Von Hirsch, A. (1990), “Proportionality in the philosophy of punishment: From ‘why punish?’ to ‘how much?’”, Criminal Law Forum 1(2)
Von Hirsch, A. and Ashworth, A. (1992), “Not not just deserts: A response to Braithwaite and Pettit”, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 12(1)
Waldron, J. (2008), “The concept and the rule of law”, Georgia Law Review 43(1)
Young, R. (2000), “Just cops doing ‘shameful’ business?: Police-led restorative justice and the lessons of research”, in Morris, A. and Maxwell, G. (eds.) Restorative justice for juveniles: Conferencing, mediation and circles, Oxford: Hart
Young, R. (2001), “Integrating a multi-victim perspective into criminal justice through restorative justice conferences”, in Crawford, A. and Goodey, J., Integrating a Victim Perspective within Criminal Justice, Dartmouth: Ashgate

Criminology or legal theory, Rob suggests in comments. Yes, but that’s exactly the problem – which is it to be? I’m addressing regulation (hence all the Braithwaite) from a standpoint within criminology, but making a case which leans rather hard on legal theorists (Ashworth, Simmonds) & work close to them (von Hirsch), while remaining ultimately within the phenomenological tradition in sociology (Garfinkel). (Sounds good – but what does it actually sound like?) I’m in danger of falling between every stool there is. I’m sure there’s a journal somewhere which will lap this kind of thing up, but I haven’t identified it yet.

And then today I woke beside you, Solpadeine…

Last night I didn’t dream an angel kissed me. I did, however, dream that I was walking round Manchester with Barack Obama. I wasn’t exactly showing him around – he knew exactly where he was going and frequently pointed things out to me, generally things like used needles and people begging. He was a nice bloke. We parted at the bottom of the High Street, with me heading to the bus station and him to his hotel; he invited me to go for dinner, but I said I ought to get back.

“Whether the subject sinks into madness, practises theory or participates in an uprising … the two poles of daily life – contact with a narrow and separate reality on one hand and spectacular contact with the totality on the other – are simultaneously abolished” (Voyer) Presumably life, music and dreams will all seem that much duller now that I’ve finished with the practice of theory. Note to self: write more papers.

I was waiting for the Soft Boys, Solpadeine
I was waiting for the Soft Boys, Solpadeine
And I saw them coming across the dying grass
That long hot summer
When you were born
Solpadeine

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