Monday 29 September 2008

London Tattoo Convention

Last time I spent much time around Wapping it involved going there on Friday nights for the pickets of Murdoch’s News International plant. I got familiar with the back streets having regularly dodged tooled-up coppers hell bent on denying my legitimate right to protest. But enough of that. In happier circumstances this weekend I was back to Tobacco Dock for the London International Tattoo Convention.

The venue is in so many ways a bizarre monument to the Tory years. It is just behind the News International plant - itself ironically redundant now production has moved outside London. In the 80’s the long-derelict docks were property developed into a labyrinth of luxury apartments, a shopping centre and waterside leisure area. Except it never took off - wrong place (piss-poor public transport) and wrong time (the last recession). Today it stands finished but unoccupied since the 90's - trapped in time as a spooky memorial to the era of red braces, Filofaxes and brick-like mobile phones.

I sat outside for a while in the sunshine on the quayside watching the world go by: Viking-ish bikers - 50’s burlesque girls – old skool greaser petrol heads - punks with full Japanese body suits - Polynesian warriors – BDSM types … and just about everything else in-between.

Here was poetic justice: it looked like the freaks had finally triumphed over the yuppies.
At least for a weekend.

Friday 26 September 2008

Royal reform

A modern monarchy is an oxymoron.

But I suppose New Labour's constitutional reforms which would allow someone who isn't an Anglican or wasn't born with a Y chromosome to ascend to the throne is a tiny step in the right direction.

Although it's hardly the proclamation of a republic, the disestablishment of the Church Of England, the abolition of the House of Lords or any of that stuff that any reasonable 17th Century radical would otherwise take for granted.

Still on the upside it does mean that if the present bunch of German royals who pass themselves off as the House of Windsor should become any dafter or madder, we can now bring in some fresh talent from the gene pool of unemployed European royals and aristos. Bloody hell.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Strange times

There was a time long ago when I got excited about Labour Conferences. I even went to a few and braved crappy Blackpool B&B's, caucuses and compositing meetings (don't ask). Based on the woeful event this week, I know that seems difficult to believe but it's true.

We now live in strange times. We are hovering on the brink of recession (or perhaps more accurately have tottered over the brink and are now plummeting). But the Labour leader uses the conference to reassure the City that 'we are a pro market party'. Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury, who obviously reads this blog, says 'Karl Marx was right'.

Monday 22 September 2008

Sometimes it's the little things

Two weeks ago I popped into my local Harley dealership to pick up some odds and ends. A couple of replacement indicator lenses – they have a habit of vibrating themselves loose and they’re only a push fit.

It was lashing down with rain at the time. Mine was the only bike in the customer parking. The dealership was however packed with customers. That should have been a sign and reminded me why I try to avoid going here for parts generally. But I persisted:

Me: I’d like a couple of indicator lenses for a 2002 Sportster please.

Them: What model is that?

Me: I'm pretty sure it doesn’t matter the 02 Sportsters are all the same.

Them: We still need to know the model.

Me: OK – it was originally an 883R.

Them: Are they for the front or back?

Me: They’re exactly the same at the front and the back.

Them: We need to know to check the part number.

Me: OK then – let’s say they are for the front.

(After a bit of clicking on a keyboard)

Them: We don’t have them in stock. I can order them for you though.

Me: Can you just check that you haven’t go any for the back in stock ?

Them: No they’re the same as the front.

Aaargh !!!

(And two weeks later the parts still haven't arrived)

Friday 19 September 2008

Time to dig out Kapital

At university my supervisor for the history of political thought was an eminent Marxist academic. He still is as far as I know – eminent that is, I doubt very much that he’s still Marxist.

Discussing Kapital one day he came out with the classic “let’s face it nobody actually reads Kapital” My supervision partner (a mate, fellow smart-arse and socialist) knowing full well that I had, turned to me and asked “ Actually I think you have haven’t you ?”.

Cocky students – 1
Academic poseur twat – nil.

This week, with the worst financial crash since 1929, it looks like we should all be dusting off those neglected copies of Marx's Kapital. Out of favour for years, even (or especially) amongst those who wore the Marxist label as a fashion statement, it still remains the best explanation of the state we're in.

We've suffered two decades of triumphal capitalist propaganda telling us that history is over and that markets are everything . Now the same free market evangelists squirm and talk about ‘imperfect markets’ and the need for the state to prop up the banks (privatise the gain but nationalise the pain). It's too much to resist saying "I told you so".

It is difficult not to savour the financial crisis: I take no pleasure in banking employees losing their jobs – the majority will be low grade white collar types, cleaners and security guards. Or people losing their homes or savings. But for all those fund managers and other assorted parasitic scum whose speculation has ruined many other business and lives – good fucking riddance, your time has come. And if they had done their homework the present crisis wouldn't have come as any surprise.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Metric madness

I'm not a Little Englander by any means, I don't get excited about rumours of EU plots to ban British sauasges. But I do confess to having a problem with the metric system.

There's something organic about inches (the length of a thumb knuckle) - feet (doh - the length of a foot ) - or a yard ( the stretch of your arm or a stride). Alright - I know that these vary on different people but as rough 'rules of thumb' they work.

Which is why they have been around for a long time, in a lot of different places. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl notes that pre-historic structures in Europe, South America, the Middle East, India and China all seem to use multiples of roughly similar units of measurement taken from anatomical dimensions.

Metric measurements can seem to be more precise and scientific. But in reality they are only derived from an eighteenth century miscalculation of the earth's circumference. They do not of themselves make measurement any more accurate. In my own industry we managed perfectly well with points and picas for centuries. And the golden age of engineeing was built on sixteenths of an inch. In fact as far as Harley Davidson is concerned, it still is.

Which leads neatly to the outrageous news that obtaining a motorcycle licence in this country is about to become harder again.

Apparently the UK needs to comply with the rest of the EU in doing the emergency stop - which is a requirement of the bike test - from a speed of 50kph. Trouble is, that translates as 31mph and the roads used by test centres are generally those with 30mph limits. Consequently, for the sake of the 1mph difference, the bike test will now have to be taken only at special designated regional centres.

I'm not sure if this is a plot to push the dreaded kilometer at the expense of the mile. Or a plot to discourage motorcycling. Either way it's bollocks.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

In search of space

If you’re reading this then I suppose we can safely assume that we are now not a Black Hole and that life as we know it is continuing after the Hadron Collider was switched on.

Without pretending to understand the physics there is something undeniably exciting about it all - a misspent youth listening to too much Hawkwind is probably a factor in this.

But there also mixed feelings:

I want to celebrate the pushing back of frontiers of human knowledge. I’m really hoping that all those religious mentalists will wake up to the fact that the spark of life is not a old Jewish bloke with a long beard but a particle called a Higgs Bosun so tiny that it’s theoretical.

But I know that sadly mental-ism is notorious resilient to contrary evidence. And as I contemplate the wonders and mysteries of the cosmos, I find my mind wandering and trying to figure out why the starter motor on my bike was sticking this morning …

Monday 8 September 2008

Green moral fig leaves

Whilst I was off on holiday the Post Office left one of those little red cards to say that they were holding a parcel for me to collect. Not remembering that I had ordered anything recently I felt a rush of excitement . Knowing that it was too big to deliver I thought I'd better take the car rather than my bike. With the one-way system and the perpetual roadworks it's a twenty minute drive to the Post Office.

When I signed for the (rather small) parcel it certainly was a surprise: A FUCKING PACK OF FOUR ENERGY SAVING LIGHT BULBS FROM THE GAS BOARD !

I don't know what the environmental impact of taking out my old bulbs and replacing them is - but I am pretty sure that driving to collect them negates any gain. Now multiply that by all the British Gas customers up and down the country.

Such is big business' approach to these issues. It's not even proper philanthropy. There's a piece of management speak for it - 'ethical capital'. Token bullshit that makes zero impact. Ill-conceived and sometimes even contradictory, the objective is nothing more than a PR win. Take Carbon Offsetting - continue to fuck up the environment but pay into a scheme (which is also a commercial business) to make good the damage, and everybody feels better.

At least hard-nosed Victorian factory owners built elegant public buildings to salve their consciences. I suspect that in relative terms, such gestures represented a bigger sacrifice than a packet of light bulbs.

Thursday 4 September 2008

Hockey Mum Redneck Bigot

I'm tempted to blog with some smart-arse comments about the stupidity of the American Right.

How vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin seriously wants creationism taught as a respectable alternative to evolution in school science lessons. Or how in office as Major of Wasilla Alaska she tried to ban books with ‘offensive language’ from public libraries. Or more generally how depressing it is that small-town America sees the descriptions ‘clever’ or ‘intellectual’ as terms of abuse.

But I won’t. It’s too easy. And it doesn’t help. Right wingers everywhere are stupid and ignorant – we’ll just have to get over that. The real problem is that only the vacuum on the Left makes it possible for these dumb fucks to get an echo.

For the sake of America and the world. I desperately hope that Obama wins and keeps the Republicans out. But let’s not get sucked in by the liberal love-fest that sees him as the saviour of change. The Obama project is nothing more than the New Labour project with a different accent. It is sophisticated and clever (and those aren’t dirty words) but it also comes from a political caste, just like Blair’s Islington circle, that has precious little to do with the majority - the working class.

McCain and Palin are making capital from this – but the problem is that it rings a bit hollow coming from Republicans. They may adopt a down home voice, but like Reagan, Bush Snr and Bush Jnr the carefully contrived folksy image is a mask for wealthy patrician backgrounds and the interests of Big Business.

Similarly Sarah Palin and her hockey-mum image: Until she launched her political career, Alaskan politics had previously been run much like a PTA or a parish council then Palin introduced national issues with the standard platform of the Religious Right – Pro Life and Anti-Gun Control. (This comes from fellow conservatives in Alaska – check out this piece in Time Magazine).

What those on the Left should be thinking about now is not a quick chuckle at dumbass right-wingers but the desperate need for a radical blue collar alternative voice. That goes for the US and the UK.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

A tale of two addictions

A report from DrugScope today says that Valium – or Diazepam as it’s now know is fast replacing heroin as the drug of choice in the inner cities. Of course Valium, unlike Heroin has respectable middle class credentials – the Rolling Stones sang about ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ - but then it’s never been about the chemistry of the substance, it’s the social class of the user that matters.

Take two hypothetical case studies:

Annabel from Hampstead is a 30-something stay at home mum. With the kids now at school and having given up her promising career in PR she feels lonely and down. Her friends have moved on and her husband is too wrapped up in his career to understand.

She sees the family doctor and he tells her that she’s depressed and prescribes Valium. This takes the edge off and keeps her on an even keel emotionally. This continues for years. It’s possible that her family and friends don’t even know. But if they did there would be sympathetic. Poor Annabel.

Charleene from Hackney is a young single mum. She had her kids in her teens - their dad isn’t around anymore and she’s has never had a real job. Living hand to mouth on benefits on a run down estate, life is a struggle. Some days she just can’t seem to get going and it’s all too much. So seeks something to take the edge off – she knows someone who can help her out. She doesn’t know it but she has depression and she’s self-medicating.

The ‘something’ might have been smack but now, just like Annabel, it might be ‘blues’. But the similarity ends there. Charleene will be taking an illegal substance whose origins she will never know. She's now entirely in the hands of her dealer. If she's lucky she will avoid arrest, imprisonment, losing her kids to social services, a possible spiral to petty crime or prostitution, and illness or death from impure or contaminated substances. But even if none of this happened, everyone knows that bad mothers like Charleene are junkies with only themselves to blame.

Monday 1 September 2008

Vive la difference

Back after two weeks holiday in France.

I like France - it always surprises me how somewhere so close can manage to also be so different. Here's an example:

They have more police per person in France than anyone else in Europe. A lot of time they are standing around looking cool in shades and smoking Gitaines. That's when the police stations aren't shut for two hours at lunch.

Maybe it's to keep them off the streets, but the beach lifeguards are actually provided by the CRS riot police. That's the same guys with the Thunderbirds uniforms and the savage reputation. I imagine that they will drag you drowning from the sea and then club you like a seal pup.

On the beach we were on they interrupted their posing every now and then with announcements on the PA that something or other was strictly 'interdit'. Best of all, one afternoon they issued a warning about jelly fish in the sea - and the dangers of being stung.

They then went on to announce a competition for kids with a prize for the child to bring back the most jelly fish they could collect in a bucket ...

Superb. The French state may be occasionally authoritarian and arrogant, but at least you couldn't accuse it of being a nanny-state.