Tuesday, October 04, 2005

On the Non-Existence of Tony Blair

I am one of those people who get their political fix through nothing but newspapers. I give short shrift to the shrill tedium of televisual analysis and the coffin-infested crypt that is morning Radio 4. As a result I never see Tony Blair do anything any more, I just read the incredulous analysis of the fall out, the righteous debate on either side of the great partition, and the descriptions of Gordon Brown's bottom lip crawling further and further outwards every day.

The consequences are startling. Tony Blair, I find, no longer exists to me in any real form. On the rare occasions I see him on television when not being impersonated by a comic (adding further grist to the mill that he is a fictional character) I do not believe I am seeing a person. He is a non-corporeal vessel of self-evident truths, a strange hologrammatical robot that floats around the stage whose voice box is permanently set to "chummy". He is total fiction and nobody seems to have noticed... Indeed, if the ideals and goals of "New Labour" were a long-established political force, Blair would be ubiquitously derided as a stereotype, a satirical figurehead for slick smoke and mirror politics.

This is embellished when you notice that his actions echo through dystopian predictive fiction such as Huxley and Orwell. Take the prevention of terrorism act. The chilly reassurances that, despite the wording, it will be used in a purely sensible and realistic manner all led up to a heavy-handed plot twist in which an elderly man was thrown out of the Labour conference for heckling and then refused re-entry based on that very act designed "solely" to prevent terrorism. Walter Wolfgang is not a terrorist and there is nobody alive who would say, or could prove, otherwise. This much is painfully clear.

But unlike the cold fictions of the past, the administration is hooked on the drug of image. Big Brother never cared how he looked to the voter. So when a shit storm broke in the newspapers, Labour was careful to limit the damage through mumbled apology. The curious thing here was how the commentary centred on the heckler himself as an elderly hero fighting the evil of New Labour and their crackdown on debate, blah blah. No. It was irrelevant patronising of an old man, designed to push the right harrumphing buttons of the man on the street. The real meat was in the abuse of the terrorism act, a stark example of the existence in modern government of Orwell's double-think and Machiavelli's concept of holding power through the fear of war. Fiction, fact...all jumbled together like a puddle of sick.

Watch enough of Tony Blair on television, though, and his mysteries would doubtless open up and reveal him as only too human. But the idea gives me the creeps, so it is back to the broadsheet I go. And when a person is seen only through the lens of newsprint, it is as if their lives are taking place in a concept novel. Pretty celebrities with legs that fall effortlessly out of Westwood gowns seem all too real because their photographs clog up every spare inch of the modern newspaper, confirming their minor existence in this dumb old world. But the political pages take place in a different reality, where the images play second fiddle to the words, which is where the confusion begins.

No...that's not right. This is a problem I have with Tony Blair...the rest of them are real enough. In Prescott's case, all too real. There's little that confirms somebody's existence more than a punch in the face, despite his cartoonish image as Stanley Unwin's scary Northern older brother. The problem Blair has is that he has been controlling and has been controlled since he came to power. He is both puppet and puppet master, both of whom have a creepy unreal ghost-house image. He is both writer and performer, Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey.

The irony of the last example is that they were designed to satirise reality. Whereas now we have reality satirising satire satirising reality. It's all too much. I think I need a lie down.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What Shall We Do To Noel Edmonds Today?

The internet is a terrible place to debate. If you want a serious argument with the intention of enjoying a gentlemanly contest of wits, you should burn your modem now and kick your computer in the tits.

If you debate something with a friend, that's all it is. A debate. But online it is war. There are no friends, only brothers in arms and enemies. The hate is tangible and speaks volumes. Be it veiled or naked, this is aggression in text form and depressing beyond belief. We treat anyone with the opposite opinion as a closed minded lowlife who can't argue properly.

So we say to hell with compromise, to hell with two or more people thrashing out a situation until some kind of new conclusion is reached...this is standing on a box in the street and trying to shout louder than the person opposite. This is not how arguments go in the pub.

Unfortunately, with the internet being populated with its own weird demographics, anywhere that on the surface appears to be a fertile ground for intelligent debate has the same depths of puerile point-scoring. One of the more frequent tribes in the area consists of 21 year old media professionals who think they have the angle on everything because they hate minor celebrities and say cunt a lot, because, y'know, Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker do. The humour here is heavy-handed and repetitive. One day it's a description of Noel Edmonds being graphically mutilated and killed, the next it's a description of Noel Edmonds being graphically killed and mutilated. Repeat until the sun explodes and the earth burns up.

Well...there's nothing wrong with this in essence. It's just another valid viewpoint after all, often conveniently muddied by reassuring references to satire and other Big Boy's Stuff. But the satire defence is not watertight. It takes frequent recourse to cheap, graceless writing that lacks imagination, whilst tossing out defences about the evils of censorship an' that onto the road behind them to fox their pursuers.

It is a pseudonymous minefield of image and one-upmanship. A tough, cynical facade put on by people who pride themselves on their intelligence and ability to debate properly. The twist is that the people involved are indeed intelligent, but they are as prone to twisted emotion and a hormonal fear of humility as anyone. And so the debates are as unsatisfying as a bunch of thirteen year olds arguing over music:

Music X rocks!!

No, it sucks!!



Your mom!!

Fuck you. Your mom too!!

You iz all fucked in the head, Wagner is a far more aesthetic composer.

Fred_Durst's_Teeth and Slit_Wristz:

The "intellectual" version uses bigger words and more convoluted sentences, but the form above can eventually be teased out. It begins with a couple of well constructed arguments from either side, and may even continue for a few posts with the participants responding to each argument with either counter-arguments or acknowledgments.

But soon enough the participants find a way to take it personally. From here we go downhill. Instead of "your argument is flawed because...", it becomes "YOU are flawed because..." They start to cram in as many snide remarks, pronouncements that they've won the argument because the other person misused a semi-colon, and long-winded attacks on the opponent's character based on one single sentence taken from the last post, utterly ignoring the actual argument put forward, as possible. Sarcasm is the weapon here, and tedium is the result.

Then it becomes an argument over the high ground. This part is won by the first person who claims they're above all this and they are not continuing to debate for one of the above stated reasons, before inexplicably adding a silly testosterone soaked and vaguely threatening comment along the lines of "I'm not looking to make friends here, if we met in real life you would be on the floor with a broken nose by now". Also, bonus points up for grabs to the first to accuse the other of being a nerd!

Crucially, no actual debating ever occurs, however intelligent the combatants decide they are. It is simply two academics throwing bits of screwed up paper at one another in the library until one flounces off in anger. Nobody ever gives any quarter to the opposition; they are simply there to be in the wrong and be told of their character flaws. They do not see them as friends or fellow intellects with whom to debate. They are The Enemy who needs to be Beaten. It is pathetic. And worst of all, it is boring.

Monday, September 26, 2005

War and Quiche

Hmm. My recent bulletins on food look self-obsessed and tiresome in retrospect, and I realise that I should get off my high horse and stop being such a goddamn ponce. So in this spirit of penitence I have prepared a short guide to how we Men should really cook. To hell with purple sprouting broccoli!

This guide is for all you Real Men who can't tell your butternut squash from your squashed nuts in butter, who find all this healthy seasonal eating a bunch of frou-frou crap, and who fear and revile the middle classes for snottily wanting to spend the money they earn on something that will make them happy. So wipe that KFC grease from your chapped lips and step this way; it's time to learn to Cook Like a Man!

Hetero Beans on Toast:
Get the LITTLE LADY to make you some beans on toast. If she refuses, or worse embellishes the dish with some PUFFY ROCKET SALAD, divorce her brains out.

A Meaty Stew:
Herbs? Herbs? Don't be so TITTING ridiculous. Only posh, pencil-necked NOBHEAD DICKWEEDS with great well-paying jobs, high levels of life satisfaction and other PUFFY STUFF use herbs. Just rip apart a roast joint (once the LITTLE WOMAN has cooked it, of course...you can't be expected to do ALL THE WORK around here, can you?) and pour gravy onto it. Use instant granules, not GAY proper gravy that tastes of something other than POO. Hey presto, a stew done the MAN way.

Fucking Great Pizza:
Ring up the pizza delivery shop (it's number 1 on your speed dial) and ask for their variation on the standard Fat Bastard Nothing But Meat Pizza that all pizza shops do. Ask for a LOVELY BIRD to do the deliverying instead of a spotty 17 year old boy who will obviously and cynically try and do THE SEX with your missus. When the LOVELY BIRD turns up, try and shag her. It's EQUALITY an' that.

Sausages and FUCK ALL:
Cook a sausage and shove it in your manly gob, possibly whilst playing the drums and dreaming of THE SEX.

Proper Curry:
First, ask yourself what flavour curry you want. Do you want it to taste like 5? 13? Or perhaps 21? Who cares, when LADY LUCK will dish out a tasty surprise on the sell-by-date bargain shelf at Sainsbury's. Ignore the troublesome words like Rogan Josh on the packet. These words are a conspiracy to confuse the HONEST ENGLISHMAN. It's all just bits of meat floating in juice after all, innit? Oh, and don't forget the fragrant pilau rice. IF YOU'RE A RAGING POOFTAH, that is.

A Can of Beer:
The dinner choice of the GENTLEMAN. Contains all the vitamins you need, all the water and, er, other life stuff. So why bother with anything else? Whilst enjoying your beer don't forget to shout boorishly at the Missus for no reason...after all, all this science need not worry her PRETTY LITTLE HEAD. So go ahead, crack open a can of Fosters and watch something on THE TELLY with BIG TITTIES in it.

Rainbow Trout en Papillote:
Cut out a large square shape from a piece of foil and a smaller square from a sheet of greaseproof paper. Line the foil with...hang about, is this...? Yes, it's a BASTARD RECIPE! What are you, a WRONG 'UN, or something? And just what the hell is this rainbow trout thingy? Sounds MADE UP to me. Go and put up some SHELVES, you traitor to all mankind.

There. It's not so difficult, is it? Now come on, pick up that flaming torch and those pitchforks, we're off to storm Castle Foodie and show those repulsive oiks why dying at 45 of a heart attack, in the shit-covered alley behind the kebab shop, is what makes us Proud to be Men...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Half Dozen of the Other

Corn on the cob is in season at the moment and I have two brown bags in the cupboard full of it. So for lunch I decided to keep it simple and lightly boil a cob, with plenty of butter, salt and pepper waiting in the wings.

But somewhere along the line, after I decided I make a salad to go on the side, the meal turned into cheese and pickle sandwiches. The corn on the cob sat forlornly beside them whilst a few tomatoes and bits of cucumber covered in balsamic vinegar looking on with incomprehension. It made litle sense and I cannot account for my actions.

I sat down to eat. It was turmoil. The sweetcorn held the sandwiches in a headlock whilst rubbing their heads with a clenched fist, the cheese was debagged and drop-kicked into a basketball hoop, and the tomatoes streaked through the whole rotten chaos with its underpants on its head. Somewhere nearby a cup of tea thinned its lips and went cold with impunity. A Mistake has been Made and I grinned weakly in the accusing spotlight.

Which was heartbreaking because the components of the meal were delicious. The sweetcorn was juicy and sweet. The pickle was tangy and moorish. And the balsamic vinegar was mellow and smooth. But put them together in a bear pit and they became a conceptual nightmare surpassed only by a Channel 5 show the other day in which several people were quoting Shakespeare at Brian Blessed from the backseat of the car as he drove erratically around an obstacle course. It was noisy, pointless rubbish and I couldn't look away. Perfect television to eat such car crash cookery by.

There was a reason that my meal went off on such a crooked tangent... ironically because of one of those "wow" moments in cookery. I had buttered some lousy sliced white bread and cut up some average mild cheddar. I had no intention of making sandwiches, but whilst waiting for the corn to cook I opened some Cunningham's sweet pickle and, man alive, this was the best tasting cheese and pickle I could remember. Sandwiches had to be made. I was powerless.

But to hell with it. I had only bought the sweetcorn because I had seen piles of it at Borough Market yesterday priced at one pound for four massive cobs. And the only reason I was there in the first place was for an experiment. An offhand comment I had read that morning about how English eggs taste of nothing led me to down tools and pick up the mighty staff of empirical science, marching proudly north to the market whilst an orchestra sawed out a bombastic refrain. Or, to put it more accurately, I caught the 21 bus to Moorgate and scratched my balls for twenty minutes.

It is notably impossible not to spend swathes of money at a market in which you are surrounded with screamingly fresh produce that actually tastes of something. It is even less possible not to spend swathes of money when so much of it costs a scout troop's worth of first born children, but what the hell...money really can buy you happiness on a warm September afternoon in London Bridge. So once I had the eggs I discovered that a bag of Cox's apples, some plum tomatoes, four sweetcorn cobs and some mushrooms had appeared in my basket.

And the eggs? Their shells are tall, thin and a remarkably pale brown, and their contents are delicious. To begin with I poached one and lay it on buttered toast, like I do so often in the morning. But normally I sprinkle on chilli sauce to make it a decent meal... this time, though, the eggs spoke for themselves. Hell, they sang for themselves. No salt, no pepper, and certainly no ketchup... every bite was a thing of beauty, each time I cut a piece of toast and dipped it in the shockingly yellow yolk a joy forever.

Indeed, and in an ideal world I would never buy a supermarket egg again. But then in an ideal world it would never occur to me to combine sweetcorn with cheese and pickle, so that's my lofty ideals buggered with a barge pole. Still, that simple poached egg was another wow moment... where a veil is taken away and the elusive joy of cookery hits you like a right hook. These moments are rare but like anything they can be teased out of hiding through practice and diligence and by willing to spend a little money in the first place. It is analogous to the moment in a great piece of music which makes the hairs on your neck rise. The planets align, the sun comes out and all is well with the world.

And it now occurs to me that this was supposed to be a post about writing a novel. Well, that's that sketch knackered. Perhaps next time.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A First Bite of Autumn

The first of the autumn dinners came off my stove top yesterday. A warming recipe of pan-fried lamb with a butternut squash mash and a couple of potatoes on the side. After tasting the sweet, nutty chunks of lightly boiled squash it seemed a shame to knock seven bells out of it using a potato masher, but this recipe was merciless. Brie, double cream, salt and black pepper...all contributing to a big sloppy mash that rolled across the plate like orange lava. It was a robust and fattening introduction to a vegetable I have never used before. As a result of the experience I will be using brer squash a hell of a lot in the coming season, this much I know.

Outside a sunny yet cool day was turning into evening. The leaves are still on the trees but something had changed. The tipping point was the end of the Ashes; it was once Flintoff finished waving drunkenly from the bus in Trafalgar Square. As we switched off our televisions or made our way back to our offices, the finger on the great clock ticked sonorously round and suddenly summer was over.

So rather than clinging shamefully onto our shorts and sandals, we throw our hands in the air in defeat and welcome autumn as a friend in all its colours. Our activities, our pace of life and our atmospheres all change, and one of the most evocative atmospheres is tied up with our food.

This is why I cook seasonally when I can; there is no other reason except to heighten the pleasure of the food. I have no other point to prove...and anyone who believes that somebody who dares to do more than microwave a ready meal is part of a middle class conspiracy to out-smug the rest of society under the sneeringly labelled "foodie" banner will be met with a tired sigh...and then thrown through the window. Nigel Slater, as ever, hits the nail on the head:

"There is something unshakeably right about eating food in season: fresh runner beans in July, grilled sardines on a blisteringly hot August evening, a bowl of gently aromatic stew on a rainy day in February. Yes, it is about the quality of the ingredients too, their provenance and the way they are cooked, but the very best eating is also about the feeling that the time is right." -- Nigel Slater, the Observer.

He is right. But I am trapped like a rat in a flat in south east London, with no garden and little money. Just cooking a hotpot in September like I did today is not enough. There was no mist outside, no roaring fire and the promise of a glass of single malt inside. This is the underlying problem with these atmospheres... they are ideals, half-imagined and half-remembered memories of how it should be but rarely is.

Atmospheres, it seems, are not an external-only construct. They live in our heads just as much as they do out there in the real world. They are the soul of photographs, the streets in which old films are set, the Dickensian snow scene in a Christmas card. Ah, but I do not want to warm my hands on that flame for too long because I will be repeating myself from old posts.

But what the hell, eh? There are many atmospheres in autumn to look forward to, many of them seen as cliches but haunting nonetheless. The smell of the first bonfire as the sun goes down, the sound of wistful old jazz musicians blowing a emotive lament, the sight of a cluster of mushrooms perched precariously on the knot of an old tree, the taste of tart blackberries picked from a place of which only you know...the list is endless and hopelessly sentimental. But there is no shame in working with the world instead of cocooning yourself against it, no matter how inured you pride yourself on being against such fey nonsense. Get a grip... get atmospheric. It tastes so much better.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Another Gutter Gurgling

MP George Galloway and journalist Christopher Hitchens went head to head the other day. Should we care? Like Al Fayed versus Neil Hamiltion, neither party appeals. Rather than two bald men fighting over a comb, we have two wankers fighting over a box of Kleenex. But it is fascinating to watch precisely the sort of arguments that I normally rail against. To hell with debate, logic and reason...this is animal fury in action, a kind of Victorian fairground sideshow of freaks that terrifies anyone with a shred of humanity. Everone's welcome to this circus...just bring out your box of personal abuse, snide speeches and big, elephant-sized fallacies that sit in the room and trumpet endlessly. For some extended analysis on this shrill puppet-show read this, while the full encounter is transcripted here.

"Each gutter you find yourself in," said Hitchens, "there's another gutter gurgling underneath." Pointless on so many levels, but the twisted poetry here is impressive.

Anyway. Let us leave that there and wallow in our own gutters. Television, anyone? Once upon a few years ago I came within a hair's breadth from becoming a Programme Researcher for the BBC in Manchester. It was the wrong side of the Pennines but it was one hell of a job. In simple terms you sat in smoke-filled rooms and thrashed out the next big thing, new programmes that would grab you by the tits and never let go.

Well...in theory. The job went to one of the others with whom I attended the group interview. It is simple to dissect why I did not get the job; perhaps it was panicking over the question "what television programme has impressed you the most recently?" Be aware that the answer to this question is not, not, not Big Brother. Trust me.

Or perhaps it was the group exercise in which we brainstormed a new Saturday evening family programme. Well, it was awful. Some kind of fucked-up Frakenstein's monster emerged from that room that day and went on a rampage in downtown Common Sense. Indeed, we spent an hour or so coming up with a medieval roadshow hosted by Brian Blessed. It was awful. We were all too conscious of the whole interview process...a roomful of people trying to be the leader without dominating proceedings. Ye gods, the amount of passive-aggressive energy in that room could have powered a city the size of New York for a month. It was awful.

This is all irrelevant, though. I may not be a programme researcher but you do not to be one to see how the commission process works. Take a corpse, strip off the skin, graft on a new skin and paint up the face with this season's colours. It is a foul and ungodly process and one in thrall to the shitty god of demographics. So we need a new way of programme design. Opposites. Take a popular show and come up with the precise opposite...and we're not talking Husband Swap here.

Take a gameshow...Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And we reverse the son of a bitch. We have people getting money in the original show, so what we need is a show in which people give money away. Some kind of charity affair but with added cruelty. You take a rich personality and get him to hold some weird vaudeville audition in which the poor and hungry do their little dances and humiliate themselves in a variety of sub-music hall acts. The most degraded gets the cash.

But you see the problem. The concept has gone full circle; if only it wasn't the concept of every gameshow ever, we would be onto something. Then you realise the underlying futility of opposites...the ones that make sense have already been done. In Casualty a life is saved whilst a bunch of people have relationships. In CSI a life is taken whilst a bunch of people don't have relationships. In Bad Lad's Army a bunch of thugs are disciplined for saying the wrong thing, whilst in Richard and Judy a bunch of ineffectual lightweights are given free reign to say the wrong thing over and over again.

The trouble is that all this is conceptual fuckwittery. The best television has ideas, it tells good stories and does not recourse to conceits. "Wouldn't it be cool if...?" No, it wouldn't. It never is.

Good television is also expensive and not easy to watch when stuffing your face with cake and scratching your balls whilst perusing the listings for something unchallenging. There is little incentive to make, or to buy this stuff in from America, when the gutter is not on television, but gurgling out of our heads and through our front rooms past the piles of empty pizza boxes and discarded copies of the News of the World. We need to see television as we do other media...something we actively choose instead of being a default state. It may not result in an instant utopia, a golden age of intelligent storytelling, but it may do away with most of ITV in a second.

Ooh, cheap shot there. Ye gods, maybe I have more in common than George Galloway than I thought. And that really does scare me.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Shave and a Haircut

The hire van screeches away in a cloud of dust and before you know it there's somebody new in the apartment block. Peering through the curtains tells you one thing. Ye gods! She has a figure like sex appeal is about to be rationed. Suddenly all the old detective films pop like fireworks in your head and all your metaphors become world-weary and about guns.

So you must introduce yourself. But you are too busy considering the unimportant things like what you should say to her. Big mistake, sonny. Knocking on their door, this is where the expert shines. The limp-wristed tappers have no place at our table. Thunderous rappers are equally unlikely to eat our crumbs. What you need is a carefully thought out combination knock that suggests you are both sensitive and confident. And that you have hands with which to caress that tear of joy on her apple-blossom cheek. So let us examine this concept before night falls and we all piss off to watch CSI. Those knocking combinations in full:

Knock: what the hell are you, stupid? This sounds more like a body falling lifeless to the floor than an attempt at ingress. More likely to put the girl of your dreams in the asylum than in the mood.

Knock, knock: the prim knock of attempted authority. Usually followed by a thin-lipped and nasal "I know you're in there. You still haven't taken your wheelie bin off the street, have you?" Will put the knockee in a defensive mood and your attempts at introducing yourself / borrowing sugar / getting a hot spoonful of giddy-up action will end in a limp apology and an embarrassed exit.

Knock-knock: more informal than the previous one in which the speed is crucial to ensure you don't appear like a schoolmistress whose hair bun is pulled too tight. The problem here is the implied over-efficiency of the knock. It says you are on a schedule and don't understand the meaning of "I'm not in, and certainly not hiding behind the sofa until you piss off." Best avoided because they're going to think you're fundraising for the Nazi party.

Knock, knock-knock: on first impression an impressively casual knock that doesn't sound too cheesy, but nobody would actually do this one. It's unnatural. It's too thought out, too prepared, and if we really want to delve into the psyche of the terminally neurotic, what if the first lonely knock implies a lack of courage before you are able to build up to a proper double knock? Eh? Eh? You have no chance with HER, you bloody loser.

Knock-knock, knock: a good, casual knock that doesn't sound prepared. It suggests you just happened to be passing and decided to spread a smile and some happiness by welcoming the new person to the neighbourhood. And the aftershave? Why, that just happened to fall onto my face in some kind of weird reverse gravity accident.

Knock-knock-knock-knock: open up, it's the filth! Guaranteed to get her leaping out of the window with her stash flushed down the toilet, you cruel idiot. One step down from pissing through her letterbox. No, that is not a euphemism.

Knock, knock-knock-knock, knock: physically impossible. You will be unable to resist adding the response "knock knock". Cheesy and unlovable. Wear a cartoon character tie on top of this and you will be getting as much sex tonight as a gas oven full of shit.

Knock, knock, knock-knock-knock: Yeah, bombard her with boorish terrace chic. Unless you've seen her guzzling down a meat pie floating in Bovril, steer clear of this. Besides...there's a sense of self-consciousness here. It tells her you've been thinking about it and want to appear a real "character". But let me tell you about another man who was seen as a bit of a character. His name was Adolf Hitler. Think on, fascist.

Ring: oooh, monkey found the doorbell at last. Well done. You've earned a banana and a night of hot ape loving.

On the other hand, stop over-thinking and just talk to her. Seriously, this is too much. Get a grip.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Never Apologise, Never Explain

Now the shock of the New Orleans disaster is subsiding, if not the water, the focus is now on how much worse the disaster has been because of the governmental response. This is not opportunist Bush-hating to score political points; the case against Bush makes itself without intervention from critics of the GOP.

Now Bush cowers in the White House and realises for the first time that he has enemies beyond the liberal media. In the past he has always known without a shadow of a doubt that he is Doing Good, with any and all criticism being from silly democrats playing in a pond too big for them. He is after all on a mission from god. So when an act of god destroys one of his cities, no wonder he is floundering like a fish on the river bank.

This sense of realisation is highlighted now that he has made enemies in the midst of his own supporters. Even his support in the right-wing section of the media is running its collective finger round its suddenly too tight collar. He cannot hide behind patriotism this time because this is a natural phenomenon occuring on his home turf, and there are no bogeymen to blame...except his own policy makers.

No, wait... He's found someone to blame. "Bush administration officials yesterday blamed state and local officials for the delays in bringing relief to New Orleans, as the president struggled to fend off the most serious political crisis of his presidency." -- The Guardian (source). This contrasts sharply with the stunning and powerful response by New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in an interview with his local radio station, transcribed here.

The Guardian report also mentions that "Mr Bush was castigated for saying on Wednesday: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees". It was pointed out that there had been a string of investigations and reports in recent years which had predicted the disaster almost exactly."

There have indeed been many reports. Such as the report from last year by the American Society of Civil Engineers that said "Human activity, directly or indirectly, has caused 1,500 square miles of natural coastal barriers to be eroded in the past 50 years. Human activity has clearly been a significant factor in coastal Louisiana land losses, along with subsidence, saltwater intrusion, storm events, barrier island degradation, and relative sea level changes," adding that "New Orleans and surrounding areas would now experience the full force of hurricanes, including storm surges that top levee systems and cause severe flooding as well as high winds".(source)

Ah, but one cannot hide from criticism forever. "The results are not acceptable," Bush said.

Yes, he's gone for stating the fucking obvious without accepting any blame whatsoever. Ye gods, even Tony Blair has managed an apology on this one. Bush has contributed nothing of benefit whatsoever to the aftermath, merely spent his time managing and protecting his political career. Meanwhile, people are still dying.

Truly unbelievable.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

When The Levees Break

In many ways I am a straightforward man and my thoughts are not ponderous. Questions do not haunt me. If they did I would be lying on the floor right now, my head full of crippling electricity as I failed to answer why a litre of water frequently pours out of the light fitting in the toilet. Or why I cannot make this didgeridoo make a noise beyond the sound of someone blowing a raspberry into a Pringles can.

But eighty percent of New Orleans is currently underwater. This has shaken me despite being sitting here in comfort, staring west through a seventeen inch LCD window. But I am guilty here of weird thoughts. The tragedy of the situation hits me through a sense of academic reasoning...it is tragic because a lot of people have died and many more have lost their homes. But emotionally I feel detached.

A sliding scale of importance exists in these situations. A flooded city 5000 miles is less important to the observer as a flooded town 1000 miles away, which is less important than a flooded village 100 miles away, which is less important than a flooded toilet 10 yards away. We would not function if this were not so. A terrible statement that is nevertheless true. This is the abstraction of tragedy; holding the pain in our hands is difficult until we have found the personal connection...a friend of a friend who lives in Boscastle, or even the fact that we travelled through a tube station an hour before a bomb went off.

Ye gods, that was an unpleasant paragraph and I do not know whether I believe it or not now that it is staring reproachfully back at me from the screen. The human brain needs a jolt, though. It is assaulted with sensory overload from all directions, being filled with extremes from violent, noisy films and whatever, and this acts as a barrier when something horribly real happens. It takes the human angle, the tearful woman on the news screaming about her lost husband to the news reporter or a phone call from a friend who was near the site of the accident and wanted to let you know he was all right, before the mental levee is breached. Again, this is the insulation we use to survive, to get through our day without falling into a paralysis of empathy. Hmm...in fact, after seeing the former on the news last night I did indeed feel the jump-leads kickstarting an emotional reaction in my otherwise detached head.

Hang on..."detached head?" That cannot be right... But it amuses me and I will leave it there unedited.

Much is made of displays of national grief, such as after Princess Diana's death, and Rosie Boycott spoke of this in a programme last night in a piece that did little but rehash old arguments (and also in an article the week before in the Observer that existed precisely and in its entirely to promote her programme). What she forgets is that she is part of media that artificially built the woman up into a goddess. And it is the same media that now sneers at the nation for reacting to the death of this goddess. Media on media wankery. Ah, but this cannot excuse easily led people from lapping this hero worship shit up with tongues the size of surfboards. To hell with them and their tiresome neediness.

Now, those weird thoughts I mentioned earlier were more than just to do with the tragedy of the situation and this is what I was going to write about until that jumbled mess above got in the way. The most weird of these thoughts is perhaps inexcusable, and that is the giddy little thrill from witnessing a completely changed landscape. The ordinary becoming alien, a fresh and emotionally charged layer of atmosphere building up. The same is true with a landscape under snow. The atmosphere is completely changed not just visually, but in our hearts and souls, our emotional centres. We are also changed.

Mother of shitty death! I can hear air being sucked through teeth from here... So before this turns into a spiritual nosebleed of gibberish, I must qualify it. An atmosphere that pushes the right buttons is one that makes us react, charges us with thoughts and feelings that a landscape with no atmosphere cannot provide. But the landscape alone does not provide the atmosphere, otherwise all we have is an exercise in filling the gaps. Knowledge is crucial to the atmosphere, the keystone that keeps it in place. A misty graveyard is strangely moving, but unless you know a few stories about the place, a handful of legends or a superstition or two, then all you have is an abstract sense of how photogenic the place looks. Place is nothing without a mental connection, particularly a personal connection...which is something the best filmmakers know by heart. But that is another subject entirely.

Okay. I am trying to avoid trivialising the floods in New Orleans, but I am doing so simply by writing this thing. I have no connection to the situation, I am just using it as a springboard for another thousand words of relentless jabbering. So the best thing I can do now is lie down and shut up forever. Or, at least, for another few days.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bare Bones Capital

Other acronyms are available.

Yes, a vaguely cryptic opening there to an experimental attempt at something that has been done before in a variety of different disguises. What we have here is a way of examining the London I have poked around recently without re-reviewing the wheel. So we will limit ourselves to descriptions of six words or less. This is a hopeless steal of the three word film reviews that exists somewhere out there on the Internet, but what the hell. We will do this in alphabetical order because it pleases the eye.

Borough Market: Tour, enjoy, pay through the nose.
Camden Town: Tribal student clothing and cheap didgeridoos.
Covent Garden: Mostly irritating.
East London: Don't bother straying from the river.
Greenwich: Why won't dogs leave me alone?
Kew Gardens: It's under a fucking flight path.
London Eye: Goes round in a big circle.
Notting Hill Carnival: Funky despite being squashed to fuck
Old Kent Road: Traffic lights and takeaways.
Oxford Street: Some shops.
Putney: Not Richmond, except the bar prices.
Richmond: Clue's in the title.
Shoreditch / Hoxton: A rich, dribbling and spent phallus.
Soho: Both refreshingly cheap and crushingly expensive.
South East London: Absolutely fuck all south of SE1.

Ye gods, once I have deleted all the white space there is little left. Which, since it is a bank holiday, will give you all the more time to decorate the spare room. Get to it, you idle fox.