The government blame game about the floods is in full spate. Eric Pickles is a penitent convert to dredging. ‘For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong,’ H.L. Mencken said. The Somerset Levels have been flooding regularly since well before the Domesday Book. Pumping has been going on for almost 200 years. But once the media have got a grip, scapegoats must be found. I expect that a Public Inquiry will be announced soon, ostensibly ‘to get to the truth’ but really to kick everything into touch. More »
Instructions for building an ark
When that I was and a little tiny boy, or at any rate about 14 years old, I was deeply disconcerted by J.G. Ballard’s novel The Drowned World, set in a London submerged by the melting of the polar icecaps under a tropical swamp. Now I see it for the utopian dream it was – tropical? We should be so lucky. Hey ho, the wind and the rain.
Fantasies of inundation are deeply embedded. According to Irving Finkel, in his new book The Ark before Noah, around 300 flood narratives have been documented in different cultures, across every continent. More »
On Wednesday 29 January, 150 students from around the country met at Birmingham University to discuss the next steps in their campaigns against the privatisation of education, outsourcing of university services and selling off of student debt. After the meeting, the students picked up red and black flags, put on masks and marched around the campus. Some unfurled a banner from the top of Old Joe, the university’s clock tower named after Joseph Chamberlain. Others spray painted and chalked slogans onto the red brick walls: ‘Occupy, Strike, Resist’; ‘No more 1984.’ When protesters tried to enter university buildings, security tried to stop them. There was some pushing and shoving. Soon the police arrived. A university spokesperson later said that ‘the university had no choice but to ask the police for assistance in restoring order and protecting students, staff and university property.’ More »
Publicity materials for The Room, an independently financed ‘emotional drama’, began to appear in Los Angeles in the spring of 2003. Postcards turned up in restaurant toilets, there were late-night TV ads, and on 1 April a poster featuring a giant mugshot of Tommy Wiseau – the film’s writer, director, producer and star – went up on a billboard on Highland Avenue in Hollywood, where it stayed for five years. More »
Among the alleged thirty billion dollars’ worth of inflated contracts, self-dealing, kick-backs, crooked tenders and orgiastic waste that have made the Sochi Olympics cost more than all previous winter games put together, what stands out is the sheer brazenness of the whole thing. ‘The Sochi Olympics reveal the dark heart of Putin’s Russia,’ Panorama concluded on 27 January. But nobody is really bothering to hide it. The Kremlin knows it doesn’t matter how much is stolen or siphoned away: Gazprom will still control energy in Europe, Berlin will still appease Putin, Brussels will still roll over, London will still yearn for oligarchs’ money. More »
As the referendum on independence approaches, another movement for self-determination in Scotland is gaining momentum. At the end of last year, David Cameron (no relation) gave me a tour of the Isle of Harris, which is at the heart of a drive to buy back the land from private landowners. Cameron is the chair of Community Land Scotland, which encourages communities to buy the land they live on and place it in the hands of democratically elected trusts. More »
‘I like heckling, polite heckling,’ George Galloway told me over a cup of tea in an Edinburgh hotel yesterday afternoon. A couple of hours later, the MP for Bradford West prowled onto the stage at the Assembly Rooms dressed like a white soul singer – black fedora, black jacket, white shirt pinned with portcullis cufflinks – to the sound of Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’. Outside, a dozen or so members of the far-right Scottish Defence League shouted ‘George Galloway betrays his own country’ and waved Union flags. When I tried to take a photograph one rushed towards me bawling ‘Next time there’ll be violence.’ A larger counterdemonstration chanted ‘Master race, you’re having a laugh.’
In The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, Slavoj Žižek takes a scalpel to the late Soviet period. The surface, spoken ideology, Žižek argues, was not what actually held the system together. You could joke about ‘great leaders’ and the inadequacies of Marxist economics: the system let you have a giggle. The real holy of holies was the idea of the narod (‘common people’), in whose name the leadership could validate any action. Thus the deeply subversive nature of Milos Forman’s early, Czechoslovak films such as The Firemen’s Ball, which portrayed the narod as stupid, greedy, ugly. This was a cut the system couldn’t take and Forman had to leave.
Over the last few days Russia’s only independent (and really rather small) TV channel, TV Rain, was accused by the Kremlin of stepping ‘beyond the limits of the permissible’. Most cable carriers dumped the station, leaving it in crisis and its future under serious question. More »
Imagine if a prominent Member of Parliament openly declared Pakistanis a ‘cancer in our body’. Shortly afterwards, she apologises for this remark – to cancer victims. Not only does the MP keep her job, she escapes any official rebuke at all. At around the same time, Molotov cocktails are thrown through the window of a nursery school attended by the children of asylum seekers in a poor part of London. A month later, there’s a violent riot against asylum seekers on a bloody night of looting, assaults and broken glass. Taxis and buses are stopped and searched for ethnic minorities; one of the rioters wears a T-shirt saying ‘Death to Pakistanis’; women voicing support for asylum seekers are told they should be raped; agitators make monkey noises at a group of black asylum seekers; and throughout, during the beatings and window-smashing and racist chanting, the police stand aside, looking on. More »
Tony Blair flew into Cairo on Wednesday to offer his support to the administration, to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood and to hold talks on the country’s growing problem with an al-Qaida-linked Islamist insurgency. ‘We should support those people in the region who want the open-minded society and the modern economy. That means we support the government here in Egypt,’ he told Sky News Arabia. More »