Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bye Bill

Bill Hicks.

Gone, much-missed and never forgotten. I can’t even figure out which is my favourite line of his, they are all on the internet, so as it is Sunday you should settle down and watch the whole lot.  Perhaps today it is this:

Anybody can be a bum; all it takes is the right girl, the right bar and the right friends

Here he is from Letterman in 1989:

Bye Bill.


Filed under The Golden Country

Get angry

I know, it’s the weekend.  You want to be relaxing, chilling, letting it all go.

But you can’t.

You have to read this.  And then try to find an answer to the question: why is nobody from Wall Street going to jail?

Perhaps someone with superior economics knowledge to mine can explain why pensioners, little kids, the unemployed and disabled people are paying for this crisis with life-supporting services while the architects of the mayhem are pocketing our money,  dancing off with it to the Caymans and setting us up for more of the same the next time they break the casino wheel?

If you weren’t already angry, now is the time to feel the ire.

Films found via @hangbitch

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Laughter lines

All day long I hear people speaking a language that isn’t my own. I know I should be picking more of it up, like my peers I should be attending classes and using books and podcasts to brush up on my knowledge. I have been here for six months and am yet to get beyond the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ stage. It is typical English laziness to expect people to speak your language wherever you go. Not to mention a real shame to be missing out on all the possible interactions. Yet, I confess to sometimes liking the lack of having a clue. Enjoying the floating along in a river of sounds that I can neither decipher nor respond to, so do not have to tune into. I can bathe in them, lost in my own thoughts, without risk of overhearing something that might jolt me out of the reverie.

So I was walking out of the toilets in the shopping centre, heading back to work and musing on something and nothing, when a tiny old lady grabbed my arm and said something in rapid Japanese that I didn’t catch a word of. She had intruded so completely into my daydream that I wondered how much shock was etched across my face. We were passing the outer room of the toilet, a place of brown tiles and endless mirrors reflecting back at themselves. Other women were walking through, washing their hands or touching up their make-up, while trying in a very Japanese way not to look at the possible scene that the old lady and I were about to create.

I took all this in within a second then glanced back at her. I almost had to bend double to get my face close to hers, she was so little. Her face was a web of lines, crinkling up from the eyes and curving all around her mouth. Looking at her I felt reassured in my determination to be not as afraid of the ravages of old age as the skin care adverts want me to be. It was clear the lines had been worn by the laughter of a lifetime’s good experiences rather than by its cares. It was a comforting thought, knowing that one day I will be the older lady in this scene, speaking to a younger girl who will maybe understand, maybe won’t. The young are always too self-absorbed to hear the wisdom of the old, even when there is the benefit of a shared language.

Perhaps that is as it should be.

She clutched my arm again, with a firm but warm grip. Her eyes as they met mine gleamed and sparkled so much that it almost made the years melt away so that I could see the cheeky young girl she must have been once, back when the Showa Emperor was young. Japanese people’s ages are impossible to guess with any accuracy, I am always at least 10 or 20 years out when I try. So when I say that she looked like she could be anywhere between 80 and 90, you know that she was of a good age. As her hand touched me I got a sense of all the years and events that had passed between her time and mine. Then it dawned on me.

Given that her head was about level with my waist, the only thing she could have been saying was something along the lines of ‘look at how tall you are and how little I am, what on earth have they been feeding you in your country to let you grow so big!’ She grinned and I smiled down at her from my great – if only for Japan – height, before we nodded and went our separate ways.


Filed under Japan

The Simple, Angry Men Of 10 O’Clock Live

Julia hasn’t been watching a lot of UK television lately, so here’s writer Nick Bryan with a guest post on Channel 4’s latest attempt to ‘do’ politics:

Like many in the left-leaning, Twitter-abusing internet world, I’ve been watching Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live with interest. Featuring high-profile funny folk taking a swipe at the news, it seems to have launched well.

People are watching it, there are the speed bumps you’d expect from a live transmission written in a hurry, but I think it hits the mark more than it misses. Still, as the weeks go by, I start to feel they might be punching at straw men a little.

I’m not a radicalised liberal. I possess many such opinions but don’t need to take to the streets and enforce them with my fists. So although it is irritating when hardline conservatives (note the lower case C) portray all Muslims as terrorists or all disabled people as lazy, it’s also annoying when their opponents portray David Cameron as a cackling super-villain, or all bankers as snickering pigs.

At this point, I’d like to go beyond 10 O’Clock Live, as they are merely a high-profile example. If left-leaning folk want me to dislike the coalition government (and I sense that they do), explain to me properly why I should stir my venom.

Otherwise, even if I find you amusing on TV or read your column for a laugh whilst procrastinating, I’m still going to write your sincere point off as the rantings of a psychopath in the end. You mustn’t stop trying to be rational because you think most of your audience are already sympathetic.

It is possible to pull off a rant with a persuasive serious point, in fact David Mitchell did a sterling job on a recent 10 O’Clock Live, but once it spills over into raving venom, you lose your audience. Yes, I know what satire is, but putting mean words next to David Cameron’s face isn’t cunning subversion.

In fact, much like the politicians themselves running for election, you have to appeal to the centre. We live in a country where the S*n is the best-selling newspaper by far. Don’t be fooled by the disproportionate number of lefty media types on Twitter, the liberals are vastly outnumbered.

So preaching to the choir isn’t going to get your online petition up to the amount of signatures needed for anyone to give a damn. And if all this turns into a full-on hate campaign against David Cameron, it’s going to energise support for him anyway; we British love an underdog.

Be smart. Stop gibbering at me.

So what do you think? Is there a place for a good, smart funny rant at Cameron’s expense on prime time TV, or is it just pandering to the gallery? Let us know in the comments


Filed under Minitrue

Places I remember

The Level will always be Brighton in its purest form to me.

This is it I think, not the beach, the piers, the lanes, but this roughly set out park.  Maybe because I used to live near it and walked through or round it on many moon and street-lit evenings.  The way the light shifted as I walked under the floodlights gave it a mystical quality that survives in my mind.  Maybe I liked it so much because it was a world apart.  The crowded roads enclosing it, with their narrow, jam-packed houses and streets full of parked cars, then the huge flat space, the trees that lined it cutting you off from reality.

When you walked across it late at night, from the diagonal corners between Viaduct Road and Southover Street, it seemed huge and the walk took forever.  The noise of the traffic faded and the city seemed still.  Even though you knew it was unlikely, it felt like everyone was asleep.  You could have been walking on the moon.  I loved everything about that walk.  The moment always felt private, a fleeting secret pleasure in the busy town.

One of the paths used to have these words painted in bold white paint on the grey tarmac: ‘how could you do this to me?’  It was brutal.  It never failed to set off a long train of thought, essentially boiling down to who had done what to whom?  When I first saw it I assumed it was new, raw, an open wound for all to walk over, treading their disregard into the pain.  It started to fade, then was covered up and it was only after it had gone that I realised it could have been written at any time in the past thirty years.  Unchanging, the things we are capable of doing to each other.

Then there are the things I did there.  Chatting with a group of now-scattered friends as night fell.  Throwing up on the waltzers at the fair after one too many.  Watching a new boyfriend play football in the rain, as I spoke to a friend I hadn’t seen for too long on my mobile, getting steadily drenched.  Mostly it is the solitary, past-midnight walks I remember, with the Level to myself and only the moon and Elm Grove keeping watch over me, as I crossed the park to home.

Photograph by very kind permission of the wonderful Scarlet Traces (@scarlettraces on Twitter)


Filed under The Golden Country

Hate highlights – 13 February

A round up of the sites and articles I have been reading this week:

  1. Egyptian journalist 3 Arabawy for the latest from Tahrir Square.  He also has some awe-inspiring photographs from earlier in the protests and is worth following on Twitter, if you aren’t already!
  2. Culturejammers Adbusters were less than amused with the Huffington Post’s multi-million dollar sale to AoL
  3. Back in the UK, Hangbitch reported on the reality behind the posturing in Ringside at the Big Society circus
  4. Phil at Truth, Reason and Liberty dissected the figures behind the Mail’s latest hysteria over benefit ‘cheats’
  5. UK Uncut and Beyond Clicktivism issued a call to arms.

Also, five picks from ten minutes hate:

  1. Hide your wallets!  It’s pocket-picking time again as the bankers decide that remorse is for losers
  2. Examining the obstacles blocking any chance of real reform in the state of us
  3. Joyfully spotting hints of spring
  4. …before realising it was a dangerous case of speaking too soon
  5. Hate your job?  Advice available here.

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Speaking too soon

Well, I thought it might happen.  This is what follows when you get excited about Spring in February:

Yep, that’s snow.  Although I suppose at least if you made orange juice it would be cold…

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The state of us

It is becoming increasingly clear that the things we need to have happen in order for a fairer, more just society to emerge, from economic reforms to climate change measures, as well as improvements in education, health and social care are further away than ever.  The systems of government hamper more than they help, either by way of elected officials for reasons of ideology or because they are in the thrall of lobbyists or the Sir Humphreys of this world:

Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy


Regaining control will be more of a headache than marking an ‘X’ every five years and expecting that to do.  It requires engagement and understanding and other words which have become sullied by overuse in the kind of overeager council leaflet often used to line kitty litter trays.  But if the last nine months have shown anything, it is that the kind of people who seek elected office can in no way be trusted with the responsibility of it.

On everything from tax kickbacks for the rich to flogging off the forests, our ‘leaders’ are dangerously out of step with what rational thoughts and future generations require.  To justify it they point to a woeful majority of voters who agree with some of their policies, although not many of these were explicitly laid out in the manifesto.  They can ignore scientists, economists and the advice of history as they run amok and seek to dismantle in months what it took our forefathers generations to establish.  The only response we have is to change them for another, similar shower in different coloured rosettes with slightly nuanced policy differences in half a decade.

It’s almost enough to make you turn to drink

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Pocket-picking time again

They say everyone has 20:20 hindsight, but with each new report that is released it becomes clear that the only sensible response to the financial crisis that began in 2007 is:

are you taking the piss?

Because it is increasingly apparent that, yes, in fact, they are.  Governments across the globe are expecting the poorest and those most in need of help to pay for the clear up while the bankers skip off to the Cayman Islands with suitcases full of our cash and an entreaty that the blame culture must end:

There was a period of remorse and apology; that period needs to be over

– Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, quoted in Private Eye No 1280

If nothing else, you have to admire their chutzpah.

A reasonably well-connected friend told me back then that the credit crunch was being talked into existence.  I wasn’t sure I believed her, worrying that certain banks were too big to fail and about what might follow if they were allowed to collapse and take millions of ordinary worker’s savings, pensions and mortgages down with them.  In my naivety I might have expected an ounce of fucking gratitude for the largesse we showed in saving the bankers from the abyss.  Not a bit of it, if it was given at all it was begrudged and now, apparently, it’s over.

Instead of remorse, what we get are lectures from the decks of their super-yachts, moored off the coast of the latest tax haven, on why the need for austerity has added hospitals to the list of things now to be considered luxury items.  As noted by the Anarchist Writers:

it is hard to tell whether the Con-Dems stupidity is driven by class interest, incompetence, ideological blindness, economic illiteracy, or a Machiavellian wish to use crisis to pursue market-fundamentalist social engineering. Probably a mishmash of all with the incompetence, ideology and illiteracy helpfully deepening the crisis which can be used as an excuse to impose neo-liberal dreams and ensure the rich get richer

Clearing the deficit at a speed that terrifies most economists certainly seems to be their obsession, the gloss of prudent financial management given to an ideological mission to roll back every advance the working class has won for itself over the last 60 years, while allowing the looting of the global economy to continue unchecked.

Why should we break our backs stupidly paying tax?

Of course, as the rich and the corporations they control demand and get ever more lenient tax regimes, some idiot has to be found to make up the shortfall.  Guess who is in the frame?  So work becomes more and more like this, with the sting of a reduction in take home pay and the removal of services your taxes used to cover.  Remember who you’re working for:

But don’t fear!  We still have a gazillion pounds to spend on the Olympics, millions more to set up the organisation to monitor MP’s expenses and a few quid left over for some really nice chairs.

I wonder what will be our tipping point, what will see us head for the streets, when Mubarak is estimated to have accumulated 40-70 billion dollars from his reign in Egypt, an astronomical sum but one dwarfed by the quids our rulers have handed over to their mates in the pin-stripes.  Maybe it’s time to start building the barricades?

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Hints of Spring

Wandering around Tokyo over the last day or two and the weather has definitely felt a little warmer, not that we are breaking out the flip-flops just yet, but if you have to take off a mitten for a minute to get some change out of your pocket you don’t instantly feel the digits drain of blood, which is encouraging.  (Cue snowfall brought about by this post!)

Recently one of my students mentioned a poem by Shelley which she told me was very popular in Japan, and which ends with the words:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

She told me it was also encouraging, because however much you feel as if you are in the depths of a Narnian endless Winter, the longer it goes on for, the closer you must be getting to Spring.

And bearing all that in mind, I was further encouraged when I looked into the poem, Ode to the West Wind, a little more (ok, looked it up on Wikipedia!) and read that it was written by Shelley in 1819, not long after the Peterloo Massacre.  The Spring he is anticipating is not only the temporal one, but also an awakening to reform and revolution, with the wind bringing a message of change as it travels.

So it is with a fervent hope that the events of this weekend can see a wind of change reach us all, along with the warmer summer breezes we have missed out on over the last couple of months.  And if that is not a perfect excuse to link to the following video, I don’t know what is.

Enjoy the weekend!


Filed under Japan