One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Steal this book!

I've recently read 'Bash the Rich: The True-Life Life Confessions of an Anarchist' by Ian Bone, and I feel so strongly about it that I'm moved to give it a review here.

For those who don't know the name, Bone was one of the prime movers of the Class War anarchist group, active in the 1980's. Anyone with in the UK who was at all involved in protest politics will have had at least a passing knowledge of this group. They could be seen, menacing black flags held aloft and usually surrounded by police, at all the major demonstrations. They had a something of a reputation as nihilistic troublemakers, equally ready to have a pop at trendy lefties as at Thatcher's blue legions. I've nothing against political violence, properly applied, so I approached the book with a desire to hear things from their point of view, to understand something of their political philosophy.

Jaysus, but it's one piss-poor book. Let's deal with the editing first. I'll admit that I'm as prone to error as anyone and I can't proof read for shit - but that someone is actually credited as having edited this book defies the imagination. There are numerous repetitions. It would probably been useful to settle on a single spelling for 'Alsation' (they only get it right twice). And some basic fact checking, puh-lease! Like a slightly more accurate account of the start of the Brixton Riots.

So on to Bone. He explicitly states that he and his comrades were uninterested in political philosophy (although he's happy enough to parade his erudition with references to Bakhunin, Makhno, Durutti Reich), concentrating instead on direct action and agitation. Yes, we all bought Class War from time to time. We all gasped in amazement/ had a giggle at the 'Hospitalised Copper' feature. But what did the Class War group actually achieve. Did they radicalise the miners*? Are you kidding?! Did they galvanise the inner cities? I suggest not. Indeed, in the case of the miners, I suggest that far more practical good was done by the support groups organised by the very groups that Bone would have despised as ineffective. So by Bone's own account, their remaining contribution to The Struggle seems to stand at the (admittedly amusing) Situationism of Henley; a couple of hopelessly disorganised 'Bash the Rich' marches which singularly failed to leave the affluent quaking in their boots; some minor skirmishing on the fringes of the Second Brixton Insurrekshan (and why do I have the feeling their contribution may have been over-glamorised?)...and some low-level bonfire night rowdyism (eg stoving in the windows of Cancer Research and Oxfam shops. Ooh. Scary.) of the sort that occurs in any British town on that night of the year.

And yet through all of this, Bone appears to maintain the self-delusion that he was at the political focal point of opposition to Thatcherism - not just a bit of a waster with strictly limited analytical powers who liked a bit of a ruck. Not too much of a ruck, though. Class war activities were curtailed following the killing of PC Keith Blakelock, when Bone realised that the Hospitalised Copper feature - er - might not be seen in a sympathetic light. In Paul Weller's words, he was "...Left there standing like a guilty schoolboy". I'm wondering whether he has an inkling of the contradictions and inconsistencies of the book? Violence is necessary...unless it can get you into trouble. Class War are not the macho group they're portrayed...because they sometimes have woman speakers. The comic-0pera Free Wales Army, with whom Bone had a minor association were not laughable crypto-fascists with a uniform fetish...because some of them turned out to be lefties. Sexual liberation is centrally important to anarchism...but it's still acceptable to make what amounts to "backs to the wall, boys" comments in your books. My overall impression is that what is politically important Bone is whatever he and his immediate circle are thinking at the time. The example that really stood out for me was when, after repeatedly decrying the trendy-lefty interest in overseas struggles, he praises his father for a article, written in the early 1960s, in which he highlights the anti-Apartheid struggle and the murder of Rudi Dutschke. His father was an activist for that well-known revolutionary organisation, The Labour Party.

Now admittedly Class War were prominent. They were highly visible in the politicised 1980's (let's face it - who wasn't radicalised by Thatcher?) . I suggest, though, that that they were part of the zeitgeist, but far from the vanguard. On the basis of this self-aggrandising book by a political peabrain, they contributed little. The front cover displays a spook PMRC sticker reading "This book contains strong language and dangerous ideas". To the first part - what a fucking pathetic little twat. To the second - like fuck it does. If you're interested in Anarchist ideas - look elsewhere.
Myself, I'm rather glad I picked this book up on remainder, so Bone will get less of a cut. I suggest that anyone else who insists on reading it does as Abbie Hoffman suggested...

*In fairness, he admits this at one point. On the other hand - he bangs on endlessly about how successful Class War sales were in South Yorkshire. Note that the paper's most notorious feature, those coppers were being hospitalised by already radicalised miners. The anarchists were merely printing their souvenir snaps.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Desert Island Bonobo

Yukanian readers will need no explanation of this, but for thems as is fortunate to live in the more salubrious nations, Desert Island Disks, now featuring the frankly hot Kirsty Young, is a venerable BBC Radio institution. Guests talk about their lives and pick eight records they’d like to be marooned with on a desert island. You’re also given The Bible* and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and you get to choose one more book. Plus a luxury. The luxury can’t have a practical use and can’t be a person (eg I couldn't ask for Kirsty).

Here’s mine. Feel free to follow suit. Remember – the name of the game isn’t to show off with hippest, funkiest selection you can, or even necessarily your indispensable records (how tricky would that be?!). Rather it’s to choose records that say something about your personality and/or life history. There’s a couple more unofficial rules:

  1. If you’re a boring politician or Captain of Industry, you have to choose a Beatles song to show how hip and trendy you are.
  2. If you’ve chosen lots of bland pop and show tunes, you have to ring a clever mate and get them to tell you the name of something classical.

The most famous selection was when Maria Callas chose eight of her own records. But my favourite was JK Galbraith. He said he was tone death and had absolutely no interest in music, so he’d got a few people to choose for him.

Then there was the story Decca Mitford* tells (in one of her letters). Her sister Diane was married to the fascist Oswald Moseley (Elvis Costello wrote ‘Less Than Zero’ after seeing her on TV), so Decca never spoke to her again. Diane was invited onto Desert Island Disks, unfortunately originally scheduled for Yom Kippur, so rescheduled after complaints…to Holocaust Memorial Day. So she goes on and talks about how Oswald was never rally an anti-semite, and how Hitler had such lovely blue eyes. At he end she’s being put in a cab. The cabbie’s told, “Lady Moseley is going to the Ritz”. He shouts back, “Not in my bleedin’ cab she ain’t!”

Soooo…for better or worse, here's mine*** (with links to where you can hear samples)…

I'm In Love With Jacques Derrida - Scritti Politti

This Charming Man – The Smiths

Summertime in England – Van Morrison

I’ll Wear It Proudly – Elvis Costello and the Confederates

Both Sides The Tweed – Dick Gaughan

Cinnamon Girl (live) – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Pressure Drop – Toots and the Maytals

Death Letter – The White Stripes

Book: I’d like to think I could manage Ulysses, but I might not like it, so The Collected Poems of Norman McCaig

Luxury: A programmable electric massage chair.

This is totally against the rules, but I can’t resist revealing one that was bubbling under, ‘cause I know you’ll enjoy a good laugh at my expense:

Bat Out Of Hell – Meatloaf.

* Oh, good. Toilet paper's likely to be scarce.

**Must blog on her one day. She was a gem!

*** I have to say, once I'd decided I was havering way too much, my final selection surprised me. It's not the list I'd have picked for myself!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Operation Enduring Mayhem

I've blogged previously about my attitude towards Christoper Hitchens. Here's another article about the Iraqi Civil War by him from Slate. As so often with him, I think he has a lot of fascinating things to say. But I ultimately disagree with his end conclusions.
The basic story is that Saddam was in danger long before 2003. Sooner or later the Iraqi's wouldn't take any more and democracy would ensue. So al-Zaqarwi wrote with an offer for al-Qaeeda to enact brutality on the Shia, goading them to react in kind (a tactic learnt from the Baader-Meinhof/ RAF 'Reaktion gegen Reaktion'?). Win-Win, because al-Q would get to slaughter apostates. This policy was put in place in Saddam's subsequent absence. This has a ring of plausibility about it. Not because it plays to the myth of Saddam as a fanatical supporter of al-Q, but because, although a long standing secularist, since GW1 he increasingly showed himself willing to exploit Islamicists to serve his ends.
Here's what Hitchens draws from it:

Everybody has their own favorite alternative scenario of how things might have evolved differently or better. In some weak moments, I can picture taking the alternative advice from the European Union and the United Nations in 2003—let's just see how Iraq develops if left alone as a private fiefdom of the Saddam Hussein dynasty—and only then deciding that things have deteriorated to the point where an international intervention is necessitated. That would have been much less upsetting and demanding than the direct assumption of responsibility, and could have been triggered by the more familiar images of unbearable suffering and carnage......but it would perforce have been begun very much later—and perhaps too late altogether.

In other words, the invasion didn't trigger the Civil War - eventually it would have been provoked anyway.
Now I do still believe that, for all the bad company he's been keeping, Hitchens is still on the side of the angels. Just. He makes some trenchant digs at the hand-wringing tendency of the liberal left to avoid getting involved (or, rather, abrogate responsibility for problems that are 'too difficult') . I think he was dead right in his support for intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, too. Commenting on the alternative to invasion, he says:
Nobody has ever even tried to make a case for doing nothing about Iraq
Well, no. Nobody tried to. And he also rightly points out that sanctions were a harmful failure. What he doesn't point out, though, is that it was pretty much impossible to discuss alternatives. Such as constructive engagement with Syria and Iran (moves towards which on several fronts were knocked back by the Bush regime). Such as wider diplomatic solutions to 'The Middle East Problem'. There was an invasion agenda. The parameters for foreign policy were tightly drawn.
Neither does he point out that the invasion didn't immediately trigger a civil war. The coalition signally failed to even understand the need for - let alone to enact - any kind of coherent plan for the stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq. It was in that vacuum that agitators were able to make merry. The fire was fuelled by the all-round disaffection of the various factions. At very least the blame for that disaffection can be laid at the door of the US.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Song Remains Inane

My five least favourite songs of all time:

5= Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen

5= Another Brick in the Wall* - Pink Floyd

5 = Blue Monday - New Order

5 = Layla - Derek and the Dominoes

But by a massive margin, No. 1 with a bullet in the temple...

Imagine - John Lennon

Christ, they're dire. There were many bubbling under. It would unfair (and time consuming) to name and shame them all, but I suppose special opprobrium** should go to Elton John's 'Candle in the Wind'. Have you ever heard of anything quite so tacky as dedicating a song to one not-particularly-noteworthy 'icon' and then saying "Actually, it's about someone else now...". People's Princess, my arse. I never voted for any of 'em.

Further suggestions welcome. Make your case. Personally, I don't think things like Agadoo or The Birdy Song qualify. At least they're honest shite. possessions!!!

*And not just because folk insist on saying "Actually, its full title is 'Another Brick In The Wall, Pt 2' ." - although fuck knows that's reason enough.

**I think it's a kind of bedtime malted milk drink. Not sure.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sons and heirs of nothing in particular...

On the way to work today, I played The Smiths in the car (and I really shouldn’t try and select iPod tracks while I’m joining a motorway). I keep forgetting just how damned ace they were. Like (the ubiquitous) Russell Brand, my adoration of Morrissey has crossed the dangerous line towards hero worship. Allow me to satisfy a compulsion to gush…

First off…some of you* may be labouring under the delusion that The Smiths were a miserable bunch of fuckers. They weren’t. Certainly some halfwits took them way too seriously and contemplated their morbid lyrics in darkened bedsits while considering a Haliborange overdose (“Only Morrissey feels my pain!”). Their modern counterparts these days listen to the dreadfully insipid My Chemical Romance. But such people they entirely missed the point. The Smiths were funny! Seriously funny. Second only, perhaps to Half Man Half Biscuit, Eminem or Leonard Cohen.** *** Anyone who doesn’t get that misses the whole point. Funny – but that doesn’t rule out sad at the same time.

I first heard The Smiths while I was in Canada. I was working there for a year as a student – and a very immature student at that. I was lonely and depressed. I’d noticed from the NME – a lifeline to home – that music seemed to be changing, and there was mention of these Smiths people (and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and Billy Bragg). But all I heard on the radio was Culture Club, The Thompson Twins, Michael Jackson. So I wrote to a friend**** and asked for some music. (Sad to say, my favourite bands were Genesis and Roy Harper). His girlfriend (this is her these days, incidentally, fellow web stalkers) sent me a tape***** of… Culture Club, The Thompson Twins, Michael Jackson. Oh…and The Cure’s ‘Love Cats’ (Barf!). So I wrote to another friend. This time I got a much better tape. Billy Bragg. Frankie. Orange Juice. Elvis Costello. Eyeless in Gaza. And…The Smiths. I put on ‘This Charming Man’ late one night and it immediately had hurling myself around the room in my version of dancing. What was this peculiar shit?

"Punctured bicycle, on a hillside, desolate,
Will nature make a man of me yet?"

I’ll avoid the temptation to quote the entire lyric, which you can find here. "When the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat"…"I haven’t got a stitch to wear"…"A jumped up pantry boy"…"Return the ring"…and all sung in that peculiar yodel. And who’d ever heard the word ‘gruesome’ used in a song?

In short, I was hooked – even if I had to wait until I got back to England some months later to see him on Top of the Pops, gladioli in his back pocket. The Smiths were My Band. They defined my youth. Talkin’ about my generation. I’ll skip over embarrassments like an ill-advised Morrissey quiff****** Every new Smiths record was hotly anticipated and bought immediately. Best gig I ever went to - The Queen Is Dead Tour, Brixton Academy. And I still have that iconic NME cover – no text, just a B&W portrait of Morrissey , his eyes coloured blue.

So – what’s the appeal? I’m tempted to say “Isn’t it obvious’ – but maybe not everyone idolises Morrissey the way I do. Plus, it’s a worthwhile intellectual exercise to try and analyse these things. Sooo…
  • The Northern iconography is important. These were the darkest days of Thatcherism, before places like Manchester were officially Cool. Coupled with that there was something of an outsider appeal for we dispossessed.

  • The campness. I suppose the (then) celibate Morrissey was the heterosexual male’s safe homoerotic squeeze - I'm afraid I'm disappointingly heterosexual. And, again, the fact that it was a Northern, outsider’s campness, part of the great tradition that includes Coronation Street*******.
  • The unexpected conjunctions of lyrics:

    “I broke into the palace/ With a sponge and a rusty spanner/ She said ‘I
    know you, you cannot sing’/ I said "That’s nothing, you should here me play
“Now I know how Joan of Arc felt/ When the flames rose to her Roman nose/ And her walkman started to melt”
“Spending warm summer days indoors/ Writing frightening verse/ To a buck-toothed girl from Luxemburg”********
  • The waspish phrases that sound like overheard snatches conversations from your
    mother’s slightly disreputable cousin talking about a divorce or a hysterectomy:
“Ask me why and I’ll spit in your eye.”

“The sun shine out of our behinds”

“Sweetness, I was only joking when I said ‘d like to smash every tooth in your head.”

“I didn't realise that you wrote such bloody awful

  • And we mustn’t leave out Johnny Marr’s stunning, unique guitar. At the time I fancied that it was somewhat similar to that of the Bhundu Boys’ Rise Kigone.*********

  • And who could resist a song about someone being wanked off in the bushes by a teacher?

I could go on, but I’ll stop gushing now. I won’t even attempt to justify any of this!

*Assuming there’s anyone actually reading this.

** Surely that makes fourth?

*** I’m deadly serious about Leonard Cohen, by the way.

**** This was the days before e-mail, kids!

***** Strange music storage devices we had in the days before God invented the emmpeethree, consisting of a wee plastic box full of brown tickertape.

******* Remember that Coronation Street was created by Tony Warren who had the courage to be Out in early ‘60’s Manchester. It’s always drawn heavily from the tradition of ‘theatricals’ – up to and including the recently departed John Savident ("Ah says, up to and including…" etc. And who can forget Smiths cover star and gay icon Elsie Tanner, girlfriend of Tony Blair’s father-in-law?

******** What a great sense of meter. See also WB Yeats “And I shall have some peace there/ For peace comes dropping slow” (The Lake Isle of Innisfree).

********* Currently residing in Penicuik, of all places. Sometimes gigs with Champion Doug Veitch.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I've been book tagged.

By and large, tagging is the blogging equivalent of sending a chain letter. However...this one's about books. Books are good. Thanks to Psychocandy. Bitch!

Hardback or paperback?

Either. For reasons of cheapness, and availability, most of my books are paperback

Amazon or brick and mortar?

Nothing against Amazon, but nothing beats the serendipity of browsing in a good bookshop. The best bookshop in the world is Glasgow's Voltaire and Rousseau, which has ceiling high piles of loosely-categorised books. But Amazon are great for free album art for my iPod.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?

Oxfam. Barnes and Noble aren't a UK brand. Borders aren't my favourite (but, hey! they sell books.)

Bookmark or dog-ear?

If it's a bookmark, usually it will be a supermarket receipt. I've no qualms about dog-earing, leaving books face down or just thumbing through until I reach the right place.

Alphabetize by author, alphabetize by title or random?

Are you shitting me? I am the anti-Candy! Actually, onceuponatime we did have our books alphabetised, and it worked quite well. But we have less space and fewer bookcases now. The system can best be described as a semi-controlled avalanche.

Keep, throw away, or sell?

I'm being quite ruthless these days. Books are being recirculated through Oxfam, simply left places or given away. If I lend a book, I don't expect it back unless I explicitly ask.

Keep dust jacket or toss it?

Take it off to keep it nice when reading, then put it back on afterwards. In theory. If I remember.

Read with dust jacket or remove it?

See above - unless its a library book with a plastic dust-jacket jacket.

Short story or novel?

Mainly novels, but nothing against short stories....Raymond Carver...Alexei Sayles' short stories are surprisingly accomplished.

Collection (by same author) or anthology (by different authors)?

Collection, probably

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?

Lemony Snicket in principle, because they are more intelligent. And who could resist someone who names a character 'Esme Squalor'? I've only read a couple though. Unlike Harry Potter. But the last few Harry Potter books have been appallingly written. Plot strands are flailing wildly.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?

When tired - but when it's time to bed I promise myself I'll go at the end of the chapter.

‘It was a dark and stormy night’ or ‘Once upon a time’?

'Lolita. Light of my life, fire of my loins, Lo. Lee. Ta...'

Buy or Borrow?

Buy. It's a compulsion.

New or used?

Whatever I can get away with! Without 2nd hand shops, I'd be bankrupt, though. And the condition of the book isn't a factor.

Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation or browse?

All of the above.

Tidy ending or cliffhanger?

Hmm. I like to think the author hasn't simply got bored and stopped - Norman Mailer's 'Harlot's Ghost' being a case in point.

Morning reading, afternoon reading or nighttime reading?

Any available moment. Even a couple of snatched minutes before rushing out the door.

Standalone or series?

I have a snobbish objection to 'series'. You'll never get me reading Clan of the Space Elves, and when you've read 1 1/2 Terry Pratchetts, you've got the point. Although...I'll make exceptions. Eg Armistead Maupin. Plus, see below...

Favourite series?

I'm addicted to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. So much so that I'm not allowing myself to buy any until I see the next one in a 2nd hand shop. There's twenty-one of the fuckers!

I'd like to add a few more questions:

Plough on or abandon?

I'll happily abandon any book I'm not getting on with. I usually know after a couple of chapters.

Always a book on the go or books a sometimes thing?

Never without a book. I tend to read one every week-and-a-bit at least. Less if I have spare time.

Have you read all the books on your shelf?

No. I buy much faster than I can read. Actually, I'm a pretty slow reader compared to some. But I've stopped moving my lips!

Genre(s) or Mainstream?

I don't follow any genres, but I'll sometimes dip into crime or SF if I'm told something is especially good. I used to read exclusively SF in my mis-spent youth, but I haven't been impressed recently and have developed an aversion to Fantasy - even Magic Realism sets off by bullshit alarm. Sometimes I stumble on some seriously good writing tucked away under Crime.

How often in your life have you read 'The Lord of the Rings'?

Once. And that was once too often.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Spread the word!

Ryanair's Michael O'Leary has started a PR war with the government over their green taxation policy. He's taken out ads in which he's published the e-mail address of the environment minister with te suggestion that customers might like to make their objections known.

As suggested in this previous post - he maybe has a point on climate change. Nevertheless, in light of his 'interesting' attitude towards custome service, which is "If you don't like it, then fuck off. I can easily sell your €15 seat to someone else", I think that the creative response by Sharon Hodgson MP should be publicised further.

The e-mail address for Ryanair's Head of Customer Sevices, Carol Green

and the national rate telephone number for its head office in Dublin, which
is cheaper than its high-tariff 0871 number is:

00 353 18121212

Since none of this is anywhere on their website, you may be especially grateful for it if, for example, oooh...say you're trying unsuccessfully to reclaim for a cancelled trip on behalf of a wedding party when the groom has died the week before the wedding*.

*To give just one example - happened to a friend. The eventual response from Ryanair was "Fair dos! - We've refunded the groom's fare."