The Inevitable Demise of the Occupy London Protests

Talking to my Professor a few weeks back, she asked me about the St Pauls Protest right now. I informed her of my comment on the facebook page for the protest asking why they were starting this on the weekend and the amusingly ironic reply from one poster, ‘well I have to work on Monday.’ Of course we do but that is also the point in some ways. Protesting the system.

The problem for most people is, in a recession and soon-to-be double dip recession, the fear of unemployment is real. The stories are everywhere. The problem is unemployment has been everywhere for a long time and is generally in the same places. However the fear is pervasive, documented in the papers everyday, for fear of unemployment (crime, immigration or a loss of self) is a far better sell than anything except the occasionally basking in national success.

But at the Occupy London Protests, the symbolism is more important than the impact which is important, for the heat-vision cameras show there is barely anyone there at night. You could add there are few there during the day too. But the reaction of St Pauls is not only sad but very predictable. Firstly if you have ever been in the cathedral, then you clearly have some cash to splash. It’s very expensive for one of our great London landmarks but particularly a church. The fear this tourist cash-cow will be debilitated by the protests are an economic headache for troubled church and highlighted by its division over where it stands on economic protests.

But the symbolism of protest in the heart of our much-vaulted economic heart (never believe that) is more troubling. The City is under pressure from its own failures, increasingly requirements of transparency and the movement of business elsewhere as the lustre wears off. So what will happen next? Well its pretty inevitable if you follow other protests, march, strikes etc. Its been happening since the 1980s and follows the same pattern.

First we have the limited tolerance of such events within the restrictive laws. The next stage is the call to health and safety which is happening now. The next stage needs a spark, a tourist complaint, a mugging randomly linked to the protest, a small confrontation between a protester and the police or a local business and then it all becomes a matter for public safety. The area will be cleared and the matter sent to the courts. By that stage it’s all over; no matter what the courts decide, they will take their time as is normal (unlike the swift justice over the riots) and these protests will be forgotten as direct action. The Prime Minister will talk of his concerns over the impact of the recession on decent people and how the government is doing everything to sort it out. Which means staying the course. The concerns are co-opted, addressed in rhetoric and the course remains the same.

The Guardian reported an open letter to the Government from 100 economists (Ha-Joon Chang included) asking the Government to consider a different strategy to bring Britain out of recession. Spending and running a temporary budget deficit is the standard economic response to recessions but right now we’re seeing an opportunity taken to reduce the role of the state permanently. I agree with some of these measures but pity the future of a country that must rely on its creativity to stay ahead of the rest of the world who are continuing to invest and support education, industry and business. Take a look around; no other country leaves its citizens so exposed to the storms of transnational capital swings as Britain. At some point, the boat gets battered and people want to get off.

Hmmmm…thanks and update

I should add this blog went past 1,000 views in 3 months last week so thank you for that. Its been fairly dominated by music and films of late which is quite odd so I’ll try to balance it up over the next few weeks. Got plenty of articles in reverse, just lacking the time to polish them. I need to write the story of falling in love with the girl who sold bread too. (weird I know)

While I’m here, I’ll add some news. I’m sat in the uni library avoiding work. As you can see on the Prof blog below, I’m busy working with my Professor Hug on how to promote state mutliculturalism in Switzerland without antagonising political tensions. I’ve learnt more about the Swiss than I thought there was to know and its pretty bizarre at times. My knowledge of human right law might be useful soon. The system for immigrants is unsustainable. More on that later.

More pleasing I caught up with Anna in Brighton and Linden in the US recently and will see/speak to Jane, Mirella and Christine very soon. Met up with Pedro, Luke and Rob in Cardiff for a night out as well as AC for a random night in Shoreditch. MA results are out soon but not too bothered. I know I’ve done alright. Still kind of amazed how easy it was and so I’m aware of how much better I could have done, should I have done some reading, gone to lectures or just in general put a bit more effort in (nice sentence). Still it was immense fun.

Beyond that I’m at a conference next weekend for development and migration and to see Jane, meeting the boys for the boxing the weekend after, then planning a trip to the continent to visit Amsterdam Uni and see some old friends there and in Frankfurt. I’ve gotta get back in time for a Human Rights Conference including the crazy man of philosophy Slavoj Zizek. December has work and Barcelona for New Year (staying at a mates place there) before 2012 takes me abroad and back to work and Uni. More on that as I learn myself.

Talking to Jon Godber, I mentioned how last November on the weekends I saw Titus Androncius, Tallest Man on Earth, The National, Laura Marling, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire. This year, its all enjoyable work, development conferences, travel and sorting out next year. Tis all good. Its been some year. Just got get a gig though asap! Recommendations approved of.

Oh yeah and been ill. Had surgery. I’m never ill. WTF?

I No Longer Hear The Music

“I don’t see a story unfolding with bands because it is gap year music. It seems like somebody has said, ‘I think I’ll do an album then my dad will give me a job in the accountancy firm’.” – James Dean Bradfield

I couldn’t agree more with this. I’ve argued it for a while. A lot of new bands in the UK have plenty of influences but only one really good album in them. They’re good enough to play but have no real story to tell. There was no struggle to forge their ideas or pathos and not enough depth or history to them. After all, you can’t write songs about public schools and safaris to Kenya. British guitar bands have never been more middle class and weakly post-modern.

Of course they’re highly literate and well-read after a nice education. Their parents got them for piano lessons when they were young but later they asked for a guitar or drum. With their nice childhoods, they knock out one album before they run out of ideas or have had enough fun and moving into ‘serious life’ (KMPG). Its a shame but you can see it in many bands. The second album highlights the limit of their development. The annual need for the NME to crown the next big band never helped them either.

I’m not saying there are no decent new British bands out there. Wild Beasts and The XX come to mind immediately. Its just there are few great ones that really matter, ones that last. There is always Radiohead naturally (though a friend of mine tells me Thom Yorke is a Class A snob). The great songwriter Dave Berman of the Silver Jews lamented that Radiohead only write about feelings, believing they have no real stories to tell. they remain a consilience of supreme musicianship but tend to write about abstraction rather than narratives.

Trustafarians like Frank (I like to call him Fraud) Turner and Laura Marling are different examples. At least they write catchy (Fraud) or beautifully, thoughtful (Laura) stories. I’ll also say a word for Kate Nash, God help me. She may sound deeply annoying but at least she does attempt a story no matter quirky/awkward/risible (you choose) they are. A female friend told me Kate Nash often articulates what young women think. So who am I to judge when she isn’t writing for me.

I suppose I’m asking how many new British guitar bands matter now. Musically and lyrically we seem to have lost our way. The list of American guitar bands right now is incredible from the brilliant Spoon, TV on the Radio, The Walkmen, Titus Andronicus, Girls, Ariel Pink, The Black Keys, My Morning Jacket, The National, Fleet Foxes, Fu#ked Up to name a few off the top of my head. These are all bands that have had to work their way into public consciousness rather than the instant fame. They’ve had time to muse and write.

Possibly the return of Pulp this summer will inspire the story. The Libertines might find a second great album and Kate Nash writes an album based on Faust. More likely, The Libertines will become a tribute act of their former selves and fall apart, Kate will mellow and marry, releasing a lone album on being older before starting a semi-successful literary career and the NME won’t discover anything new but will tell us they have anyway.

Keeping up With the Profs

So I sat down yesterday afternoon with my Swiss Professor of History and Sociology. I had heard some pretty rough stories about her. How moody she was and uncooperative with her co-workers etc. Two people told me she was f’king rude. I’d seen her around but avoided introducing myself. I wanted it on my terms. The afternoon came and I sauntered up. She was late but I was expecting that. I looked out at the rain and sang some songs to myself. I was a little nervous. She arrived, complained about the room temperature being too low and looked at me probably wondering who the hell I was, which is understandable. Even I do that sometimes.

We settled down with our tea and started going over what was to be done. She was re-writing the curriculum for her intercultural university course and that’s how I could help. They wanted it to be more internationalist or cosmopolitan. I wasn’t sure how I could help exactly but intercultural is another name for cross-cultural, one of the areas I’ve looked into. We talked about identity and gender, political nationalism and liberty. Names such as Stuart Hall, Bourdieu, Les Back and Judith Butler were mentioned. It was getting interesting.

Soon we started getting into it. Mapping out lines of thought, intersections and commonalities. As I talked about social cohesion and multiculturalism, I noticed she was making notes, smiling at my argument and logic. I had this same sinking feeling like I first got in Japan talking to the boss Martin Jones. I was being listened to by someone I was only meant to listen to. I might be on the cusp or standing at the door of a new stage.

(‘Standing at the door of English’ was a phrase I heard from a 77 year-old, 3 piece suit wearing retired Japanese man one day. I got talking to him in a cafe in Kyoto. He had long, hippy length hair and told me after retiring at 70 from his straight-jacket business job, he grew his hair, wore the suits he never could and decided to learn English. I loved this guy.)

We moved onto the problems of development and the limiting ability of NGOs to help poor countries. The troubles of NGOs even BINGOs start as soon as a situation becomes political. They simply lack the power and authority to get things done. And given that almost everything is considered political, seen as an economically exploitative or strategically interference, NGOs simply get lost. Development, real movement gets lost in the fog of political and economic battle.

By this time, it was almost 5pm and time to leave it for the day. I was tired anyway after little sleep that weekend. Of course its too early to know where this is going to go but as we wrapped up for the day, she said you know you should do a PhD. I thought and asked but in what? She replied ‘ah well that’s the most difficult part.’ So PhD or Masters of Law? I will have funding for both. I just gotta work out which to do.

Tom Waits

“We met on New Year’s Eve at a party in Hollywood. I was leaving the next day. I was moving to New York City and I was never coming back here to the Los Angeles area ever again. That was what I said. But I’d said that before. So we met on New Year’s and then I left. I was gone for about four months and then I got a call to do One from the Heart. I came back and I got a little office with a piano in it and I was writing songs and Kathleen was working at Zoetrope. She was a story analyst. Somebody told her to go down and knock on my door and she did and I opened the door and there she was and that was it. That was it for me. Love at first sight. Love at second sight.” 

You gotta like him for this. His new album is out today.

An interview with him here

Africa Development Books

I’ve attended two books launches in the last few weeks both concerning development in Africa or sadly the serious lack of development. The reasons are simple; an abuse of position and power within the state leading to conflict or bad governance; and poor development policies and/or the selfish influence of Western power through corporations or the state leading to bribery, the sales of arms and resources exploitation.

The answers are of course far from easy and so in that sense, the two books explained and debated at the launches point out the easy part. That said, its a start and they both do highlight the intricacies and complicities of the ‘simple’ difficulties. There is now constant debate and conjecture within development circles by economists, critical theorists and development practitioners over the best model for development and ultimately they fails on their implementation as they lack the will.

I have yet to see an international development policy that has succeeded since the days of massive state investment policies, protectionist export development and a dominant state model lifted East Asia out of poverty. Without massive resources, a paternal state and protectionism, I can’t name a single example of a state moving from third to second world, let alone to first world. Yet under neo-colonial history, neo-liberal economics and the overriding and often ill-placed human rights framework, states at the bottom will remain there.

Rear Window, The Conformist & In the Mood For Love

I’ve watched some good to average to crap films over the last few months. Drive was smooth but not brilliant. The Debt and Contagion were crisp but formulaic. Johnny English Reborned was slightly amusing while The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a documentary about the freakishly talented songwriter and his family’s battle with his bi-polarity was engaging.

I’ve stated before I’m not much of a film watcher in many ways. They get too much adoration when they lack the accessibility, portability and pathos of music and lyrics. But that’s not to say I don’t like them. I got paid to watch Up! the other night. Getting paid is always nice but Up!, a Pixar animation has one scene near the start, an emotion montage through the life of the main character, focusing on his relationship with his lost wife that’s genuinely moving.

Later in the week, that’s this week for reference, a week in which I’ve been paid for having fantastic fun, I was reading some Zizek, the mildy crazy, Slovenian critical theorist. He comes from the Brecht ‘school’ of argument; Nothing is more important than learning to think crudely. This means being direct and to the point rather than hiding behind semantics and often inaccessible academic language. Zizek is a writer you understand and who amuses you. He tackles the modern subjects of politics and economy informing through Marx and Lacan on the underlying power structure and relations in our societies. In short, he tells you things you only suspected.

He also references modern culture to inform you of these subtleties. He admires Hitchcock and in one passage, just after using Psycho to explain the ego, id and super-ego (quite successfully too), he moves onto Rear Window, another Hitchcock film, this time starring Jimmy Stewart. After briefly reading the analysis, I downloaded it (oops) to watch.

And that I did, straight through and without my usual distracted nature. I won’t explain the plot, you likely know it. But with a small cast including Grace Kelly, one set and a simple premise, it builds tension into an obvious but incredibly menacing and exciting ending. And as a friend said Grace Kelly might be the most beautiful woman you will ever see.

A friend Barry, not generally known for liking films that require thought (sorry Baz but its true!) put me onto an Italian film he’d watched. The Conformist is an early Bernardo Bertuloucci film and confirmed his reputation. Its the story of a man tasked by with assassinating his former University professor (we’ve all felt that way!) in fascist pre-war Italy. The cutaways reveal what brought him to this stage but maintain the momentum but what’s really striking is the cinematography. The use of colours, shadow and sunlight immerse you deep into the complex and troubled characters and the finale is truly grand and innovative.

I followed The Conformist up a few days later with Wong Kar-wai film In the Mood for Love. Again I’ve seen this before. The plot and the pace may be different but it’s equally engrossing as neighbours come to the sad conclusion their partners are having affair. The music, the colours and attention to emotional detail stays with you. Tony Leung’s quiet eyes tell many a tale worth coming back to.