Monthly Archives: August 2014


Quite simply, Jr Walker and the All Stars’ hit Roadrunner is my song of the week. To be fair, any of their songs would have been a contender, but I think in addition to the vocals it’s the musical arrangement that got me:

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Like blood from a stone

…writing a dissertation.

Just…. yeah.


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all eyes on Clacton

There’s not much that hasn’t been said about Douglas Carswell MP’s defection to UKIP and the pending by-election (and the original UKIP candidate who has to stand aside), but it occurs to me that for all his boasting of an “earthquake”, Farage is playing it very safe. He’s obviously relying on some defections and his standing in a seat with a good shot at winning to get UKIP some representation in parliament. Like another supposed big hitter, Boris Johnson, who has declared he’ll stand in the Tory safe seat of Uxbridge.

The funny thing is, both of these men get disproportionate, and very favourable press attention, because they are characters, they entertain. And they’re allowed to dissemble and skim along on the surface, rarely challenged by the third estate.

With this though, it’s clearer than ever that the election coverage will be UKIP (and to an extent Boris) – focused, with a side order of immigration scaremongering, especially with the news that net immigration is up 39%, and primarily due to EU migration, as non-EU migration can barely be squeezed further.

This is going to be a very nasty fight, especially as David Cameron feels squeezed between the crazy wing of his party and UKIP. Labour, of course, will follow the debate and sit squarely within the paradigm set by the right.


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In Praise of Masters of Sex

Masters of SexI’m back to writing the dissertation again after a few days of denial. And in addition to Motown hits on repeat, I’ve enjoyed having some good TV breaks. I’m catching up with Masters of Sex, the second season of which reappeared on More4 last week I’m told, although bewilderingly with very little fanfare. (Ok, I don’t watch much live TV so maybe they advertised its socks off – but that’s not the impression I get). They really made a big advertising push ahead of the first season, but I get the impression that the show didn’t do as well as expected, despite the obvious appeal to the sort of people who would have enjoyed The Hour or Mad Men.

The title is provocative but it’s actually a very interesting show about one of the groundbreaking studies into human sexual behaviour, set in the late 1950s/early 1960s I think (I’m not a Mad Men aficionado so I don’t watch for the period details so obsessively). It’s a fascinating study of attitudes and human behaviour, but it’s also got some great writing and characters, especially (and yes, I’m a sucker for a strong female) Virginia Johnson, Dr Master’s research assistant – an independent, modern woman who is always wrestling with what she wants and what she ought to do, straining against the limits placed on women at that time, and who is so hungry to learn more and be recognised as a colleague by her male colleagues. Dr Masters is a bit of a complicated man, and his relationship with his wife, mother and Johnson are illuminating.

It’s a surprisingly moving, but also very intelligent and fascinating show. I’m not the only one asking why more people aren’t watching it? (thanks Guardian)

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If there’s anything to get you through the post-Bank Holiday back-to-work- slump it’s some songs you love (and some great covers of them)

I originally starting thinking of this post when I stumbled upon a Norah Jones/Bonnie Rait cover of Tennessee Walz. I love Sam Cooke’s version which you can’t help but dance to, but Norah and Bonnie brought a sweet longing to it, country-style:

And since we’re doing this, much as I love the dark reggae of Ghost Town by the Specials, Hot 8 Brass Band (yes, them again) brought some flair and joy to the proceedings:

Finally, I think we can safely say that Marvin Gaye’s Heard it Through the Grapevine is timeless (James Jamerson’s bass is a big reason for that) but I love the sass, rhythm and funk of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ version:

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Points of Agreement

Apart from spending the day haunted by the smell of coconuts at random moments –  before realising it was my hair oil (actual thought I had during the day: “Am I being stalked by a coconut?”) – I found myself punching the air at various points as well, cheered by these three articles:

One Now I have to say this slowly because like the amazing Dan Hodges article a few weeks ago, I’m a little thrown, but anyway: Danny Finklestein wrote at once the most sensible and necessary article in the defence of human rights, and the Human Rights Act today. It’s in the Times so click here if have a subscription. That we need to have someone point out that human rights “are not a joke” and that it’s absolutely stark raving mad to want to pull up the drawbridge and pull away from common sense  shows what a sad state of affairs we’re in, and the fact that a “Conservative case” needs to be made, seeing as they are the ones squawking about doing it (while Labour looks on sweetly doing…well…nothing to protect one of their greatest legislative achievements) is rather unfortunate too, as this should really be beyond party politics. But at the same time, he hit all the right notes. Yay for human rights!

Two A wonderful interview with poet Benjamin Zephaniah on Britishness, including a rendition of one of his poems on the topic. All of this made my heart sing! (as so often with Zephaniah) Yes to mutable, broad Britishness!

“For me Britishness is being a part of these islands. I say that very carefully because I also respect Scottish people if they want to go separate. I’d be happy just to have England, and not have Britain actually. While we have this concept of Britishness, it’s being a part of these islands, and if you really want to be a part of these islands, I think by definition you have to accept multiculturalism. Not just diversity. Diversity can mean all kinds of things. Multiculturalism is what it says on the tin: Multi. Many cultures. Living together. As I alluded to before, the Celts, the Jutes, and all these people were different cultures. I come from Birmingham which was started by a tribe called the Beorma tribe, and they were seen as a very odd tribe, and they came and they settled they used to keep cows and bulls, and they had this place where they kept bulls, and that became The Bull Ring, and today it is a shopping centre.

That’s multiculturalism.

I don’t know if it’s still true now, but certainly a few years ago they were saying that the most popular food in Britain was an Indian curry. And some people thought it was a very British thing to have a curry. There are lots of other things which people think of as really British that came from somewhere. I mean what could be more British than living out in the countryside in a beautiful bungalow with a thatched roof? But where did the word ‘bungalow’ come from? Bengal, yeah. The English language also borrows from other cultures. So it’s being a part of that, that I think is Britishness. I actually think that in a very odd way, actually I don’t think it’s that odd at all, but when you hear racists saying “Britain is a white country”, I think that is anti-British. Because Britain has never been fixed. Britain is like its weather – you know it’s the weather but you don’t know where it is going from one time to another. We know we are British.”

Three A long, detailed, informative blog post by Mining in Malawi on oil prospecting on Lake Malawi, the main players and the risks as identified by UNESCO – and so much more. Finally, all the details in one place!

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IDS watch

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: is anyone monitoring Iain Duncan Smith? How has he survived two reshuffles? How does he just get to “reset” a project that has cost *hundreds of millions of pounds* and it’s not front page news? If I could do infographics I would look at the amount wasted by DWP on IDS’s legacy project and the amount spent on the unjust, punitive bedroom tax, among other measures. How can we allow policies that disproportionately affect ethnic minorities and the disabled, causing hardship and distress, and allow IDS to obfuscate and waste money like this?

The answer is, of course, that when it comes to austerity and welfare, it’s ideological. That there was a need to cut the deficit is beyond doubt, but what’s going on now fails on its own terms. It’s just perverse that the coalition is willing to fritter away millions in the pursuit of dismantling the state and the safety net.

If I was to don my tin foil conspiracy theory hat, I’d say these are the actions of a group of ideologues who know that they may not be here to finish the job after the election, so they’re inflicting the maximum amount of damage now, in the hope that it cannot be reversed. And Labour, of course, has next to nothing to say on this for fear of being cast as the party of “welfare cheats”. They won’t even try to speak about the suffering and hardship being felt by so many, or the fact that the majority of those on benefits are pensioners. They will play it safe, hoping that they can just squeak past the finish line at the election with the support of people like me, who cannot abide what’s happening now but have no other viable political choice. I suspect that the hobbled vision may not be as successful as they hope.

And where does that leave us? Clegg, with no mandate, as king maker to either party, who will continue this project to fundamentally alter the State beyond all recognition, supplanting a democratic mandate with a consensus won through the demonisation of immigrants, the poor, the disabled and the unemployed, and fashioning a nastier, smaller-minded nation that’s as much afraid of its own shadow as these groups so helpfully cast as the dangerous “other”?

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Telling Stories

This weekend the Observer published a strong, moving article about the nature of foreign reporting, in particular the propensity of news networks to parachute in special correspondents at a moment’s notice, who may miss or misinterpret a story as they struggle to get up to speed, often supplanting the freelancers (or “stringers”) or local journalists who have been faithfully plugging away at a story (before it got sexy). Every African, and I’m sure many others,  has a example of this, such as the CNN “Kenya election violence” nonsense before the last election, which was not only wrong but inflammatory and which spawned a hashtag by the Kenyan twitterati: #someonetellCNN .

The article also pointed out the changes to news gathering and reporting more generally, which should be of concern to us all, given how important the media is:

“The western news media are in crisis and turning their backs on the world, but we hardly ever notice. Where correspondents were once assigned to a place for months or years, reporters now handle often 20 countries. Bureaux are in hub cities, far from many of the countries they cover. And journalists are often lodged in expensive houses or five-star hotels. As the news has receded, so have our minds.

To the consumer, the news can seem authoritative. But the 24-hour news cycle rarely gives us the stories essential for us to understand the important events of our time. The news machine, confused about its mandate, has faltered. Big stories are often missed. Huge swaths of the world are forgotten or shrouded in myth. The news both creates these myths and dispels them, in a pretence of providing us with truth.”

Actually this article made me think of something I read by a female stringer in Syria, who in 2013 blew the lid open on the conditions she had to work under and the lack of support from her news organization. She pointed out that stringers often undertake dangerous work for little pay, but that their role is so important. (I would add; local journalists too, like the 18 year-old Syrian kid who took photographs for Reuters and died earlier this year – though there are other ethical questions here given his youth and lack of protection)

“People have this romantic image of the freelancer as a journalist who’s exchanged the certainty of a regular salary for the freedom to cover the stories she is most fascinated by. But we aren’t free at all; it’s just the opposite. The truth is that the only job opportunity I have today is staying in Syria, where nobody else wants to stay. And it’s not even Aleppo, to be precise; it’s the frontline. Because the editors back in Italy only ask us for the blood, the bang-bang. I write about the Islamists and their network of social services, the roots of their power—a piece that is definitely more complex to build than a frontline piece. I strive to explain, not just to move, to touch, and I am answered with: “What’s this? Six thousand words and nobody died?”

There is a tension the media industry, which is at once a business and a public information service. Managing editors have to balance the books and all of the outlets (with the exception of some, like the Guardian that have a governing Trust rather than an owner) have to walk the editorial tightrope of independence and pissing off the person that pays the cheques. It’s what makes Murdoch’s dominance of the industry so frightening.

It’s said that the media “doesn’t tell us what to think, but is remarkably successful at telling us what to think about.” What makes the news, how often and in what frames can have a profound influence on public awareness of an issue and subsequent policy decisions.

Reports like these from stringers, and others by local journalists, show that we should all be concerned about what gets reported, why, how and by whom.

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Unexpected Instrumentals

This Friday, I’ve decided to post three of my favourite songs – a quirky mix with unexpected instrumentals, or in the case of Manu Chao, unexpected sounds (radio clips? a goat?)

One Molotov Jukebox- I Need It. I discovered these guys at a festival in Shoreditch a few years ago, under a bridge….fun times. Anyway, the lead, Natalie Tena, you may recognise from Game of Thrones as Osha or Harry Potter, in which she played Tonks. I like her accordion.

Two Manu Chao – Me Gustas Tu. This is the soundtrack to my year in China.

Three Gangstagrass  – I’m Gonna Put You Down . Well, you weren’t expecting banjo/bluegrass with hip hop, were you? (Also, they sing the title song for Justified, one of the most underrated but thoroughly enjoyable TV shows ever, starring the delectable, drawling slice of hotness that is Timothy Olyphant but with some of the best written characters I’ve seen in a while)




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