Category Archives: rants

Here’s to being Cassandra all over again…

What I said would happen yesterday with the promotion of bad history as an argument about David Starkey was well born out yesterday. It fell into a black and white argument with both sides being absolutely and utterly deluded, racist, small-minded and pathetic – reason had no place in it at all. Well done DS and well done Nabil Abdul Rashid. You both pushed black/white tensions up a notch.

I feel defensive of being white – I always have. I feel the weight of my white ancestors on my shoulders. Luckily I’m a woman and this makes me feel a little better, because my type have been a persecuted minority, and continue to be so. Heaven forbid I should a white man. I’m suddenly responsible for everything after the outbursts yesterday online. This is what I said about skeletons falling out of the closet. 500 years worth of skeletons about slavery and racism and mistreatment and black holocausts and hideous crimes perpetrated in the name of expansion all fell out of that closet. Boom boom boom boom boom. All rattling their bones and providing visions of Christmas future if we don’t deal with our sins. The problem is, when a person of any colour starts dragging the skeletons out of the closet, the other colours go to their closet and drag a few out, until all that happens is a big tumbling pile of bones of ancestors is on the floor and we’re all using them to hit each other with.

Yesterday, I saw vile and nasty racism from white trash who should know better. I laughed when some of the black champions of history mentioned white advancement, because it sure as hell doesn’t seem like we’ve advanced very far. Do they watch Jeremy Kyle? Most of his clients are one colour, and it’s not black or Asian. We’ve all got the rednecks, the white trash, the trailer trash, the racaille, and it’s vile and ugly because it’s like a nasty cliché of how we’ve failed as people.

But then I heard just some of the most outrageous statements I’ve ever heard about black history – which made me laugh out loud and then stupidly try to challenge. Maybe I could have patronised these people, continued to let them believe nonsense and silliness, treated them like Jake when he gets argumentative or like Steve treats me when I get argumentative and just gone ‘Okay’. But I can’t. Because every misunderstanding spreads a little lie that sits on the racist cracker. And let’s get this straight. Very few people in England believe it was one race or another. Nobody’s saying it’s white or black. I’ve not seen many statistics, and the ones I have seen are that it’s poverty that’s the over-riding factor. I don’t want to get into the causes – manifold as they may be – of that poverty – but that’s the uniting factor. And race shouldn’t be the dividing factor.

Despite this, I heard sub-Saharan Africans say many, many times that the Moors were black. This was a really big fallacy spread by the response. And I know about the Moors. I know a lot about the Moors because I’ve got 20,000 words of my own research I wrote about them sitting waiting for me to get my arse in gear and write a story about Sigilmassa. I know about the Maghreb. I know about the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians and the Imazighen and the Arab settlers and the spread of the Moorish dynasties and then their decline. I also have some great Moroccan friends whose roots are bedouin Imazighen of many varieties. They had fun teaching me ‘berber’ words and Arabic words and I walked with them through the Atlas mountains and they told me their view of the Maghreb, on the Arabic world, on Morocco, on life. We spent three days just walking and talking. I’m a curious girl. I ask lots of questions. I want to know stuff.

Let’s take Zinedine Zidane as an example, since he’s one of the most famous ‘Berber’ faces. I hate that word, but he is an example of your typical ‘Moor’. He’s an Algerian Kabyle. Now excuse me for stating the obvious, but nothing makes Zidane black, unless he goes for a little make-up. If he said ‘Is it because I is black?’ like Ali G, we’d all laugh, just like we do at Ali G, because like Ali G, he’s not black. In fact, he shares more of an appearance with Ali G than he does with Nelson Mandela.

But yesterday, sub-Saharan Africans are getting all their knickers in a twist about the Moors, feeling forced to say they were black. That’s news to all the Alis I met who weren’t black in the slightest. And yes, there were black skinned people as part of this ‘Non-Homogeneous’ group (I pointed this out a million times yesterday) but the Moors looked to Mecca. Their towns were built on Islamic principles. Their language is Arabic. Their scholars weren’t African in view or belief, they were Persian, Middle Eastern, Arab – call it what you will. Their names are Arabic and their whole world was Eastern looking, not Southern looking. If not in skin colour, in culture, in belief and in society – they were Arabic.

I am willing to accept that Islam and Arabic unite some north African countries with some sub-Saharan African countries. There are large Muslim populations in many Eastern African countries. But the Maghreb people – the Moors – have more in common with their Persian relatives than the Somalis, genetically speaking. The only things that unite a Moroccan with a Somali is religion and language, not skin colour. And yet there are hundreds – and I’m not kidding – of comments from black people yesterday, all militant about the Moors being black. And not a bit black. All black.

This kind of skewed history comes from white mouths, Asian mouths, black mouths – anyone who wants to twist history to suit their view. And yes, blacks, like women, were repressed for a long time (blacks less than women, by about 3,000 years, but I digress…) and their contribution to history has been both written out and white-washed – and didn’t exist in the first place – just like peasant history doesn’t exist and women’s history doesn’t exist – because we were too busy living  and being repressed to go round contributing to art and literature, music and philosophy. No offence to any one other than white intellectual men, but by and large your achievements are minimal. Blacks, women and poor people didn’t create a Beethoven or a Michelangelo or a Leonardo or a Shakespeare because we were too busy being repressed, and just because I can find some semi-okay poetry from someone in a skirt in the Seventeenth Century doesn’t mean it’s as good as Donne or Shelley. I can’t champion it because it’s rather pedestrian. Jane Austen is funny, but she isn’t Shakespeare or Shelley because her experience was ‘the drawing room’ – and as much as I’d like to, I can’t go around saying Shakespeare was a woman or that Shelley was a black because they weren’t, and it just makes me look like an idiot with an agenda if I try.

Yet this is what was happening yesterday. I totally get that blacks have a right to be angry. 500 years of subjugation will do that to a person. Let’s talk about the patriarchs who deliberately wrote women out of religion and law, shall we? That started 3,500 years ago and we’re still suffering. Don’t you men know it!

But all these skeletons were just coming and coming as people dragged them out of the cupboard. For your Hitler and Stalin, I give you one Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe. I give you Pol Pot and Chairman Mao (let’s not spare the far east, hey, as we’re dragging out the skeletons?!) For your slavery I give you Darfur and civil war and Rwanda and Chad and South Western Sahara. For your slavery, I give you female circumcision. Ad infinitum in a universal tit-for-tat. Ironic considering the original poster said he didn’t want that….

But unfortunately, that’s what happens. My main concern was that the video would go viral. Luckily, it didn’t (or hasn’t so far) and therefore hasn’t attracted the bigots from either end of the spectrum all trotting out myths and lies about history and social demographics to suit their argument.

It’s so ironic that ‘we’ ‘get rid’ of Al Qaida – Bin Laden is assassinated and the alleged kingpins in the Al Qaida network disintegrate – Muslims are killed on the streets in the riots and show England how to truly do community and belief and came out to defend their England – and as the universal racist zeitgeist turns from Islam, DS seems to a little inadvertently and possibly very consciously, spearhead the new racist zeitgeist – black against white. Ironic, because these are the two communities most poor and most troubled. Poor White working class boys and African-Caribbean boys are the two most underachieving groups in Britain. Interested to know who achieves the best? Why Far Eastern boys of course. The Chinese, the Malaysians, the Koreans – their achievement outstrips everybody else’s, followed by Indian boys whose achievement is not far behind. The only way we can all aspire is if we end the tit-for-tat blame game and the blind allegiance to racism from whatever side we come from. People of all colours do shite things to each other. For every high achieving Chinese boy, there’s one who runs up massive debts or falls in with Chinese gangs – for every Indian who becomes a surgeon, there’s one who’ll steal a car from his family in B&Q. People are people, as Depeche Mode once said, and the more we try to categorise ourselves, the more damage we do.

A little hope for the morning from Mr Bob:

I think I’m having a survivalist panic…

… I’ve been inflamed by several things recently – including rising oil prices, estimates about peak oil production and decline (check out peak oil  and then tell me you aren’t planning on getting your bike out!)

What started it off was the price of chicken food. It’s gone up 70c to 2€ 70. Not a big thing in itself, but a reminder about several other things: wheat failure in Russia and China, rising food costs, inflation. Then Prince Charles, rightly, is telling people to eat less beef. Beef is a hugely hungry food crop – and rearing cattle is costing the planet dear. Something has to give. Either we have to have a drop in the population – probably enforced because of starvation – or we have to eat less-consuming products. Or both. As it is, rising food costs are telling us that we can’t keep going on forever. Not only that, but the people being priced out of the market are the poorest.

Then I read a little something posted by Mark from hed(pe) on Facebook, linking from survivalblog about spotting potential domestic terrorists. And I realise I fit the bill in so many ways.

I have libertarian philosophies!

I am trying to be self-sufficient!

I am afraid of economic collapse! Nothing is too big to fall. If you don’t believe me, ask a dinosaur.

I hate big government!

I would like to add, I don’t have second-amendment issues and think we should all be carrying weapons. I’m leaving protecting the property to Jake in the event of cataclysmic collapse. I’d also like to add I’m not a religious zealot or think the end is nigh. I would like to pass a little of the blame onto the Cold War instigators and also to the makers of Threads – a film about the aftermath of nuclear war. All that fuss about nuclear weapons and enemies and iron curtains and Communism just deflected us from bigger problems: we’re outgrowing the planet and nothing is more likely to spark revolution than hunger. Just ask Marie-Antoinette.

And it’s not just all about what us human ants are up to. Mother Nature has a good way of warning us that she’s still more powerful than all of us. It doesn’t matter that economies are strong, or societies are cohesive if she’s going to throw a hurricane Katrina your way, or a tsunami, or a fukushima-scale disaster.

However, I took a leaf out of the ‘worrying is as effective as solving an algebra problem by chewing gum’ book and decided that my panic was a little premature and I shouldn’t start stockpiling just yet. If the world wants to know how it is without petrol or enough electricity, or with limited resources, it should look to Cuba.

In the interim period before deals with Venezuela and after the Soviet empire collapsed, in the so-called ‘special’ period, Cuba had nothing. All the oil-based goods sank to a minimum. Petrol came in at 10% of its former levels. Imagine having only 10% of the petrol we have! Food was scarce. And I think this would be my ‘look to and learn’ country for how we can avert peak oil problems and food shortages.

Firstly, everybody shares a car. If you have a car, you maintain it and you learn about engines. You realise you can put a lada engine in a huge American behemoth. You travel by any means necessary. If you have a tractor, you hook a cart to it and shift people. And then you are forced to say ‘to hell with travel’ because you can’t get around anyway. No petrol means no petrochemicals and this means no tyres. No tyres means you’re not going anywhere even if you do have petrol or bio-diesel. So you get a bike. If we’re lucky, we’ll soon see the sense in keeping more bike tyres than you need as spares for the future.

And if you can’t get a bike because resources mean there are none, have a horse or a pony, a mule or a donkey. We forget it’s only 200 years since these modes of transport were de rigeur. 

I bet it has a Russian engine under the hood!

Another thing about Cuba: consumerism is dead. There are shops, but they have nothing in them. We went in a shoe shop looking for a pair of sandals for Pete. We found some flip-flops – that was all – and they were so crap they broke within days. But you realise people can get along without ‘stuff’. If you don’t have CDs, make your own music. If you have finished a book, pass it on. If you don’t have a computer, meh, write a letter. Second-hand markets are not just ‘vintage’ and kitsch, but essential!

If you haven't got new stuff, make do with old

In the state-controlled hotels, the food was dire. Clearly there were food shortages and whilst people equate rations with not getting what you need, it also ensures what there is can be shared equally. I like that idea. Not only that, but most people supplement what they get with what they can grow. Chicks were everywhere, as were ducks and geese. Hens are great. Not only do they eat a lot of scraps and insects, but they also provide you with an egg. A vegetable garden and a hen and you have enough to supplement your basic food.

Medical supplies also became incredibly hard to source or pay for – so all those herbal remedies the EU directive banned as from April 2011 would have to come back into play.

Not only did petrol imports drop off, so mechanical aids were useless – no point in having a tractor if you can’t fuel it – but fossil fuels too – so brown-outs became the norm. And then you realise you can live without so much electricity. Street-lights are the first thing to go (and I like the fact our streetlights here go out around midnight and come back on about six in the morning… that’s six hours of electricity less than the lights outside my house in Bolton) and you cut back on all non-essential electricity. All those fancy porch lights and path markers and so on become expensive and pointless.

Oxen are the new black
Oxen are the new black

But petro-chemicals also supply the pesticide and fertiliser trade – so you have go back to organic methods, like nettle feed and horse manure. And you get out all your old horse or oxen ploughs and very soon, by force rather than middle-class white-girl westernised liberalism, you’re organic and petrol-free. Because industry relies on raw materials like steel and fossil fuels, industry drops off and agriculture becomes the main employer once again. People fish to supplement their income. No motor boats means no intensive fishing, so fish thrive. I ate the best lobster ever in Cuba, spear-fished by a guy who used the lobster to supplement his diet – but not having diesel-powered boats meant the waters are clear, clean and those lobster, not over-caught, were huge and delicious.

Diet changes too. Meat and dairy – so expensive in terms of how much it costs to raise, both financially and environmentally – become part of the past, and vegetables and grains take over. People become accidentally healthier – forced into healthy eating. You can’t afford to smoke or take drugs. So health improves although medicine is less available. Ironic. Diabetes, heart disease and early mortality all dropped – albeit in highly unfortunate, imposed circumstances.

So… I’ve decided we should all make our drop in the ocean – although bigger changes are needed to avert major disaster – and not for us, for people in the poorest communities, the most fragile of society, the old, the young, the weak. The death rate amongst pensioners went up 20% in the Special Period in Cuba – not amongst other groups. We owe it to each other. We owe it to our future selves.

Unfortunately, change is often powered by necessity rather than altruism. Drive less, consume less, grow more. Switch things off. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Maybe I should start breeding oxen and cart horses!!

Just as a parting shot, I’d like to say we 30-somethings with dread in our soul are a product of our societies’ upbringing. I watched Threads in school about nuclear disaster. I remember the gravestone-AIDS-ads. Nuclear threat, epidemics and Greenpeace all contributed to this survivalist panic. But no matter what, the media can’t disguise the fact that inflation is up because of two things: rises in food costs and rises in petrol. If you want my money on the future, these two will be the driving force behind change. You can keep your nuclear war and your hazmat suits. We’re only three meals from revolution. And heaven forfend we have to give up our beloved motor vehicles!

Trump and Berlusconi…

… must be two of the most repugnant men on the planet. I’m still getting over Sarah Palin, and then comb-over Trump links up to the Republican party and I’m astonished once more. Is it me, or are the Republicans having a serious crisis?? If you can’t find anyone better than Palin and Trump, you’re looking like a floundering dinosaur flailing about in its death throes – and this is both comical, because Palin and Trump are jokes, and alarming, because Republican Americans might vote them into power at some point.

Trump reminds me of Berlusconi, and maybe Republicans and Americans should take heed.

1. Both have hair issues – Trump with that weird combover, and Berlusconi with his hair plugs. Instantly laughable. This leads me to the second and linked point.

2. Both are too vain to age gracefully. And vanity is not an admirable quality in a leader. Especially when vanity has made them look ten times worse than they’d look if they aged gracefully.

3. Neither of them have much by way of dignity. If you have hair that looks like that, you obviously don’t care what the world thinks of you, either. And if you can’t age gracefully, it’s just undignified.

4. Both are a funny colour. Can you trust a man whose skin looks like it was sprayed on?

5. Both have bleached teeth. And I despise a man who spends more time worrying about whether his teeth are sparkly white than whether their political views are in order.

6. Both are homophobic. What’s wrong with gay marriage, for a start? Berlusconi saying being a pedophile is better than being gay… what’s with that?

7. Both seem to see women as being little more than entertainment. Trump is the man behind several ‘beauty’ pageants, having had several ‘model’ wives with big boobs. I don’t even need to say anything about bunga-bunga parties or teenage prostitutes where Berlusconi is concerned.

8. Both have more money than sense. And that’s never a good thing.

9. Both made a lot of money out of property and are ‘businessmen’ with a bent on making money and not giving much back: charity isn’t really a word these men know.

10. Both make Obama even more rational, sensible and effective, simply by being idiots. Berlusconi’s comments about Obama’s ‘tan’, and Trump’s obsession with Obama’s birth certificate make them look like idiots who couldn’t get into a good political argy-bargy with Obama over anything sensible. Men of little brain, I’m afraid.

11. Both are laughable ‘playboys’ who think affairs are acceptable and yet say family values are important: hypocrites, the pair of them, who want the world to live by ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

12. Both make cringeworthy ‘jokes’ – my favourite is Berlusconi’s about communists boiling babies to fertilise the fields – and yet both fail to realise that they themselves are the joke. The world laughs at them, not with them.

13. Both have too much testosterone. Five kids, really??!

14. Both are ‘pro-life’. Anyone who is pro-life (as I was as a teenager, I confess) should read the works of Marie Stopes. Being able to control birth, pregnancy and break free of the constraints of being at the mercy of pregnancy were the real forces behind breaking women out of poverty and ignorance. Women could study, could work, could build without interruption, could make choices about their health. More women died in childbirth than of disease in the past. Taking away women’s choice to have a child means you are effectively enslaving them and keeping them submissive. Give a woman birth control and she can control her choices and her destiny, her future and her life. Abortion, I confess, is a different issue, but related. When men force women to have no option than to bring an unwanted child into the world they are doing little other than taking away their choices and I find that deplorable.

15. Both show that being rich can buy you a prostitute wife several years your junior and that even ugly, perma-tanned, bleached-teeth racist homophobes with hair issues can buy find love with beautiful, big-haired, big-breasted women young enough to be their daughters. As Caroline Ahearne once asked Debbie McGhee, ‘so what attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?’ – it’s amazing how having a billion in the bank can make you attractive to a wide range of supposedly brainless bimbos willing to take advantage of your generosity.

16. Both reveal themselves to be complete racists in their behaviour towards Obama. I’m completely dumbstruck by Trump’s comments that he heard Obama was ‘terrible’ at school and didn’t deserve a place at Columbia or Harvard – thus suggesting the only reason he got in was because he was black. Not entirely sure how someone who is ‘terrible’ goes on to graduate magna cum laude, but there you go.

17. Both seem to shake off controversy and grow fat in its wake.

18. Both seem utterly invincible.

19. Both remind me of the Emperor in the Emperor’s New Clothes – completely obsessed with their own power and invincibility and without any sense of how foolish they really are.

20. Both have suspicious links made to organised crime. Berlusconi’s are well-documented. Anyone who hasn’t heard stories of how he is hand-in-hand with the Mafia hasn’t been reading the papers much. However, some American sources are pointing to links between Trump’s ex-colleagues and organised crime.

I can’t, however, see Trump trying to play hide-and-seek with the very dour Angela Merkel. I can’t see him making jokes about natural disasters in America and saying it’s a good opportunity for people who have lost their homes to enjoy camping. Any man who can annoy the Queen – married to the famously politically incorrect Philip – by shouting to get Barack Obama’s attention – is an imbecile. Berlusconi’s comments about Finland seem more on a par with Sarah Palin than Donald Trump – though both seem to reveal themselves as idiots the more they say. Anyone who refers to himself in the third person, as Trump does, doesn’t deserve Lady Justine’s time. That’s for sure.

Not only that, but Trump’s criticism of Obama isn’t his own idea. It’s Huckabee’s. He can’t even be racist or idiotic with his own ideas. A man who’s been on the verge of bankruptcy and has distinctly questionable financial behaviours leading the country upon whose economic success the whole world’s fortunes rest? I don’t think so! A man who gives a speech in a room in which there is a huge ice statue of himself is not someone I want to be the man in charge of the USA.

As the old adage said: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Both Trump and Berlusconi could learn from that. Unfortunately, to quote another: “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

Let’s hope Trump’s posturing is nothing more than a fairground distraction. Unfortunately, Berlusconi is the main attraction and the ringmaster of the fool’s carnival that Italian politics seems to be right now.

Things I love today…

Loving The Bird and The Fox, who play all day long. Fox has caught two mice today and no birds. Both of them have played underneath the sofa for at least an hour, climbing under the throw.

Loving the long evenings

Loving the fact my Mum will be here on Friday

Loving having my Dad over here too

Loving my turnips which are coming on great guns

Loving the garden

Loving the Tilly Flop when she skip-dances and when she skips back to the door, her ears flapping

Loving the Moll and her random energy bursts where she races about

Loving being in my comfy bed

Loving having  a bedroom that’s now 16 degrees at night

Loving having a posse of boys wave at me and call me Madame Lee

Loving how gorgeously made-up Marine, one of my Bac students, is – subtlety and style – no thick make-up that I went for when I was too young and dumb to realise what perfect skin I had.

Loving Deb and Joanne: how lovely it is to have some sensible company beyond my family

Loving cauliflower cheese and hoping that my cauliflowers grow into big ones

Loving finding photos of Dylan I’d forgotten I’d taken

And loving Jake, who is very sweet and very funny. I hope he knows he’s fantastic.

He came in after school and asked me what a ‘tire-bouchon’ was. I didn’t know. I know a bouchon is a cork or a traffic jam, a bottle neck. And I know tirer is to take. So ‘take-cork’??! Corkscrew of course. Not only did he have to read in class, but he handled it with aplomb. I’m so proud of him. Later, I was uncorking a bottle of wine for Steve and I said to Jake: “What’s this?” as I brandished the corkscrew.

“It’s a C-O-R-K-S-C-R-E-W…” he said, totally deadpan. “God, Emma, you’re so clever, but you don’t even know that??!”

And not loving??

Death threats

Sore ankles and feet from being on my feet all day

Tilly jingling all night last night. Back to the crate

How some people spend less time on their kids than I do with my plants. 81 minutes a week, say the stats. How can you justify that??

Why oh why…

Did I want two more dogs??

I might as well have Dog Slave and Boy Slave written on me in permanence. I do nothing but pander to the whims of the various animals from dawn to dusk.

First is Moll waking me up by wanting to get under the covers and then get out again. Because I’m blanketed up, she’s got three to get under or out of. Thus, I have to be fully awake to unwrap and re-wrap her. This is Steve’s fault for letting her sleep in the bed. Now she’s entitled.

Second is navigating cat shit. Basil no longer wants to go outside on account of the other dogs and so he’s back on litter box duty. However, he misses. Today he shat in my last box of card from The Card Factory.

Third is navigating Tilly’s ‘girlie accidents’ (according to the ad about her from her previous owners – actually, completely un-housetrained… hmmmm)  and mopping up before letting them all out, having safely secured Basil in a dog-free eating environment so that he can eat his precious cat food in peace without being molested by Saffy or Tilly. Molly wouldn’t dare, but Saffy and Tilly are greedy and their eyes are bigger than their consciences or fear of punishment.

Then comes petting Tilly after she’s weed and congratulating her on weeing outside or doing a big shit. I’m going to start congratulating everyone for shitting where they should. I might stand near my brother and go “Good Aim!” when he gets it in the bowl.

Following this, I have to then retrieve Basil from his cold dog-free buffet and settle the dogs down again.

Mostly, things are fairly calm until I need to go out. It’s not so much the going out that’s the problem, it’s the coming back. Tilly sits on the back of the settee so she can look through the window, which is very cute and thus I am heart-broken upon leaving. Then when I get back, I have not to greet Tilly until she’s weed, and fuss Saffy who barks until you do and pet Molly who I like fussing when I come back because she doesn’t wee or bark. Then they rifle through my bags.

I then have to have three dogs underfoot in the kitchen until I send them all packing. I do a good line in ‘Out! Out!’ until they all disappear, before sneaking back in. Then the whole rigmarole again.

Tilly, not being house-trained, likes to sit near the door knowing full well whenever she does we’ll let her out. Then Saffy follows her, not wanting to miss anything. Tilly used to go out to drink – both dogs are compulsive drinkers, because they’re so used to it and doing it out of boredom. Tilly goes outside to drink from the laundry basket and then comes in and wees in Jake’s room or the dining room, or the kitchen, or some other place I’ve yet to find and I mop again. Saffy barks every time she goes outside because she’s so excited to be outside and nobody has ever told her not to. So if they go out, I have to follow – firstly to inspect peeing and nervous drinking – and secondly to stop the barking and chicken chasing.

Molly also has got into the habit of sitting in Steve’s chair, behind him. The chair isn’t big enough for both of them, so Steve usually falls off the edge as Molly shoves her way in. Tilly sits near the door desperate for some extra water or a sniff at some cat food. Saffy, thankfully, is sleeping.

This is obviously not even including the walking and the fussing and the constant attention to dog psychology.

But, I must say, I love it really.

American diplomats… bunch of bitchy little girls

I try not to get involved in politics these days. It boils my blood. A friend of mine yesterday pointed out that the news often makes her cry. It does me too. I was chatting yesterday with a French friend about wikileaks, and when I said we old Europeans tend to be cynical about politics, he said ‘no, we’re realists’. Perhaps he’s right, but I for one am very cynical. I wish I could trust a single elected government official. You know my thoughts on this already.

However, I’m actually quite amused by the Wikileaks scandal. Firstly, I don’t believe anything has been revealed that someone with any political understanding didn’t know already. North Korea being a ‘spoilt child’? Only yesterday, I said China would never stomach a war with America using Korea as a pawn. Russia too. Cold war/Asia/East fighting battles on chessboards with pawn nations against Europe/the New World/West hopefully went out of the window with Vietnam and Afghanistan and so on. The pawns fought back with weapons we provided for them and decapitated all the black and white Kings and Queens. So is it any surprise to anyone in the world that China would prefer diplomacy to war? Not at all. Is it any surprise that Washington (I use this term to mean politicians, rather than the American public!) would rather bomb the shit out of them, having failed to learn a lesson in 1953? Not really.

Obama regards (present tense??) David Cameron as a lightweight? Well, didn’t England?? Two thirds of the country didn’t vote Conservative. That’s a lot of people who didn’t believe in him either. Maybe still don’t. To be honest, as a probably slightly central thinker (belief about free education and hospitals weighed out by a right-thinking capitalist approach) I like his fairness. But in my opinion, he’s a bit like that shiny-faced, slightly-plump goodie-two-shoes kid who always had his shirt tucked in and his tie done up properly who’d say ‘Miss… such-and-such has been doing this when you were writing on the board.’ I’m thinking Martin from The Simpsons. Lightweight, probably. He’s not a political heavyweight like Tebbit or Thatcher and so on, but is that a bad thing?

The US has been bombing Yemeni Al-Quaeda camps? Quelle surprise! Yemeni officials have been saying they’ve been doing it?? Yeah right. I’m pretty sure when you look at what’s happened there, you know the US have something to do with it. If I were Al-Quaeda, I wouldn’t look at the damage and think for one single minute that Yemeni troops had done this. Not to mention the fact that most governments are about as watertight as a sieve. I’m quite sure Bin Laden could work out this for himself.

Hillary Clinton has been spying on the UN. Isn’t that kind of her job?? If she doesn’t know what the hell’s going on everywhere, I’d be pretty worried!

My favourite stories are the Prince Andrew ones. Firstly, I kind of like that he’s actually doing something. You have this vague understanding that the royal family are out there ‘doing stuff’, but I’m pleased to hear he’s actually trying to do something useful. I did say trying. Secondly, I like that he is a ‘neuralgic patriot’. If anyone is a neuralgic patriot, I’d hope it was the Royal Family. I’d be pissed off if he’d been calling England names!! I like that he said Americans don’t know geography. I know it’s a very, very sweeping generalisation, but Sarah Palin? Come on. Fess up, America. You’ve got people who like Palin, who voted for her. This worries us. There are four US states where it is ILLEGAL to teach anything other than creationism as the theory of how the world was created, thus making it not so much theory as four states’ ‘fact’ that this happened. In a supposedly secular nation! Four states!! And I like the fact he said ‘English geography teachers are the best in the world.’

Obviously, he’s not met MY geography teacher, Mr Mulroy, who was responsible for losing my GCSE folder and getting me a D. My only D. He talked more about a fireball his grandmother had seen and less about favelas and shanty towns. However, I like that Prince Andrew said our Geography teachers are the best in the world, even if he was exaggerating. Honestly, he sounded like he really believed it. Why’s that a bad thing? I want my Royal representatives to believe, without doubt, that British stuff is best. Apparently, the American ambassador, ‘who speaks 6 languages’, was not impressed by Andrew’s intelligence (or lack of) – did she NOT know Andrew AT ALL before she went to the meeting??! Everybody knows a) Prince Charles is a green-alliance soft-touch who talks to plants b)Andrew is a Hooray Henry of Prince Harry standards c)Edward is probably a bit gay and d) Anne likes horses and swears a bit and is probably a bit like Princess Margaret was. And she was an old lush. Maybe I should be the American Ambassador. I wouldn’t be surprised by Andrew’s lack of finesse or brains. So he’s more like Phillip, who we all know to be a bit of a ‘foot-in-mouth’ pensioner. Is this news to anyone??! Even the pro-monarchy (well, pro-Diana) Daily Express knows these so-called secrets.

US ambassadors think Berlusconi is ‘feckless, vain and ineffective’? Honestly, that’s quite diplomatic. I’d have said a second-rate mafiosi one step down from Mussolini, myself. Some say hanging round with 16 year old Moroccans is a ‘playboy lifestyle’ – I say it’s one year older than paedophilia. Just to point out, the guy is 74. He has hair plugs and bad Just for Men hair dye. Vain?! That’s putting it mildly. This is the man who said Obama was ‘more tinted’ than the last one… feckless? I’d say a rude racist, myself. Accusations of money laundering, corruption and lying – none of which stick because everybody knows he’s got so many people in his pockets. I’d personally have gone for ‘wannabe gangsta-cum-mafiosi-paedophile’ and it’d have been much more accurate. Allegedly. For a man who controls the media in Italy, he’s not very media-savvy. I personally like his justification of ‘it’s better to like beautiful young girls than to be gay’. This is the Italian Prime Minister, people.

Putin is an alpha-dog? Anything we didn’t know?! He’s risen up through the ranks and turned the country around from a corrupt oligarchy to a financially and politically stable place. You don’t do that if you haven’t got a killer mentality and brute force behind you. Human rights not really a strong point, nor Chechnya, but he’s got KGB connections coming out of his eyeballs. This is a man who probably knows YOUR secrets. Let’s not forget, we might have got Gorbachev and Glasnost but then we had the pisshead Yeltsin.

China hacked Google. Really?! As Jake would say, in his uber-sarcastic tones. So, a technologically savvy nation (who invented the world’s first eggless egg) hacked an organisation it was threatened by? Hmmm. There’s a surprise. I’d have been more worried if they hadn’t tried to see what was afoot at Google. I’m not at all anti-Google, having been one of the first googlers back in the day when Ask Jeeves was still popular, but it doesn’t do well for corporations to get involved in politics. China have hacked into other stuff? I’m not surprised. I’d be more surprised if they weren’t spying on everything.

Afghanistan is still corrupt?! Oh My Word!! So one of the world’ major political hotspots has failed to be sorted out in five years, despite a centuries-old mess left by East and West. I like the fact the Afghan VP had $52, 000, 000 on him. Where do you keep that kind of money?!

The CIA have made a boo-boo and arrested (and probably tortured) the wrong person and asked Germany not to prosecute them for their error. I’m saying nothing. But shit like this happens all the time. England were no better with suspected IRA terrorists. We don’t have to look back very far to realise we’ve made similar errors as a country. So who gets to cast the first stone?

On The Daily Beast, the first comment ‘I wish I could say I’m surprised’ sums it up for me. Steve kind of said it all this morning when he said ‘there’s a difference between suspecting and knowing’, which is true, but it still makes me laugh. If any one of these people, organisations or countries didn’t know precisely what was going on, they’re not very good at politics!!

It reminds me a little of someone finding a popular schoolgirl’s diary (the Burn Book, I guess, from Mean Girls) and sharing it around. Nobody is surprised to find their names in it. Nobody is surprised to realise what the other one thinks of them. Still, it creates a scandal because everyone’s upset that the diary is out there. If America is Regina, England must be Gretchen or Karen – are we an insecure rich girl or sweet but dimwitted?? Rumours, gossip and bitchiness. The Burn Book is Uber-Bitch Regina’s secret diary of scandal, gossip and meanness, not unlike some of these wikileaks documents. The school (perhaps in this case, the UN) make everyone fess up and apologise. Maybe that’s what should happen here.

Berlusconi: I’m sorry I said paedophilia is better than homosexuality

Homosexuals: We’re sorry we said you looked like a leather-back turtle

Berlusconi: I’m sorry I said Obama was tinted

Obama: I’m sorry we said you were vain and feckless. We know how sensitive you are about your hair plugs.

Saudi Arabia: I’m sorry we said you should bomb Iran. We’re just mad because they get so much press attention

Iran: we’re sorry we have such a terrible human rights record. We love all of you really.

China: Sorry, Google. I know we should be best friends, what with China having such a high proportion of the internet, but we can’t have you taking over

Google: Sorry, China. We know how sensitive you are about what your people can do. We shouldn’t have interfered in your politics, dude.

US Ambassador: Sorry, Andrew – I didn’t mean to say you were stupid.

Andrew: That’s okay. I forgive you. I shouldn’t have been so nasty about France. Forgive me, France. And so I like Britain? So sue me!

France: Hmmm. Okay, but America, you owe us a big apology for saying we’re thin skinned.

America: we’re sorry; we’re just pissed off you didn’t support us over Iraq

France: I know, but we felt strong-armed, and you need to admit it was a criminal action

America: yeah, we know. Sorry, Iraq. We didn’t mean to say you had WMD… it just got so out of hand. If you’d just have sold us oil at a sensible price…

Iraq: well, what’s done is done. Saddam’s dead now. Maybe you could help us rebuild the cradle of civilisation?

America: fair enough.

ad infinitum

Don’t bank on a bank

My sister thinks I am anti-England. In a way, she’s right. I love this country but watching politics and banks destroy it is like watching an old friend being ravaged by an entirely preventable disease that, once in motion, cannot be stopped. Negative imagery perhaps. And, no, it’s not just England. All around me, I look at a world damaged by politics and economics and I feel sympathy with Marx that he knew something had to, and must, change.

Politics and politicians are the easy target. They are public. Most people know the name of their president or Prime Minister, and it’s easy to slander them. Some are utterly ridiculous. The posturing, posing, preening and frankly mafiaesque behaviour of Berlusconi; the completely bonkers actions of Qaddafi. Some are not what we thought they would be – Blair take note. A couple of world leaders seem to have their hearts in the right place – Lula is a shining example. Some are bully-boys, like Kim Jong-il. Some inherit, as D. Cameron likes to point out, crazy, corrupt governments. Some try to make it better; many make it worse. But they are public figures and they face the firing line, literally, sometimes – like JFK and Lincoln, or Berlusconi faced by a mad-man. Sometimes they face the firing line in retrospect, judged for their rule, like Saddam Hussein.

We are who we elect. As The Jam said, ‘you choose your leaders and place your trust’ – and then they renege on promises and ideology – maybe because of the situation they inherit. And they face the music. I feel for them, a little. Reading Coriolanus is insightful – Shakespeare’s masses (and his interpretation of Roman masses) reads like politics today. (As an aside, I’ve just seen that Coriolanus is due for release as a film this year… with Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus. Excellent casting.) He said of the public, ‘he who depends on your favours swims with fins of lead’… ‘with every minute you do change a mind’. A noble, fierce, honest yet not publicity-hungry general who does the right thing and totally understands the fickle nature of the masses who care only about their belly and the today, and who is turned upon when he decides to go for government. There’s a story for today.

Yet it’s not these men, with all their hubris – or lack of it – that inspire my wrath. In a way, I pity them. They inherit problems, can’t start afresh, rely on public favour and can only do what they are permitted to do. Sometimes you are the public’s darling; sometimes you face their judgement without doing anything differently. Take pensions. Let’s get some perspective. Pensions have only really existed for 100 years. Much of the world have no access to a pension. I kind of understand the French anger about their pensions, but in reality, five generations ago, pensions didn’t exist. And pensions need sorting. The country has a plughole of money it needs to fill. People must accept something needs to happen to allow pensions in the future. More money is needed or people need to die. Such is the simplicity of the situation. But the public have a short-sighted vision that things that are thus must ever be thus without realising how lucky they are to have a pension in the first place, let alone a lifespan of 67.2 years – the global life expectancy. France is 10th in the world. Its people will live 12.5 years longer than this. Maybe not in good health. Maybe ill every single day. But over 40 years longer than people in many African nations will live. Such is life.

But yes, politicians of the past (and of the present) made mistakes. Trouble is, they’re all too involved in the blame game to say sorry for their part in it. Or for their predecessors part in it. Governments around the world have done horrendous things in the name of governance and in the name of the country. Australian government-sponsored forced adoption of aboriginal peoples… American removal of lands from indigenous tribes… English treatment of the Irish… countries who’ve waged war and fought themselves, making enemies of brothers… Does anyone stand up and say ‘Actually, we SHOULD ensure African life expectancy improves, since the race for colonisation fucked everything up quite royally’ – or ‘Actually, we SHOULD be in Afghanistan, helping out, since we’ve used it as a pawn in the Empire/Super-power game since time immemorial’. No.

So politics is one bad boy.

But, banks are worse. We elect our governments (sometimes) and we elect them from our masses. They are us. They do as we do. We can say ‘no’ to Mugabe and say ‘that’s not right to Idi Amin’ – who starve and subjugate people, remove their land from them.

But we never say no to the banks.

Banks have been around for about 600 years. That’s all. That’s nothing, in the scheme of human lifetimes. The Romans’ rule was slightly less. Chinese dynasties lasted longer. They’ve existed for about the same time as ‘America’ – I say that with tongue in cheek. We still see America as a new country; fresh. It’s a baby in World Domination. In fact, the banks dominate us much more. McDonald’s can’t get into Cuba. Banks can.

Of course, money lenders have existed since way before then, as Jebus tells us. And they weren’t good news either.

The fact is banks rule the world, not governments. I see Icelandic banking collapses worry my parents more than pension changes. My step-dad was concerned about his money in the Irish banking system. One crash can destroy their life together. Banks can remove houses, ruin lives – all on the back of their own dodgy behaviours. They lie, they over-predict, they gloss over, they make bad loans and bad debts and they squeeze the little man.

Let’s face it, the banks caused the Great Depression, not the Government. The banks caused global recession, not the Government. We worry about the euro, but it’s the banks who are more concerning, even the IMF, lending money to countries who are bad-debt risks.

I grew up in the eighties where ‘ethics’ mattered to students opening accounts. You didn’t bank with Barclays because you knew they were involved in excessive debt collecting from African nations – many of whom had seen the debt repayed many times over. (I’m reminded the Germans have just finished paying for the First World War!)And interest rates on loans were impossible for countries to manage. Combinations of corrupt governments and giddy-school-boy banking has meant that the people of the world suffer.

They can be regulated – they are supposed to be. So why do banks still fall apart? It is, after all, an industry and its primary purpose is profit. That’s why they fall apart.

In England, if you put your money in a bank, it doesn’t even belong to you anymore. The American Federal Reserve is a privately-owned company. “The Reserve Banks… are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations.”

They, therefore, dictate monetary policy, being independent, TO the US Government, not the other way around. They can introduce Qualitative Easing, not the government. They decide whether to introduce this – and QE is introduced when other things have failed. Colloquially, they print more money. It failed in Japan in the early 2000s. It has many risks. And a privately owned corporation can force this to happen! The Federal Reserve doesn’t have to say who it has guaranteed money to, and although it was forced to say by Bloomberg, it is up for appeal. We may never know where American money goes, who influences it or what is influencing the politics of our world-leading cross-Atlantic bigger, younger sibling.

And that should scare you. Banks dictate economy. Economy drives politics. Politics alter every single aspect of our life – whether it’s what we are reading, what we can say, who we can do business with, how much income we have, our health…

And forgive me for being a little bit concerned that not enough people accept that when they take their pay cheque to the bank, they’re contributing to starvation in some countries, or forced devaluation or inflation.

This is why I have a non-cheque, non-card La Poste account in France. The only money that goes into it is in cheque form. I need a hidey-hole for my other money, I think. I might start investing in guns or bullets for when the end-game is played out ; )

Whilst I end with a bit of a joke about my own paranoia about the bank (and the reality of my part-state-owned account – france is definitely not without its banking problems!!) I have to say we easily forget Lehman Bros, Barings Bank, Nick Leeson, Icelandic banking crises, almost-bankrupt Eurozone countries, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Northern Rock and Great Depressions and other events that have altered the course of history. Banks are not in it to protect our money; they are there to make a profit. And the majority of people who started banks, with all their risks, wanted to make a profit. And so they did.

Lehman Bros was set up in 1850. That’s 158 years of trading. A sniff. And yet it helped set in motion a global disaster that, as one Moroccan market trader said to me ‘has affected the whole world, from Timbuktoo to Alaska’.

I know Lehman Bros suffered a loss in the 9/11 terrorist attack, and I’m reminded of why (apart from ease of target) the World Trade Centre was chosen. It’s such a potent symbol of trade and banking.

Criminal as well as civil prosecutions are underway as to whether banks lied about conditions – whole corporations who are up on trial for causing global financial issues.

The Icelandic banking problems are not yet over and had a knock-on effect all over the world.

National bankruptcy happens.

It happens more than you’d think.

p.s. My money isn’t under my mattress. And if it all goes to pot and collapses, you’re welcome round mine anytime for homemade wine and some homegrown veg. Luckily, Jake’s good at traps and fancies himself as the next Michael Weston from Burn Notice, so we’ll be fairly well-protected. My house is older than all these banking crises.

Chavs, scallies, Essex girls and the Manc swagger

I’ve been having conversational lessons with a marvellous client and I’ve been briefing him on all things Anglais. It must be said, I’m becoming a bit of a Daily Mail complainant about English life. I need to stop reading British newspapers with their doom, gloom and minute-by-minute analysis of the economy, because it’s making me miserable about my home country.

It confuses me that French newspapers seem not to print pictures or stories that are inflammatory. A fellow forum-user posted some pictures of the riots in Lyon in response to the recent strikes about retirement age, and I have to say I’d seen nothing like them in the press here. Whilst on the one hand, it’s kind of dishonest to ‘hush up’ the extremity of the violence, the riot police, teens up-ending cars and so on, it’s also a little more gentle. England, however, seems to revel in inflammation. If a newspaper can act as a catalyst for emotions in England, it seems to take every opportunity. Today, I was mostly incensed about a man from Bury who hanged his dog from a bridge when he was drunk and has got 10 weeks of a prison sentence. I went through the whole gamut of Daily Mail emotions – anger, frustration, a desire to become a mercenary and go out and do the same thing to him – posted links to Facebook and got myself all upset about a dog which, as Steve says, is probably better off dead than it was with its owner.

I wonder if such things happen in France. Undoubtedly there are cruel people here: France isn’t necessarily renowned for its sentimentality about animals, but they do love a ‘hand-bag’ dog. Perhaps a crime in itself to keep a dog in a handbag or dress it up in little coats, but I never saw a story like this in the French press. There’s been a Tony-Martin-esque story down in Toulouse, but it’s not really ‘national’ news. The news seems much more political, much more intellectual, lots less American and lots less sensational.

And I have to query what this sensationalist news reporting has done to me.

Back to the client, I realised when writing up my vocabulary list after today’s session that I’ve taught him about chavs, painted a picture of England beset by teen thugs, taught him that Britain’s cities are poverty-stricken and violent, taught him about Jeremy Kyle, teenage pregnancies, ‘rainbow’ families, discussed bullying and intimidation and when he asked about Colchester, I informed him about Essex girls and squaddies on drunken rampages. It sounds not unlike a third-world warzone. “The Only Way is Essex” can’t, surely, be how it is in Essex. Yet it’s how I think of it. Blonde WAGs, boob jobs, hair extensions, sunbeds… and all images planted in my mind by the media. The people I know from Essex aren’t like that at all. Admittedly, I only know four people from Essex, but not a one of them conforms to this image. So is this cynicism worsened by the media?

But then he got me on the subject of Manchester. And my love came swimming back. Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, New Order, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis – the bulk of great English music in the past few years has come out of Manchester. And I love that.

I told him about my friend who had come up from London to work. After a couple of weeks, she told me she was going out with a ‘musician’. I laughed. Virtually every Northerner I know is in a band of a sort, or can play an instrument. I know about 20 bass guitarists, a good load of singers, drummers and guitarists, all of whom are ‘in bands’. If you aren’t kicking a ball about, you are making music in Manchester. You might be 35, live at home with your mum and have never worked a full week in your life, but if you can’t aspire to be the next big thing, you haven’t got any Manchester in your soul. This is Manchester.

It’s a little sad that my client now knows the words ‘chav’ and ‘trailer trash’ and ‘scally’. It’s very sad I told him about Essex girls. I think I need to be more kind to my home country, though it hasn’t always been kind to me. It’s still within me to wax lyrical about the wonders of Manchester. I hope that little bit of wonder doesn’t turn sour!

Coincidentally, I picked up a French book about the top 100 cities in the world. Manchester was in there – alongside London. I looked and it made me feel very proud to be Manc through and through. I might not like the scallies and the chavs, and men who throw dogs off bridges. I definitely don’t like the fact I was mugged by 30 teens and not a single thing happened to those criminals, and I don’t like the fact my car was keyed. I disagree with the quangos and the bureaucracy and the civil servant state. But I still love my Manchester, warts and all.