Archive for March, 2011

We’ve not done one of these for a while, and I meant to get around to a Loleatta Holloway tribute link at some point. Here goes – an absolute killer of a remix that dropped out of the YouTube playlist by chance.

Meanwhile, depress yourself!

The auction of machine tools and fittings, including a 10m antique boardroom table and 20 matching chairs is now being advertised; it takes place at the end of the month.

Ah, where did I leave that post? This stands up pretty well too.

I’ve been rating my way through the SXSW torrent, which is far less fun than it sounds. Sturgeon’s law applies – in fact it’s worse than 90% of everything being shit, it’s more like 90% of everything is inoffensive and a significant chunk of the other 10% is offensive. But then it got worse, thanks to this tweet. The best is the enemy of the good, but they are natural allies against the mediocre.

For some reason, London rugby league fans are Leeds-influenced – they sing Marching on Together and a version of We are Leeds..Rhinos. Keighley may have fucked up against Whitehaven, but the Keighley and Airedale GMB were next to us on the demo. Photos are here.

It was a fantastic day – like Jamie Kenny said about elections, this vast civic initiative just rolled out, a whole left-wing infrastructure lighting up in its bakelite console after all these years. Throw the right switches and things happen. My favourite quote was from the TGWU Widnes Road Transport shop steward: “We’re not smiling because it’s too serious to smile!” Smiling, of course. In that way it was like a Challenge Cup final day. Lots of chosen sportswear and finely checked shirts. And I still have no idea about the Scousers with the Polish flag.

And the tribal wars, of course. I saw more than one steward wearing a hi-viz vest from Unite that had been remarked to say “My other vest is a GMB” or something to that effect.

Eh, well. When are we coming back?

A bit of Rugby League blogging. It’s been a weird start to the season. Not so long ago – but after more than a few games – London/sorry/Harlequins RL were top of the league. (Regarding the name, I’m not the only one. I saw a Fulham RL shirt at this weekend’s game.) And the top three included Huddersfield and Castleford. Meanwhile, the big four were in the bottom half of the table. It’s early season madness, of course.

Things are a bit less weird now – Wigan have started to play more like the defending champions, Warrington have imposed themselves as the best side so far. Their game with St Helens was probably the best so far. But the top three are currently the Wire, Cas, and Fartown, with Saints and Wigan behind. Leeds and Bradford are further off.

Yesterday’s match at the Stoop ended up being a surprising classic. Hull FC were good – they damn well should be, given some of the faces in the side, even if nobody’s actually related to Willie Mason. London pulled back an early advantage, and eventually hit a blast of form in the second half. At this point they looked good value for anything. Quick. Tough. Neat. It was a great afternoon in west London, a misty bath of sunshine swimming with Airbus A380s on easterly operations, and even the Hull FC people were reasonably pleasant. (I’ve been hard on them in the past and they occasionally show up in comments to whine about it, but on this occasion, they were almost as nice as Hull Kingston Rovers fans.)

London chose the moment to do another of their epic chokes. Heading for the finish, Hull began to sense a crack or two. This was the moment for (who else) Sean Long, still with his Saints-colours gumshield after all these years, to crank the pressure up. Starting at 30-16 down, they hauled the game in. At 30-26, London looked like setting up a dropgoal attempt. It didn’t happen – not much else did – and a couple of tackles later they gave away a daft penalty. Hull scored, pulled ahead, and despite the inevitable short kick-off, London couldn’t pull off a two-minute raid. It didn’t matter, in fact – they kept scoring. In the end Hull got from 30-16 down to 40-30 up in less than a point a minute. You can see why Saints want Long back. Actually it wasn’t so much him but Sam Obst, their stand-off, who really did the deed.

Meanwhile, Keighley lost to Whitehaven 24-10.

March

I’ll be out tomorrow. Obviously. Setting off from Archway tube at 1015. Anyway, updates will be at the twitter feed.

At my local gym on Friday, I was accused of abusing steroids. Just like that – I’d finished my weights session and moved on to the abs, when some random guy approached me and said “Here – are you on gear?” No. “I mean, are you on gear?” No, I’m not on steroids. [Cancel the maniac, please] “I mean, you’re lifting heavy for your physique, man.”

All the while, I couldn’t stop thinking of the Geoff Wode scene in Withnail & I. “Look at him! Look at Geoff Wode!” Recreational steroid users and people who know most of the W&I script are probably two groups with a minimal intersection set.

It says something about the modern thinkers that one of the Egyptian spooks the Piggipedia team identified turns out to be working in the “Security and Loss Prevention” department of a major hypermarket chain. Having lifted photos with names on them from their HQ, they started searching PofacedBook – sorry, LinkedIn – for them, and discovered many more stories like this. That particular spy had been in charge of infiltrating NGOs before shifting over to the retail sector. Sadly, they started deleting profiles pretty quickly.

Is if the exploiters miss you out, said Joan Robinson of capitalism.

A twofer of Owen Hatherley on Manchester. Thoughts: it’s surely a slightly odd idea that London is rich because of the housing market, rather than the other way around, although I can certainly imagine an unusually dense Blairite town-hall politician getting that impression. Bu then, I wouldn’t class the GMC pols as being that dense. And this:

In a way it’s hard to resent them and again this is the major flaw in my stuff about Manchester. The thing is I don’t remember it when it was fucked.

Well, this is the turd in the punch bowl. Is there an even vaguely credible alternative route from about 1983 forwards that goes anywhere else, thinking of the basically hostile central government for most of that period and the various path dependencies? Owen is working on the assumption that without the redevelopment era, we’d have found our way back to the high welfare state in the end, rather than – essentially – Thornton Road in Bradford. It’s a sort of sick, el cheapo parody of Tony Wilson urbanism, with converted mills that end up being rented to not one but two serial killers in ten years, and positively Sicilian half-built failed projects like the motorway to nowhere, the Interchange, Abbey National, the Millenium Faith experience, the Alsop master plan, and the rubble zone.

Actually, making a list of ‘em, the periodicity between failures seems to be declining over time, the rate picking up, and one of them includes Will Alsop, so perhaps he has a point. But I still think this rant against decay-porn in a US context could be imported.

Alliance Géostrategique is having a month on the theme of independence.

Some thoughts: First of all, we’re constantly exhorted to act as individuals but also to be aware of interdependence. “Interdependence” seems to be the neoliberal mirror image of “solidarity” – rather than being a force that makes for positive liberty, it seems to be a negative one. You never here of anything good coming of it – rather, it’s always about financial crises, viruses spreading on the airlines, cascade failures in supply chains and Internet routing, terrorists and organised criminal networks. We are asked to fork out in the name of interdependence, while individuals profit.

Of course, this is where the similarity with “solidarity” turns up. The supposed virtues of “solidarity” or “community” are often, even usually, indistinguishable from stifling conservatism, Nosey Parker, and the sort of family ethic where everyone knows the worst about everyone else but some people are never held responsible for it. To be really cynical, you know it’s solidarity (or interdependence) when someone’s rattling their tin under your nose.

Getting back to the point, in the world of “interdependence”, why would anyone want independence? If even major powers are constrained by rules, what’s the point? Between the 1980s and the great financial crisis, there was a fashion for a sort of soft nationalism, especially in Europe, in which it was argued that small states were worth having precisely because so many of the big questions of peace and war and fundamental economics had been reserved by institutions like the EU, NATO, the Bretton Woods structures, the WTO, and the less formal systems of the international community. Although there was not much point in having a Scottish Army, by the same token, it didn’t matter. Therefore things like “Europe of the regions” and friends were a valid proposition.

One of the most dangerous toys left to a small state (or autonomous province) was its financial system. If you couldn’t have a Ruritanian foreign policy, you could decide to be a freewheeling sin city of a financial centre, which would give your ruling elite the sort of self-importance the dance of diplomacy did in the Edwardian era. And, in the years when the financial sector itself was exploding in size, it meant real money. Importantly, the same slice in absolute terms means a lot more in relative terms to a small state. So, everyone and their dog wanted to be their regional money centre. In much the same way as the Edwardian small powers insisted on having a battleship or two of their own, they all insisted on having a bank of sorts and building up whatever local financial institutions were available into investment banks. This could be on the grand scale (RBS, WestLB) or on a much smaller one, like some of the Spanish cajas or the Hypo Alpe-Adria in Jörg Haider’s fief. (As Winston Churchill said about the proliferation of battleships, it is sport to them, it is death to us.)

It’s better that people should play with banks rather than battleships, of course – J.K. Galbraith said that one of the great things about a crash was that although it was a fine opportunity to observe all that was worst in human nature, nothing more important was being lost than money. (He may have been wrong – Chris Dillow observes that financial crises seem to destroy wealth more effectively and for longer than natural disasters.)

But I think the hilarious stories of Icesave, RBS, Hypo Alpe-Adria, that caja that was managed by the Church, and so on do tell us something about the value of formal independence, even limited formal independence like that of Scotland or Catalonia, in the era of “interdependence”.

Essentially, I think, the one product that any degree of legal independence lets you produce is impunity. The legal status of independence is important here – without it, you’re limited to hawking the bonds of the Serbian Republic of Northern Krajina to unusually dim marks, but with it, you can be of service to the world’s plutocrats. Some features of independence that always sell include:

  1. Financial regulation
  2. Tax
  3. Shipping and aviation registries
  4. Corporate registries
  5. Criminal and civil jurisdiction
  6. An Internet top-level domain
  7. A direct dialling prefix
  8. Diplomatic privileges
  9. Passports

Criminal and civil jurisdiction, as impunity services go, have lost some value over the years as extradition treaties proliferate, legal norms are internationalised, and contracts come with arbitration clauses. Further, ever since the US Marshals hauled off Noriega, it’s been at least conceivable that an extradition request may be delivered by 1,000lb air courier, in a vertical fashion and without warning. But facilitating tax evasion, the concealment of ownership, and the registration of ships and aircraft without taking responsibility for them are all highly valuable services.

Similarly, being able to register a horde of spammy websites is a good business to be in, especially if your own laws provide for genuinely bullet proof hosting. Unfortunately, many small island states are vulnerable to vigilante action by the Internet operations community as they only have direct access to one transit provider. Lending your direct dial prefix to anyone who wants to originate a mass of sales or propaganda phone calls is also a good business, especially if it involves callbacks and their attendant termination fees.

Finally, selling diplomatic privileges is the individualised version of the state’s impunity. Holding an Angolan diplomatic passport kept Pierre Falcone out of jail for 10 years.

Arguably, turning the libertarian view of the state on its head, it is precisely the minimal state that is the closest to the status of one of John Robb’s “gangs of black globalisation”. Fascinatingly, some valuable criminal functions persist even in the absence of the canonical monopoly of force. It is probably no accident that the neoliberal era has coexisted with an unprecedented proliferation of ostensibly independent states.

We’ve not had a Thursday music link this week….

Because if anywhere made full use of the fraudulent possibilities of sovereign status, of course…

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