Monday, 30 September 2013

Letters to the Editor: Veganism not the Answer

Sent to the I's 'Voices' section, in response to a letter suggesting that 'switching to a vegan diet would help stop global warming'.

Mark Richards' suggestion in his letter published on the 30th September that we should switch to a vegan diet to save the environment demonstrates a marked ignorance of basic principles of agriculture.  Here’s two experiments: first, try living on grass. You can’t, because your body is not adapted to gain enough nutrition from it. Next, try growing food crops on land normally used for pasture. This may be possible…with the use of increased levels of agricultural industrialisation, massive quantities of nitrate fertiliser (having liberated our manure-producing animals, commercially viable organic farming becomes nearly impossible) and the wholesale destruction of ancient hedgerows…oh wait, weren’t we supposed to be saving the environment?

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Personal Project: The Wasp Factory

I have decided to embark on a personal project, the form of which I have been considering for some time. I am going to test my skills by designing and illustrating a book written by someone else, for my own personal enjoyment, and as a learning experience. At the end, perhaps, I will have a handsome product for my personal library, though, as I have not chosen a book that is out of copyright, I will almost certainly not be able to do anything commercial with the result.

The book I have chosen for this project is Iain Banks' debut novel The Wasp Factory. This is a book that has a lot of personal meaning to me, perhaps more so since Iain Bank's recent untimely death, which affected me quite a bit. Banks has been one of my favourite authors for a long time, since my early teens, when I fell in love with his science fiction novels. Since then, I have read almost everything that he ever wrote, and though I still love the science fiction work (and not just those that deal with the post-human, anarchist Culture) some of his non-genre works are the ones that stick with me. Of these, the one I always keep coming back to is The Wasp Factory.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Pedagogy (A poem)

The buses pull up, at opposite stops
The passengers alight, headed into college
The educators and those to be educated
With textbooks, guitars, laptop computers
Cases of knives, hairdresser’s uniforms, medication
Sketchbooks, dictaphones, packets of cigarettes
And trainers picked to match dyed hair

And my mind draws connections
The tunnel leading into the stadium
Or into the gladiator’s arena
The passage tomb
The Anderson shelter
Subterranean vision rituals
Of the ancient Nazca

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Flânerie and Rambling

In my psychogeographical researches, which I am now beginning to re-engage with, I have used two particular key-words from the literature to describe the individual engaged in psychogeographical practice; the flâneur and the robinsonneur, along with associated terms such as flânerie and robinsonnage. Since I completed Vectis I have had time to critically assess my use of these terms, and I have come to see some faults, particularly in the use of the word flâneur.

The flâneur, which translates literally as something like 'stroller' or 'lounger' (implying simultaneously in the original both movement and idleness) comes to the modern psychogeographer from the writings of Charles Baudelaire, via Walter Benjamin. Baudelaire's flâneur was a man (always a man) of leisure, who observed the dramas of the city (always the city) whilst not participating in them directly. In Benjamin's Marxist critique, the alienation of the flâneur was dealt with, and Baudelaire's essentially romantic figure was seen as symbolic of an urban condition that had been destroyed by consumer capitalism. Since then, the flâneur has come to take on a broader meaning in terms of psychogeography, reborn as a post-modern observer and urban wanderer.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

A break in the clouds

The vote by the house of commons last week to unilaterally reject British intervention in Syria was one of the first rays of light since the 2010 election. Even for someone who has almost no faith in the political system, it does at least provide some indication that the juggernaut can be stopped. For a nation reeling under repeated blows to public services, higher education, benefits, environmental policy and the arts, all directed by a sinister neoliberal agenda that seeks to shift the blame for the hideous human results of its disastrous policies on to the most marginalised members of society, it seems like there may, at last, have been a break in the dark clouds that have been enveloping us. Of course, it is only a small thing, and unlikely to make much of an impact on the lives of ordinary folk (except, perhaps, the families of soldiers who will not die quite as quickly in the inevitable escalation) but it does throw up some interesting possibilities. The optimum outcome, of course, is that this sets off a chain of political consequences that cause the Con-Dem coalition to collapse, forcing an early election in which the right wing vote is splintered between the Tories and an ascendant UKIP and the Lib Dems implode, leaving the country in the hands of Labour. Of course, given the current state of the Labour leadership, this would create its own problems, but it could hardly be worse than what we have now. The optimum state of the UK parliament (A Labour/Green/Plaid Cymru coalition with Diane Abbot, Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood as equal co-prime ministers) remains a distant dream. Of course, it might all be a dream; I am not convinced that Cameron will not find some way to force new votes until he gets the result his withered, imperialist little heart craves,

The most interesting fallout, for those outside the UK, is the impact on the so-called 'Special Relationship' between the US and the UK, the possible demise of which has caused much hand-wringing amongst the right-wing press. I personally think that rumours of such a death are greatly exaggerated, but how glorious would it be if it were true? What is the special relationship, after all? Despite the adoration with which it is viewed by Westminster politicians (who like to imagine that it forms some part of Britain's laughably outdated status as a 'world power') the 'Special Relationship' is little more than a symbol of our enslavement to US foreign policy, forced to act as pawns of one of the world's dominant imperial powers. In the past, the special relationship meant that, due to the placement of US missile bases in this country, we would be incinerated first in any nuclear exchange. Nowadays, it means that we pass intelligence information and extradite British citizens into the arms of our personal big brother, whilst getting approximately nothing in return except for a slight warmth in the groin of politicians. Alan Mendozam, a member of the Henry Jackson Society (a think tank described by some media outlets as a 'human rights' organisation, but actually a neoconservative talking-point generator named after a US senator whose anti-communist 'defence hawk' views have inspired such luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz) sums up the angst neatly:

“If not reversed, this vote means the UK will join the rank of third-rate nations, ­condemned to be the prisoner of events with no power to shape them."
What a pity it will be for our nation to be forced to join the ranks of the 'third-rate', impoverished and brutalised nations such as Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Iceland, where the citizens weep and wail and gnash their teeth daily at their lack of 'power' over events. It is my view, and has been for some time, that just about the best thing that could happen for this country is for us to give up our pathetic pretensions at retaining the last vestiges of our imperial power. We should scrap the navy, sell our nukes to the Americans and use the money to fund things that the British people (not just the loudly shouting, red-faced, spittle-frothed portion of same) actually want and need. Free higher education, more and better hospitals, public libraries, green energy and all that wishy-washy lefty crap. More generally, as someone who is intensely opposed to the concept of the state, yet is realistic about the prospects of its imminent removal, anything that diminishes the power of Great Britain plc. is of interest to me. It's why I'm so hopeful for the Scottish independence referendum next year. May it give a resounding 'Yes!'. May the Welsh follow suit, and the Northern Irish, and the Cornish for that matter. Maybe then we can start to focus on the things that really matter.