Sunday, April 24, 2011

Of the rich, by the rich, for the rich

So let's cut to the chase. I’m no fan of the monarchy. I’ve long suspected that the British can be fairly divided into two camps when it comes to kings and queens; the reverential doff-your-cap-at-the-squire types, and the naturally irreverent I-fart-in-your-general-direction types, those who occasionally come with a side of “but-I-thought-we-were-an-autonomous-collective?” While some get all supermarket-sweep when faced with monarchic memorabilia, there are others – let’s call them the children of Python – who have only ever purchased a Charles and Di tea-towel with an eyebrow firmly-arched. I’ve always been in the latter camp. My general response to learning that ‘Waity-Katie’ would wait no more was to stifle a groan at the thought of the ensuing quasi-fascist bunting-frenzy and then set about planning how to get as far away as possible from nuptial-central. The western coast of Wales seemed like a good bet. And that is exactly where I’m going this weekend.

Fig.1 - Evil bunting

However, that said, I'm not going to take this lovely carnival affair (I'm rather hoping there will be mask-wearing and trance-dancing later) as an occasion to reflect on the relative demerits of constitutional monarchy versus its upstart republican cousins. No, instead, given the dire political situation (which, I might add, this whole wedding-fandango is doing nothing to obscure), I thought this a good opportunity to think through the general crisis of political legitimacy in this country. The crisis of political legitimacy which, for that matter, is also apparent in many other countries where the mechanisms of representation have become so utterly distorted by the overweening interests of capital. I guess that pretty much gives away where I’m going with all this (as if the title was obscure), but to back up for a second…what I want to talk about here is not the pros and cons of whether we should or should not have an elected head of state, but rather, the problems our political system shares, by historical descent, with its more pure-blooded (yuk!) republican relatives.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Facing the Book of Hate

{Disclaimer - This one's about the abuse of women, so...erm...there's not many jokes}

There is a deeply shocking, and somehow, at the same time, shockingly credible story in today’s Guardian about the rising rates of violence, intimidation, control and general abuse directed by teenage boys and young adult men against their female counterparts. The piece follows a warning this week by Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, that teenage girls between 16 and 19 - closely followed by girls aged 20 to 24 - are now the group most at risk of domestic violence. Portraying an adolescent universe in which young women are routinely subjected to sexual slurs, and humiliated or ostracized for perceived permissiveness, the story also echoes one which appeared in January, noting that, at the same time, young women are also being pressured into sex with either one or multiple partners, and/or having their movements and social interactions monitored and controlled by men through the threat of violence.

What struck me about both of these stories is the role attributed to social networking sites in general, and Facebook in particular, in the creation of so-called ‘Sket-sites,’ in which intimate images and/or details of a girl’s sexual behaviour are posted online, and men invited to pass judgement or gives marks out of ten on a scale of nought to…you get the idea. The reason why this is particularly striking was that it follows, by only a few weeks, my finally getting around to watching The Social Network, and being, on that occasion, deeply struck by learning that the most powerful incarnation of Web 2.0 was unambiguously forged in the fires of misogyny. Zuckerberg, we recall, having been dumped by his girlfriend (for being an asshole, not a nerd) retires to his dorm and whips up a program called Facemash, which invites innumerable anonymous men to make judgements on the relative sexual attractiveness of two randomly-selected young female students, the photos of whom Zuckerberg has oh-so-respectfully hacked from the school’s websites. This opportunity to subject such a large number of unsuspecting young women to the objectifying and violently adjudicating male gaze is so compelling, we are led to believe, that within hours the Harvard network succumbs to the intensity of traffic.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fighting the Inevitable?

Now and again, it can be hard to think something and its opposite at the same time - or perhaps more accurately, it can be hard to remember that one is the kind of person who thinks it important to try and think something and its opposite at the same time. Yesterday I redrafted (for the umpteenth time) an article on natural childbirth, which more or less consists of me siding with the second-wave critique of obstetric domination against the the third-wave suggestion that those crazy seventies hippies got it all wrong about cesareans and epidurals not being such a great idea, because, y'know it's all discourse innit? Wheeling out the "discourse-all-the-way-down" argument in reference to a process in which someone separates your viscera with a knife is probably, quite rightly, around about the place where reductive social constructivism lapses into almost pure self-parody (and, of course, don't get me started on how much damage has been done to the reputation of my dearest Jackie D by persistently associating his name with this kind of nonsense...c'mon now chaps, when he says "there is nothing outside the text", he doesn't mean text, he doesn't even mean language). Nonetheless, having spent the best part of yesterday thinking about material resistances to discourse, this morning, I find myself obsessing about the discursive construction of gender and its paradoxes. This is largely in response to:

1) These striking images which have been doing the rounds on the femi/philo end of the blogosphere:

They hail from this blog, and depict the vocabulary used in children's toy ads by gender. 'Nuff said I reckon.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Learning from the Lake

One morning in late July, on the East Coast of the States, I stride off into a forest made by men. I am going for a swim, heading from the ‘wrong side of the park' – with its plexi-glass bodegas and strip of tacky beauty bars – to the plant strewn chic of the Slope; that sweep of mellow brownstones and organic-yoga-coffeeshops that effortlessly exudes the eternal form – the blessing and the curse – of inner-city gentrification. It is not yet hot. The air is barely moist. My footsteps strike the asphalt in the dark iron-lined tunnel where, in the afternoon, the blues of people's voices will echo from the walls. And, as I hurry round the curve that swings out of the tunnel I am suddenly so struck I have to stop.

The lake, folded in a fine mist, spreads itself before me. The shore is fringed with mallow, pink blooms nestling in the mass of green. The trees extend their morning-arms towards the sky and glitter. And, as the thick duckweed water breathes out slowly, on the far side of the shore, where shadows gather in the wood, an explosion of activity, and black birds spill out against the blue. Sometimes, in these rare moments, the resonant silence seems to speak and, even here, in the centre of the city, my bones hum to the heart of the earth. Two swans, four gangly-grey adolescents in tow, glide – as only really swans are able – out from below the bridge. All thoughts of getting to the pool in time are gone. My laps can wait. I walk down to the water.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On the value of upsetting atheists

There is, perhaps comfortingly, a clockwork predictability to the outrage spilling from some sections of the science community in response to the fact that Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, has accepted this year's Templeton prize. The million-pound award is given annually to those whose work in science has something to say about what the Templeton foundation describes as "the big questions." Lord Rees' life-long efforts "peering into the farthest reaches of the galaxies" have been commended, on this occasion, for raising "questions" about "our nature and existence" and opening "a window on our very humanity." 

This seems fair enough. Many of us - when not flattened by the daily schlep of life - are at least inclined to ponder the mysteries of our existence; to wonder how and why we came to be this particular being, in this particular time, clinging to this particular planet in the vast chasm of space. For those who hail from the intellectual enclave inhabited by Dawkins and his compatriots, this kind of thinking is, however, nothing but the thin end of the wedge. To wonder aloud about what it might all mean - or what our lives might be for - is the start of a slippery-slope; one which leads inevitably, and in short order, to a murky bog of quasi-medieval bible-bashing, spooky superstitions and religious zealotry.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Getting government off the backs of business is the core mission."

Beautiful nugget of honesty from Tory Minister Greg Barker bragging at the Moore School of Business in South Carolina here. Not ideological eh?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Two-Brain Willetts and the Mother-Monster

There is a (very funny and horribly astute) joke doing the rounds in the States presently...It goes something like this...

There are three people - a CEO, a Tea Partier, and a Union representative - sitting round a table on which there is a plate with ten chocolate-chip cookies. The CEO leans in, takes nine cookies, and then, as he settles back into his seat, looks at the Tea Partier and says 'You wanna watch that Union Guy, he wants some of your cookie.'

It seems that we could do a bit of jiggery-pokery with this scenario - let's replace the CEO with David Willetts as the emissary of fat-cat adminsitration intent on maintaining white upper-middle class male privilege, and replace the other two with a middle-class woman and a working-class man - and we have a fairly good approximation of the 'divide and conquer' strategy enacted by David Willetts on Friday.

Middle class women, Willetts claims, are responsible for the lack of social mobility in this country, because, they have, basically, been stealing working-class men's jobs - or rather, they have been going to university and getting themselves all educated and hence, stopping working-class men getting educated instead (well at least it makes a change from brown people stealing white people's jobs...)

Where on earth does one start with this nonsense?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Austerity and Lies

Things it is useful to know about our current economic situation:

1. Our current level of debt is not historically high - for 200 of the past 250 years our debt has been higher than it is now (1)

2. Our current level of debt is not high on an international scale - for example, Japan's debt is currently three times ours (1)

3. The financial crisis (bailout + falling tax revenue) is responsible for 78% of the deficit. Labour overspend accounts for 22%. (2)