Sunday, 31 July 2011

Fear and Loathing of Oliver Letwin

Old Etonian, Oliver Letwin, MP, the Cabinet Minister in charge of the Coalition Government's reforms of the beleaguered public sector yesterday went along to the head office of KPMG, a consultancy  firm that has ripped tens of millions of pounds out of state coffers providing "advice" on efficiency over the last two decades. With his hosts eyeing more cash as the quintessential Public Schoolboy of British politics gassed his way through a speech on how they have more work to do charging for yet more advice, Letwin declared that the public sector needs "some real discipline and some fear" among its staff to get them to work harder.

Britain's hardest worker busy instilling some fear
Oliver, a man who seems never to have held a real job in his entire life (although he does have at least one lucrative consultancy "arrangement" doubtlessly entirely in his spare time), went on to warn that without this, innovation and change in schools and hospitals just won't happen. Of course, he starts from an entirely impartial point of view, having stated in 2003 that he would rather "go out on the streets and beg" than ever have his children go to a state school.

This callous statement, made at a time when the public sector is already reeling from service cuts and job losses following the slashing of budgets to pay for the massive bailout of supposedly efficient private sector banks, misses a few obvious points.

First, given the massive amount of public services already tendered out to private providers or totally denationalised, like the railways and bus services, where are the supposed efficiencies and improvements the private sector ethos supposedly brings? Public subsidies to the rail industry, for example, have more than doubled since privatisation, leaving the much-derided state company British Rail as a paragon of good service and value for money by comparison. And with social care effectively privatised, we have in the last few weeks seen the Southern Cross care company go bust, although its clearly useless directors have walked away with millions of pounds each in their greedy, grasping pockets having capitalised its property for rent-back a few years ago - the source of their financial crisis.

Likewise, KPMG and its ilk have enjoyed literally thousands of contracts for providing consultancy advice and even running contracted out services over the last two and a half decades (since Ollie was working in Mrs Thatcher's Policy Unit) - how come they have evidently made so little progress in spite of all the invoices? Any ideas? Because Oliver Letwin's certainly don't hold up at all.

BUT Oliver does know all about public money himself - he made jolly good use of the £2,145 he claimed from our taxes to fix a leaking water pipe under his private tennis court. Of course, the poor chap had to pay it all back...when he was found out. He did keep the cash for cleaning out the septic tank - how appropriate.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Careless Talk Costs Lives

Right-wing Media commentators like Melanie Phillips (far right) and Glenn Beck (far left) provide the pseudo-intellectual background to the conflict-centred worldviews of men like Anders Breivik and Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh.

In the wake of the terrorist atrocities in Norway, a timely analysis of extreme rightwing networks and the dangerous overlap between the rhetoric of populist politicians and media pundits and the violence of men like Anders Breveik and Timothy McVeigh. The writings of journalist Melanie Phillips were cited in Breivik's manifesto, while Glen Beck constructs conspiracies and raves about insidious threats to the USA on his TV and radio programmes - setting the scene for people like Breivik and Timothy McVeigh to to develop their ideas of conflict with Islam and those "traitors" who fail to agree with their analysis. Whilst not directly or personally responsible for violence, their journalism is sloppy, ignores facts that contradict their wild assertions and lends, however slightly, a sort of pseudo-intellectual succour to such men as they develop their atrocious response to their apparently shared worldviews.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

I Do Not Want Mercy, I Want You To Join Me | Common Dreams

I Do Not Want Mercy, I Want You To Join Me | Common Dreams

Tim DeChristopher, a climate activist who disrupted what was later ruled to be an illegitimate land auction, has today been sent to jail for 2 years in the USA. His crime was to have falsely bid in the auction against oil and gas companies intent on drilling the land and adding to the damage of the environment and atmosphere.

Tim committed no act of violence, damaged no property and harmed no person. But tonight, he is in prison.

More on this travesty from Common Dreams, click here.

Tim DeChristopher

Thursday, 21 July 2011


The Shadow has Dirty Dave in his sights..
Alec Baldwin: David Cameron Should Resign
Today's biggest question: What does actor Alec Baldwin have in common with Labour MPs Dennis Skinner and Sir Gerald Kauffman? The answer: all three have called on the prime minister to resign in the last week.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Lib Dems Last Chance in the Coalition of the Corrupt

"We both want a Britain where our political system is looked at with admiration, not anger. We have a shared ambition to clean up Westminster..."

These words were the ringing declaration by David Cameron and Nick Clegg in May last year, hailing the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government as a new start in British politics, jaded by the scandals of MPs expenses and the banking crisis. But tonight, they ring truly hollow.

After revelation upon revelation in the last fortnight of the incestuously close relationships between News International, the Metropolitan Police and the highest echelons of the Conservative Party, including - perhaps especially including - David Cameron himself, the idea that this can ever be a Government capable of reforming and cleaning up its own mess is beyond risible. Again and again, Mr Cameron has been compromised, whether in his hiring of Andy Coulson, his friendship with Rebekah Brooks, or his courting of Rupert Murdoch (even having him round for a "thankyou" cup of tea when the ink was barely dry on the Coalition Agreement). His actions in the Commons today were evasive to the point of being pathetic, like a childish schoolboy caught red-handed in the tuck shop, but denying he ate the chocolate smeared all over his chin.

Shapeshifter: like Star Trek's Odo, Cameron ultimately reverts to type..
It would be laughable were it not so deeply, terribly serious. Serious not only from the perspective of the victims of phone hacking, nor from the alleged payments to corrupt policemen, nor even the jobs offered by the Met and Cameron himself to former hacks and their family members. But even more so from the perspective that News International owned the two biggest circulation newspapers in the UK which, along with the prestigious Times titles, switched from supporting Labour to nakedly partisan advocacy for the Conservatives at the last election. And, given the nature of the reporting in The Sun and News of the World, these papers have substantially added to the atmosphere (or atmosfear) of xenophobia, disablism and paranoia that informs swathes of our society, while unquestioningly pursuing a right-wing agenda that entrenches the power of Murdoch and the Establishment.

Tomorrow's Morning you can trust!
Cameron should resign. There is no question of that. He is a disgrace to his office and, as we saw with him having to red-faced hurry home from South Africa earlier this week, he is a shame on our country.

Of course, he won't go. Like many power-hungry men in his position, he will cling by his fingernails to the varnished surface of the Cabinet table until his grip is prised off.

But by who?

Many Tories have long been suspicious of Cameron, but for now there can be little doubt that most will close ranks around them - the entire scandal has tainted their party and their class; so they will not relish removing him if he can ride out the storm.

Yet of course, this Government is not a Conservative one alone. Cameron holds office thanks to the support of 57 Liberal Democrat MPs and their leader, Nick Clegg. To date, they have been untainted by the scandal - they were not wined and dined by Murdoch and his lackeys - and Clegg claims to have warned Cameron about appointing Coulson as his Press Secretary, although evidently his words fell on deaf ears and he meekly went along with the appointment, the need to clean up politics quietly forgotten.

So, the question now has to be this - how long will the Liberal Democrats continue to sustain this man in office? How long will they permit him to be evasive about his appointment of Coulson? How long will they ignore his meetings with Murdoch's men - 26 in just over a year - at a time when News International were seeking Government approval to buy BSkyB outright? Do they seriously think the public will buy the idea that Cameron's links with NI were unknown to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was to take the decision?

Before the task fell to Hunt, the duty of ruling on the takeover bid was in the domain of Business Secretary Vince Cable. The Lib Dem big wig was infamously stung by two young female reporters, the "middle aged" Minister effusively showing off by declaring himself to be "at war with Murdoch", thereby disqualifying himself from being allowed to take the decision. In spite of claiming he could nuke the Government because he was so important and powerful, he only just kept his job.

But if Cable's injudicious remarks compromised him, how much more compromised is the Government by the insidious, obsequious relations between the Prime Minister and these people?

So, for Mr Cable and his boss Mr Clegg, already reeling from the hostile reaction to their support for a range of neoliberal policies, the question now surely has to be is it not time to do the decent thing and pull the plug on their Coalition? When you have a Prime Minister as weakened as this one now is, surely it is time to ask the People who they want to govern? And don't they realise that, if they are indeed at war with Murdoch, they are also at war with their Coalition partner, who, more clearly than ever, is nothing but the parroting placeman of the moneymen who are trying to buy up our country and put paid to our democracy?

Time for Vince to push the button...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Murdoch: The Mirth, the Movie and the Music

As more News International executives, including Rebekah Brooks, are arrested - worryingly just ahead of an appearance before an MPs' committee of enquiry on Tuesday, allowing her to possibly refuse to answer many of their questions - the mess that the British Establishment is now in has given rise to an element of grim humour on the web. Whilst we are still some way from seeing a radical transformation of the ownership and regulation of the print media in Britain, satire is providing a valuable tool to point up just how utterly awful the corruption at the heart of our nation really is.

But Murdoch has attracted some good satire for years. Enjoy this selection of just some of the humour on the Dirty Digger...

Steve Bell in "The Guardian"


Perhaps the worst joke of all....
 ....and good riddance!



Saturday, 16 July 2011

In Cameron We Trust (not)?

It's that Watergate Moment!
A dramatic week for our politics, press and police. And yet do the travails of the 3-pees amount to anything more enduring than this week's headlines as the Establishment probably prays this morning that the public is heading towards "Murdoch fatigue"?

The chances of this latest crisis to rock our rulers leading to the democratically accountable media we need seem unlikely in the extreme. Even Ed Miliband, who has had a good fortnight, has come out against any compulsory regulation of our errant Press and the "wide ranging" public enquiries announced by David Cameron will take several years to be about as useful as the public enquiries into the Falklands War and the death of Dr Kelly. And now comes the claims in the Independent on Sunday that the Chair of the committee of MPs that will question Murdoch and his acolytes this week has close personal links with News International executives.

At the end of the day, it has been fun to watch them squirm. Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson (the latter two now both arrested) have been hounded by the cameras all week and even although it is rather a case of their rivals kicking them when they are down, it is still sweet to see the boot finally on the other foot, however temporarily. And as for Cameron himself - the mask has finally slipped as the Independent newspaper revealed his continued friendship and fortnightly meetings with the people whose staff bugged and connived their way into the private life of his predecessor, Gordon Brown. Sadly, as yet, this is not turning into his Watergate - the rest of the Press, chewing on the bloodied legs of News International, have a vested interest in keeping him where he is.

But the parallels are striking - Nixon had links to all manner of unsavoury characters who did him favours, not necessarily with him needing to ask or know. And infamously, he bugged hundreds of conversations in the heart of the White House. Cameron has not done that, but his sponsors (or their surrogates) clearly have committed equivalent acts, even if their newspapers were supposedly so out of control that they didn't know about the hacking, nor ask any questions about where the stories came from.

How tenable can it be then that we have a Prime Minister who socialises with the people who used pretty underhand methods to undermine his predecessor and twist the democratic process? Or who allowed Parliament to be misled about his continued contact with Andy Coulson after he left his post at Downing Street? Or who was silent about the fact that, since becoming Prime Minister, he has met with News International executives on average once every two weeks?

Cameron's dark side, for the diminishing number who still thought he didn't have one, is becoming strikingly clear - his taste for Power seems to be as endlessly thirsty as the unquenchable palate of the Dirty Digger, whom he clearly admires so much. And to whom, in the end, he owes so much.

Update - 17 July; Metropolitant Police chief resigns and attacks Cameron over the affair. More here.
Symbiotic Sun - who depends on who?  "The Sun" front page on election day 2010)

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown Addresses Parliament last week:

Haringey Green Party: Released from Israeli jail

Haringey Green Party: Released from Israeli jail: "Well I spent yesterday trying to chill out after a rather expensive long weekend in an Israeli jail. I guess most people already heard that..."

Friday, 15 July 2011

BANNED on YouTube: VW, The Dark Side

Many adverts get spoofed and posted on YouTube without anything more being said. However, when Greenpeace lampooned the VW advert with a small boy dressed as Darth Vader, YouTube removed it from public view while leaving other spoofs undeleted.

Perhaps it was something to do with Greenpeace pointing out VW's opposition to proposed European fuel efficiency regulations for car manufacturers, a key part of the reduction of carbon emissions so vital for the future of humanity. Although its' mission statement claims it wishes to be “the most eco-friendly automaker in the world”, VW was part of the lobby that successfully opposed the proposed increase in CO2 reduction targets in the European Parliament last week.  The British Conservative MEPs delivered the death blow via a deviously worded amendment.

But of course, corporate public relations at VW will want it both ways. And now the spoof video has gone.

And maybe the VW-branded, planet-killing Death Star didn't help.

So now, it has a website all of its own....
Join the Rebellion

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The News of our World

Barely an hour goes by without another revelation in the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed the British media, police and political classes over the last week or so. Triggered initially by the unlikely scenario of actor Hugh Grant turning the tables on a former tabloid journalist who had bugged his calls, a rolling stone of gargantuan proportions seems to have crushed the vested interests that control huge swathes of our media. Tonight, headlines proclaiming the end of News International and the destruction of Rupert Murdoch's empire are emblazoned across several media sites.

And yet is it so? Or is the media simply playing its own game, for once at home rather than away?

While the scandal is certainly a tour de force of the incestuous relationship between our Masters, it is yet to reach any game changing watershed where the system is so broken that we finally break it down and replace it with something transparent and genuinely democratic.

It was perplexing today to listen to ex-Metropolitan Police Commissioner Andy Hayman giving his testimony to a Parliamentary Select Committee. As well as accepting a job with News International after investigating it for hacking, this was his response to Chairman Keith Vaz's suggestion that accepting dinner invitations from people under investigation might be seen as inappropriate:

"Not having dinner [with NI chiefs] would have been more suspicious than having it", says Hayman. The committee laughs. "We're astonished at how you're answering these questions", says Vaz, when Hayman asks why they're laughing. 

From the voicemail of murder victim Millie Dowler, through the grieving families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to today's revelations that even Prime Minister Gordon Brown's family medical information and bank accounts were being hacked into by the gutter press - the media's dark soul has been exposed in a huge cloud of sulphur. Suddenly, after all manner of hesitation, the politicians who previously courted Murdoch are out baying for blood. Tomorrow, the three main parties will combine to demand that Murdoch withdraws his proposed takeover of BSkyB television, prompting the hyperbolic headlines of his media rivals.

And we honestly believe that only News International have hacked people's telephones? That only the NI stable have intruded inappropriately on people's privacy, peddling papers on stories of misfortune and grief? Do we really think for a moment that, once two or three hacks have been sent to jail, a cop or two has resigned on grounds of ill health and Murdoch has contented himself with his current position as largest stakeholder of BSkyB, anything of any substance will change?

Of course not. Because this is the media's expenses-scandal moment. Just as MPs are now back to claiming more than they did before their supposed damascene conversion to paragons of thrift, so we would be deluding ourselves if we think for a second that somehow we will emerge from this cesspool with a responsible press governed by effective privacy laws and respect for the individual.

The media is the glue that holds the nation in thrall to the ruling class and its kleptocracy. That any of this has leaked out at all is simply testimony to how utterly rotten and corrupt the whole system has become. With their diet of scandal, prejudice and pap, the media is vital to establishing and reinforcing the conformity that, while permitting occasional spurts of defiance to let off pressure, ultimately ensures continuing consensus around our current parliamentary system and socio-economic set up. In the end, the Establishment might wipe away the seeping pus when it inevitably oozes through the cracks, but it will not lance the boil it depends on so very much. The politicians who will vote tomorrow are the same people who last week courted Murdoch and will do so again next week, or month. A few, like Clegg, will claim to have warned about Murdoch, yet effectively did nothing to challenge him, still willingly serving in Government alongside his placemen.

While the papers fill up with the shlock horrors of the phone hack scandal that everyone has suspected for years, the Government has quietly proposed a major act of destruction on our public services with contracting out to private companies to become the virtual default in a whole range of areas. Hospitals, schools, cleansing services and more - everything is up for auctioning off under a veneer of increased choice and community control.

It is not that the hacking scandal should be a non-story. But somehow it is more than ironic that the very exposure of the Establishment's corrupt heart has yet again ensured the obscuring of the sort of issue that should be the lead on every front page. Plus ca change...

Monday, 11 July 2011

Green Party Activists Arrested and Held By Israelis

Several Green Party activists from England and Wales have been arrested by the Israeli authorities for no apparent reason other than that they were en route to Bethlehem to take part in a peaceful human rights demonstration. They are being held in Givon prison. It is unclear what they are charged with, if anything.

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, MP, has written to the European Court asking for action to help them.

More here

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Morning Star Online reports: Disabled Face Welfare Chaos

The Government's "reforms" of disability support continue apace, ill-informed and liable to cause serious damage to the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people. Part of this is a ham-fisted attempt to cut disability living allowance costs by 20% in the ignorant belief, now incorrectly parroted by several government Ministers as well as the gutter press, that DLA is paid exclusively to people who are out of work. In fact, it is a payment recognising that disability adds to people's costs, for example in travelling to work, and is therefore a vital means of ensuring that many disabled people are able to continue in employment. If it is cut or withdrawn, many will face significant financial hardship and some will be forced out of employment, leading to increased social security costs. Neither ethical, nor financially efficient.

Britain's only genuinely left wing national daily newspaper, The Morning Star, covers this issue in its online edition today:

Scottish disability campaigners voiced fears today that the assessment criteria for those forced to switch from disability living allowance to a lower benefit scheme will be too "rigid and restrictive."
Inclusion Scotland and the Independent Living in Scotland project met the Department of Work and Pensions in Edinburgh to raise concerns over British government plans to force disabled people out of disability living allowance and to assess them instead for a "personal independence payment (PIP)."

Read the full article: click HERE

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

It's the Wrong Leader!

NATO Uses Up All Its Missiles "Protecting Civilians"

The so-called limited intervention in Libya by NATO, which started out as a minimalistic "no flying zone", has now reached preposterous proportions: in the name of "protecting civilians by any necessary means", the air attacks on the beleaguered country have been so frequent that NATO has run out of missiles.
NATO protecting civilians "by any means necessary."
Yup. The War Powers have been so careful in limiting their precision attacks on Libya, that they have no munitions left. Not even the arms industry, one of the most prolific forms of manufacturing in the world and about the only significant industry still in Britain, can keep up with the demand for munitions.

As reported lately, Austerity Britain has spent over quarter of a billion (yes BILLION) pounds on ordinance to drop on Tripoli. Nearly 500 missiles - Tomahawks costing £800,000 each being the main ones - have been fired from Brtish planes and naval vessels into Libya. The French and Americans have joined in too, with Denmark and Norway showing commitment to bombing far beyond their scale. All in, over 2,000 missiles have been fired into the country, allegedly killing over 700 people and wounding over 4,000 - though it is impossible to verify. So enthusiastically careful have they been, this last week, after some warnings from their military that they were getting short on fuses, Messrs Cameron and Sarkozy went caps in hand to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany.

Although Merkel opposed the intervention originally, she is now happy to get some cash for the German economy as their banks face meltdown in the Greek crisis. And so German shells will tumble onto the Tripolitanian sands for the first time since Rommel's Afrika Korps beat the retreat back to Tunis in 1943.

Isn't it good to know that when there is killing to be done, with the prospect of a financial killing when the "rebels" privatise the Libyan economy, European harmony is so readily attainable? Pass the ammo, Dave...

Monday, 4 July 2011

The New Dark Age

As British Conservative Members of the European Parliament threaten to vote tomorrow against a resolution demanding substantial cuts in carbon emissions across the European Union, news emerged this week of a growing scientific consensus that finally links disasters such as the recent American tornadoes and the record-breaking drought in the Horn of Africa to the process of climate change.

In the sceptical Daily Mail this week an article reported that scientists are now prepared to link extreme weather events to global warming for the first time.
But its readers were having none of it. Their comments included:

"I guess when they examined rocks over many Millions of year, before man, these extremes must be only down to the weather. When humans appeared it seems there are people, who want us all to carry a whip, when something strange happens we should beat ourselves, for causing it."
"It would appear the doom mongers are struggling to hold the lie about how the climate changes, We all know the governments only jumped on this bandwagon because of the tax raising opportunities..."
"Well of course it is, a brilliant excuse for yet more green taxes"
"They have to blame global warming else they'll lose their funding. "
- Roy, Southend, UK, 1/7/2011 17:49

"These "scientists" are giving the decent ones a bad name. Paid-for-science is an advertisement for a product. Products are advertised when they aren't selling so well."

And their scepticism is echoed and enhanced by the words of some politicians:

"A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made."
Sarah Palin, Newsmax, Sep. 2008

"Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful, but there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas… It is a harmless gas"
Rep Michelle Bachmann, 2009 (Candidate for 2012 Republican Presidential nomination)

"They’re saying to us [that climate change is] going to be a big problem because it’s going to be warmer than it usually is; my farmers are going to say that’s a good thing since they’ll be able to grow more corn."
Rep Collin Peterson 2009

"Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus."
Rep Paul Broun, 2011

These are the words of senior American politicians, Republicans and Democrats. They argue that Governments should do nothing about global warming because there is no evidence for it and scientists are not agreed. If change is needed, somehow, humanity will find an answer in time because we always do, allegedly.

But the problem for everyone else is - they are wrong.

For the science refuting all of the claims above, click here

But denial is a powerful thing; an emotional desire that touches every human when faced with danger. How much more easy it would be to think it away, to wish it gone, to put faith before reason, and carry on.

We have been here before, when faith plunged Europe into a thousand year dark age.
"As this matter of faith is so much talked of, I have to reply that we accept it as useful for the multitude, and we admittedly teach believe without thinking out their reasons." (Origen, one of the "Fathers of the Church", 2nd century.
 (from "The Closing of the Western Mind" by Charles Freeman)

Fighting global warming will demand huge changes of our world, our societies and ourselves. It would be great if it was a myth, or even a huge global conspiracy to get research grants for supposedly left wing scientists. But it's not. It's real, And it's now. And we have choices to make - from faith or from reason. It's up to us. Will we act, or close our minds again?

So welcome, my friends, to the end.
The final page...., of the new dark age.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Art of Sadness

Nighthawks - not alone, but lonely in the big City?
A warm July night feels an appropriate moment to pause and enjoy a feast of visual and aural emotion in the shape of an unlikely combination I came across a few years ago on Youtube of all places.

I have long admired the work of the American artist, Edward Hopper, who worked on the eastern seaboard of America in the first few decades of the 20th century. My visual repast is his paintings, which are as often as not cityscapes which nevertheless home in on the individual stories in what were even then still nascent metropolises. Great, solid buildings juxtapose with often solitary people, the sense of what should be a bustling crowded place bursting with people and yet still somehow lonely. In so many of his works, there is an ambience of after hours, of empty spaces which have recently been filled and the people who remain are somehow set back from the crowds that have been there, present but somehow uninvolved. The City is empty - is the promise it offered ultimately hollow?

Even when not alone, the people in his tales seem to be on their own, distant - a young woman sitting at a table in her hat (Automat 1927) with the uncertainty of whether she is waiting for someone or there by herself. In a hotel room, a man and woman are together, but not: she reads while he looks out the window at something in the distance (Hotel by a Railroad, 1952). Meanwhile, a secretary watches her boss in Late Night at the Office, and we are left to decide if her look is of affection or resentment as they work, alone, in the stillness of a once busy workplace; and perhaps most famous of all his works, Nighthawks, his 1942 piece depicts a handful of customers in a late night cafe, again a group sharing a moment but a short one nevertheless. Similarly, travel features in many of his works, with railways a reoccurring theme and again one of the constant passage of time, yet where such sorrow may be matched by the hope of the destination.

New York Movie
And so much of his work seems to speak of human transience, set against the greater permanence of the big solid buildings, the skyscrapers and tenement blocks that mark out his backdrop - if that is the right word, because so much of the underpinning message is how these stone edifices dominate the tiny humans that use them. There is in so much of his work a faint menace, a sense of something important being about to happen, and not necessarily for the better. There is a deep humanity running through his pictures, and yet it is with some feeling of regret, or disconnection with the surroundings. Strikingly, in The Pleasure of Sadness, the philosopher Alain de Botton writes that:

"Edward Hopper belongs to a particular category of artist whose work appears sad but does not make us sad…perhaps because they allow us as viewers to witness an echo of our own griefs and disappointments, and thereby to feel less personally persecuted and beset by them’ 

How true perhaps this is - like the best of art, it captures life - our life, whoever and wherever we are. Perhaps too it captures a time, the time of cities, of progress from the Depression into the optimism of the 1950s and early 60s. A time of advances in living standards, technology and medicine, but accompanied by great social dislocation, war and personal challenge. People had to uproot their lives, whether in hope or despair, and travel - often alone - to distant places for work and a new life, better or worse. Dreams were made but as often turned to nightmares and perhaps it is the sense of being constantly on the edge of either in the impersonal City, holding both promise and danger, that Hopper catches so well.

New York Office

The aural feast is much more contemporary, and yet matches Hopper so well in spite of the distance of both time and place between them. The Blue Nile are a music group from Glasgow who have a cult following but have never made it big as such. Some of their music is set in the video below to Hopper's paintings and provide precisely the mood music to his themes of detachment and the strange sorrow of anticipation.

Their first album, back in 1984, was A Walk Across The Rooftops, and the title track was the tale of a man alone on a roof above the city on graduation morning, observing but not participating in the world below. The music is slow, invoking a sadness as he sings of his love for someone and of how he looks for independence - whether from his love or from the city, it is unclear. And on graduation morning - is he graduating? Or is it a hope he once had but is now gone? Like Hopper, we never know if his words are in hope or of regret. And so too with the track in the video - Saturday Night - it has all the anticipation of a first date, packed with hope of how a relationship might somehow make the world alright, and yet there is within it a certain cynicism; because as with Hopper, the backdrop is the faux Paradise of the City. The "ordinary girl" who will make life somehow bearable at once becomes both far from ordinary with the expectation and also strikingly elusive. "Who are you dreaming of... when the streets are so big and wide?"

The Blue Nile have produced only a smattering of albums, all well-received critically, and the time taken is evident in their thoughtful lyrics and the haunting quality of their music. "Why hurry?" asked lead singer Paul Buchanan after a break of several years in the 1990s. Why indeed?

That their music can so well and unintentionally complement Hopper's paintings perhaps shows that it is well worth the wait. They are separated by several decades and the Atlantic Ocean, and yet their themes are so alike - perhaps to some extent the cityscape is the creative impulse for this. For the same architects and builders who fashioned the red stone Glasgow buildings that feature in the Blue Nile's songs were in many cases the same men who travelled to the USA in the 1880s and 1890s to fashion the cities of the eastern seaboard and beyond. Likewise, as Hopper worked at the time of the Depression, the Blue Nile first forged their art in the depression of the early 1980s, when Glasgow faced de-industrialisation and mass unemployment. In similar environments, the human story may be expressed by different art forms, but the truths it tells are catholic and our humanity expresses itself in such similar ways.

So I was suitably delighted to discover this combination of Hopper's works with the Blue Nile's music. If any of the foregoing has whetted your appetite for either, or both, artists, please listen and watch, and, I hope, "enjoy" the sad wonder...

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Good Morning America: The Knock on the Door for Peace Activists

Orwell has come to the States. This is a surreally appalling video of two FBI officials questioning a peace activist about nothing she has done but about "what might happen". Land of the free?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Blind Justice

Lurid headlines have greeted the trial and conviction of two women, a mother and daughter from Wallasey, Liverpool, who kept the corpse of the mother's own mother unreported and unburied. The daughter received a suspended sentence, while the mother was jailed for 11 months in order to claim social security benefits due to the deceased.

That the case is dreadful, no one can doubt. But both the media and the Courts, the latter possibly egged on by the former, have behaved questionably to say the least. The reportage conjures up notions of the old lady being hidden away in a freezer while her relatives enjoyed a life of fraudulent luxury living off their ill-gotten gains, callously ignoring any dignity or respect due to the departed.

The truth would seem rather more prosaic: the woman was left in her bed, her body rotting until the house was full of mice and blowflies; and the total benefits defrauded amounted two payments totalling a little over £200. One look at the photograph of the outside of the ramshackle house would raise immediate questions about the psychological state of its inhabitants and the descriptions of the interior pretty much would confirm that the mother and daughter themselves have, to say the least, been struggling to cope with life.

In such circumstances, is the full attention of the print and televised media, the ire of the self-appointed guardians of the nation's morals in news columns and readers' boards, and, above all, an 11 month custodial sentence really the sort of justice that lets us all sleep better at night?

The daughter described an extremely dysfunctional family during the trial, a household totally dominated by the dead grandmother. They left her in her room initially in fear of disturbing her. Latterly, the mother did feel that she needed to secure the benefit money - but is living with a festering corpse in a filthy house for 6 months in return for £200 really the actions of some dreadful criminal minds?

Or is it rather more obviously a case of two people as much in need of help as the deceased was in need of burial? Is our country, with the current Government's obsession with costs, served well by locking up this woman in a prison for the rest of this year? Or might it, and the two women on trial, have been better served by providing practical assistance and psychological treatment to sort out the mess their lives have clearly been in for some time?

Of course, mention benefits and fraud in the same sentence (although in the Mail you only need one as in their world the words are interchangeable) and in the current climate you immediately incur the blind condemnation of hundreds of thousands of tax-dodging neanderthals, but was it too much to hope that, just for once, Justice might have truly been done and the Court might have looked beyond the next day's headlines?

A life of luxury? The run down house where the family lived, and died.