Blind Man with a Pistol

Labour isn’t working
31 December 2008, 11:34 am
Filed under: Personal | Tags: ,

I’m a little late for this but batteries aren’t included and better late than never. Since I’ve been tagged twice, once by skdadl at pogge and again by Beijing York at Resettle This!, I supose I better hop to it. I am largely unemployable except in a particular field that is filled with directionless hopefuls who just like to read. And I don’t even really like to do that. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Anyway, here is work that I have been paid for in my life, as far as I can remember.

  1. Installing motherboards in new computers for Medway High School
  2. Casual worker hired out by the Youth Employment Agency
  3. Dishwasher at a Chinese-Jewish restaurant (with two very offensive caricatures on the front of their menu)
  4. Grill cook and sandwich maker at same
  5. Campaign Volunteer for an anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-poor Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate. I’m still working this off.
  6. Gas station attendant at Canadian Tire
  7. Cook at Mongolian Grill
  8. Cook (again) at the wonderful Kelsey’s restaurant
  9. Tree thinner and Brushcutter in Alberta, BC and Quebec. Best job I ever had by leaps and bounds.
  10. Catering cook
  11. Usher at Centaur Theatre
  12. Barista!
  13. Primo Barista!
  14. Volunteer producer for community radio station
  15. Admin assistant at University Secretariat
  16. Grad Student. Not really a job, or paid.
  17. Reader for James Tait Black Award for Fiction
  18. Now I work in a pub serving cask ales and whisky to lonely criminal lawyers and actuaries in Edinburgh’s New Town. Hurry up please its time.

As for tagging five other bloggers, you’ll have to wait for an update. I’m new to this (see lateness, above) and the only bloggers I ‘know’ have already tagged me. Maybe I can come up with something, but this will have to do for now!

The Belem Ecosocialist Declaration
17 December 2008, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Ecocapitalism, Ecosocialism | Tags:

Humanity today faces a stark choice: ecosocialism or barbarism.

We need no more proof of the barbarity of capitalism, the parasitical system that exploits humanity and nature alike. Its sole motor is the imperative toward profit and thus the need for constant growth. It wastefully creates unnecessary products, squandering the environment’s limited resources and returning to it only toxins and pollutants. Under capitalism, the only measure of success is how much more is sold every day, every week, every year – involving the creation of vast quantities of products that are directly harmful to both humans and nature, commodities that cannot be produced without spreading disease, destroying the forests that produce the oxygen we breathe, demolishing ecosystems, and treating our water, air and soil like sewers for the disposal of industrial waste.

Capitalism’s need for growth exists on every level, from the individual enterprise to the system as a whole. The insatiable hunger of corporations is facilitated by imperialist expansion in search of ever greater access to natural resources, cheap labor and new markets. Capitalism has always been ecologically destructive, but in our lifetimes these assaults on the earth have accelerated. Quantitative change is giving way to qualitative transformation, bringing the world to a tipping point, to the edge of disaster. A growing body of scientific research has identified many ways in which small temperature increases could trigger irreversible, runaway effects – such as rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet or the release of methane buried in permafrost and beneath the ocean – that would make catastrophic climate change inevitable.


This Ecosocialist Declaration is a call to action. The entrenched ruling classes are powerful, yet the capitalist system reveals itself every day more financially and ideologically bankrupt, unable to overcome the economic, ecological, social, food and other crises it engenders. And the forces of radical opposition are alive and vital. On all levels, local, regional and international, we are fighting to create an alternative system based in social and ecological justice.

Read it. Sign it.

hat-tip to Berlynn at breadnroses

‘I see three oranges, I juggle. I see two towers, I walk.’


I saw James Marsh’s fantastic Man on Wire (2008) last night. It’s a film about Philippe Petit, wire walker par excellence. Paced like an action film, Marsh uses interviews, tasteful re-enactments and original footage to recreate Petit & co.’s daring ‘coup’ in which they counterfeit identification, dress-up alternatively as workmen and businessmen, fire an arrow from one tower to the next with a cord attached and string a 450-pound cable between the newly constructed World Trade Center towers. All this for the easy part: for Petit to walk above 110 stories in the early hours of 7 August 1974.

Even the Port Authority police officer, Sgt. Charles Daniels, sober in his report to the press, couldn’t hold back his wonder in the final instance:

I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire….And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle….I figured I was watching something that no one would ever see again, that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

There is the added thrill of seeing these artists, vagabonds, grifters and potsmokers break into the WTC in the context of the 1993 attempted bombing and of course, 9/11. As Marsh says in an interview with Time Out,

it’s basically a plot against these buildings, and they’re all foreigners. They’re hanging around and taking all sorts of photographs and pretending to work for various official companies in order to gain access. The big difference is that the end result is something beautiful. It’s illegal, but it’s not wicked.

For me, that’s the magical part of Petit’s story. After 9/11, Electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen, when prompted for a reaction to the attacks on the WTC, famously responded by calling them ‘the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos’. The hijackers, he continued, had achieved ‘something in one act’ that ‘we couldn’t even dream of in music’, in which ‘people practice like crazy for ten years, totally fanatically, for a concert, and then die….You have people who are so concentrated on one performance, and then 5000 people are dispatched into eternity, in a single moment’. It was grotesque detachment on the part of Stockhausen, but certainly, this sentiment is going through the back of our minds when we watch Marsh’s film. Except wonderfully, magically, Marsh, through Petit, subverts the horror, the ate of the September 11 attacks and gives us the beautiful image of a man dancing a quarter mile above the streets, kneeling in midair and saluting us with an impish flourish.

Marsh inlays Petit’s story with all the conventions of a heist flick: love interest, ‘professionals’ vs amateurs, the untrustworthy accomplice, and a bond of homosocial love between the protagonist and his lifelong friend shattered by the momentousness of the crime. However it is difficult for any mere action plot to recreate the drama contained in this candid statement from Petit:

I had to make the decision to take my foot, anchored on the building, and put it on the wire. Not many people dare to take that first step – to land on the Moon, to dive into a great abyss in the sea. I feel that sensation each time I grab the balancing pole and start a high-wire walk. It is not exactly the same feeling each time, but it is a feeling of intimate decision. Not for nothing is it called the first step, like the first step on a new continent.

It’s a beautiful thing. See it!

Strength through EasyJet

I recently got back from Berlin, where I spent a few days with a short side-trip to Prague by train. Meanwhile, 49 climate-change activists were arrested for occupying London Stanstead airport, in an attempt to protest its planned expansion. The irony is not lost on me. The activists, who belong to the group Plane Stupid, are fighting an uphill battle against Britain’s middle classes, who have come to think of cheap flights from budget airlines like Ryanair (with whom I travelled last weekend for less than 50 GBP return) and EasyJet, which both rely on alternative ports like Stanstead to keep fares down. Last night on BBC 1’s ‘Question Time’, an audience member who claimed to be generally critical of the West’s limp and weak-kneed response to climate change, nonetheless called cheap flights her ‘right’.

My trip, if I had taken the train (using, of course, the wonderful site The Man in Seat 61), would have cost me realistically 250 GBP, not inlcuding the expenses incurred extra day of travel (meals, loss of an extra day paid holiday, etc.) in an overnight car from Paris to Berlin. Of course, these costs are defrayed by the fact that train travel is far more enjoyable, far less stressful, and far more aesthetically pleasing than air travel, but most middle-class Britons don’t consider taking the train to their holiday hot spots. Indeed, living in Edinburgh, the four-hour train ride to London would further add to my travel costs, possibly necessitating a day’s room and board in pricey London.

Now, everyone deserves to travel. It is perhaps the singularly best way to learn more about our world and ourselves. One of the best things modernity has brought us is the exchange of ideas and worldviews. Of course, this means that the poor and middle classes should also be offered the opportunity to travel. But cheap-flight culture is swiftly becoming a blight on the world not only in its immense environmental cost, but because of the kind of travel it incurs. Cheap-flight culture has spawned countless insulated enclaves of British ‘culture’ throughout Europe. Such ‘Little Britains’, however, leave the charm and history of their native culture with their pets and take the most odious: Tennants-swigging louts in open-air pubs showing the football (Premiership only, please. No La Liga here…) and an endemic barfight and rape culture. Can the new stag party industries that have popped up in Riga and Budapest really insist that any cultural exchange takes place? Britons can go their entire vacations without speaking or hearing a word from a language other than English, or indeed, without speaking to a person who is not also British.

I am reminded Nazi Germany’s Kraft durch Freude campaign in the 1930s, or ‘Strength Through Joy’. KdF was the brainchild of Robert Ley, head of the German Labour Front from 1933 to 1945. German Nobel-prize-winner Günter Grass, in his 2003 novel Im Krebsgang or Crabwalk, describes Ley thusly:

it was he who dissolved all the labor unions right after the takeover, emptied their coffers, dispatched squads to confiscate everything t their headquarters, and forced all their members, who numbered in the millions, to join the German Labor Front. It was he, this moon face with a cowlick, who had the inspiration to require all state employees, then all teachers and pupils, and finally the workers in all industries to use ‘Heil Hitler’ as their daily greeting. And it was he who came up with the idea of organizing the way workers and white-collar employees spent their holidays. He provided inexpensive trips to the Bavarian Alps and the Erzgebirge, to the North Sea and Baltic coasts, and, last but not least, ocean cruises of shorter and longer durations—all under the motto of ‘Strength through Joy’.

Ley effectively invented the modern cruise ship industry,  sending joyous German workers on countless trips—with the express purpose of recharging workers rather than objectively improving their lives. Indeed, as Grass coyly points out,

Unfortunately, passangers were not allowed to go ashore from the fjords, possibly because of regulations designed to prevent any hard foreign currency from leaving the Reich.

Shelly Baranowski’s work, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich (2004), points out that KdF allowed wage workers a pastime once exclusively the privilege of the upper classes. Moreover, it juxtaposed the poverty of the foreign destinations with the relative well-being of the Reich:

As an agency that at low cost to its consumers sold the cultural practices that signified middle-class standing—concerts, plays, the opera, art exhibits and the theatre, riding, sailing, and tennis lessons, and vacation travel—Strength through Joy testified to the Nazi regime’s desire to its racially ‘valuable’ citizens that it enhanced their well being.

In the episode of  ‘Question Time’ I mentioned, the audience member who asserted her ‘right’ to cheap flights (a sentiment, I should add, with which most of the audience agreed) it was in response to author Will Self’s conjecture that nobody in the audience could say that the end of cheap flights in Britain would actually make their lives worse.

I say this all with the knowledge that I have exploited cheap flight culture as much as anyone, perhaps with an extra dose of unfortunate smugness that somehow my travels are much more enlightening. But what really should be drawn from this guilty pleasure, is another layer to the already confounding problem of travel. How do we, as a society, encourage healthy and beneficial travel and cultural exchange between people of all classes and income without incurring catastrophic environmental and social costs?