Decline and fall

November 23rd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Paris-bashing is seeping gradually further into the mainstream:

“It is now well-known that Paris has lost all kind of European leadership to the benefit of towns such as London, Barcelona, Prague and Berlin, to which more and more French professional artists are going into exile,”

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November 20th, 2009 § Enter your password to view comments. § permalink

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November 20th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

1) The Oubliette, a very impressive group of art-squatters. Currently occupying a building in Leicester Square, ffs. Previous squats: the former Mexican Embassy on Mayfair, and a language school on Oxford Street. And they’re Doing Things™ in the buildings.

2) Crooked Timber searching in vain for political novels. Even CT’s collective erudition doesn’t turn up much, at least in the Anglophone world. This is odd; surely politics should be the perfect backdrop for fiction? Constant conflict of duty, ideology, loyalty, and self-interest. Articulate, self-aware characters continually mythologizing their own lives for public consumption. A prefab Greek chorus of pundits and journalists. Day-to-day politics may be dull, cynical and idea-free, but that doesn’t stop it twisting people in fascinating ways. It’s hard to believe that nobody is doing anything with all that material. So, what excellent political novels should I be reading?

‘Ashton can only be a positive surprise’

November 20th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Nobody else seems much cheerier about Ashton than I am.
deep embarrassment…permeates the senior ranks of Gordon Brown’s ministerial team this morning…..”Shaming and dreadful” is how one prominent colleague privately put it
— Michael White in the [Guardian](http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2009/nov/20/von-rompuy-ashton-eu-michael-white)
She has little experience and is a bizarre choice. It would be a sign that European diplomacy is downgraded to an economic policy post.
— French official quoted in the [Telegraph](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/6609229/Herman-Van-Rompuy-and-Baroness-Ashton-land-top-EU-jobs.html)
On the day of her election, the best that could be said of her was that she is a good listener”. “expectations are so low that Van Rompuy and Ashton can only be a positive surprise
—[Spiegel](http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,662357,00.html)
More justified grumbling elsewhere:
* [Crooked Timber](http://crookedtimber.org/2009/11/19/whether-or-not-it-is-good-for-europe-it-is-very-bad-for-belgium/#comments)
* [A Fistful of Euros](http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/the-european-union/eu-lisbon-jobs-open-thread/)
* [European Tribune](http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2009/11/19/13254/148)

How to avoid a democratic Europe

November 19th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Today’s EU appointments are a catastrophe for anybody counting on the Lisbon treaty to give Europe a public face. The only chance to kick-start a pan-European public sphere was to populate the top posts with figures fit to be loved, hated, or at least recognized across Europe. Instead, as foreign minister, we get [Baroness Ashton](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baroness_Ashton).
Baroness Ashton has no obvious expertise in foreign affairs before last year. Nor has she ever won an election. “Even friends are stunned that someone so low key could have been elevated to such a high profile job“, according to the [[FT](http://blogs.ft.com/brusselsblog/2009/11/cathy-ashton-10-things-to-know/)]
She’s an apparatchik. Worse, she’s an apparatchik who doesn’t even know Brussels. At least not until last year, when she was shuffled in as Trade Commissioner so that Mandelson could sneak home and salvage the Labour party. Before then, she was a backroom figure in the UK, working her way around charities, quangos and political posts. All worthy, but hardly preparation for Europe and the world.
How did she end up at the job? Was it Machiavellian manouvering by Britain? Talk up Blair, drop him at the last minute, and bounce Ashton in on the resulting pan-European wave of relief? Somehow I don’t think so; I just can’t see why they would go to all that trouble for somebody so unpromising. Instead, I’ll have to rely on the standard explanation for how every EU appointment happens: she was suggested at the last minute, and nobody knew enough about her to object.
Ban Ki-Moon was the last appointment to disappoint me this badly, and for similar reasons. Without a charismatic leader, the UN faded further into the shadows, and is losing influence month by month. Ban was chosen in part by people who wanted to keep the UN weak; what excuse is there for the EU ministers? Intentionally or not, they’ve just placed a brown paper back over the head of Europe.

EU puts bag over head

November 19th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I’d like to imagine the whole implausible campaign for Blair as EU president as a carefully-generated storm, bouncing in Baroness Ashton as a consolation prize. But then I can’t see anything about Ashton that would justify such Machiavellian shenanigans*. So perhaps she just happened to be hanging around in Brussels at the right time?

* As far as I can see, her only vague connection with foreign affairs before last year is a brief involvement with CND. I truly don’t understand this habit of dumping politicians into policy areas they know nothing about.

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Gerry Adams and MLK

November 9th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

In a (month-old) interview with Gerry Adams, Johann Hari emphasises the similarity between Republican movements in Ireland and a cross-Atlantic counterpart:

.

Over the next few years, Catholics in Northern Ireland – stirred by the black civil rights movement in the US, and the dream of Martin Luther King – started to peacefully organise to demand equality…. “There was a sense of naiveté, of innocence almost, a feeling that the demands we were making were so reasonable that all we had to do was kick up a row and the establishment would give in,” he says. But the civil rights marches were met with extraordinary ferocity. Protestant mobs attacked the demonstrators, and then the RUC swooped in to smash them up.

Following this line, the divergent outcomes for the two movements become a case study of the snowball effect of political choices. Also of the distortions of hindsight, which tends to elide the violent parts of the US civil rights movement, and the peaceful ends of Irish republicanism.

November 7th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

David Howarth is standing down at the next election?!

He’s one of the few really, really good MPs — and he vanishes after a single term? *sob*

‘Liberation’

November 7th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Bobbed, geometric haircuts. Chunky jewellery. Vegetarian diets. Saxophone playing. Breathing exercises. Painting. Carving. Snapping with brand new 35mm Leica cameras. Dressing in the artiest handmade clothes. Attending arty parties. Ninety years on from the founding of Walter Gropius’s legendary art, craft and design school, the female students of the Bauhaus appear to have been as liberated as young women today.

the Guardian

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November 6th, 2009 § Enter your password to view comments. § permalink

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Votes for prisoners

November 1st, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Prisoners in the UK are denied the vote, a fact I’m somewhat embarrassed not to have realised before this weekend. Obviously I should grit my teeth and read the [Guardian](http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/sep/19/prisonsandprobation.civilliberties) and the [Independent](http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/prisoners-should-be-given-the-vote-1601103.html) more often.
I had heard about it in the US, where it’s a bigger issue. There the numbers are larger, the rules are tighter (in some states ex-cons are also covered). And dubious implementation of the law — let alone the law itself — have been [claimed](http://www.gregpalast.com/the-great-florida-ex-con-gamernhow-the-felon-voter-purge-was-itself-felonious/) as deciding the 2000 presidential election. But in the UK, it just bubbles along a little way below the headlines.
Most of the pressure to change the situation comes from outside. Prisoners have been trying to use human rights legislation in order to vote, most recently [Peter Chester](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/6408023/Child-murderers-voting-ban-infringes-his-human-rights.html). He is kept in jail not because of his original crime (he’s already served 20 years for that), but because he is considered a danger to the public.
Four years earlier another prisoner, [John Hirst](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4315348.stm), won a case in the European Court of Human Rights, demanding his right to vote.
I’m not sure of the legal implications of that ruling. The government certainly didn’t jump to change the law. There is now a [consultation](http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/prisoners-voting-rights.htm) in progress, which I suppose is the most time-consuming way of doing nothing.
Apart from the moral case, John Hirst puts the practical argument pretty nicely:

“When you’re a prisoner, the only thing you can do if you want to complain and no-one listens, is riot and lift the roof off”

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