All My Little Words

A few more bits and bobs

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on January 12, 2016

October 2015: The London Economic, Six Things We Learned from 6 Day London

October 2015: Left Foot Forward, Comment: The left needs to understand the power of sales

Après le Déluge – What It’s (not) Like To Ride the Tour de France

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 24, 2014

There’s no party atmosphere at the top of the Hautacam. No collective jubilation and no private sense of euphoria either. Maybe that would come later. For now the focus is food: Honey bread, salted crackers, orange segments, whatever there is. Then the rain, which had been kind enough to wait until I’d crossed the finish, begins again.

“Go get your medal.” The older chap at the bottom tells me. “You deserve it.” I’d rolled the thirteen kilometres down the mountain to the village, thinking the whole way not of medals but dry clothes, and stopped to ask him where the car park was.

“I think I deserve a bath and six beers.” I reply, resting my leg against my front wheel, seriously hot from all that braking. I didn’t think I did, actually, I just really really wanted them. I certainly didn’t think a medal was in order. I thank him and roll on.

Mark Cavendish was recently quoted as saying that “Road cycling is suffering.” I had just ridden 150 kilometres – 95 miles in old money – of which half were uphill, and at least half – not exactly the same half – I would describe as suffering.

And all I could think was “What was the point of that?”

So what’s it like to ride a stage of The Tour de France?

Probably not much like that, if we’re being honest.

The ride starts from Pau’s enormous Place de Verdun at dawn. Riders enter pens based on their registration number and wait.

Le Depart

Le Depart

Ten thousand unnervingly hairless, scantily clad (mostly white) men. With everyone on one performance enhancing something or other, some chatting excitedly, others lost in solitary thought, the whole thing feels rather like the smoking area of a large Vauxhall club. Only except of course no one would dream of sparking up. Certainly there are as many string vests as you might see on a Sunday morning at Fire.

Most groups doing l’Etape bought their entries together, so have numbers near to each other. We didn’t, so don’t. This means Big Chris is in the 7000s on his own, and starts first, Mark and Lil Chris are both 9’s, two guns later, while I’m 10750, so on my own and last to launch, twenty minutes back.

Passing under the gate I start Strava. We all have timing chips stuck to our number plates and everyone will get an official time but I want more data than that’ll give me. Believe me when I say this is not even the lamest part of the cycling experience.

I want to go fast, as fast as is comfortable, anyway, maybe sharing the work with a few others. As beautiful as the scenery this is not supposed to be a gentle day out in the countryside. I’m not worried about burning out my legs before the big climbs, not on the flatish bits anyway, which make up the first fifty five kilometres or so before the start of the Tourmalet.

Most riders aren’t going as fast as I’d like, though, so there aren’t many wheels to latch onto. People are being cautious early on, which is fair enough. They also generally seem to be sticking to the right hand side leaving the left free. Odd given that this is a closed  road event but I find myself taking advantage of the space, and notice that I pick up the occasional hitchhiker who also wants to go a little quicker than the rest. Some would find this annoying but what difference does it make to me? If they want a tow they can have one.

On the first category 3 climb – a speedbump compared with what’s to come – I meet my man crush for the day. Rider 10621. We’re through the 10’s at this point, surrounded mostly by 9000 numbers and he’s going at a speed that suits me; overtaking people with plenty of space. Based on that alone, I decide he’s a decent guy so I don’t want to take advantage. Instead of clinging to his back wheel and letting him drag me along I keep a reasonable distance and try to mimic his pace. I’m only with him for a few kilometres, but I’ll see him again later.

photo (2)

There’s a simple well-honed technique for clearing your sinuses while cycling. You lean over a little, press a finger from one hand against the corresponding nostril and blow as hard as you can, propelling a ball of mucus to the tarmac. It’s gross but very effective. You’re also supposed to move to one side and look behind to ensure you don’t serve up a splattering to any others in your vicinity. As I’m passing one older rider around the 50km mark he happens to neglect this part of the process and my face is hit with a torrent of snot. It may not be all that sunny, but I’m glad I’m wearing shades.

With their half an hour head start I don’t expect to catch any of our group until we hit the Tourmalet at the earliest. I’m surprised, therefore, when just over an hour in I spy the sleeves of Mark’s multi-coloured jersey and his black Boardman bike. After a quick hello we naturally begin to work together, charging through the little French towns and villages where, the weather still kind, the crowds are out in force. It’s as we take the racing line through a tight corner, with men, women, kids urging us on shouting “allez allez” and “bon courage” that I really imagine I’m riding Le Tour.

Mark’s a lot fitter than I am, but I’m better on the hills, and we lose each other on the third, and last, category three. I won’t meet him again until the finish.   

Col du Tourmalet: 22km. Does that mean to the foot of the mountain or the summit? Either way it’s arrived much sooner than expected. As I approach so the weather begins to turn and my stomach begins to do the same. This will be the first HC (hors category, meaning steep and seriously long) I’ve ever ridden. My first stop of the day is to put on my waterproof – early on I removed my gilet without parking up: what a pro – and pop a caffeine gel in Bagneres-de-Bigorre. Then the climb, and the fun, really begins.

And surprisingly it is fun. Cycling hills – good ones at least – often have signs marking the distance and height to the summit. You’ll either find them encouraging or intimidating depending on how you’re feeling and, at this point, fourteen hundred vertical metres over sixteen kilometres of road, as massive as it is, somehow doesn’t scare me.

The rain isn’t as bad as it could be, nor is it too cold. As my nerves settle. I begin to enjoy the mountain, passing other riders fairly continuously, including one lunatic on a yellow Raleigh Chopper. I shake my head in amazement as I overtake but he’s going incredibly well.

Around 8km from the top the rain gets worse with the only respite coming when riding through the occasional sheltered section. About one hundred metres long one of them has CONTADOR daubed along its supports. He won’t be riding up this in four days time.      

Part of what keeps my spirits and speed up is the memory of watching the 2010 tour on TV. As Contador and Andy Schleck danced through five degree pea soup, the commentators smugly discussed the glorious sunshine they were basking in on the other side of the mountain. That’s what I imagined and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

We ride through a ski resort about three or four km from the top and this is a high point, both literally and in terms of mood. It’s easy to lose the sense of where you are after forty minutes of nothing but uphill road but if ever you need proof that you’re on a goddamn mountain, cycling under chairlifts would be it.

I see the number 10621 on the back of a rider just ahead. I pat him on the back and say some encouraging words that he looks rather perplexed to be on the receiving end of. I’m not sure he actually noticed the bit where we rode “together” earlier, but returns my cheer as we pass the three kilometre marker. I don’t want to make him feel more uncomfortable so I ride on to the summit alone.

At the top of the mountain there’s no sign that it’s going to get any nicer. I’m carrying one more item of clothing that I’m not wearing and although I don’t think it’s going to help, I put it on anyway. It doesn’t help.

I generally think of myself as a fairly nervy descender but I want to get down that mountain as quickly as possible. My reason for risking life and limb is as misguided on this side of the mountain as it had been on the other – it would be warmer, and maybe even drier, at a lower altitude, surely? Wrong. All I could hear as I dropped was the rattle of raincoat against the wind. As I began to lose the sensation in my fingers – first the little one, then the next one up, which probably has a name, then the middle one got a bit tingly, I sort of regretted not bringing the full finger gloves with me. Then I remembered how shit mine are, despite going by the laughable name of “Sealskins”.

The one good thing about this I think, looking about me, is that everyone’s more or less in the same boat. No one is massively better prepared, in terms of their outfit, than I am. We’re all fucking miserable at this point. I’m such a dick. It stops raining for a moment, I feel a wave of relief. It starts again and I’m furious and find myself screaming an obscenity in the direction of the omnipotent.

Aware of my susceptibility to cramp I give my legs a spin. I don’t need to gain any speed, it’s not about that, I just want to know what they might feel like when I call on them again. A couple of muscles in my thigh are complaining a bit but on the whole they feel like they’ll work when I need them to.

Between the bottom of the Tourmalet and the village at the approach to the Hautacam the sun does actually come out for the first time that day. There’s also a brief period here when I can see no one ahead of me, the is the only time I’ll experience that the whole day. A single moment of tranquility amidst six hours of madness.

The foot of the Hautacam is where it gets really emotional, as this is where the participants’ families and friends have gathered to wait. As I make the I turn around the village towards the mountain I’m met with two walls of people lining the road, evoking the scene at the Côte de Buttertubs in Yorkshire on Stage One.

This is incredible, this is exciting and, as blue as the sky is, this is also where the darkness descends. Thirteen kilometres is all that’s left but they’re going to be the most difficult of the lot.

As much as I thought they were okay the muscles in my thighs have cooled down too much. The pistons just aren’t going to fire. The gradient isn’t too bad and I should be able to stay in my big front ring for a fair while yet but I’m quickly down into the small one. I normally spend a lot of the time standing up when I’m climbing but there’s no way this is going to happen now. When my muscles are screaming I can normally drown them out but that’s not what’s happening. One leg is going “I’m sorry, what are you trying to do? No, I’m sorry, no.” while the other is holding a knife to itself and threatening to ping me off the side. I pay attention, drop to my lowest gear and spin. Ten kilometres left.

At the eight kilometres sign (next km 7.9%) I wonder if there is there anything I can put “in” that’ll make this engine of mine work better? I don’t want to stop. At this point, of course there isn’t but I’ll try whatever is to hand. I bite off the top to my last energy gel and squeeze the thing down my throat. These things are horrible. I finish off my water and electrolyte drink as well. The magic fails to appear.

Five k from the summit I’m in agony. Through gritted teeth I’d been chatting with a guy with a Northern accent and discovered an extra gear. It doesn’t help but I’m encouraged and find some extra pedal power from somewhere, leaving him behind. It doesn’t last long, he’ll pass me again shortly.

We’d been a bit obsessed with hydration on this trip with Big Chris paying particularly close attention to the depth of colour of everyone’s urine. I see proof that hydration is not the issue for me when finally I give in, stop, and take what’s politely referred to as “a natural break”. It’s crystal clear, so at least I feel a bit less bad about spilling it on this beautiful scenery. At this point, however, I’m struggling to appreciate my surroundings. I sit down at the side of the road and massage my legs a little, which makes more difference than you’d expect, before I stand up again, clamber onto my bike and reach for the top.

The last four kilometres are a lot easier than the first eight. Unlike on the Tourmalet I can see a line of cyclists above me, as the hairpin turns wind their way up the mountain. I’m know I’m going to make it and when I see the 1km inflatable sign, just above, I’m almost feeling comfortable again. Almost.

I see the last corner and turn into the inside. With the finish line in sight I have no right to sprint after the horror of that climb. I sprint for the line.

And collect my medal at the bottom.

I hate it, but it's kinda pretty.

I hate it, but it’s kinda pretty.

Listening by Numbers: 2013 at Halfway

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 12, 2013

At the start of this year I made a vow to be more honest about my music taste, to avoid (as far as possible any misrepresentation) by trusting the numbers as accrued via last.fm scrobbles, and then to evaluate the data impartially. Here’s what my list of albums, ranked by listens, looks like after six months:

last.fm scrobbles

Of course the numbers aren’t infallible, as not only does last.fm not count anything I’ve listened to via anything other than Spotify (I have, for example, the Bastille, Taylor Swift and older Caitlin Rose records on vinyl) but it also won’t include any Spotify listens that were played but not scrobbled, such as when I went skiing, listening offline and was all over the Tegan and Sara.

Even with that qualification the list looks about right to me. It’s felt like a pretty fair fight between the top three, with both the Caitlin Rose and To Kill A King records being added to my Spotify playlist on March 2nd and Bad Blood arriving just two days after that. Still, for there to be only three plays between them is pretty impressive.

For Caitlin Rose to be responsible for a full 5% of my listening this year, she absolutely deserves the top spot and I really do love the melancholy magic of The Stand In – with the exception of the final track which is a bit waltzy for my taste – as much as I did her first.

It’s worth asking if I would have listened to Bastille’s album quite as many times if I didn’t know Dan? It’s impossible to answer that but I suspect a few of those might have fallen by the wayside, if only because I probably would have got to it a bit later. Regardless, it’s a fantastic pop record, the songs suiting every occasion you might choose to hear them in – i.e. just as good in a tent with ten thousand as on my own, at home, in the dark with a large whisky, after a fight with friends. (Which I haven’t ever actually, done, obviously. That’s just an example.)

Cannibals With Cutlery is very different but equally powerful and it’s no surprise that there should be a strong musical connection between these guys and Bastille. I once drunkenly told the lead singer that fans of The National ought to really like his stuff. I’m sure he’d never thought of that before. Still, I stand by the assessment of the album – dark, uncompromising, whistful, wonderful wonderful wonderful stuff.

That’s the big three done and although I’m not gonna go through each of these but a shout out is definitely due to Kacey Musgraves for Same Trailer Different Park. A proper country record but smarter and more self-aware than most of what I’ve come across recently, I love the stories she tells and the way she tells ’em.

Having referred to The National I ought to mention their album as well. After the success of High Violet there was a lot of expectation on the follow-up, even more as it had been such a long wait, and this could so easily have disappointed. Although it wasn’t as easy to get into as it might have been Trouble Will Find Me rewards persistence. I expect to be listening to this for a while yet.

Phosphorescent’s Muchacho feels oddly similar in tone to Trouble Will Find Me but is more sunrise to The National’s sunset. Song For Zula with its wonderfully stereoed strings might be an early contender for track of the year.

I actually don’t like Settle by Disclosure as much as its ranking would suggest, but dancing to this bunch’s live show in the middle of a henge of illuminated perspex boxes will go down as one of my all-time favourite Glastonbury memories.

Frida Sundemo deserves extra praise for making it so high up this list despite Indigo having only six tracks on it. That puts her at seven full listens for the EP and, if we were normalising the data, would propel her up the rankings. I’m not gonna do that though.

In my head Charli XCX and Tricky’s albums are, in some ways, two sides of the same coin. While one is a debut the other the work of a veteran both are a huge amount of fun to play at volume and throw yourself into. It’s been a pretty great year so far.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

One thing I would like to add to this is that Devotion by Jessie Ware, 2012’s table-topper is only not seen in this snapshot because its plays are split between the original release and the more recent Gold Edition. Each of these received a solid thirty seven listens apiece, the sum of which would park it firmly inside the top ten. LOVE HER.

 

Interview With The Pipettes

Posted in Music, Uncategorized by nickchristian on June 24, 2013

This interview was originally published by Subculture Magazine in the Summer of 2006. It’s reproduced verbatim as the original, although the introduction has been slightly edited to make me sound like (slightly) less of a twat.

Three girls at once: Honestly

Why do we love The Pipettes? For the obvious reasons, obviously: For the polka dots; for the synchronized ‘50s-American-diner-style dance moves; for their unapologetic, titillatingly tutti-frutti pop songs; for the fact that they are women who, while the music industry is collectively wetting itself over girly indie boys, are unafraid to be girly girls.

Those reasons alone should be enough but having recently spent some time in their exalted presence, we here at Subculture have a few more.

An interview never sounds as good in print. The written word alone cannot render the sincerity and consideration with which these girls speak of their band. Nor is the English language sophisticated enough to depict the enormous variety of giggles that can emerge from three such vivaciously engaging ladies over the course an hour. Only when you come to transcribe the audio from such an experience do you realise quite how fucking useless the exclamation mark really is.

Nick: You signed your record deal a little over a year ago but you were around for a fair while before that. The whole thing seemed to be a long time in coming: did you ever wonder if maybe it wasn’t going to happen for you?

Gwenno: Did you think it was?

Rose: We didn’t really think about it.

Becki: No we just started the band and kind of thought “oh, this is a bit of fun isn’t it?” and then when people started liking it that took us a bit by surprise. And then when we got offered a record deal and stuff it was all a bit like “oh!”.

R: It felt like we just tricked them. I always felt like “Aaaaah!” like we’d managed to slip through the net somehow. We didn’t, and to be honest still don’t really, feel like we have, though aspirational and ambitious, expectations of anything necessarily.

G: No. It’s one step at a time isn’t it? It’s been so gradual, even since I’ve joined.

R: But then you relate it to other bands who’ve been going for years and years and years and actually it’s been quite quick. It’s all relative I think.

N: But you guys, it seemed to me at least, were for a while probably the most well-known unsigned band in the UK. A lot of people had heard of you outside of Brighton yet still it seemed you weren’t getting the attention from the labels. Why do you think that, in spite of the notoriety, a deal was so long in coming?

G: It’s the not fitting in thing I think. At the moment people are signing up any two-bit indie band that comes along in a pair of skinny jeans and a funny haircut. The Pipettes is nothing like that so I think it took a while for….. obviously major labels didn’t quite know what to do with us. We went with Memphis (Records) because they just signed us cos they liked us.

R: They took a bit of a punt on us.

G: Yeah. It was like: ‘kinda like this; don’t really know what it is; sign it!’ seemed to be the attitude.

R: The whole thing at the time was like ‘we really like you but we can’t place you and we don’t know how we’d market you’ and all this kinda stuff. It definitely required someone that was a bit less calculating in that way to get us on board I suppose. (more…)

28 Things

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on October 14, 2012

I recently approached, reached and passed my twenty-eighth birthday. As I did so it occurred to me that, although a completely arbitrary anniversary it was nevertheless my first “grown up” age and that I should, by this point, know some stuff about the world and life and people and myself. A few months before July 19th I began compiling a list of thoughts and positions and views and opinions, the thrust of which I could be reasonably certain. I recognize that some of the points read like a vile self-help book while a few are uncharacteristically (for me, I hope) saccharine in sentiment; still others are pithy and insubstantial and most need more context and qualification which I may later provide.

Ever changing, the list in its current form is below.

1. I’ve met “the one”

2. Remembering how you felt is the hardest thing ever

3. Friends and family can totally be the same thing

5. A person won’t complete you

6. People might Ω

7. If you wouldn’t turn up if they didn’t pay you, it is just a job

8. There’s nothing wrong with questioning orthodoxy or challenging convention

9. It’s not wise to always speak your mind, but never doing do is worse

10. Patriotism is stupid

11. Underpromise, over deliver ÷

12.

13. If you’re not paying for the drinks, tip the toilet attendant

14. Drunk is (mostly) context

15. Ban private schools and all schools get better

16. I overthink°

17. I can’t not write

18. Thou shalt not worship false idols*

19. You’re only the centre of your own universe

20. The lead singer is never the most interesting member of the band

21. I’d rather be a good friend than anything else

22. No-one gets it right every time – we’re all just muddling through

23. “I think being shy basically means being self-absorbed to the point that it makes it difficult to be around other people. For instance, if I’m hanging out with you, I can’t even tell whether I like you or not because I’m too worried about whether you like me.” -David Foster Wallace Σ

24. I will never complain about paying taxes or grumble about how “my money” is being spent

25. Δ

26. I can’t suffer fools gladly.

27. There is always *something* you can do. Do it.

28. I might change my mind about all of this tomorrow

Notes

Ω Relying on one other person for your emotional well-being just doesn’t seem like that good an idea to me.

Not that there’s anything wrong with taking your job seriously but it’s not as important as your health, your friends, family etc. It’s not worth getting upset about, or upsetting others over, is my point.

These two are related to each other. I’m not a big fan of submissive people, or those who view themselves as victims, basically. 27 is similar, now I think about it.

÷ Sounds like, and is, wanky business speak but applicable elsewhere. Life is generally easier if people have slightly lower expectations of you and it’s fun to pleasantly surprise.

Based on the morbid thought that if you die tomorrow, as sad as they might be, most people you know will still carry on as normal with most aspects of their lives – eating, sleeping, going to work, going to the pub etc etc. Even those for whom you’re the most important person in the world will end up there eventually. Useful for personal perspective, I think.

They might be interesting and charismatic but first and foremost they’re the ego and are seldom especially substantial.

° About people and how they might have interpreted something I might have said or done. Slightly contradicts some of the other points on this list.

* This is about “celebrity”. There’s nothing wrong with admiring people for a particular achievement or ability or characteristic they possess but what I don’t understand is the need to elevate them to a supra-human, sub-deity level.

Σ This quote has probably had more direct impact on my personality than anything else I’ve ever read. What does it matter if someone doesn’t like you if you’ve already decided you don’t especially like them?

Δ Simply perfect.

The Olympic Opening Ceremony – What Did the Rest of the World Think?

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 29, 2012

With the exception of a few Tory MPs and Daily Mail bloggers, the opening ceremony of the Olympics appeared to unite the British literary class, of all stripes, in pride and positivity. Leftie commentators in particular, although described by Andrew Gilligan this morning as “suckered“, were charmed into a temporary suspension of cynicism by an extraordinary portrayal of ordinariness.

But what would the rest of the world think? With in jokes galore, even Danny Boyle acknowledged that much of it may have gone over the heads of those without an intimate sense of the British chronicle, culture and character. But would it? And if it did, would it matter?

With a little help from Google News and a lot from Google Translate, I decided to look into it. The Russian response made me smile.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Nicaragua

Lo mágico cobijó la ceremonia olímpica

The magic swept over the Olympic ceremony.

Colombia

La inauguración de los Juegos Olímpicos cautivó las miradas del mundo.

The opening of the Olympics captivated the eyes of the world.

Cuba

Una espectacular ceremonia de color, música, magia y sentido del humor inauguró los Juegos Olímpicos de Londres 2012, en la que no faltó nada de lo que caracteriza al Reino Unido.

A spectacular ceremony of color, music, magic and humor opened the 2012 London Olympics, which did not miss anything that characterizes the United Kingdom.

France

JO 2012 : une cérémonie d’ouverture magistrale lance les Jeux

2012 Olympics: a masterful opening ceremony launches Games

De la musique, des people, des jeux de lumière et beaucoup de magie : hier soir, Londres a célébré le début des JO en grandes pompes dans le stade de Stratford.

Music, celebrities, lighting effects and a lot of magic: Last night, London celebrated the start of the Olympics with great fanfare at the stadium in Stratford.

Germany

Spektakulär und schrill, aber auch besinnlich und anrührend

Spectacular and flashy, but also thought provoking and moving

Russia

Жаль только, что сама королева без особого энтузиазма отнеслась ко всему происходящему.

The only pity is that the Queen herself reacted with little enthusiasm for anything happening. Only once, when it was shown on the big screen on the face of Elizabeth II could we see the barely noticeable smile.

Middle East

ليكون أحد أبرز الفقرات إن لم يكن أبرزها على الاطلاق في هذا الحفل الذي تضمن التاريخ والتراث والفقرات المرحة أيضا.وجاءت الفقرات المثيرة والخلابة لتجذب أنظار متابعي الحفل الذين بلغ عددهم نحو 62 ألفا في المدرجات بخلاف نحو مليار مشاهد أمام شاشات التلفزيون.

The opening ceremony, including history and heritage as well as moments of comedy. Exciting and beautiful sequences were designed to attract the attention of those following the ceremony, who numbered about sixty two thousand in the stands and more than a billion viewers watching on television around the world.

ورصدت هذه الصورة كلا من الريف الإنجليزي ومراعي بريطانيا والثورة الصناعية وفقدان حياة الآلاف في الحربين العالميتين الأولى والثانية وأزمة الثلاثينيات من القرن الماضي وخدمة الصحة القومية التي ظهرت في 1948 ومجموعة من أبرز الأفلام والموسيقى والقرن الحادي والعشرين بما فيه من إعلام إجتماعي دون نسيان أي شيء.

The picture was of the English countryside and pastures of Britain which gave way to the Industrial Revolution and the loss of thousands of lives in World Wars I and II, the crisis of the thirties of the last century and the National Health Service, which appeared in 1948. The ceremony moved from featured clips of prominent British movies, to pop music the birth of the world wide web and social media.

China

直到激昂的音乐响起,劳作的人们拆掉了草皮,几根烟囱平地而起,直插云霄——工业革命改变了英国,也改变了全世界。

The ceremony began with authentic English countryside scenery, the opening ceremony of the warm performances. Performers walk around holding several flowers and huge man-made white clouds, rural youth clumsily playing badminton; Mara move the plow, hard milking women, picnic, family Edwardian village cricket team, and dance people .

Until the passionate music sounded. The work of the people removed the turf and a few chimneys sprung into the sky – the Industrial Revolution changed the United Kingdom, as it has changed the world.

For Ollie

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on March 29, 2012

Having A Coke With You

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

Frank O’Hara

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A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on March 25, 2012

Food for thought from 1900.

A dissection of the misguided, “higher” purposes to which people set themselves and a call for a more simple form of goodness. My favourite line:

To be honest, to be kind–to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to keep a few friends but these without capitulation–above all, on the same grim condition, to keep friends with himself–here is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy. He has an ambitious soul who would ask more; he has a hopeful spirit who should look in such an enterprise to be successful.

 

I’ve wanted to do something with this for a while, but maybe it should just be read.

10 O’Clock Live vs The Daily Show

Posted in Media, Uncategorized by nickchristian on March 4, 2012

Channel 4’s weekly satirical news programme, 10 O’Clock Live, is not as good as Comedy Central’s daily satirical news programme, The Daily Show.

The producers and presenters of 10 O’Clock live would probably say that, if you look at the format and structure, they’re demonstrably not trying to imitate Jon Stewart’s style of satire. Except, I think, such protest would be disingenuous: while of course they’re not seeking to produce a direct replica – four presenters not one, LIVE!!!!, very little pre-recorded material and no celebrity interview – they are clearly looking to serve the same constituency aims. Or at least, what they believe those aims to be.

That 74% of America’s young people turn to the Daily Show rather than traditional media sources for their news is a fairly well-known and somewhat impressive statistic. I can’t find a comparable equivalent for the UK but Channel 4’s commissioners have clearly assumed one to exist, approaching the production from the perspective that British “young” people (such a broad cohort as to be effectively meaningless) don’t turn to traditional news outlets at all. 10 O’Clock Live appears to be have been conceived with this opportunity in mind and, regardless of whether you agree that they need it, to seek to inform, engage and educate young people in the world around them is I think, a noble aim. It is, however, hugely condescending to assume that young people are ill-informed and that, following this assumption, the only possible solution is to provide the news with a coating of comedic caramel.

A typical 10 O’Clock live segment starts with the assumption that its audience has no clue what’s going on so first informs, then exaggerates and finally departs from the initial premise entirely. In other words: “Listen to us while we tell you what’s going on in the world, we’ll get to the joke in a minute.” It’s not exactly subtle, it’s not exactly original and it is exactly patronising:

For while a better informed yoof might be a beneficial by-product of the Daily Show’s output, it’s not actually what Jon Stewart and his team set out to achieve. Far from assuming ignorance, The Daily Show is nothing short of deferential to its audience’s intelligence, wrapping any given segment in the bare minimum of context.

What The Daily Show does try to do, is to look at a particular element of a perhaps sidelined story and present it in such a way as to reveal its intrinsic comedic value. They don’t make the news funny, because it already is:

I enjoy Lauren Laverne a lot on the radio; I think David Mitchell is an ascerbic pundit; Charlie Brooker writes good TV and a worthwhile Guardian column; I even have no major problem with Jimmy Carr. It’s just that none of these is an authority on any of the issues that make up the news. Of course Jon Stewart isn’t either but he at least does not purport to be.

The Daily Show is very clever simply because it tries to make clever people laugh. 10 O’Clock Live is not very funny because it tries too hard to be clever.

Cycling In London – Ten Tips

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on August 14, 2011
cycling in london

Photo courtesy of Renjujoseph: http://www.flickr.com/photos/renjujoseph/

Cycling in London will never be perfectly safe and we all know this. By virtue of being more visible on the roads, forcing motorists to learn to accommodate for our presence, the increasing number of cyclists is nonetheless making it safer. Unfortunately this also means more inexperienced, more complacent and more dangerous cyclists on the roads and these days I actually feel more at risk, not less, every time I go out on my bike. As other cyclists being better would put me very much at ease here are my top main key crucial bits of advices. Have at it.

1. Ditch the headphones.
This is fucking obvious but, since I’d estimate that at least 1 in 5 cyclists now ride wearing either earbuds or full headsets, it bears a mention. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and allow that you perhaps aren’t blasting out the dnb to the exclusion of all external noise and, in fact, you probably can hear the sirens coming. Still, that you’re so bored on your commute that you’re in need of entertainment tells me that you simply aren’t paying enough attention. On a standard half hour ride through the capital you’ll be confronted with a myriad of crucial, life-saving signals, and you, you contemptible berk, are missing most of them. If I’ve given you too much credit and you have cranked the volume up to eleven, when that ambulance you didn’t hear coming knocks you down, this one’s for you.

2. Ride slower through traffic.
No, that pedestrian shouldn’t have been crossing blindly between buses and technically you were in the right. Good job. As you’re hurtling over your handlebars having had to slam on the brakes and go from 20mph to 0 in a yard of road, technically being in the right doesn’t count for much. That pedestrians sometimes cross in stupid places, and sometimes do so without looking out for anything less large or loud than a motorbike, needs to be as much your problem as it is theirs. If you can’t see between the two vehicles in front you need to be in a position to stop in time. Kill your speed, not yourself (or someone else).

3. Do it or don’t do it.
A general principle tip, this one. Mirror, signal, maneuver is the primary routine we’re taught in driving lessons and it is, if anything, even more important when cycling. If you’re prepared to make your move you will be in a much stronger position when you do so and will complete it far more confidently and cleanly. Hesitation will get you killed so if you’re not sure if you can cross in time don’t even try.

4. Check over your shoulder.
I seldom see other riders doing this which is baffling to me as it seems so fundamental. Those that need to heed this tip the most are, sadly those least likely to do so as, if you can’t hear what’s coming up behind you, then you’re probably less likely to be looking out for it. [Hint: I’m talking about number 1’s] Even the aurally alert could probably do with more of an awareness of what’s coming up their arse because G-Whizz’s (not to mention other cyclists) are damn near silent and to get tangled up with one would do nothing for your cred.

5. Overtake with a car’s width, or don’t overtake.
Related to number 4, this one is about not making any assumptions as to the next move of your intended overtakee. Just because they have maintained a consistent path for the last 100 yards doesn’t mean they’ll continue doing so for the next 50. Equally important is that you have no idea if they’re alert to your presence, unless you’ve been responsibly dinging your bell as you approach and even then, y’know, headphones. Anyway, you certainly can’t see the pothole or drain that’s going to cause them to veer wildly into your path, so make sure you don’t have to.

6. Keep your eye off the clock.
It’s okay, I get it, we’re all a little bit competitive. But if your primary MO is to get to work quickly, rather than alive, you will severely reduce your likelihood of achieving the latter – at which point who cares about the former? I noticed it myself when I went out this afternoon on a timed ride: at first I was worried about losing precious seconds, so pushed it at traffic lights – a late amber is practically green, right? – took a few chances at junctions and generally (briefly) paid a lot less attention to anything other than my need to get from A to A via B as quickly as possible. The only place it’s safe to time yourself is on a track so make sure you leave enough time to get to work and forget the clock. Relatedly, ignore other cyclists who may be going faster than you on better bikes. I am certain you can keep up with them, I’m certain you don’t have to prove it and I’m certain the undertaker isn’t going to give a shit.

7. Traffic Light Etiquette
This could be a blog post all of its own or, equally, could be summed up in four words: don’t piss me off. All you’re doing is pissing me off. Traffic lights are where cyclist bunch up and therefore where its most important that you respect your fellow rider. Few do. A. Don’t overtake someone on the line if they’re inevitably going to be quicker than you off it. Doing so will only piss them off. B. Stop trying to gain that fractional advantage by edging ahead of the other bikes and watching everything except the lights. You will ultimately make no extra ground and be swiftly passed by non-twats. C. Only skip lights where you’re absolutely certain you’ll provide no impediment or alarm to anyone else. Clue: there aren’t many of these. Zipping through a four-way pedestrian green is stupid because another cyclist could easily be doing the same. Bang!

8. Signal
The kindest thing you can do for those around you – be they cyclists, motorists or pederists – is to inform them of your intended action. Whether it’s with an arm signal, frantic bell-chime or simply by shouting “Oi, wally I’m coming up behind you.” everyone can make better decisions themselves if they have a better sense of your future movements.

9. Don’t be afraid to position yourself in front of cars/cabs/vans/buses –  especially at traffic lights.
You might well wind up the driver but at least that means they’ve seen you. A driver who has seen you is far less likely to kill you than one who hasn’t.

10. Let he who is without sin etc etc

I <3 The Internet

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on August 9, 2011

Of the many many many* things I’m good at, keeping track of my passport is not one of them. The price of a fast-tracked, queue-jumping replacement is therefore something I am obliged to factor in to the potential cost of any foreign holiday.

This flaw of character reached a zenith when, upon application of the last one, the kindly folks at the passport office – Jen and Luke to their friends – followed up with a stern letter informing me that, if I applied for another within two years, I would be required to prove that I have not been passing them onto terrorists and/or that I was not involved, in some way, with organised crime. No one could be THAT stupid. While I cannot prove that mein immigration documents have never ended up in the hands of terrorist, no-one who knows me well would ever accuse of being organized, so lol @ that and yes they can be.

Regardless, the consequences sounded like a massive faff so I vowed to keep an eye on this one. A vow which I was able to keep for all of eighteen months and three trips abroad – not exactly a great record. passport facebook

It was all going well, mainly because the gradual declining frequency of disputes over my maturity meant I had little use for it and could keep the bugger in a drawer. Always the eighth drawer that I looked in but nonetheless a drawer.

That is, until about two months ago when, for reasons that escape me, I found myself carrying my passport around in my back pocket. This is hardly a good idea at the best of times but, for most people should not actually prove a risky activity. I am not most people.

I didn’t, in fact, realise I had lost my passport until I after I discovered that it had been found. I had a vague sense that it was no longer about my person when I arrived at work on the Friday morning. I phoned my flatmate, asked him to have a look in my room: no joy but no bother. He was crap at hide and seek as well. So,being a busy and very important bee I move on with my working day aaaaaand Facebook. Whoda thunk it:

No need to explain how he tracked me down but the fact that he did and could is, I think, a nice reminder to us that people are not always total dicks and that technology can be used for good as well as nefarious purposes. As he lives in Cambridge I wasn’t able to arrange with Lawrence to collect my passport until Sunday and when I met him he told me that he’d tried a few different Nick Christians and I was, as you’d expect, the only one to reply. He told me that he had found it on the road in Kennington (on my cycle route home) and that while he had considered asking a few security questions, ultimately he decided that he could have just deprived me of the document if I hadn’t resembled the photo.

In the old days Lawrence might have taken the passport to the police station who might have made some effort to track me down or, instead, they might have just waited until I phoned up asking for it. The passport. Which I might have done. But probably not.

As it was, thanks to my moderately public online presence, for him to return and for me to retrieve the passport was barely any effort at all. I’m not sure I’d have thought to do it that way but I’m glad he did. For saving the passport office a futile fraud investigation and for  saving me from an improved mugshot, I salute the Facebook. And, of course, Lawrence.

*no, not very many

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Jamie Oliver Can Shit Off – Steak & Guinness Pie

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on August 8, 2011

On the advice of foodieclaire I decided to have a bang at Jamie Oliver’s Steak & Guinness & Cheese Pie, omitting the cheese, as she did, because it sounded a bit gross. Cheese in a PIE? Ugh.

Other than that I pretty much followed the recipe to the letter. 1kg of beef sounded like rather a lot so I went for about half that much which, as it turned out, worked out fine. As a result I didn’t need to add any water to the stew so the whole lot was cooked in Guinness – and the flava flav ended up coming through satisfactorily strongly. I also discovered at the last minute that the pastry I’d bought a few weeks ago had gone mouldy which meant I had to leave the actual pie cooking until the next day. The flip side of doing THAT was that I could bake the stew for an extra hour which, I’m told, would make the beef even more tender.

The resultant pie was tasty as fuck.

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Tamsin Sancha

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on August 5, 2011
Tamsin Sancha, portrait artist.

Natalie 25" x 30"

Genocide Denial

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 27, 2011

James Wizye has written a fine counter to Edward Herman and David Peterson’s despicable attempt to deny the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide.

The point, and this is crucial, is that even if Kagame was responsible for the missile which downed the Hutu President’s plane, then it was an excuse, not a reason, for the genocide. I read extensively on this subject back in 2007 and, for what it’s worth, I don’t believe the Tutsis were responsible for the deaths of Habyarimana and the Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira.  Nonetheless, as Herman and Peterson point out, this has never been conclusively proven one way or another.

What is certain, whether you’re reading Romeo Dallaire or anyone else who saw what happened with their own eyes, is that the mass killings would have happened even if that plane had landed safely: as a huge number of the machetes responsible for many thousands of deaths had been purchased and hidden far in advance, the infrastructure for genocide had been prepared, the international political temperature had been taken.

Paul Kagame is and was, certainly no saint, but the genocide of 1994 was the most horrific crime of the late 20th century and he was not responsible for it.

Ay Ducane – Old Souls

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 24, 2011

An old version of a new song. I prefer this, the much simpler original, to the more upbeat and bigger version this band currently play out. Give it a listen.

Somebody’s Baking Brownies

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 16, 2011

Yah I rilly did. I’m not gonna post the recipe because I just went with the first one I found following a search for “brownies recipe”. Do the same or, as the old saying goes, get it here.

It’s a good recipe – whether it’s the “best ever” is another matter – but probably unnecessarily fiddly in places. As you can see from the slideshow, I don’t have an electric beater* and it took three men – admittedly three men with fairly weak arms – to make up for it. If you’ve got one, don’t be a hero.

This was my first attempt, and I’m pretty pleased with the results. I’m not sure the three types of chocolate chunks made much difference but you could pretty much throw in whatever you want. I reckon mini marshmallows might give it a chewiness that I was somehow hoping for but that was absent. Jorj thinks you should cram it with halves, ugly.

*No, I’m not going to make a joke here.**

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** Seriously, do it your f’ing self.

Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 13, 2011

I know I’ve already posted an essay from the term just passed but there was another and, having received a much better grade than anticipated, I considered that it might be of interest to some. I’m only posting the conclusion because I can’t believe anyone has the stomach for the full 4,000 words but if you’re really that much of a keen bean bored, drop me a line and I’ll forward it on.

Can Foreign Policy Ever Be Moral?

Derrida wrote that “justice exceeds law and calculation”[1] which is to say that morality, and judgements about morality, are beyond scientific evaluation and must be made with the uncertainty of human reason. If we ask, is it possible for the state itself to be moral then we must find that it is probably not. Is it possible for a state’s foreign policy to be consistently moral? I equally think it is probably very difficult. However, is it conceivable that a state could conduct itself in a moral fashion or in accordance with a moral consensus or common moral principles, even those common only to a state’s only citizenry? I think it is. I do not agree that for a state’s foreign policy to be considered moral it must conform to externally established moral standards but instead must try to live up those it sets for itself. Whether the state has the right to a moral foreign policy, as Kennan calls into question, we must distinguish between a state conducting itself morally in the society of states and conducting interventions that violate the right to sovereignty of another state. The former takes exceptional circumstances into account the latter does not.

One of the problems with morality in foreign policy is that we need it to be consistent and this we see as necessitating codification. To write morality into law purports to contradict an intrinsic characteristic of the common understanding of what constitutes morality, which is to say the freedom to choose. However, Just War aspires towards a codified moral sphere that the state can inhabit and a regular if not exactly regulated code of conduct that states can practically adopt.

While true morality may be beyond the capacity of the state, as we understand the state to be a function  of statesmen, it can nonetheless serve to further morality as a determinant of behaviour, both by example and by didactics. To say, as George Kennan did, that it is not the business of the state to concern itself with morality is not only outmoded, it also demonstrates a very narrow view of the state’s purpose and what constitutes “interests”. Kennan, speaking as a veteran actor of the Cold War at a time when it was far from over and the threats were still very real, can be forgiven for subscribing to this perspective. The Cold War and the perpetual threat of nuclear annihilation did make greater demands of states and require an approach to statesmanship that was perhaps much colder in character, if not cruel.

While for the individual and even societies morality may be considered to be a non-negotiable, an imperative force in the determination of behaviour to the state, morality and its exercise might reasonably be regarded as a luxury. Thucydides’ Melian dialogue, in particular the line that “the strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must”[2] may have been intended to serve as a lesson in the inevitable amorality of states it can also be read in a more encouraging light. As the human is an evolved creature, so is the state. If we believe that the state under strain will be motivated  by reptilian instinct, the state liberated from that strain and existing in a state of relative comfort will have at least the political capacity to exercise its limbic system, to act out of regard for a sense of right. Whether or not it will avail itself of this capacity is not enough to render it either moral or amoral but the freedom of choice is enough to provide for that possibility and to which states should aspire.


[1]    Derrida quoted in Willy Maley ‘Beyond the Law?: The Justice of Deconstruction’, Law and Critique

[2]    Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, CHAPTER XVII. Sixteenth Year of the War – The Melian Conference – Fate of Melos as found at http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/melian.htm

From One Editor to Another…

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 10, 2011

Was phone tapping really necessary? As several of the individuals involved have claimed, the dirty tricks employed by News of the World staff to get stories were a product of the culture of the paper and the pressure placed on them to beat the competition. Colin Myler, the paper’s last editor, has been at pains to state that these tactics departed with his predecessor and that, under him, the newspaper was a very different place and that the conduct of his reporters was far cleaner than it had been before. I wanted to know if there was any data to support either of these claims. The graphs below track the News of the World’s circulation, by month, under its last three editors, two of whom are up to their necks in the current scandal.

Apart from for Colin Myler I can’t seem to find the exact dates of the respective editors’ stewardship of the NOTW. I’ve therefore taken the start dates of Rebekah Wade and Andy Coulson as January of the year they began editing the paper. There’s not enough evidence to suggest that it was phone tapping and police bribery that made the difference, but we can reasonably deduce from the data a distinct difference in editorial approaches.

From the start of her tenure to its end, The NOTW’s circulation under Wade remained about the same, but did experience massive month on month deviation. Under Coulson we can see the same erratic peaks and troughs but the trend is distinctly downward, with circulation falling about 17% over his five years at the helm.

Myler’s graph is very different. The paper continues to lose readers (29% over four and a half years), there’s much more consistency from one month to the next. See for yourself:

Wade:

Coulson:

Myler:

I haven’t had a chance to read around the various circulation spikes and assign stories to them, so if anyone would like to help me with that, I’d be very grateful and would update the post accordingly.

Figures courtesy of The Guardian

Homemade Cream Pie

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on July 7, 2011

Finding myself at a bit of a loose end in the few days at the start of this week I was between jobs, I made an attempt at interpreting this Nigella Lawson recipe for lemon meringue ice cream. And photographed the shit out of it.

Ingredients:
Some greek yoghurt
Some more double cream
2 Lemons – pith and juice
A few big blobs of good curd (lemon or other)
Several meringue nests

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Method:

1. Beat your cream until stiff – if you use a lot, this will take a while. Electric beaters are desirable.
2. Stir  in the  yoghurt, curd and ephemera of lemon
3. Crumble and then stir the meringue nests into the goo.
4.  Pour into a container and allow to
5. Serve in spangly vessel and adorn with the 80s. Avoid silver balls as they are shit.

Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home

Posted in Uncategorized by domtetley on June 12, 2011

The night before I took the train down to Barcelona I went to Brighton to catch a Mountain Goats gig with my brother. They played in Coalition, which is a small club in the arches just at the back of the beach, and after playing a few of the songs off their new album (which I haven’t heard because their stupid new label doesn’t have stuff sorted with spotify) John Darnielle announced that, as they don’t make it to Brighton that often, if there was anything apart from the hits that anyone wanted to hear they should shout it out – so we got the kind of convivial, all in it together atmosphere that I loved the first time I saw them, but was maybe a little lacking when I caught them at Koko last year (although it could also be I was pretty pissed that time…). Mini Review in the Form of a Mogwai Song Title: Secret Pint.

Despite having very little to really do on the Thursday things somehow got late – and it was already well into Big Boi’s set before I made it onto the festival site. What I saw was a really enjoyable hip-hop set, playing the bigger tunes off Sir Luscious Left-foot. The surprise was that his biggest tune, Shutterbugg, was played towards the end of the main set, then Tangerine and Ain’t No DJ were played in the encore, but I guess Big Boi’s career is at a point where if people know his music they probably know the whole album, so he can keep excitement levels as high as they’re going to get by playing tracks in pretty much any order. MRitFoaMST: With Portfolio.

Grinderman make something pretty difficult look incredibly easy, presenting their blues rock with no frills (but tremendous beards), and playing it very, very loud. I’m now really lusting after an electric mandolin and a bank of fx pedals as long as the Barcelona seafront. MRitFoaMST: White Noise.

Interpol’s thing looks pretty easy too, and the sneaking suspicion is that that’s because it is. This doesn’t matter when they play anything off their first two albums: those are just incredible songs, but anything else just sounds like more of the same. MRitFoaMST: Auto Rock.

We arrive at Flaming Lips just as Wayne Coyne is setting off in his big plastic ball, and the chubby cheerleaders are lining up by the sides of the stage, and the first of many confetti-cannons is fired, and, and… wow. I don’t think the Flaming Lips have released a decently strong album since whenever Yoshimi came out (2002?), and you could argue that even Yoshimi and the Soft Bulletin are pretty patchy, but they’ve now got a set of anthemic, lived in songs that, even without the theatrics, actually build up a surprisingly hefty emotional punch. But then, who cares about that when you’ve got giant hands that shoot lasers? MRitFoaMST: New Paths to Helicon Pt II.

They switched up the start time of the El Guincho set, so we only caught two songs, and I don’t remember much about them. MRitFoaMST: I Can’t Remember.

Last time I saw Girl Talk the sound system was a bit underpowered, so the moments when the beat drops and the mix really kicks together, which are kind of the point of the guy’s music, didn’t really move me. This was not a problem this time round. MRitFoaMST: May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door.

I don’t really get the National, and catching half an outdoor gig from the back of the crowd didn’t help me get them any better. I kept thinking, oh, here comes the good one, and it was just another one that sounded a bit the same as the last. We did hear the good one – Fake Empire – and it sounded as flatly uninspired as the rest of the set. MRitFoaMST: Music for a Forgotten Future.

I’m not the biggest Belle and Sebastian fan, but I’d heard good things about their live show, and was excited to finally catch up with them, so their bland and enervating set was particularly disappointing. When they eventually got around to something that I at least knew to be a good tune – The Boy with the Arab Strap – they seemed to play at half-speed, with Stuart Murdoch murmuring his vocals even lower into the mix than usual. The biggest cheer of the set came when their guitarist (who should never normally be let near a microphone) croaked out ‘sing along with the common people’, which was a bit sad. MRitFoaMST: Too Raging To Cheers/Scotland’s Shame (Yep, totally why I thought of doing this stupid gimmick).

We sat out on the edge of the concrete amphitheatre for some of Explosions in the Sky, which seemed like a fine way to hear them. Some music doesn’t necessarily need to make a huge impression to achieve just the right effect, and these guys were a case in point. Although I did then wonder off to check out the merchandising stall. Nothing really caught my eye. MRitFoaMST: Take Me Somewhere Nice.

And then came Pulp, and they were fucking magnificent. When I first got a tape recorder when I was about 11 Different Class was the one album I had to play on it. I’ve returned to it every few years since then, and it’s never failed to offer me something new. Tonight’s show was pretty much a run through of that album, with a few off His’n’Hers and This is Hardcore, and was as exciting, involving and emotional as I could possibly have hoped it would be. I shouted along with almost all of it, jumped up and down like a lunatic and couldn’t stop grinning. I loved being there. MRitFoaMST: George Square Thatcher Death Party.

After Pulp we stumbled down the steps to the Pitchfork Stage for Jamie xx and Lindstrom, who were both good for some silly dancing to take care of any remaining energy we might have had. I barely remember what either of them sounded like – I think Lindstrom might play electro-house? – but I’m pretty sure I enjoyed them. MRitFoaMST: for Jamie xx: I’m Jim Morrison, I’m dead (not in anyway appropriate, but an acknowledgement of Mogwai’s own tribute to Gil Scott Heron. RIP.) for Lindstrom: Rano Pano.

Got onto site a bit earlier the next night in order to catch Yuck. I lay down on a step for most of the show and felt thousands of tiny flies crawl all over me. Yuck sound a bit like the Silversun Pickups (so a bit like the Smashing Pumpkins), but, thankfully, less whiny. MRitFoaMST: A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters.

Warpaint were nicely noisy, and, though it was hard work picking out anything happening on the stage as the sun went down behind it, I did some vigorous head nodding along with the songs, and really enjoyed the set. MRitFoaMST: Punk Rock:.

I have since read reviews of Fleet Foxes’ London shows, and apparently they have hugely beefed up their sound since their last tour, but even not having caught them back then I was surprised, and very impressed, by how forceful they sounded. My favourite songs off the first album were loud enough to shout along to from the back without losing any of their beauty. And they were polite enough to finish in time for Nick to get to the football. MRitFoaMST: Summer.

PJ Harvey arrives wearing something weird – a wedding dress and some birds on her head – and consistently fails to build an atmosphere. I’m not sure what she could have done to make her set more of a success, but her songs are basically too short. I found it a real shame as I like her new album a lot, but it didn’t really come across live. MRitFoaMST: Folk Death 95.

Mogwai do their thing. They do it well and they do it loud. There’s a surprising amount of beauty submerged in the noise, and their wordless songs pulled me in more than I expected. MRitFoaMST: Glasgow Mega-Snake.

After Pulp I was probably more excited about the Odd Future show than anything else this weekend, having loved the couple of Tyler The Creator songs available on Spotify, but it was a mess, succumbing to the two most common (though, to judge by Jay-Z, avoidable) problems of live hip-hop: their back beat reduced to a booming thump, while their vocals were lost in unintelligible shouting. Given that the power of their records derives from their steely control, this was a pretty much unmitigated failure. MRitFoaMST: 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong.

DJ Shadow would have pulled an El Guincho on us if Stefan hadn’t kept a weather eye on the interweb, but as it was it was the rest of the crowd that turned up late, and we got prime spots down the front. The visuals were great, he avoided The Outsider as far as I could tell, and I don’t know where I found the energy, but I really enjoyed it. MRitFoaMST: Thank You Space Expert.

On the beach the following afternoon we tried to think of reasons not to move to Barcelona and came up blank. We were further convinced of the city’s greatness by Mercury Rev’s after-party show, which was in the Poble Espanyol, a medieval courtyard, and possibly the most beautiful venue I’ve ever been to a gig in. the show itself was pretty good too, with Deserter’s Songs sounding much more muscularly psychedelic live. MRitFoaMST: I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School.

Gil Scott-Heron – A Poet Who Died Too Young

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on June 12, 2011

In the early hours of Saturday morning, in front of the Pitchfork stage at Primavera Sound, I was dancing to JamieXX playing out his version of Gil Scott Heron’s “I’m New Here”. Several hours later we awoke to the news that the song’s author had died overnight. That a young musician has, by reinterpreting Heron’s first album in more than fifteen years, managed to successfully carve himself a secondary career as a DJ, is as fitting a tribute and as telling a testament to his relevance as there can be.

Although I’m New Here is unlikely to surpass The Revolution Will Not Be Televised as Heron’s most politically  “important” work, it can be reasonably regarded as its equal in terms of peer influence and critical reception. For a man who seemingly had, in recent years, very little interest in writing poetry and recordung it as music, it was a simply stunning production. Thoughtful, analytical, riddled with self-criticism and an appropriate level of pathos, I’m New Here was so much more than we could have expected it to be.

I have no idea if Scott-Heron was working on new material at the time of his death, or if the 2009 LP was intended to be followed by anything at any point. Still less can we know if the record that might never have been could have matched its predecessor in lyrical majesty and musical impact. But the very occurrence of I’m New Here, sixteen years after Spirits, is enough to suggest he could do it again. That is why Gil Scott Heron’s death means more.

It means more than if, say, Bob Dylan were to keel over tomorrow. Or Bruce Springsteen. Or Paul McCartney. For these men and their ilk, we can be sure, will never come close to recording anything the equal to  their most celebrated works, as influential as they still are, decades after being released. All of these might still be important performers, but their performances are of the songs and albums on which they originally made their names. While they might continue to write and record new material, the comparisons cannot be made and the public interest barely register. The Rolling Stones are, and have been for some time, no more than a Rolling Stones covers band.

There are contenders. Dave Gilmour and Robert Plant have in recent years bestowed on us a couple of albums which we should be very grateful to receive and that are really worth experiencing live. It would have been a great shame had we not been given On An Island or Raising Sand, but the Dark Side of the Moon or Physical Graffiti they are not and it is to those records we would turn in tribute if either men were to depart tomorrow.

Gil Scott Heron, for all his troubles, left us wanting more. His death, at 62 at full 35 years longer than musicians are meant to live, feels too young and leaves us bereft of what might have been.

One last tribute from Gilles Peterson:

Where does all the money go?

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on June 11, 2011
Music Industry Infographic

Selling Out

Tagged with:

Sing Along With La Gente Común

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on June 1, 2011
For Primavera Sound this year I decided I would try to, essentially, live blog the bands. The experiences depicted are therefore largely as they happened and as such are really really not good. But they are, at least, honest.  For an actual summary of the festival you might try this, although he does get on his high horse about the whorey nature of it. Didn’t bother me as much. Anyway, please continue.Primavera Sound 2011
Drill-core not attracting the crowds this year.

Big Boi. Swagger like this is born not raised. Thrilling* performance of GhettoMusick.

We all want to be Nick Cave but would settle for being the Grinderman guitarist
who can seriously rock out on the violin and is happy to take a
tumble.

Interpol, we concluded, would be a very easy band to be in. Write some
new songs that are like your old songs but not quite the same; Turn up to festivals, play antics big style. Fin.

Even if you’re not that fussed about the flaming lips, I feel like
you have to be pretty cold not to love them. I think there is only a
limited amount of license available to bands that emphasize the
theatrical and the flaming lips have a near monopoly on it, but we
would not grant them that license were their music total shit. For me
they are *the* festival band. I remember them so fondly from their
prenormous period on the new bands’ at glastonbury, hand puppets and
fake blood, at their peak, just before radiohead on the pyramid, to now,
established in their importance at primavera.  “It’s a shame they didn’t play Mike’s song.” ” what song?” “this song!”  Do you realise? Wow. I
thibk i do. Chubby cheerleaders ftw.

El guincho: a late night dancing treat – abosolutely buzzing by this point and when I wrote this.

Girl talk – woah woah woah it’s magic. Beyond that refrain, I have no recollection of this at all. I do know I danced til dawn.
The National need to be experienced in a contained space. They are too
big yet too clever to be heard on a Barcelona beach, their sound lost
to the elements. Or maybe they are a festival band and we just werent
close enough. We also didn’t arrive in time for Bloodbuzz Ohio.

I love Belle and Sebastian and stars of track and film is great but no, just no.

Banner of the festival: “Spanish revolution – sing along with the common people”

Explosions in the sky: like a jinglier janglier mogwai, apart from
when they’re just like mogwai. “I wonder how a band comes to a decision
not to have a singer”-Mike.

Pulp. The first album I ever bought and hence contributed enormously
to nearly twenty years of me. In other words, blame them. Approx setlist:

Pencil skirt
Something changed
Babies goddamn
Sorted fir es and whizz
Feeling called love
I spy
Underwear
This is hardcore
Common people
Encore: razzmatazz

Didn’t play Help The Aged

I kinda love that while jc has never really gone away (radio shows, solo albums etc) what matters is jc as pulp which is a distinctly different beast. The first pulp show in a decade feels like a massively important event.

Jamie xx- I’ll take care of you. Tune. RIP Gil. No more remixes of rolling in
the deep? Well, maybe just this one.

What an odd time and place to puts on lindstrom. Nevertheless, great
light show – he builds it and they come.

Yuck – if Ben kweller had fronted Sebadoh they would probably have
sounded like this. A welcome 90s revival.  Tip of the hat to Michael Jarratt for pointing me in their direction a while  back.

Warpaint – glaring overhead sun means we can’t see the stage for shit.
Intrigued by the sound though. Discovery of the weekend.

Fleet foxes. Bathed In glorious evening sunshine, with enough heft to
their sound to carry it to the back of the arena, maybe these guys
aren’t so dull.

Pj Harvey – hmmm. Her sings feel like they build and build and then
abruptly end. It doesn’t feel like thatin the album and I winder if,
on record, the songs are just as short but the atmosphere is built and
carried through the whole thing. Live there is some reliance on each
track doing the same job in a fraction if the time. Technically very
enjoyable but largely a bit uninspiring.

Mogwai my first experience of mogwai, eleven years ago, last thing on
the Sunday of Glastonbury, was not a happy. Aside from the heaviest
legs and weariest feet in history, I simply didn’t “get” post-rock.
Music, at that time, had to be tuneful, not abstract and the
subtleties of its form were lost on me. I remember sitting down and
possibly borrowing some earplugs.  Time to apologise. I am not
necessarily wiser but I am certainly older and can finally, happily,
appreciate the grace of mogwai’s art. Hypnotic compositions driven by
powerful torrents of guitar, bass and drums. Wooed into submission,
I’m glad I finally get it.

The Odd Future. Surely this lot aren’t as horrible as they seem? No, wait, they’re worse.

DJ Shadow – Amazing visuals. Shame the drugs don’t work.

Mercury Rev playing Deserters Songs @ Poble espanol
Just a massive show in the most elegant of spaces. Contained by castle walls the sound is overwhelming The national should have played here.

*the whitest word ever used to describe a hip-hop show.

Primavera Sound 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on May 26, 2011

Assemble, we, en masse. In writing about any event such as this, an undeniable temptation exists to envelop  it within a broader political, or narrower personal, context.  What does this mean for us, as people, and for me as an individual?

For the political, one might consider the Arab Spring. That 100,000 people from around the world can gather together, with no designs on changing the world, with no higher purpose than to enjoy three days of glorious music, having paid a developing world fortune, is surely worthy of celebration. This is political freedom. Is this not, in essence, what the young protesters in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Libya have been fighting for?

Parc Del Forum is not Tahir Square or Tiananmen: this is not the Arab Spring writ Spain.

For the Spanish Spring, or Summer as it must surely be by now, is indeed taking place. While this cultural event is taking place at an expedition centre on the edge of town, a few miles up the road Spain’s students are engaged in a struggle of their own. Currently occupying Placa Catalunya, “Los Indignados” are not celebrating their political and economic liberties by attending a concert but are, as in the Middle East, calling for change. While not seeking to depose a dictator or defenestrate a monarch, they are nonetheless demanding better governance and popular responsibility for the plight of their country. Even if not being forcibly suppressed, their goals must be seen as similar. With unemployment reportedly at 22%, far from being a big deal, this rock festival begins to feel very small indeed.

So to the personal then. Am I at a critical juncture? Is my attendance at this festival likely to be transformative? Ed Harcourt sang about being “in the twilight of my youth”; I don’t think I’m there yet. While my approach to this kind of thing is distinctly more grown up than in the past I am still far from growing out of this kind of thing. This is far from the last of these that I will attend and next year will probably be no different. While in the background and at home life, and drama happens, for a week these are on pause. This is my escape.

Today’s Excitement Includes:

  •  Big Boi
  • Of Montreal
  • Das Racists
  • The Walkmen
  • The Flaming Lips

Humanitarian Intervention: Why questions of law and morality are missing the point.

Posted in Uncategorized by nickchristian on May 5, 2011

Humanitarian Intervention is ‘the threat or use of force across state borders by a state aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of the fundamental human rights of individuals over than its own citizens, without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied.’[1]

Humanitarian intervention is a subject upon which much has been written and yet, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union there were very few examples, if any, of such interventions taking place. Throughout the Cold War while conflicts between states broke out, were fought and resolved, with a few exceptions they tended to be explicitly justified on grounds of direct or indirect self-defence. Geo-political interest was the watchword of the era. While state-sponsored human rights abuses were viewed with horror when revealed to the world at large, intervening on humanitarian grounds was a luxury that few could afford when higher stakes were in play. With the collapse of that greater threat and a gradual dwindling of the importance of “strategic interest” came a reassessment of the West’s role with regards to other countries and the conduct of states towards their own people. “The responsibility to protect” is how it was seen by less cynical commentators[2] while others looked on with skepticism as neo-conservatives and neo-imperialists flouted centuries old international legal standards under the guise of altruistic missions.

The legal aspect concerns the necessary violation of state sovereignty which must take place in the course of any act of humanitarian intervention  Sovereignty, the very foundation of international state system and a recognized feature since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, provides states with legally recognized responsibility for affairs within its borders and protection against interference across. A state or coalition of states presented with an obligation or opportunity to conduct an humanitarian intervention must consider, confront and overcome this obstacle before it can take place. In the first part of this essay I will examine the historic origins and contemporary understandings of sovereignty and the extent to which it serves as an actual or artificial impediment to humanitarian intervention taking place. In this section, with the help of Michael Walzer and others, I will look at the extent to which humanitarian intervention is compatible with the concept of Just War Theory and will also consider whether sovereignty, as theoretical construction, is undermined by the implicit acceptance of humanitarian intervention as a norm of state behaviour. Throughout this section I will try to determine whether respect for the sovereignty is ever truly an obstacle to intervention on humanitarian grounds, or if it merely serves as a convenient rhetorical device, enabling reluctant statesmen to look the other way while acts of atrocity are taking place in distant lands.

In this essay’s second section I will look at the political question. The nineties, in its way, changed everything. Although not central to it, it should not be seen as coincidence that the dawn of cheap mass media was heralded just as the question of humanitarian intervention could increasingly be found at centre stage. Freed from the constraints imposed by the Cold War, state action was no longer a matter only for statesmen; politicians’ denial of knowledge was no longer plausible; too late would be too little as the likes of CNN relayed footage around the globe in real time and in graphic detail. In developed liberal democracies the vox populi was able to weigh in on foreign policy decision making, as well as on domestic matters, and took on a new and additional political dimension. An intervention of one state by others or another will always have some form of political impact, either between states or within them, and can be positive or negative. Conversely, to not intervene will have political implications for those involved – although rare is the occasion where a political leader been punished at the ballot box for ignoring the plight of a distant people. In sum, the question remains, has the political dimension found its way to the centre of the humanitarian issue, or is it still a less significant concern than the legal element and, as we will analyse first, the moral?

Common intuition tells us an intervention which is truly humanitarian in nature should be driven by matters of morality. In reality we know this is not, and can not ever be, true as state decision making is a complex process and yet politicians and those leading interventions are humans and humans are indeed driven by moral concerns. Political leadership carries with it the capacity to act against evil and therefore, to no small degree the burden of responsibility to do so

Rarely can a single factor be seen to carry enough force to steamroller all others and render them irrelevant. The notion of “humanitarian intervention” is not a scientific one and is employed as a catch all for such interventions that project a strongly recognizable humanitarian motive. However, as Mona Fixdal and Dan Smith argue, and as we shall discuss, ‘[h]umanitarian intervention is never purely humanitarian.’[3]

The Legal

When thinking about humanitarian intervention, the legal considerations are centred on the globally understood and applied understanding of state sovereignty. As Holzgrefe’s articulation makes clear, any humanitarian intervention must involve the use of force across state borders without the permission of the state concerned with inevitable consequences on the sovereignty of that state, if not on the concept of sovereignty itself. International law’s attention with regards to humanitarian intervention in a contemporary context tends to focus on the balancing of state sovereignty against human rights[4], which is to say that right of the state to the monopoly on the use of force within its demarcated territorial boundaries is near but not absolute.

The modern idea of a sovereign state ruling territory with fixed borders stems from the 1648 treaties of  Münster and Osnabrück which were signed to end thirty years of war in Westphalia. Widely recognized as officially heralding the arrival of the modern state system, the Treaty of Westphalia marks the transition “from a ‘global’ medieval world to a world in which one political authority, the territorial state, came to dominate both the local and the global”[5]. This new system of exclusion and inclusion enabled legalized relations between states and provided the ultimate legal authority with regards to war until the founding of the United Nations in 1948.

The idea of sovereignty has moved on significantly since its earliest incarnation, with “popular sovereignty” now as commonly understood as it was once unthinkable. As has been said “Even the most tyrannical ruler claims his people love him”[6]. In that respect is essay is being written with pertinent timing as a UN backed coalition of military forces is in the process of conducting an intervention in the North African state of Libya. That Gaddafi, in attacking his people, had surrendered his claim to being the sovereign leader of Libya was put forth  by some as sufficient to render null and void the arguments in defence of sovereignty and the right of the sovereign to non-intervention: ‘The norm of non-intervention cannot protect genocidal and other practices that are themselves proscribed by international laws and treaties.’[7]

The founding of the United Nations and the signing of the UN charter eroded to some extent the state monopoly on the use of force. With member states requiring Security Council authorization to be granted before going to war*, the UN charter can be seen as simultaneously reducing and expanding the grounds for war, while further enshrining rather than threatening the firmly established norms sovereignty  and of non-intervention with one notable exception.

A direct reaction to the Nazi crimes of the holocaust, the Genocide Convention of 1948 was designed to prevent such atrocities being repeated by calling upon its signatories to “prevent and punish” it wherever it should occur[8]. Yet even  this single example does not provide the legal authority for a state to act unilaterally , instead requiring that “the competent organs of the United Nation… take such action as they consider appropriate.”[9] That customary international law established and maintains a right to unauthorized intervention is an argument made by some scholars yet this argument serves more as a post hoc political justification rather than one which carries actual legal standing and will permit an humanitarian intervention to take place in the future.

Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars provides one of the most commonly referred to authorities on the legality of and in war, also known as the Just War tradition, which prescribes the conditions under which the resort to war is legal as well as the standards of behaviour that must be adhered to once states are at war. Vattel saw domestic jurisdiction to be completely inviolable but determined that subjects have the right to resist a tyrannical sovereign and that ‘if by his insupportable tyranny he brings about a national revolt against him – any foreign power that is asked to do so may assist the oppressed subjects.’[10]

A UN security council resolution authorizing military action is deemed to be supra-legal, trumping sovereignty as a barrier to intervention. The 1999 NATO use of force against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia took place without UN authorization and was the first example since the founding of the UN that an unauthorized breach of sovereignty had occurred on explicitly humanitarian grounds.[11] That it was explicity and brazenly in contravention of UN rules on the use of force was not sufficient to prevent it from happening when the political conditions favoured it. The law denied the right so the willing statesmen denied the law.

Chris Brown asserts that “there is nothing inevitable, much less natural about the understanding of systems of inclusion and exclusion which has been promoted , explicitly or implicitly, by the discourse of political theory over the past three or four hundred years”[12]. Rather than being distinct from the political, he would, one feels, regard the legal and political arguments for or against humanitarian intervention as being part and parcel of the same thing. The legal arguments serve as a political tool when they are helpful, disregarded as an insignificant political inconvenience when they are not. A UN security council resolution authorizing the use of force is the required legal standard and yet, when one is tabled, it is always the product of political maneuvering and negotiations between states. If a resolution is not tabled or does not come to a vote then it is almost certainly because those negotiations have failed and those seeking permission to intervene have been rebuffed. But that does not mean an intervention will not take place.

Those calling for a doctrine of humanitarian intervention do so out of the belief ‘that states should forfeit their right to be treated as sovereign if they massively abuse the human rights of their citizen.’[13] Yet if such a doctrine were to enter into force it would be rendered functionally impotent by the need for any employment of it to be accompanied by a UN security council resolution and the veto power in the hands of all five permanent security council members. A legal ruling permitting intervention would make it no more likely; its absence makes it no less so.

Sovereignty is undeniably important, separating as it does the domestic and international realms, and yet when it comes to governance of intra-state behaviour and humanitarian intervention in particular does it really have the capacity to inhibit military action when the overwhelming political will is to intervene? While an intervening state or coalition of states will always prefer that their actions be regarded as legal but illegality will illegality alone be enough to prevent an intervention where the political will for it exists? In the next section we will focus on the political elements.

The Political

The politics of humanitarian intervention too broad in scope and encompasses too many issues to be  comprehensively covered here. For our purposes, “the political” should be understood to refer to refer to all factors that policy makers must take into account, when considering an humanitarian intervention, that are neither moral nor legal in their defining character. If we see the legal sphere as the most impersonal or “external” of the three in nature – the set of factors over which the politician can have the least influence – the moral sphere is easily the most personal in tone. The political realm therefore falls somewhere between the two and might otherwise be described as “the rational”. By this I mean that it is the field where calculable costs and benefits of likely action or inaction are pitted against each other, and where questions such as “is it right to intervene?” and “is it legal to intervene?” have no place. The political is, above all else, about “interests”.

The interests that may be in play, although too numerous to be listed in full, can range from a  fear of damaging relations with a international diplomatic ally or trade partner to concerns over losing domestic political support in other policy areas. Equal, opposite and almost as common, an intervening politician or state might be charged with using an ostensibly humanitarian mission to disguise motives of personal or national self-interest. One example of the former can be found in the recent intervention in Libya, where President Sarkozy of France was accused of leading the charge towards a no-fly zone partly to demonstrate his global leadership credentials, in light of domestic polls showing him heading towards an humiliating electoral defeat[14]. Similarly it was suggested by some that in 1998 President Bill Clinton had pushed for an intervention against Serbian forces in Kosovo in part to distract attention from impeachment proceedings threatening to bring down his presidency[15]. In reality, Libya was less about the presence of political opportunity gain and more about the absence of political opportunity cost. That the Arab members of the UN security council were persuaded to vote in favour of Resolution 1973 meant that China and Russia would not exercise their right of veto, thus serving the moral instincts of those leading the charge. That the resolution could be executed with minimum resouces deployed – limiting the likely domestic fallout – only supported the political case in favour.

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 presents the textbook example of politics triumphing over concerns of morality and, also of sovereignty. Bill Clinton has cited the failure to exercise moral leadership and to be politically courageous, to provide US military support for the UN troops that were already there, as the greatest regret of his presidency[16]. The massacred Tutsis were not merely victims of Hutu genocidaires, but also of an international community and body politik still reeling from the failures of the previous year’s humanitarian mission in Somalia. Graphic images of the bodies of dead US army rangers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu had sent shockwaves through the American political system in particular, with the electorate demanding to know why American soldiers had been sent in to resolve an African conflict and rescue far off victims of an humanitarian crisis for which they were not responsible. Domestically Bill Clinton paid no price for turning a blind eye to the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda, comfortably achieving re-election the following year; the only electorate to whom he was responsible tacitly endorsed his decision to allow hundreds of thousands of African men, women and children.

The Moral

“The interests the national society for which government has to concern itself are basically those of its military security, the integrity of its political life, and the well being of its people. These needs have no moral quality.”[17] The views of George Kennan, the father of containment policy, ring loudly yet must be heard within the context of a time when interests and a realist approach to international affairs.

That morality is to the state, and the statesman, a luxury, is certainly true. Also true however, is that the end of the Cold War made it a luxury that a great many more states could afford, as the existential threat abated almost overnight. Although security concerns still loomed large, they did not dominate the consciousness of statesmen as they had for the more than thirty years prior. The liberal internationalist viewpoint, prominent in the aftermath of World War I and subsequently suppressed, was “that moral parochialism was breaking down” and that as a result “principles of an incipient genuine international morality could be discerned”[18] Liberal internationalists were those who saw an opportunity for political leaders “to reshape the character of international affairs and to bring their own personal moral standards to bear upon the making of foreign policy.”[19] With the threat of mutually assured destruction abated states were in a position to look beyond mere self-survival and consider, once again employing foreign policy for moral, or greater, purposes. This, coupled with the rise of key political leaders such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, both of whom carried their moral outlook much more prominently than their conservative predecessors, presented once again the opportunity for moral as well as mere political leadership to figure on the global stage.

Yet for every Kosovo and Sierra Leone – Bill Clinton described the NATO bombing of Serbia as “a moral imperative”[20] while Blair later described the action in Sierra Leone as the UK’s “only successful humanitarian intervention”[21] – where interventions, supported by claims of morality, took place, there have been many instances where the moral imperatives were just as strong but where the cries for help went unheeded by Western powers. Rwanda is the most commonly cited example of this, while the massacre of eight thousand Bosnians at Srebrenica in 1995 and Darfur in the 2000s are often also named as an humanitarian interventions that didn’t take place[22].

The recent and ongoing intervention in Libya is almost universally regarded as being a righteous, or just intervention. Even those that disagree with it tend to do so on the basis of jus in bello[23] or hypocrisy[24] without necessarily questioning the morality of taking action. Why Libya in 2011 and not Iran in 2009? Why not Yemen in 2011? The answer to those questions can lie only in the surrounding politics and the costs and benefits of acting. As Michael Walzer states that ‘humanitarian intervention is justified when it is directed against actions that contravene the moral convictions of ordinary people.’[25] Yet while intervention might be morally permissible in those circumstances, there is no universal doctrine that commands it and while individual consciences may be shocked, “politics has no conscience”[26].

Of those statesmen that speak of moral and ideological stances on intervention Jean Bricmont perceives an insidious motive and makes a more damning and broader indictment, condemning them as opportunists inclined to exploit a crisis for individual or national political advantage. He criticizes the Western sense of human rights and humanitarian intervention, attacking their misappropriation as ideological tools to justify and raise popular support for neo-imperial warmongering[27]. ‘Power’ he argues ‘habitually presents itself as altruistic’ while ‘[i]deology has the advantage of enabling people to live in a state of mental comfort where they can avoid asking troubling questions’[28] Similarly, the earlier liberal internationalists were criticised by the likes of E.H. Carr describing the idea that peace on earth was in everyone’s interest as being a projection of a “hope that Anglo-American dominance could be maintained without the necessity of war.”[29]

There is no question that morality is a crucial factor, and often any discussion around humanitarian intervention will be preceded by an event that triggers a collective moral outrage. Any call for humanitarian intervention is always preceded by a catalyst in the form of a self-proclaimed “shocked conscience”. As there are no uniform global standards of morality, ‘clear examples of interventions with disinterested motives are rare.’[30] self-proclaimed moral motives are often called into question and political motives typically assigned in their place.

Conclusion

In the Twenty Year Crisis, E.H. Carr wrote that “politics will, to the end of history, be an area where conscience and power meet, where the ethical and coercive factors of human life will interpenetrate and work out their tentative and uneasy compromises.”[31] This is a neat way of enabling us to understand the relationship between the three and the central role that politics plays to connect them.

In an era in which conflict between states has massively declined it was perhaps inevitable that international community should concern itself with conflicts within states and the actions of governments towards their people. The capacity to act to deny states the right to abuse their citizens is greater than ever, as the propagation of communications sources has enabled people to inform themselves of such abuses taking place in distant lands. The questions of when states should intervene, and how they should do so have long troubled politicians, commentators and people alike, as has the selective nature of intervention: if we will intervene in X, why are we not prepared to do the same in Y? The answer to this is, of course, politics. While the law seeks to impose an external consistency on action, and the moral looks to achieve consistency of a personal kind, the politics is where statesmen accept that they cannot always act as they should or as they would like. As accusations of hypocrisy are hurled from one side and cries of criminality from the other these must be tolerated for the state is, itself,  neither a legal not a moral actor but a political one.

The essential premise of this essay’s question presumes that a dilemma of humanitarian intervention will tend to bring issues of legality, morality and politics into conflict and although this is often true, it isn’t always. In fact, humanitarian intervention is most likely to take place when the three are in agreement and come together in cooperation. It is least likely to occur when none or only one of these groups of factors favour it. As to which of the three carries the most weight we might be best served by turning to Clausewitz’ famous quote that “war is politics by other means”. An act of humanitarian intervention, however noble the cause for which it is pursed, is also an act  of war; the decision to dispatch one’s military resources into war is taken by politicians and is therefore an inherently political one. The law, for example in the form of a United Nations security council resolution, can come to the assistance of a willing coalition and legitimize an intervention but it need not serve as an obstacle to it.  The intervention in Libya did not happen because of UNSCR 1973; Kosovo did happen absent UN Security Council authorization. Similarly, the failure of the international community to intervene in any meaningful way Darfur or, even less ambiguously, Rwanda was not due to the absence of legal authority but the lack of political will, which never even requested it. None of this is to say that moral convictions, in the hands of a strong political leader, can not prove irresistible but that absent the right political conditions it will still amount to very little.

If moral factors were dominant, we might expect humanitarian interventions to occur rather more frequently than they do; if the law carried greater standing the reverse would likely be true. As it is, political factors, although often driven by moral considerations and taking into account legal ones, are by far the most influential. A legal right to intervene for humanitarian reasons will likely never be officially adopted, in part because it might allow room for abuse, but predominantly because it  does not need to be for humanitarian interventions to take place. Nor would the existence of such a doctrine – as we have seen when looking at the Genocide Convention in relation to the Rwandan Genocide – make intervention any more likely when the political winds are blowing in the other direction.

The question the statesman must ask ultimately himself is, ‘is a proposed operation likely to be effective at an acceptable cost to those who will bear the burden of intervention?’[32] This is not a matter of law or morality but of political judgement. Legal and moral forces are important in considerations of humanitarian intervention and, when raised, both will serve to sway political will towards or away from action. That said, while a humanitarian intervention is most likely to take place when all three pillars are support the case for it, the central political pillar is only one without which the entire case will collapse.


[1]    Holzgrefe, 2003, p18

[2]    The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, as http://www.iciss.ca/pdf/Commission-Report.pdf last accessed May 3 2011

[3]                Mona Fixdal and Dan Smith, ‘Humanitarian Intervention and Just War’, Mershon International Studies Review, p284

[4]    Fixdal and Smith p288

[5]    Chris Brown, Sovereignty Rights and Justice p22

[6]    Odyssey Dawn: A Discussion on Military Operations in Libya, as found at http://www.ilxor.com/ILX/ThreadSelectedControllerServlet?showall=true&bookmarkedmessageid=2490989&boardid=40&threadid=86517, last accessed May 3 2011

[7]    Fixdal and Smith p290

[8]    Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as found at http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html last accessed May 3 2011

[9]    Ibid

[10]  Simon Chesterman, Just War or Unjust Peace p19

[11]  Arkadiusz Domagal, Humanitarian Intervention: The Utopia  of  Just  War?  The NATO intervention in Kosovo and  the restraints of Humanitarian Intervention, as found at http://www.sussex.ac.uk/sei/documents/wp76.pdf last accessed May 3 2011

[12]  Brown p25

[13]  Nicholas Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society p114

[14]  Jonathan Freedland, Libya Crisis May Save Sarkozy from Electoral Humiliation, as found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/20/libya-crisis-nicolas-sarkozy-electoral last accessed May 3 2011

[15]  Hitchens: Clinton Could Sell Out Blair, June 3 1999, as found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/354470.stm last accessed May 3 2011

[16]  David Jackson, One Reason for Obama’s Decision on Libya: Rwanda, last accessed at http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2011/03/one-reason-for-obamas-decision-on-libya-rwanda/1 on May 2nd 2011

[18]  Robert W. McElroy, Morality and American Foreign Policy, p8

[19]  Ibid p12

[20]  Clinton Address on Kosovo, March 24 1999, as found at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/europe/jan-june99/address_3-24.html, May 2 2011

[21]  Julia Mackenzie, Sierra Leone’s Failing Health, as found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/6231905.stm May 2 2011

[22]  Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

[23]  Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p60

[24]  Robert M. Hayden, ‘Humanitarian Hypocrisy’, E. Eur. Const. (1999; 91,8) 

[25]  Walzer, p43

[27]           Jean Bricmont, Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War, p42

[28]  Ibid, p44

[29]  E.H. Carr  The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, p76

[30]  Richard B Miller, Humanitarian Intervention, Altruism and the Limits of Casuistry

[31]  Carr, p31

[32]  Fixdal and Smith, p304

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