All My Little Words

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.

Why Vinyl?

Posted in Music by nickchristian on February 6, 2012

record player needle

As it was announced recently that sales of music in vinyl format had increased for the fifth straight year, Radio 4’s Today Programme last week invited DJ Liz Kershaw and the PRS’s Will Page to try to explain why.

The reasons suggested included:

a) “Authenticity” – a desire to listen to music as it was originally intended

b) Sound quality

c) Information – liner notes and artwork, basically.

d) The desire to own music in artifactual form.

e) “Capitalism getting back at Marxism”

Putting aside the last slightly batshit suggestion from Ms. Kershaw, each of these has its merits but none, for me quite justifies my own love of the pressed plastic form. I have two main reasons for buying records: to connect and to give something back.

As much as I love the plethora of musical opportunity that the likes of Spotify have opened up I am the first to admit that the ease of access to so much music inevitably diminishes the value of one’s relationship with it. Even if you aren’t on the free version of Spotify it’s difficult to feel a connection between what you pay and any music you listen to. If you want to listen to the new Lana Del Rey album you can do so immediately, entirely on a whim and it will cost you, effectively nothing. If you don’t like it, or don’t like it enough, you can interrupt the experience, bail and you don’t ever have to go near it again. Even albums that you love you probably don’t listen to on repeat in the same way you used to when you bought them in units of one, because there’s always something else tempting you to try. I’d be surprised if I listened to even my favourite album of last year as many as fifteen times and that does make me a little sad.

A vinyl LP purchase, on the other hand, is a statement of intent: It says that I will listen to this album several times and I will commit to every listen because, simply, changing the fucking record is a lot more hassle than swiping to the next track on iTunes. Intrinsic to this is an appreciation of artwork and some desire to own music in physical form, but is on its own not enough – I’ve bought some records with dog-ugly covers and I hate CDs and a bedroom cluttered with crap. (Sidenote: that we still say “change the record” when someone is harping on about something makes me very happy.)

The second reason is to do with wanting to support music and a preparedness to pay what I feel it is worth for the pleasure it provides. While it might make it legal to listen to all the music I want, at £10/month my Spotify subscription doesn’t even come close to a full monetary appreciation, or to giving me the sense that I’m not still ripping off the artists. When you know musicians and are aware of how hard it is for even the relatively successful to make a living, this is and should be a . I, on the other hand, am in a grown-up job, earning a reasonable salary and just as I’m now inclined to buy free-range eggs, fair trade chocolate and locally produced cheese – even if all that stuff costs a little more – it’s worth considering the ethical implications of cultural consumption as well.

Of course I’m far from perfect: I only buy maybe a couple of records a month and I tend to buy them from Amazon which is hardly the equivalent of the farmer’s market. But at least I know that, compared to my £10 Spotify sub, a greater proportion of the £10/£15/£20 I spend is going into the pocket of a musician I admire and whose work I particularly appreciate. That means something.

Image by Dan.

2011 Riots – How does the recent history of law and order policy help to explain the official reaction?

Posted in Domestic Policy, Human Rights, Law and Order, Politics by nickchristian on January 15, 2012

2011 Riots

How does the recent history of law and order policy help to explain the official reaction to “the riots” of August 2011?

“It is plain that he has done nothing which deserves death. I will scourge him, and then he shall go free… But they, with loud voices, insisted on their demand that he should be crucified; and their voices carried the day.”

Introduction

On the 4th August 2011 Mark Duggan, a 29 year-old black man, was shot and killed by police in Tottenham, North London. The following day, at 5pm, 300 people walked from the Broadwater Farm estate where Duggan had lived to Tottenham police station calling for “justice”. At 8.20pm two police cars, left unattended on an adjacent street, were attacked, set alight and “the riots” began.

For the four days that followed “feral youth” roamed the streets of London, terrorizing its citizens, trashing and looting high streets, torching buildings. The most televisual of events, perfectly suited for the age of 24-hour news, this was, at least, how “the riots” were portrayed in the mass media.

This, as it happens, was also how Britain’s political leaders saw them. Obliged to return prematurely from their summer holidays, the Prime Minister and his deputy, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the Opposition and London’s Mayor were beseeched by the media to facilitate the restoration of order, to supply answers and, later, to provide suitable reparation for the victims and punishment for those responsible.

Even as the fires burned, social commentators and stakeholders sought to influence, desperate to be first to provide the definitive explanation for the unrest. Online and in newspapers, opinion pieces covering the broadest imaginable spectrum of judgments were published; the same or similar figures were afforded radio and television airtime to “explain” the causes for the riots; still more heated debate ran rampant online. All “answers”, whether tonally punitive or moralistic, despairing or sympathetic, of press or politician, were united by one thing: preordination. In the days during and immediately after the riots the explanations massively exceeded the availability of facts that might be thought essential to inform them, yet precisely served the political outlook of those that provided them.

Crime and law and order policy in the UK, once an issue for experts and academics and free from outside influence and interference, is no longer characterized by reflection, investigation and study. Instead the approach, of both the political and the mainstream media class, is based upon reaction, rapid response and a rush to the retributive right.

The sense that public policy and expertise have become largely removed from each other is hardly new and far from revelatory. The savvy politician seeking to be “successful” is more aware than ever that success in politics does not necessarily mean getting the policy “right” but is as much to be found in mobilizing the support of both the media and the electorate – often viewed as one and the same. While some eagerness to appeal to public and media support can be found in all areas of policy-making, in none has the distance between expertise and political decision-making become greater and more visibly enshrined and institutionalized, than in the realm of law and order.

Just as Pontius Pilate deferred to a baying mob in the sentencing to death of Jesus Christ, so we find today’s leaders doing the same, as manifested in the popular press and mass media. The difference, as I will demonstrate, is that while Pilate demonstrably goes against what he knows and believes, the alignment between the views of our politicians on law and order, and those of the baying mob is all but total: no resistance is needed; no internal wrangling need take place. The question is not, therefore, how much consensus is there between the different and disparate stakeholders, but how did such a comprehensive convergence occur at all? As the consensus amongst criminologists appears to be that the turning point came in the early years of the 1990s, this essay will look most closely at the relevant events and issues of the start of that decade. I will then discuss the contributions these can be seen to have made to the policies and rhetoric of government officials, and opinions of key media figures in response to the riots.

While the timing and occurrence of the riots themselves were impossible to predict with any precision, over the course of this essay I intend to demonstrate that the rhetorical and judicial responses could have been scripted months, if not years, in advance.  My goal here is not to offer my own response to the riots of August 2011, but to demonstrate that the official response, while intellectually inadequate, was utterly predictable and subservient to the demands of politics, the public and the press.

The Response to the Riots

On the morning of Tuesday August 9th, after three nights of unrest in Britain’s capital, Prime Minister David Cameron arrived back in Britain declaring the riots to be “criminality pure and simple. And there is absolutely no excuse for it.” For Cameron “the young people stealing flat screen televisions and burning shops that was not about politics or protest, it was about theft.” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg similarly declared the rioting to be “needless, opportunist theft and violence – nothing more and nothing less”, while London’s Mayor described the events as “acts of sheer criminality” .

Cameron’s dismissive judgement that “[t]here is no justification for the aggression the police and the public faced, or for the damage to property” bore a strong resemblance to the view of Margaret Thatcher following the Brixton riots of 1981, when she declared that “Whatever the problems, nothing, but nothing, justifies what happened.”

The political verdict that the violence was the act of “criminals” and “criminal gangs within the urban underclass”, riots without reason, was in close step with that of the mainstream press. The newspaper The Sun’s editorial of August 7th stated that “The mob that turned the centre of Tottenham into a smoking ruin were not seeking justice. They are criminal thugs who were hell bent on theft, arson and violence.” For the popular press the answers as to “why” the riots occurred were simple and easily identified, with no need for further exploration into “root causes” and certainly no call to understand the situations of the rioters themselves.

For Professor John Solomos of City University the popular verdict suited very much [into] the Government’s requirement that any particular policy or action/inaction of their own not be viewed as a significant contributing factor to the riots:  “Cameron was keen to use this notion to distance the violence from any policies initiated by his administration and to construct them as the outcome of a breakdown of morality and a sense of order in some families and communities.” In other words, it needed not to be seen as result of governmental failings requiring governmental solutions.

With no significant pressure placed on them to do so, the government was therefore able to dismiss/ignore any solutions that could be considered “welfarist” in nature, regardless of the merits of doing so. Instead emphasis and attention was afforded to the area most easily actioned, that of punishment, with the Prime Minister declaring “if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment.” Prison sentences handed down to individuals convicted of riot-related offences were reported as being 25% longer than normal and the rate of imprisonment was 70% higher for those crimes that took place within the context of the riots. A senior clerk in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service was reported to have circulated instructions to court clerks that they should disregard normal sentencing guidelines and instead impose tougher sentences than usual. The government was evidently eager to send a message, not simply, or even really, to those involved in the riot but to the media and to the greater public.

Stafford Scott, a consultant on racial equality and community engagement, has said that “seeing the riots as linked to criminality and gang culture has made it difficult to give voice to calls to provide more social and economic resources for the communities that live in the most deprived areas”. In a so-called time of “austerity”, when community services are not just not increasing but being cut, this represents not merely a political inconvenience – it would be portrayed as rewarding the rioters – but an economic one as well.

The rioters, rather than being given too little, had been given too much and expected even more. The answer could only be penal: punishment as deterrent rather than as a right response or execution of justice. The answer was to respond better next time, to provide the police with more resources and broader, stronger powers to act. While government for most of the 20th century was characteristically “welfarist”, in Britain in the 21st century it is politically suicidal to be seen as anything less than “tough on crime”. Next I shall be looking at how this situation came about.

The Roots of the Response

While the government might have been keen to isolate the riots and the rioters from any political context, to minimise the intellectual and investigative scope of the response, we are not obliged to do the same with our analysis of the response. Far from unusual or unlikely, the government behaved exactly as could have been predicted, with the ramped-up rhetoric and raised-stakes of the sentencing instructions epitomising the character of cross-party criminal policy of the past twenty years and more.

While sociologist David Garland points to the 1970s as the time when the public and political mood changed, as several decades of welfarism gave way to a vastly more punitive governmental approach to crime, Lord Windelsham and Jon Silverman separately identify the early 90s as marking the period when law and order policy became a key political battleground, with public and media opinion overtaking expertise as an influence on political practice. Ann James and John Raine, similarly, ascribe the transformation to a shift in ideology under Margaret Thatcher which saw the welfare consensus replaced by the culture of the market and government adopt a neo-liberal managerial approach.

Garland notes that a number of features of law and order policy that would once have been thought unlikely if not impossible, such as “mandatory sentences, victims’ rights, community notification laws, private policing, “law and order politics” and an emphatic belief that “prison works”… have become taken-for-granted features of contemporary crime policy”. For most of the twentieth century the British (and to a lesser extent, the American) approach to law and order, had been characterized by the directionally developmental march of institutionally “penal welfarist” arrangements. He therefore finds it counter-intuitive that it should perform an about-turn in the 1970s when “punitive sentiments and expressive gestures” that appear “oddly archaic and anti-modern” began to reappear in official policy.

One crucial element was the normalisation of crime. Although the riots were themselves far from ordinary they were, in some ways an exaggerated form of a negative experience which we have come to accept as ordinary and therefore part and parcel of day-to-day living. In that vein, we do not think of crime as something that the government (in the form of mobilised police resouces) can really prevent, not entirely, nor do we see crime prevention at a social level as something into which it is worth investing resources. It is, instead “a fact of modern life, like pollution or the perils of heavy road traffic that has to be accommodated.” We have, ourselves, become as responsible for crime prevention as the police.

Paradoxically, while this sense of the limited capacity of government to control or reduce crime has been allowed to develop, democratic electoral politics still do not allow for its admission. This contradiction has, according to former government minister Lord Windelsham, led to “the emergence of punitiveness as a reaction which can be exhibited to the general public even if, in anything beyond the short term, it is likely to exacerbate the social blight caused by such extensive criminality.” For Garland “[a] show of force against individuals is used to repress any acknowledgement of the state’s inability to control crime to acceptable levels. A willingness to deliver harsh punishments to convicted offenders magically compensates a failure to deliver security to the public at large.” Windelsham similarly describes such posturing as demonstrated by David Cameron on August 8th as nothing more than “a rhetorical smokescreen”.

Lord Windelsham, in his dissection of the politics surrounding the 1993 Criminal Justice Act, points to it as a pivotal moment in the gradual and extended transfer of primary influence over criminal policy. This is not to say that the responsibility for this shift – from experts and institutions to the media and the public – lies solely with politicians, but that a degree of accommodation from key figures – such as Ken Clarke’s retreat over a number of contentious aspects of this bill – are seen as some of the earliest and most significant examples of politicians altering law and order policy in the light of sustained and strident popular pressure to do so.

From here on, Windelsham argues, “greater reliance on punishment and heightened sensitivity towards public opinion were soon to emerge as the central planks of a radically reconstructed policy towards criminal offending.” In his tenure as Home Secretary Michael Howard, was viewed by both Windelsham and Jon Silverman – the BBC’s former Home Affairs correspondent – as having been responsible for the greater politicization of law and order policy, for bringing it more into the public realm and further away from the influence of academics and institutional experts. Windelsham describes Howard as being “generally dismissive of professional expertise, including at times advice from his own officials, sensing that the general public was looking for a greater emphasis on punishment than on the rehabilitation of offenders”.

This he was more than willing to deliver and Silverman similarly identifies Howard as being a man of politics before policy, in contrast to predecessors such as Willie Whitelaw and Douglas Hurd. For Michael Howard “Everything was political. Crime was a big political issue because it resonated on the doorsteps and for him, if you made an impact on crime, you made an impact on politics.” Ascribing to Michael Howard a large share of the responsibility to prioritising public perception might be to give him undue blame (or credit). He may or may not have been the one who “fired the starting pistol which set off the penal arms race between the parties” and would ultimately lead to what academic Michael Tonry describes as “the most hyperbolic, anti-crime rhetoric of any in Europe, language that elsewhere characterizes right-wing fringe parties”. Looking back it is clear that the dash that would lead Britain to the populist, authoritarian right would have happened irrespective of whether Michael Howard’s Conservative party decided to join it. Tony Blair, as Shadow Home Secretary and subsequently as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister is seen as just as important a protagonist.

The 1992 General Election defeat triggered a sea change in the Labour Party’s approach to law and order. Under Blair “Labour adjusted its traditional libertarian stance and style of political discourse on crime and punishment to suit the hardening political mood.” That Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” should become one of the most resonant political catchphrases of the subsequent generation is as much to do with the signal it sounded for the national popular and media approach to law and order, as it was a war cry that would lead ultimately to Downing Street. As criminal policy was becoming, for the first time, a serious electoral battleground, Blair identified the importance of avoiding being “outflanked on the right” – he might not have expected to win the battle, but it was one that it was crucial not to lose outright.

Garland is deeply critical of the politicization of law and order policy and what he describes as “the new populism”, in no small part because, where often politicization is accompanied by positional polarity, penal politics has meant a “narrowing of debate and a striking convergence of the policy proposals of all the major political parties”. Cameron, as he struck out rhetorically at the “thugs” and “criminal gangs”, promising “more arrests” and accelerated court processes, could do so with impunity. By 2011 in Britain, when it came to law and order policy, there was no such place as too far to the right and no room for a liberal perspective.

But was it the politicians, the press or the public that made it this way? The tightening of the relationship between criminal policy and the popular press is surely no coincidence. Still, it is difficult to say whether or not the politicians were attuned to and channelling the national public priorities, as reflected in the press, or whether the press was reflecting the concerns of the public at all and seeking to draw the politicians’ attention to them. Each would blame the other, with the Daily Mail’s Editor Paul Dacre admitting in 1993 that “this newspaper does seek to articulate the concern of its readers and, thereby, harden the response from the Tory administration”, while for Geoff Mulgan, an adviser to Prime Minister’s Brown and Blair, “it is a proper function of democracy that government should sometimes ignore sound evidence and follow a contrary path.”

This path was one that the Government, in response to the riots, would prove more than willing to follow as anti-intellectual catchwords such as “common sense” rode roughshod over information and expertise. Criminology has become an academic discipline that serves only itself,  with little influence on policy and political positioning. As law and order policy has become a major political battlefield, expertise and academic study has been displaced by the media as a political resource.

That little or no reference was made to academic studies of crime, or expertise in criminal behaviour does not mean that such information did not exist, or could not be commissioned, merely that the political interest in it, with regard[s] to the riots, does not. One such paper was published before the riots in 2011 and which sought to explore the – long assumed – relationship between inequality and rioting. This study ultimately found that, rather than inequality causing riots, a lesser privileged group was more likely to commit violence only if they considered themselves to be denied the opportunity to succeed, or to improve their social standing.

In November 2011 the Guardian, in conjunction with the LSE, released a study largely based on interviews with those involved in the riots. While this study must be viewed as inherently self-serving and, at least to some degree, unreliable in methodology, it at least offered an alternative reading of the riots. This naturally meant its lifespan would be limited to the news cycle, as it was immediately dismissed by the authorities while the “tough on crime” juggernaut rolled on.

By “a contrary path” Mulgan also means one driven by results and in keeping with the managerialist, market-based approach to the performing of government functions as adopted and promoted during the Thatcher years. This inevitably resulted in an outlook that prioritised short-term, small-scale victories, akin to those of the business cycle, over long-term, transformative achievements. James and Raine would agree: Instead of making policy through recognized institutions within a climate of agreement and with the support of key professional bodies, the Government sought to deliver through the medium of management. It had become less important to adopt the right policy and more important to enact that which would deliver measurable, demonstrable and immediate results.  Although the Guardian may not like it, riot arrests figures and prison sentences provide exactly that.

Conclusion

The government’s response to the riots of 2011 therefore represents a convergence of convenient forces. It is simultaneously reflective of the economic imperatives of the era, the emergence of an unsympathetic national sensibility, the displacement of expertise by managerialism and a two-decade long race between political parties to be seen in the media as the least tolerant of crime and the toughest on criminals. In such circumstances, a more liberal state could afford to do no more than a conservative one. A Labour government could afford to be no more generous or offer more compassionate solutions to these problems because they were just as complicit in the construction of a climate of punishment.

Would the response have been different had the riots happened thirty years ago? In the urban unrest that characterized the 1980s, we have evidence upon which to draw. Margaret’s Thatcher’s government also condemned the riots as “criminal”. The difference, one feels, is that the political climate of the 1980s required that the government possess at least an informed understanding of the social and economic factors that contributed to the unrest.

In 1981 the government commissioned Lord Scarman to author a comprehensive study into the causes of the Brixton Riots. The conclusion that they were not pre-planned but the spontaneous welling-up of the feelings of angry young men, most of whom were black, against what they saw as a hostile police force” demonstrates an intellectual interest and an effort at engagement. This further reveals a willingness on the part of the government to understand the underlying causes, issues and grievances behind the violence, to solve them for their own value rather than merely to prevent further outbreaks. 2011’s riots saw no such efforts at engagement and, as Solomos puts it, “a strong theme in the official response to the riots has been to see them as issueless riots”. While the body politic in the 1980s was equally outraged by the immediate effects of the riots and inclined towards the punitative response it was  at least not unwilling to listen to opposing views and entertain the analysis of expert bodies and experienced individuals and institutions.

Thirty years on from the Brixton riots, with the distance between expertise and criminal policy comfortably wide, and no political advantage to be had from reducing it, we can expect nothing more influential than the Guardian/LSE study to emerge.

The answer in 2011, which would prove populist as well as economically expedient, simultaneously satisfying the major media institutions and their audiences, was that the riots were their own cause. Rather than being a symptom of a sick culture, one which might call for a cultural remedy for which only government had the capacity to instigate, the solution lay in the communities and with the families of the rioters who had, themselves, failed Britain. Government power to punish the rioters would be maximised, responsibility to help them reduced to nil.

Just as Henry Mencken declared that “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public”, in Britain no politician has, for the past two decades, suffered electoral disapprobation for underestimating the public stomach for punitiveness. Whether the media, the politicians or a natural shift in the public priorities is most responsible for the changes that occurred in the arena of criminal policy matters little: that a transformation took place is beyond dispute and the response to the riots was therefore pre-ordained. The Prime Minister, in his first statement as well as all subsequent ones, reached strong and certain conclusions, repeatedly referencing punishment, sentencing and individual culpability. Just two days after the first wave of violence, no more information was needed than was available. The response was set in stone.

A fully referenced version of this essay is available upon request. © Nick Christian 2012 

Self-Indulgent Ten for 11 – My Albums of the Year

Posted in Music by nickchristian on December 11, 2011

Obviously any list like this is only ever a reflection of the amount of new music one has listened to. These are only the ten records I’ve enjoyed the most of the maybe fifty or so I’ve heard at least once this year; as such there are still many more that I didn’t get round to that I’m sure I would have loved (Zomby for example).  It’s hard to be sure you’ve listened to anything enough before moving onto something else, especially when temptation is but a Spotify search away, but I’ve done my best.

In no particular order (apart from the first one):

Front and centre because she’s my friend but on the list because Erika has made a quite brilliant record. Thunderously  visceral as no other album I’ve heard this year has been, I’m certain PLMS will find itself atop far more prestigious lists than mine.
Big, bold, and brassy I remember first listening to this during the riots. Gets me in the mood for (following) a bit of looting (on Twitter).
No-one walks the line between the sincere and the saccharine with more deftness than Fyfe. For many he has never, and maybe could not, come close to the symphony of Made Up Love Song; maybe I agree, maybe I don’t, but when almost as good sounds like this, does it really matter? “Take my hand and make me feel amazing.” That’s all we want, right?
Just the right side of too epic I think, this album stops you in your tracks with a symphonic clash of doom and divine. It’s no coincidence that Zola features on the M83 album as well.
The album I’ve listened to the most in 2011. I think the girls rather beat the boys this year.
Snuck into my life on a Monday morning that needed perking up. Did the trick and keeps doing it.
Albums with this much depth don’t come round very often. Hard work but more than worth persisting with.
The most joyfully melancholic record of the year.
Unapologetically resurrecting the slacker-gen indie of the mid-90s, Yuck sound like everything I loved back then but better.
Another great debut, lest we dare imagine that music can’t surprise us anymore.
Notable Others
Below Expectations
  • Cut Copy – Zonoscope
  • Friendly Fires – Pala
  • TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light
Close but no cigar:
Iron and Wine
Gruff Rhys
Correspondent
PJ Harvey

Libya, Qaddafi and the End of Humanitarian Intervention

Posted in Foreign Policy, Politics by nickchristian on October 23, 2011

In the wake of Qaddafi’s violent demise there has been much handwringing over the decision of the major media outlets to publish on their front pages, either online or in print, the images graphically confirming it. The first of these subjects is simply not our concern while the second is a relatively insignificant point of media responsibility, societal values and what constitutes “news”. Neither is, in my opinion, worthy of the attention it’s been given.

We cannot account, or take responsibility, for the actions of a ragtag militia who, in their jubilant discovery, brought a violent end to an era of despotism. That Qaddafi should not have been executed is my view on the subject but irrelevant, for I never suffered under his tyrannical rule and nor was I present at his death, and therefore able to meaningfully appreciate the circumstances surrounding it. It cannot be undone.

My concern, and where I feel more attention should be focussed, is with the role of NATO forces in the death of the dictatorship. While Western leaders have been keen to credit the Libyan rebels with the overthrow of the regime there can be no doubt that that NATO planes, having carried out more than 30,000 sorties since UN Resolution 1973 was passed, played a significant role, beyond its original mandate.

Article 4 of UN Resolution 1973

Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi,”

The explicit purpose of UN Resolution 1973 was therefore to prevent a massacre of the people of Benghazi, as Qaddafi appeared to be threatening; while several international figures had decried the Libyan government as illegitimate nowhere in the resolution is there mention of a secondary aim of regime change, or even of assisting the rebels in their ultimate goal of its overthrow. Whether or not the key instigators and authors of the resolution meant for the mission to mutate in such a way we do not know, but what we do know is that had they included such language in the document, the Resolution could not have passed the Security Council vote.

Even as it was, the resolution which authorized NATO action in Libya only passed the Security Council with the slimmest of margins: while neither Russia nor China blocked its passage as they could have, neither explicitly supported it either. We must assume that concerns over mission creep had already been raised and allayed in order to achieve abstentions of Russia and China as well as Arab League support. These concerns would appear to have been justified as, only a few weeks into the mission, China criticised the NATO operation for overreach while Russia called for NATO to bring an “end to the indiscriminate use of force”. These calls went unheeded.

It has been suggested that, with the Libyan operation ostensibly a success, such interventions may be more likely to take place in the future. My view is that the manner in which the mission was extended, far beyond the parameters of the mandate outlined above, makes any future crises far less likely to be dealt with militarily, regardless of the extent to which the situation calls for force. As we’ve recently seen in Syria it doesn’t take much to turn an abstention into a veto.

Of course mission creep in Libya does not explain why we have seen no action against Assad in Syria. It has, however, made it easier to understand. If Western countries, in assisting a people under threat, cannot be trusted to wield their military power responsibly, then next time they will not be trusted to wield it at all. As significantly, if not moreso, support for engagement will be weaker.

Accusations that, by actively picking a winner in a civil dispute, Britain and chums engaged in behaviour that was paternalistic to the point of pseudo-colonial are, in my view, completely fair. Seven months ago I supported an intervention that was limited in scope but I did support it. Take me back seven months, today, and I wouldn’t.

Why Not Syria?

Posted in Human Rights, Politics by nickchristian on October 18, 2011

Earlier this year I wrote an essay about humanitarian intervention, and the competing legal, political and moral contributory factors. My conclusion was that considerations of a political nature carry far more weight than any other and that this largely explains the appearance of inconsistency in policy. Although relatively well received, the paper was criticised for not looking in more depth at NATO’s activity in Libya and, moreover, the interventions that didn’t happen in other parts of the Middle East.

The rebellions that occurred across the Middle East were met with varying degrees of government resistance and rapprochement, with significant concessions made in some countries and all out war waged against the civilian populations of others. Libya was where Western media attention was focussed but the Syrian, Yemeni and Bahraini regimes all employed (and are employing) tactics as violent and oppressive, if not moreso, than those of Qaḏḏāfī.

Although I did reference the action in passing, at the time it felt far too “live” an issue for any meaningful analysis or commentary. It probably still is but, without writing an essay on the subject, I thought it was worth looking at the political differences between Libya and the other countries in the region. Gross simplification of how international relations works coming up:

Syria

Intervention? Sanctions, no military action.

Why not?

  1. Next door to Israel
  2. Actually has Weapons of Mass Destruction
  3. Exports from China to Syria worth upwards of $2billion
  4. Russian investment in Syria valued at $19.1billion plus $1.1billion in exports (mostly military hardware).
  5. Any action tabled would therefore fall victim to inevitable UNSC veto.

Yemen

Intervention? Condemnation of Saleh, no sanctions or threat of military action.

Why not?

  1. No (recent) history of beef.
  2. Scant media attention paid to the uprising – no public demands for intervention
  3. Geographically isolated – no strategic interest.
  4. Important battleground in the War on Terror – cooperating with the US.

Bahrain

Intervention? No condemnation, sanctions or military action.

Why not?

  1. Closely allied with Saudi Arabia.
  2. Host of the US Fifth Naval Fleet.
  3. Buying its weapons off the US.


Saudi Arabia

Intervention? No chance.

Why not?

  1. Uprising choked off before it could gain traction.
  2. Media too tightly controlled to report freely and accurately on protests.
  3. Close relationship with the US in combating Global War on Terror.
  4. Supplies 19.5% of world oil reserves
  5. Holds – along with the other oil exporters – 2.6% of US debt.
  6. America’s best customer.

Libya

Intervention? NATO airstrikes.

Why?

  1. Did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  2. Qaḏḏāfī no real asset in the war on terror.
  3. No direct threat to Israel.
  4. Supplies only 3% of world oil reserves.
  5. The Arab League said intervention was fine by them – they didn’t really like Qaḏḏāfī anyway.
  6. (Former) State sponsor of terrorism.

Ultimately, we intervened because we could. Qaḏḏāfi’s problem, more than anything, was that he had failed to make himself indispensable, either as a trade or security partner, to any of the permanent members of the UN Security Council or to his neighbours in the region.

It’s nothing personal, just politics.

Your Government Thinks You’re Stupid

Posted in Politics, Rage by nickchristian on October 13, 2011

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of policy proposals and initiatives that the government has been keen to draw as much attention to as possible. All utterly meaningless, utterly toothless and utterly unlikely; it doesn’t matter though, does it, as long as the headlines are grabbed?

A few weeks ago it was the bins, followed closely by a mooting of an increase in the national speed limit. On Tuesday Dave was desperate to announce that Internet Service Providers would soon be making pornography an “opt-in” provision. Besides being seemingly live-streamed from a Melanie Phillips wet dream (and by “wet”, I obviously mean “sandpaper dry”) this last one rather reminds me of this:

As a friend of mine neatly hash-tagged it: #britainisrunbygibbons.

I’d like to believe it, but maybe not. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “it’s so stupid it’s ingenious” but I suspect they think it is. That each policy could be explained to (or by) a three year-old, is not just entirely deliberate but, mores the point, indicative of the cynicism of the current ruling class. As stupid as they seem, that’s nothing as to how stupid they think WE are.

For Cameron, Osbourne, Pickles, Gove and whoever else you care to name (not Clegg though, I can’t believe he actually does anything), these are the issues they think really mean something to the people – the equivalent of the Roman emperor distracting the masses with gladiatorial exhibitions while depriving them of basic sanitation and watching them die of dysentery.

For while the government has been dangling its car keys in front of us – and by the way, Liam Fox is every inch the car key – it continues to merrily shred the very fabric of our society. Yesterday saw a significant milestone passed in the marketisation of the NHS, while this morning the first effects of the government’s decision to ditch the EMA was revealed and – guess what? – it turns out fewer poor kids are doing A Levels this year. The rate of public jobs being cut continues to rapidly outpace private sector job creation – just as we were told it wouldn’t – with youth unemployment about to hit the nausea-inducing heights seen in (royally fucked Greece), Portugal and Ireland.

All the while we are expected to be appeased by gifts of increased speed and reduced porn.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

For The Love Of One: In Praise Of A Single Speed

Posted in Cycling by nickchristian on September 20, 2011

Last weekend I achieved the unlikely: I conquered The Beacon on a single speed bike.

fixie

To non-cyclists that won’t mean an awful lot, but to those familiar with the by-bike London to Brighton journey, Ditchling Beacon represents the end – either of the ride or of the rider. Rising 139 metres in just shy of a mile, while hardly Everest or even a Yorkshire Dale, it’s  pretty steep. Most riders can expect to reach in to their gearbox and be spinning on the biggest cog by about half way but on my single speed, my options were somewhat more limited. Prior to doing it I didn’t think it could be done and while I found that, in one go it could not be, in the end, after three evenly spaced 30 second pauses, it was. Still as I rested at the top, glad to have made it, I felt the achievement belonged to the bike.

People have questioned the logic of a bike with only one gear. Why, they wonder, would you deny yourself the advancements designed to multiply your effort on a downhill and save it when you’re going back up again? Is it a “hipster” thing?

While I can’t deny that my bicycle is very pretty or that he looks far more at home in the Old Streets and Hoxton Squares and Curtain Roads of Shoreditch than I do, for me, still, the function is all. Well, almost all. A single speed bike is a wonderfully simple thing: remove the gears from a bike and you remove most of what can go wrong or, at least, most of the bits that are tedious and difficult to repair when they do.

My old multi-geared bikes used to go wrong all the time and it was always in the gears. It would start with an annoying but largely cosmetic, rhythmic clicking noise, which would then progressing to a less than cosmetic paralysis of a chain ring, before ultimately leaving me with… a single speed bike.

The most complicated bits of a bike, not to mention the bits with the most perplexing nomenclature, are also all related to the gears: derailleur, cassette, bottom bracket, sprocket – while probably not as intimidating as they sound, none of those components do not do exactly what it says on the tin. Even it it did it would probably be called something else and you’d be far too embarrassed to ask for it anyway.

My new bike has none of those things and as a result there is nothing now, or very little, that I don’t think I can repair on my own. Replacing a chain is a relatively simple fix and the frequent flat tyres – a hazard – are a doddle. I may at some point have to replace a brake cable but given that it’s just a thing that pulls a thing that stops the bike I feel I understand how they work and how, with maybe some Youtubed tuitional assistance, I could do it on my own.

One other question which is always asked is: how do you get up hills? The answer to which, now, is like this:

ditchling beacon

http://bit.ly/mP0COH

Panna Cotta Pleasure

Posted in Food, Pudding by nickchristian on September 12, 2011

A foodie double today.

It doesn’t look like much but the wobbly blob below is my proud first attempt at a panna cotta. Although the concoction calls for loose leaf gelatin, it’s nowhere near as complex or intimidating as you might imagine.

For the basic PC, simply soak three leaves of gelatin in cold water to soften, then dissolve along with 25g of sugar into a 500ml mixture of equal parts cream and milk heated to a simmer. Add any flavouring you like (vanilla is pretty standard but I reckon you can use your imagination, and I intend to use mine) and pour into moulds – ramekins are recommended but again I think you can use anything that will fit in the fridge – and leave to set.

An hour an a half later, just flop them onto a plate and serve. This recipe takes a bit of time but I can’t overstate how simple and, if you’re a dairy fiend, sumptuously creamy it is as well.

In the search for something to do with the leftover breadcrumbs from breakfast (see the earlier post) I came across this recipe for black pepper panna cotta which I’m excited about having a bash at.

I Win at Breakfast

Posted in Food by nickchristian on September 12, 2011

french toast

French Toast with Blackberries, Strawberries, Maple Syrup* and BACON. Could maybe have done with some crème fraiche for balance and blackberries were perhaps ill advised but other that I’d call it a gastronomical grand slam. NB. Cutting the bread into bite-size circles is great for consistency but does result in a lot of wasted trimmings; I would suggest to pre-empt this with a decent breadcrumb-based recipe.

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
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