Monthly Archives: February 2010

Learning to read…

One thing must be avoided at all costs: narrow-mindedness, pedantry, dull pettiness. Mot things are interconnected, most threads lead to the same reel. Have you ever noticed swallows rising in flocks from between the lines of certain books, whole stanzas of quivering pointed swallows? One should read the flight of these birds…

Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass – Bruno Schulz


Highgate Cemetery by Night…

Well…not quite the adventure it sounds, as we didn’t precisely go for a wander. We sat comfortably, if not entirely warmly, in the cemetery chapel (which was completely full) to listen to Dr. Brent Elliot discuss the History of Cemetery Memorials. I suppose I have a significant  photographic interest in the subject, but perhaps more so in those who make graveyards their life profession or obsession. I had only been to one cemetery briefly mentioned (que viva Glasgow!), but it exemplified many of the subjects discussed:

Close your eyes and take a moment to imagine the expert on cemetery memorials, and, there before you, you have Dr. Eliot. Tall, precise, pale, bearded, dry. Owner of a broad forehead and wide set eyes. Soberly suited. He opened by emphasizing that this talk would cover cemeteries, not graveyards, crematoria, and etc…Happily, I am now cool enough to know the important differences.

I also now know that East Anglia was notorious in its conservatism in retaining the use of body stones. The stylistic existence of muscular gothic. The fact that many of those creepily black head stones are in fact white marble, simple victims of a staggering air pollution. And I now know just how many sculptures have been stolen from cemeteries (now that would take a level of superstition-free courage I do not see within myself…)

And of course the minor scandal of Italy exporting grave sculpture wholesale, and English masons taking the credit. The angels with their come hither expressions and decolletage. The brilliance of Anselm Oddlings of Hull. The gravestone in the form of a baby grand piano. Next month is on The English Way of Death, which could be even more interesting. And of course, I now have a list of London cemeteries to visit during the daylight hours…

Seeking balance in life (and er, death), yesterday I read Gramsci all morning and then took a friend’s place in the season-ticket holder section of Arsenal v Sunderland. Fucking hell but I love football, even more than eccentrically morbid talks in burial chapels. The game was, however, much much colder. I came home, made tea, and got under the covers immediately, finding it impossible to emerge.

GM destroys the American Working Class

Well. I am as amazed as you are to actually find this stated out loud, I am rather leery of it in fact, it seems something that is far too good (well, good only in terms of my research) to be possibly true. And I can’t be the only one to have found this buried deep in a rather bad book called Why GM Matters, but here is the exact quote from Rick Wagoner, (ex) CEO of General Motors:

The toughest question I ever asked Wagoner was, Did you have to destroy the American middle class to save the company? “If you look at the circumstances we’re facing today, if we hadn’t done that, it would have been very dire for all three of the U.S.-based auto businesses,” he responded. “So, unfortunately, the answer is yes.”

So I was originally quite struck with a bit of anger…but what in the book didn’t make me angry? And then of course, a friend pointed out that as a quote it is really quite absurd, though typical of some good old-fashioned GM megalomania. And as an attitude it is stunning. So what is the greater good of such a business really, if not the jobs it provides? Apart from retaining American industrial capacity? Because surely there must be a cheaper way to do that than giving such a company billions of worker’s dollars…

Extraordinary (if frightening) trilobite

I know it’s impossible to believe that anything as extraordinary as the trilobite above should be mine (all mine and absolutely no one else’s ever…one of my few ridiculous materialisms) but so it is. Happiness.

Trilobite – Order Lichida
Superfamily Odontopleuroidea – Family Odontopleuridae
Lower Devonian
Fossil Site: Hamar Laghdad Formation, Zerg, Morocco

La Fwindy

I don’t know where my superhero name came from exactly, it was invented on a little trip to Tijuana so I suppose no more need be said. And I don’t mean to brag, but La Fwindy’s adventures in her own comic are going to be incredible (Heavy Load, 2011), along with Diamante (aka Jose the amazing artist…) and Sharkey…not that I will always be in Dia de los Muertos drag, that’s only my away uniform in the battle to understand the intricacies of vortices, carteles, chicleteros and global capitalism (and of course, the daily grind, the run-ins with love, getting jumped by cholas in the bathroom and this time it’s me kicking ass!)

Battle for a Living Wage, UK and US

I saw Jane Wills of Queen Mary University of London speak last night on the battle for a living wage in the UK, a great talk and fascinating in its comparisons to the US…though the comparisons are all my own!

I think graphs always speak so much louder than words, so just a quick snapshot in the most comparable format I could find of growing inequalities in the two countries.

On inequality in the UK from The Guardian:


On inequality in the US from Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez (via The New York Times)

US Inequality

The US retains its role as a world leader… as of 2005, the top 1% in the US held 21.8% of the wealth, and it is perhaps more frightening to look at the other lines. But many of us aren’t so happy about this, as it means we’re generally fighting each other for the little that is left. So what is being done?

In the UK, as in the US, there has been a growing movement for a living wage. It is only a very small step towards the truly just world that I believe possible on alternate Wednesdays, but I will never say that such small steps do not require a most inhuman amount of work by an admirable and massive number of people.

Essentially the minimum wage (only introduced in the UK in 1999, upon which 2.1 million people received a raise averaging 10%!) is the maximum salary that the market says it can afford to pay people. The living wage is the minimum salary that people actually need to live. A bit simplified I know, but they reduce nicely to moral foundations.

The UK living wage campaign (inspired by the US living wage campaign, begun in Baltimore in 1994) is spearheaded by a non-profit called London Citizens, a group closely based on the organizing model of the Industrial Areas Foundation, working to create a broad and powerful coalition of those already involved in churches, mosques, schools, unions and community groups.

The victories have primarily been won in London. One of the main problems has been identified as the widespread, almost ubiquitous, practice of employers outsourcing every job possible (see the brilliant new book co-authored by Jane, Global Cities at Work). This forces contractors to compete amongst themselves and underbid each other in a mad rush to the bottom. So a huge push of the campaign has been to negotiate with large employers (hospitals, office buildings, the Olympic contractors) to only outsource to businesses providing a living wage.

This reminded me a great deal of SEIU 1877’s strategy in the Justice for Janitors campaign. So I asked, and indeed! They were here at the beginning, working with one of the unions involved in the struggle. Governmental authority works a bit differently here in London and so there hasn’t been a push for anything like a city-wide ordinance, but there are talks of a campaign to get any organization receiving Government funding to ensure the living wage.

It’s a small world, and hopeful to know that some of the lessons of struggle are crossing the Atlantic (and Pacific). May that continue and grow.

So to end not on a cliche, but on John Cleese (because I’m smitten with him), here is a final graphic from The Guardian. Of course, it’s a load of doom in pretty colors really. The only bright light is the success of civil partnerships. I haven’t anything as pretty from the US, I just know (in my gut) everything is worse…


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Loving winter…

A beautiful Sunday with family, tramping the  countryside near Headley with glorious impunity due to one of my favourite inventions – Wellies.