dimanche 25 novembre 2012

Chemical warfare against the people

How unpleasant it is to be tear gassed! Our familiar route home along the banks of the river Erdre looked as nice as ever late on Saturday afternoon, but the air stung your cheeks and eyes. Shoppers and families were going about their business. The anti-airport demo, which we had caught up with late, approached the Prefecture, and reportedly someone threw a stone, injuring an unfortunate police officer. The police then started spraying the crowd with water cannon. At this, the crowd, some thousands strong in the gathering dusk, gave a very angry roar. It is a sound I have heard before only in the context of a football match. It is the sound you hear when the home striker, through on goal, with the ball at his feet, is hacked down by a desperate defender on the edge of the box. This is not a sound that any politician wishes to hear at the gates of the palace.
Whether the CS gas was mixed into the water cannon, or grenades were launched separately I do not know--we, toddler in hand, were already on our way home at the first sign of trouble. Nonetheless an unpleasant burning sensation pursued us home up the quay. I don't know what the regular folks standing at the tramstop made of all this: we were particularly sorry for a mother with a baby in a pushchair and a toddler walking alongside who could not leave the area quickly. Doubtless a thousand such stories were told last night.
Does the French government really intend to gas its way to building this damned airport, whose construction flies in the face of all reason? Shame on them! As for the stone-thrower: I trust you are being well paid by your criminal bosses to try to divide a reasonable political movement. Or perhaps you are merely an idiot.

Update: Apparently the sequence of events was as follows: some demonstrators tried to climb into the grounds of the Prefecture. The police then used the water cannon on them. Stones were then thrown at the water cannon operator. The police then let off a tear gas grenade. Tsk tsk!

jeudi 15 novembre 2012

Hawk? Handsaw? Who knows?

I do like living in France. Adopting the mental pose of a curious anthropologist studying in wonderment the hidden codes of the natives is a remarkable aid to sanity. When things don't seem to be going my way, I relax and content myself with noting the difference in our assumptions. Culture is, after all, just a convention of shared madnesses. Vive la difference!
But this relaxed attitude slips a little when I contemplate the issue of the proposed airport at Notre-Dame des Landes near Nantes. To recap: there is already a prize-winning airport 8k south-west of the city (and 500m from a tram terminus). Currently serving 3 million passengers/year, it is nowhere near its maximum capacity, which is estimated to be 7 million passengers/year. Airbus has a plant next to the existing airport that employs 2000 people, relies on its runway for deliveries, and has stated it does NOT want the move.
The alleged "public utility" study for the compulsory purchase of the land was flawed. The rail link to the proposed airport from Nantes was counted as a benefit of the scheme, but its cost was not counted, as revealed by the independent CE Delft 2011 study.
The IMF calculates that the price of oil will double in the next 10 years. 34% of the cost of an air ticket is the fuel costs. Low cost air travel is about to become a thing of the past. Wild air industry claims for traffic growth are simple lies.
Air travel, and especially short-haul air travel generates twenty-nine times more carbon emissions/kilometre than rail. Nantes-London is already possible in less than five hours by TGV. You can get a TGV direct to Charles De Gaulle airport from Nantes if you simply must fly long-haul.
The deal with the multinational corporation Vinci hands them a €250m. public subsidy—then gives them exclusive operating rights for 55 years: a public-private partnership of the most craven kind.
So while the mainstream media here would like portray the opposition to the airport as violent anarchists and tree-huggers, in fact there is every reason to oppose the airport across the entire political spectrum, for the most conservative of reasons.
In short: we don't want to buy a white elephant, while destroying a rather green and pleasant part of France in the process.
The environmental arguments against the airport are well-rehearsed. In particular it should be noted that the wetlands at the site serve to replenish the aquifers on which all Nantes residents depend for drinking and bathing. That the study of this vital issue should be fixed to give the right answer by the powers-that-be is beyond contemptible.
Whenever you see local government proposals that fly in the face of reason, as this monstrous proposal so evidently does, it is necessary to look behind the stated positions of all the players and analyse the actual reasons for their actions.
Local government is all about maximising land values. The prevailing wind in Nantes is from the west, which means that flights landing at the existing airport at Bougenais usually pass over south-central Nantes. Noise levels in such parts of town are such that residential development in this zone is inhibited. As anyone brought up watching Scooby-Doo knows, evil property developers are always behind any supernatural phenomena. It is probably the case here as well. Doubtless, large sums of money have been staked on the change of land use, both to the south of Nantes and around Notre-Dame Des Landes. If I were a French airport protester, I'd be doing a little Qui bono? detective work with the land registries and the family holdings of the players involved.
I have also heard various theories that the new proposed airport is so vast because it is being secretly conceived as a massive airplane park in the event of some global crisis. This seems somewhat far-fetched: there are lots of places drier and warmer than Nantes in winter to store rustable technology. Nor do I agree that there is any sort of military imperative to building Bagram 2 north of the Loire to dominate the north west of France. Aircraft couldn't care less if the Loire is in the way of anything!
As for the safety argument—that it is not safe to have planes overflying the city—which, inbelievably, is used by the proponents of the airport here as a serious element in their propaganda, well, it's ludicrous. The aviation industry is rightly proud of its safety record: it has to be, because if crashes were not vanishingly rare, no-one would buy a ticket, so no-one would be paying to fly. And as a former resident of London, over which planes destined for Heathrow pass every sixty seconds from 0600h to 2300h every day of the week; well, frankly, it is pitiful. Whether there is any truth in the story that air traffic controllers are being told to route traffic over the city centre to bolster the case for the new airport, I do not know. It would be beyond all reason if true. Certainly the pilots do not agree that the current airport is particularly dangerous.
The arguments about job creation are also false: any airport jobs in the region already exist. Moving them across town doesn't increase their number: that would require increased traffic, and as we have already seen, the growth of the past cannot continue. Some jobs may even be lost if Airbus decide to cut their losses and consolidate their operations elsewhere, as they could easily do in Toulouse and St. Nazaire. If you want to spread a half a billion euro public subsidy around the construction industry, spend it on improving the energy efficiency of homes and businesses, which would create a lot more jobs, and make everyone better off in the long run.
It is true that where you see dairy farming you see agriculture in the doldrums, at the nadir of imagination of food production, but it is the time-honoured tradition in these parts, and I'm the last man to ask for a reduction in his cheese ration. But if there is a glut of dairy produce, this is an argument for supporting imaginative small producers, not 2000 hectares of new concrete. The occupiers at Notre-Dame des Landes have already shown the way on this with minimal investment. Imagine the beautiful and diverse rural landscape that could be created with only the tiniest sliver of the money the taxpayer is currently committed to giving Vinci.
I have some sympathy for the poor policemen who are being asked to do the dirty job of kicking out the occupiers, the foot soldiers for the corrupt corporate interests outlined above. They must examine their consciences. Honorable servants of law and order in the republic must surely satisfy themselves that justice has been done in the most rational and impartial manner, and in the interests of the people—so how they can execute this duty with satisfaction, having made even the most cursory scrutiny of the issues I do not know. Surely instead they should be calling their anti-corruption colleagues to investigate?

Ce texte est aussi disponible en français ici: http://velofou.blogspot.fr/2012/11/sur-la-distinction-fine-du-faucon-et.html

This article was first published at 1645h, 15 November 2012
The safety paragraph and a few other minor revisions and links were added at 0645h, 16 November 2012

Copying: CC0: copy away! Credit and links always appreciated, as would be news of any translations.

Inspiration: credit must go to France24 who pretend to run a comment system on their articles. Their refusal to publish an abbreviated 1500 character comment along the lines of this article was the kick up the backside I needed to get on with getting this out myself.

My comment for their site read: "In your haste to paint the opponents of the proposed airport as violent anarchists, you omit a critique of the arguments for its claimed necessity: 0) Nantes already has a prize-winning airport. It is nowhere near its maximum capacity, estimated to be 7 million passengers/year. Airbus has a plant next to the existing airport that employs 2000 people, relies on its runway for deliveries, and has stated it does NOT want the move! 1) The alleged "public utility" study for the compulsory purchase of the land was flawed. The rail link to the proposed airport to Nantes was counted as a benefit of the scheme, but its cost was not counted, as revealed by an independent 2011 study. 2) The IMF calculates that the price of kerosene will double in the next 10 years. 34% of the cost of an air ticket is the fuel costs. Low cost air travel is about to become a thing of the past. Wild air industry claims for traffic growth are simple lies. 3) Air travel, and especially short-haul air travel generates thirty times more carbon emissions/kilometre than rail. Nantes-London is already possible in less than five hours by TGV. You can get a TGV direct to Charles De Gaulle airport from Nantes if you must fly long-haul. 4) The deal with the multinational corporation Vinci hands them a €250m. public subsidy——then gives them exclusive operating rights for 55 years: a public-private partnership of the most craven kind. Saying NON! is a no-brainer for prudent taxpayers and tree-huggers alike!"

jeudi 6 septembre 2012

If you're going to fix it, fix it proper

Froome looks back at Wiggins on the final ascent of the 17th stage of the 2012 Tour de France. (Photo: Bernard Papon/L'Equipe)
It's a family trait to have difficulty throwing away newspapers, but the debris from this year's study of the Tour De France is littering my office, and it's got to go. But before it hits the archive, I thought I'd capture what for me was the most telling image of this year's Tour: of Froome looking over his shoulder at a spent Bradley Wiggins on the last mountain stage, and discovering that he, Froome, could have won it. Only team orders prevented this outcome in Paris.

Now, such phenomena are very much a part of the fascination of the Tour: road cycling is fundamentally a team sport. But it also leaves the whiff of corruption and backroom fixes. When Wiggins held the peloton when Cadel Evans punctured, L'Equipe was quick to praise Wiggins for his so English fair play ; but there's also another sporting saying from over the channel that is equally important, and it is: "May the best man win!" The sad thing about this year's Tour (again!) is we're not sure that he did.

Still, it didn't stop me growing a pair of sideburns in hommage to Wiggins' achievement: anyone capable of a podium place in Paris is a mighty hero, and Wiggins is the first Englishman to pull it off. Bravo!

vendredi 13 juillet 2012

pruning the tweetstream

I do like Twitter, but the number I'm following had crept up to almost three hundred. Inevitably at this level attentional scotomata will occur, so merely as a matter of survival, I've been trying to cut  down the number of tweets I receive.
This evening it occurred to me that if you've got more than 2000 followers, you've got enough attention already, and if you do something really great, it'll doubtless be retweeted my way. And after all, you should really save your love for those that can love you back.
So farewell then George Monbiot, William Gibson, David Graeber, Moxie Marlinspike, Schuyler Erle, Kutiman, Tim Berners-Lee, Andy Schleck, Fiona Godlee, Richard Smith, Biella Coleman, James Boyle, Cory Doctorow, SpaceHijackers, Jeremy Hardy, MadeUpStats, GuardianStyleGuide, Irvine Welsh, Teju Cole, Jakob Appelbaum, UbuWeb, Translation Guy, Democracy Fail, John Thackara, Petra Boynton, Jon Udell, Rue89, Peter Tatchell, LGBTScotland, SchNEWS, and Alain De Botton.
A pang of regret at no longer being able to keep up with all of you: this list will serve as a reminder should this rather drastic purge result in a dull sense of loss.

lundi 9 juillet 2012

On not shooting your stockbroker

 I've only ever seen David Rovics perform once—at a squat Vortex gig in Stoke Newington c. 2005. It was a interesting night for many reasons, and so I've followed him since, as you do on Web 2.0. A while back he shouted out online for someone to read his memoire, and so I volunteered. He was kind enough to say that my comments on the manuscript were "the best, most useful feedback i've ever gotten on anything" which was a nice compliment. He also turns out some thoughtful blog posts.
All this throat clearing is a warmup for saying: "Artists: please do not promote violence! There are enough criminal idiots in the world without you joining in!" By idly proposing actions no sober person could agree were just, such blustering makes it less likely that effective action against the bankers, such as prosecutions for fraud, will take place. Much the same phenomena was observed with prosecutions over the Iraq War and torture. Comment threads were ridden with so-called anti-war commenters whose favourite lines were (if they had their way they'd) "string 'em up" or "send 'em to the Hague," the utter plonkers. Bless! When laws have been broken there should be no need to summon the mob. To do so, is in fact complicit with inaction on such major injustices. The truly radical artist makes calm (and devastatingly accurate) calls for justice to be done.
Hmm. Whatever happened to that Chilcot Inquiry then? Iraq War all quietly forgotten? Not in Cabinet Beezer it's not.

dimanche 8 juillet 2012

breakfast of champions

breakfast of champions
Originally uploaded by Julius Beezer
I didn't naturally use to be an early riser, but these days you'll quite often find me at my desk before 0600h. This is nice as my office faces south-east, and I can watch the dawn appear on the underside of the clouds through the French (natch) windows.
If I've got paid work on, I just get right on with it: the concentration and calm that come after natural awakening from an undisturbed night's sleep are precious indeed, as is the feeling of already having cracked out more than half a day's work by eight o'clock.
If I'm not working for bucks, I'm usually on general internet patrol, curating links for my various interests, gathered through my RSS and Twitter feeds.
This morning was a bit different though. As part of my apprentissage en français, I have resolved to read every word of this year's Tour de France coverage in L'Equipe. Even with Thursday's strike, which blocked distribution of almost all of the national press, including L'Equipe, I was already a little behind.

dimanche 24 juin 2012

Canons to the left of them...

Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it.

This statement by author U.K. LeGuin is clearly unassailably true. The only problem is that this is a category that is infinite from the perspective of any individual. So what should one read? Stephen Ramsey, in his excellent 2010 essay "The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books" [86 kB PDF] estimates that, if you read one book a day from birth, you would need 500 lifetimes to read through the Library of Congress. He proposes a theory of screwmeneutics to address the problem. My mother keeps trying to persuade me to read LeGuin but to do so would contradict my no sci-fi/fantasy heuristic (in this lifetime, perhaps if I had 499 others). I have suffered the flat characterisation and irritating neologism that is so prevalent in the genre when it seemed essential to better understand the internet. (Mssrs Gibson, Sterling, Stephenson, I'm looking at you...) Actually, I have a couple of times attempted the first few pages of The Dispossessed, but it was just too dull for words, so I tossed it, without a moment's regret.
book cover shot of "les Philosophes par les textes," "Guide illustré de la Musique," and "Littérature française XVIIIe siècle"

When I tire of screwing around in English, I make an atavistic retreat to the French. Only this morning came into this little haul, for 5€ from the vide grenier I found at 100m from the front door of the flat this morning.  The French educational system here fires repetitive salvoes of the canon at those bored, suffering teenagers. There seems to be little debate about its composition. All those dead white men, endlessly analysed by successive generations preparing for the bac philo. The French will keep trying to construct a Platonic Republic, Popper be damned. I suppose it gives us all something to talk about in cafés, apart from le foot (of which, the least said, the better).

samedi 18 février 2012

Interesting typo on the Guardian website

Spotting a typo on the Guardian website doesn't have quite the same cachet as catching one in print in the New York Review of Books, for the Guardian has always been notorious for such errors. Notice how the screenshot I grabbed is just another block of sans serif black on white with no texture—it would be trivially easy to fake, but it is genuine. Of course, if you visit the "original" the error may have been silently corrected, though as the publication date is now more than 36 hours old, which is a long time in internet news terms, perhaps it will not be.
I found this one entertaining though: the additional sibilance lent to the term US Congresss by the superfluous s is an effective literary technique to convey an impression of lizard-like evil, in which category those that engage in "sabre-rattling" with Iran should undoubtedly be placed, as there is no way that such aggression could possibly end well.

dimanche 22 janvier 2012

no more tunes from Painter Babu

It was always nice to say hello to Wull, who spun discs for pimusic nights ("Free music for a better world") with a classic Glaswegian twinkle in his eye. I didn't even make the connection that this guy putting on the records in between the live acts was Painter Babu for quite a while. This was great, because I could have my fanboy moment with someone I already knew to talk to when I realised.
Anyway, now he is dead. Details are pretty hazy: I only found out when I went to check out the pimusic site in an idle moment back before Christmas, by which time the news was already months old. I knew Trevor has been a fan, and he confirmed the news. Lung cancer apparently. He was 48. He did not suffer long. It was a good excuse to get in touch with Paul again, who characteristically offered me a download of Wull's hard drive with all his Cubase files, should I wish to do a remix. I wouldn't presume to touch a note, so here are links to my two favourite tracks: Into Reality a vinyl mashup that includes samples of AJP Taylor reading from his history of the second world war, and It thought, it thought, which features Wull himself. It's sad there will be no more Painter Babu tracks. What a talent! He will be missed.

mardi 3 janvier 2012

Interesting typo in the New York Review of Books

Originally uploaded by Julius Beezer
Like anyone who has edited articles for the press, I fancy myself good at spotting typos.
In a publication as august as the NYRB such errors seem vanishingly rare, so when they do occur, they are interesting.
Of course, automated spellchecking will catch malformed words that appear in no dictionary, but there is no substitute for the human eye for misplaced valid words—in this case an extra "a" in Louis Begley's review of a newly translated biography of Simon Wiesenthal by Tom Segev. (NYRB Dec 8-21, 2011, vol LVIII, No 19, p46, col 4, line 69).
This has the look of a remnant of a hasty (and partial) deletion of a few words from the offending sentence, most likely as part of a last minute tweak to get the text to fit nicely into the allocated space in the editorial plan. The nature of the content makes one fantasise about last minute legal or political pressure on the editorial team, but this is sheer fantasy. A Freudian slip?
I once met a young man whose team at a big bank spent its days tracking missing millions. This happens all the time apparently. He assured me that cock-ups outnumber conspiracies by a huge margin. This is probably the case here, but it seemed worth adding to the mysterious disappearance sequence anyway.