Thursday, January 29, 2009


Sometimes, during the course of my life, I forget that I live in a fantastic city. What with insisting on espousing my opinions on everything and trying to apply my academic gaze to the world at large, I realize that I alienate the very pressence that makes this blob possible, London and all the really weird shit that happens in it. As I've noted before, this place is odd, blame the fact the it breaths 12 Million people a day, and those people are dirty, smelly, selfish and produce a generalized grimy effluent that is so foul that every thirty minutes on the subway (or as we call it 'the Tube') is equivilant to smoking 2 cigarettes, minus the benifits of nicotine. No wonder Londoners die younger. In the past, I have even commented on the wonders of discovery--like finding out why the tube stations smell of piss (in case you're wondering, it has something to do with the ionic conversion of liquid amonia to a gaseous state--or more bluntly, becaue they are good places to piss in, apparantly). Nothing in the past, however, compares to the present, in terms of both weirdness of London, or general creepy, I don't want to think about it in any other way except humour, sort of way.

To preface. My GF/partner and I are students, both finalizing PhDs before embarking on high flying careers as public intelectuals--like the folks on the news who are interviewed about why bankers have fucked us all. As such a condition, we, despite our future prospects, live on the economic margins--read as below our station and class. I'm not a proponent of a rigid class system by any means, but it's there for a reason, some of which may acutally reflect an evolutionary trajectory...but I digress. This station of near-poverty means that we end up living in a variety of lowish rent sorts of places. The last flat, for instance, over looked a derelect building on the edge of one of the most notorious social housing estates in the city. Convienent for scoring drugs and hookers at any hour, but not so nice to perpetuate a nice, middle class existence. Our current flat, at the outset, is better, least of all becaues our landlord is actually a nice guy: ex-Cambridge, archictect, you know, middle class, like us. Note, our landlord rents out his flat having left for better prospects, elsewhere. This flat has almost all of the right elements: good locale, excellent light--even in the darkness of winter, what it doesn't have is a dish washer, or thick walls. And, it is in a building that is ex-social housing, meaning that some of the flats are owned by individuals, some are rented out by the local government. A combination that leads to a mixed and diverse community where, although values are different, we all share the same space in a loving community friendly environment.

In other words, we don't fit. For instance, the people downstairs booze and do drugs, staying up late with loud music and proceed to beat the hell out of each other the next day--probably something to do with the late nights, booze, drugs and the nasty hangovers these things bring about. They used to be our bad neighbors. Now I'm not so sure. The 'good' neighbors, those next door with whom we share a bedroom wall, and an occasional passing word of solidarity about the bad neighbors, have sliped.

As of last week during a fairly nasty late night early morning split with at least three suicided threats made on the part of the bloke, a nice guy called Len, or Lenny, something to that effect, our peace and peace of mind was shattered. Len no longer has a girlfriend. It's a shame too since she cooked really nice smelling food: pastas, curries etc. I've never eaten it because this is London and the greater distance (as we shall soon see) from the neighbors, the better. It's best not to develop personal relationships when the walls are so thin.

The following, that which has insipired this polemic, occured last night, and represents my shattered peace. We were woken, after a comfortable few hours of precious sleep to another loud argument. I was annoyed because I assumed that the break up had already occured and that there wouldn't be any noise coming from next door for a least not unitl we moved to far greener and more middle class pastures. Oh no. I was wrong, or at least I slipped back into a state of unrestful dozing thinking I was wrong. I found out, after debriefing with my other half that this row was not a make-up/break-up that so many of use are familiar with. Indeed it has a much more sinister, weird and really fucking funny element to it. It goes something like this.

Neighbor (bloke): 'You're a fucking queer!'
Neigbor's 'companion (in a feminized, yet masculine voice): 'no I'm not, I'm a wo--man.'
Either: 'cry' 'sob' 'grrrr!' (yell, yell, yell) 'arrghhh' -- (door slam) (I've condensed what turned out to be thirty mintues of altercation into a few lines for editorial sake. What matters are the first two lines of dialog)

It would seem, that in my neighbor's haste to find a replacement, he seems to have picked up the wrong type (for him) of available person. While there is no evidience of prositution, as of yet, there is a strong liklihood, that what my neighbor thought was a female companion was not...I don't know much about these things. When someone at a party orders a stripper, I'm the first to make an exit. But what I do know, is that if I was to solicit for sex, I would make damn sure that 'she' had the right bits before proceeding to get my freak on. I'm told by those who know that it is actually acceptable practice to manually double check (because it is apparantly quite hard to tell with a visual inspection) before wandering off to a dank room in some dark corner of the third wolrd. Not that I have anything against lady-boys. I believe strongly that it is every person's right to express their gender identity however they feel best suits them as a person. Equally, I believe every human being has the right to earn a living--however it may suit them. I also happen to believe that those outside the norm should at least advertise the fact that they don't quite fit the norm, just to save us 'normal' people the trouble and embarrassment, but really, it's none of my business. What is my business is that because all of this goes on, I don't get any goddamn sleep. And that is a problem.

More broadly, this just speaks to the general bizarrness that life in a big city brings. I'm not even surprised that this happened to my neighbor, really. And I should be. This shouldn't happen; it's not normal, or acceptable. But regardless, in London, this is just derigour for everyday life: sometimes your hooker is okay, other times she turns out to be a he. While I don't judge, I do have to wonder. And unfortunately, since this is all aural, it cannot be shut out by a mere 30degree cone of smugness.

What this reall signals, however, is that, class based economic arguments aside, it's time to move.

Monday, January 05, 2009

shit hammers and mud

New Year’s day greeted me with a righteous headache and a giant fucking restaurant bill. And there were explosions. Explosions enough to shake the very ground I walk on and wake me from the deep time-fog where I have lingered for the past few months after a nail biting end to what will go down as the longest most expensive presidential race ever. The result of this tedious process is that in this new year, Jesus himself will walk amongst us promising government accountability and tax cuts to the middle class. Someone once said that the meek will inherit the earth (if they want it), and those that trouble their own house will inherit the wind. The soon-to-be crowned black Messiah will, in the words of Michael Herr, inherit a giant shit sandwich.

Allow me to present an example. Missiles, bombs and now troops fall on the Gaza Strip in an attempt to stem the flood of Qassam rockets; black rain to stop black rain. But something in this makes no sense. A Qassam rocket is, more-or-less a few metal tubes welded together, fuelled by fertilizer and sugar and armed with a warhead composed of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil—fertilizer and diesel for those who didn’t already know. The net cost of making and deploying one of these has to be around $20 per unit (not including indirect cost of total and massive retaliation from the world’s second angriest war machine). These rockets, explode, occasionally maim someone and more often make a hole in the pavement. Their biggest threat is that they have no fancy, read expensive, guidance systems, so no one knows where the fuck these things might land once shot off. My water rocket has the same problem.

In contrast and witihin five days Israel, under the cover of stopping terrorism from these rockets, has deployed its own weapons, managing to devastate a few piles of rubble and kill one or two enemy combatants—not counting collateral damage. These also come from the sky, but they do not fall (and, rather are guided), and this is where the comparison stops, since these are a bit more sophisticated than a bit of fuel and a bit of fertilizer. I do not purport to know how much it costs to fly a warplane, launch a missile, drop several tons of TNT, and return home in time to watch it on the news. Millions? But, I bet, per unit, it costs more than $20. Bringing me to a roundabout point. If the purpose of this increase in hostilities is to broker an end to rocket ‘attacks’ then surely raining death in the form of precision guided munitions and street to street ground operations is not the best way. This analysis suggests rather that Israel, although interested in ensuring the end of terrorism in the form of Qassam rockets, has more in mind than just the usual rampant subjugation of a suppressed people. This is war of aggression, not defense, and before it ends we will all be asking some serious and deeply introspective questions about militarized nationalism, the foundations of Western Civilization and how quickly worms may turn. Jesus, the people’s Messiah, will wake on 21 January, the first day on the job, to his own vicious and mean-tempered hangover to find yet another quagmire in a region known for quagmires where one side has little to loose, everything to gain, and some angry and heavily armed friends.

On a separate note, I managed to watch the new bio-pic about Hunter Thompson. I have a hard time eulogizing anyone who’s topped himself, and having known a fair few number of people who have done so, my cynicism about useless, futile and pointless gestures of self-indulgence leads me to hold an aloof and ambivalent view. Thompson was decent writer, who said some funny and poignant things about events that occurred several years before my own birth. Indeed Thompson’s words had a rhythm and turn of phrase without which we would not be able to use the terms ‘shit hammer,’ ‘cheap rotten chimp’ ‘or furiously masturbating bum’ in reference to presidential candidates in polite conversation. He was neither oracle nor sage like the media materials of the film or his widow might suggest. Rather, Thompson was a pop-journalist who got caught up in his own mythology, and when he couldn’t foot the bill he took the cheap way out while somehow managing to get a bunch of his extremely wealthy friends to shoot his remains out of a 100 foot tall cannon. Explosions after all are pretty cool; and what better way to cap a 30 year decline then with a column of fire. Happy New Year.