Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Moscow

Metro

Moscow is cold. A very strange place to live, but a good many people do. The train from the airport (once they have let you in) run fine. They are extremely wide. They appear like a tardis, if such a thing existed. Their exterior has a functional form; there is no attempt at styling. The Metro on the other hand, is all about style, though not the trains, but rather the stations. These are fabulous galleries tracing the changing aspirations of the state from the interwar years and beyond. Andrew Graham Dixon, again, has done a programme all about the country’s art, and the metro features heavily.

Red Square

I did the tourist bit – Red Square, the Kremlin and even a mini-bus tour taking in such sights as the residences of Mikhail Gorbachev and the current incumbent, Dmitry Medvedev. The highlights included visits to the two Tretyakov galleries – one pre and one post-war. Extraordinary places. The art is sensational and, again, Andrew Graham Dixon can help with the translation, so-to-speak.

Advertisements

Welcome

13 April 2011
On Friday I travel to Moscow for the first time. I left getting my Visa a little late. They are expensive if one leaves them late, but the current system is reasonably efficient from an issuing office in East London.
27 March 2011
The March for the Alternative, organised by the TUC, was certainly a large Trades Union demonstration. It galvanised people – particularly in the North where the public sector cuts are going to be particularly felt – for the struggle ahead as the cuts bite. The diversity was reassuring. People regaled about the last time they attended such a sizeable demonstration – the Iraq war demo 8 years ago. And that is perhaps key. The demonstrators were right then and they are right now.
20 March 2011

Care needed when picking friends

And so another war begins. I was there protesting against the UK going into Iraq in London on that cold February day. I will not be demonstrating this time. The cause is different. I wake up this morning with a heavy heart. But Gaddafi supresses and kills his own people with their own ‘defence’ forces (using weapons supplied by us). He has said that there will be no mercy. The proliferation of independent media show the often uncomfortable outcome of the regime’s brutality. These changes in the Arab world, but particularly in North Africa, are different. These are not colonial wars – an excuse for the West to occupy yet more territory. These are wars of liberation. These are wars of ‘the time has come for change’. The people of Egypt go to the polls today to vote on their own ongoing push towards democracy after their own relatively velvet revolution. Meanwhile, the inability of the people of Benghazi to protect themselves from Gaddafi’s forces threatens their own progress towards a new future of self-determination. It seems that it is relatively easy to drive out the authorities from towns and cities. We could probably do that in Brighton and Hove. However, Gramsci wrote that they will regroup and come back with force. They will show no mercy, even if it was their’s to show. There is something in this for all of us to learn. It is also time for us to get real about weaponry, who we sell them to and why we make them. And whilst I have not been in favour of secular views to be part of the ‘Thought for the Day’ slot on Radio 4, perhaps it is time for radical voices to be heard at that time in the morning rather than apologists for God’s inhumanity? (Picture: http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/gaddafi-and-friend/)

15 March 2011

Catherine Pepinster

It is time for me to have another gripe at the BBC’s Thought for the Day. Naturally the contributors are now turning their attention to Japan and how a benevolent God could allow the combination of earthquake and tsunami to happen (the nuclear emergency could conceiveably be put at our own door as humanity). The Catholic commentator, Catherine Pepinster, started the ball rolling on Saturday (12 March) with the following explanation: “For all the sudden eruptions of nature, God plays by the rules. Creation includes the thermodynamics that lead to earthquakes and tsunamis, but the same laws of chemistry and physics allow us to have brains capable of understanding those thermodynamics. There’s a consistency about the universe that means we can learn about the kind of world we inhabit in all its complexity.” Then yesterday (Tuesday) the extraordinary Professor David Wilkinson, an astrophysicist, offered the following: “Yet underneath, is the search for

Prof David Wilkinson

a coherent long-term narrative, which understands the natural world and science as both good and risky. As a Christian I find such a narrative in the conviction that this world is the creation of a good God, who risks giving freedom to human beings and the natural world. Today the people of Japan will take inspiration from their own history of rebuilding a nation in the face of devastation. For those who are inspired by a God who walks the pages of human history in Jesus to demonstrate the prioritize compassionate action towards all those in need, the challenge to stand with them is clear.”

Decoding these rather insensitive bits of prose is not my task now. But the BBC’s continued concession to these people to have free rein to spout this nonsense gets increasingly intolerable.
8 March 2011
 Richard Stallman visited the University of Sussex on 8 March. He is an extraordinary mix of reason and zealotry. His arguments against proprietary software, copyright and freedom are fantastic and thoughtful. In fact, it is evil to teach children and students proprietary software because it is given free to schools to lock them in to systems that expensive to buy and maintain. However, there is no compromise and perhaps no real understanding about how most of use use technology. Or perhaps there is.
Stallman implores us to to use any software on our computers that is not ‘free’ – not free in the sense of price, rather liberty. Most software requires its ‘owners’ to have access to the computers that it operates for benign and not so benign reasons. The not-so benign reasons involve control and checking up on us, locking us into particular networks and ways of thinking and doing. Importantly, they also prevent us from copying and sharing. And this is Stallman’s particular bugbear.
He lives in a cash economy – his rule of thumb is that if he cannot buy with cash, he will not buy. He advises against buying a Kindle, for example. Amazon is evil and controls absolutely the Kindle and the books that one downloads onto it. My reasons for not trading with Amazon are related to Wikileaks. On that he did not express an opinion.
  28 February 2011
Gadaffi is a true thug; slowly but surely he moves towards his judgement day. He was a great admirer of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. At least he knows how it will end. His son Saif al-Islam, however, really has written a suicide note. And listening to the Director of the London School of Economics this morning on the radio, has left them with a pot of blood money. Education is a wonderful thing, but blood is thicker than water. Seemingly.
15 February 2011
Joan as Police Woman did not disappoint. I cannot find a review for this particular gig which Joan herself described as one of her best. She tends to be plagued by bad sound. At the Wedgewood Rooms, apparently, they always get it right. I wish that there had been more people there; not a bad audience, and very intimate, but I do not know how she pays the bills. I’m helping having now bought the album on CD and Vinyl (albeit signed by the woman herself).
13 February 2011
It was momentous. I think Mubarak had said to the generals that he would stand down on Thursday 10 February and then went on TV to say the opposite. I hope he enjoys his time in Sharm el Sheikh. It looks a delightful place.
Tonight I go to Portsmouth to see Joan as Police Woman. I saw her a couple of years ago in Brighton and she was brilliant. The new album is, as she says herself, rockier than the melancholic ‘To Survive’. Tonight she will wear her leather jump suit which she says she intends to wear for the whole of the 50-date tour. She suggests that it might stand up by itself by the end. Maybe.
6 February 2011
Still hangs on Mubarek. The behind-the-scenes diplomacy, however, looks intriguing. I wonder how the Bush Administration would have handled this. Obama seems to be opting for the the least worst option: change. Whilst Mubarek is a staunch US ally, at 82 his days are numbered in any case. Better to embrace the will of the people, so-to-speak, and have influence over the next incumbent of the presidential palace rather than alienate and see the Israeli peace deal literally go up in smoke?
4 February 2011
There is no other story than Egypt. This is epochal change in the making; it is only a matter of time before the edifice tumbles. It always surprises me the arrogance of certain leaders and their own importance. Thatcher and Blair spring to mind in the UK, but Mubarak takes this to new heights. Whilst the country is in chaos with thugs on the streets fighting against the demonstrators, Mubarak argues that whilst he would like to go, without him the country would slip into chaos.
The Guardian today offered a comment from a protester who rejects Mubarak’s plea to be patient and wait for elections in September. The protestor noted that if this was the first day of a peaceful transition, they are right to stay until Mubarak leaves office.
It may be a facile comparison, but take airports, for example. In the event of a cancellation, one should not leave the airport until the airline has made alternative arrangements for passengers. Leave the airport and one is at the mercy of airline phonelines. In Egypt, I imagine, one is at the mercy of the secret police. Tahrir Square may be the safest place. The protestors in Cairo and Alexandria are hugely courageous.
30 January 2011
Events in Egypt are extraordinary. Uprisings are always events, but this one is much more strategic (than say, Tunisia earlier this month). One senses that both the US and UK governments would prefer to keep Mubarek. Calls for peaceful transition seem a little empty and disengenuous. 30 years of one increasingly despotic leader suggests change is needed. Whatever we think of the US, constitutionally, the President can only serve 2 terms. Even the Russians have this constitutional limitation.
23 January 2011
We have waited some time for the winner to be announced of the Platitude of the Day annual award – the Web’s antidote to the nonsense that is Thought for the Day on Radio 4. Those of us who are regular contributors to the Platitude blog agreed with the Adminstrator that it should be Clifford Longley for his consistency over the preceding year. The Adminstrator last week offered a list of nominees which included Ratzinger’s effort on 24 December (despite it not being particularly platitudinous). However, Ratzinger has offered plenty of platitudes over the previous year. Not enough, it was Longley. Incidentally, the quality of contributions so far this year has been poor relative to the last quarter of 2010.
18 January 2011
Back on my bicycle riding into the University for the first time since the accident (see 18 October). Tough but exhilarating. The arm still aches, but much stronger now enabling me to control the bicycle and manage the pressures of the road.
17 January 2011
Anyone who takes pleasure in the discomfort of Michael Gove, the Tories egregious Education Secretary, should listen to his dissection on Radio 5 Live last week and his attempt to patronize his way out of it.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00d7gfn
11 January 2011
The BBC’s German series was, on the whole, cliched and unwatchable. I started with Al Murray visiting the country – he having made a career out of parodying Gemans. He claimed that he would not resort to parody in his programme and then immediately did having found some crazy Germans swimming in the Baltic in mid-winter.
Then there was Julia Bradbury’s Wanderlust exploiting the German’s real sense of excitement about the great outdoors (unfortunately, this often involves hunting with guns). There are some great walks to be done, for sure. But after the first programme where she walked along the Rhine, the rest were too much to contemplate. Dreadful woman. It’s not surprising she was alone.
However, the pearl in this series of programmes was Andrew Graham-Dixon’s The Art of Germany (following briskly on from his earlier The Art of Spain). This is what television should be about. Informative, energetic, watchable and imaginative. Well written, presented and produced, this was a gem of a series. He’s now doing some BBC4 documentaries about individual artists, the most recent being Vermeer.
4 January 2011
Back at my desk for the new year.
20 December 2010
The German TV station, ZDF, has for 30 years hosted a programme called “Wetten Das”. Its charismatic host, Thomas Gottschalk, has built a very successful career on the platform. It is now in crisis after a near fatal accident on live TV. This reminds me of Noel Edmonds’ Late Late Breakfast Show in the UK when it endured a fatality during a risky stunt.
In this case, a man was hit by a car as he attempted to summersault over it. Quite bizarre how such stunts get approvals, and why TV companies think it is legitimate entertainment.
14 December 2010
It  has been a pretty extraordinary week for democracy. The Wikileaks keep coming and the collusion of various global brands with the American state worries me. Should I still buy from Amazon? Where do I stand with my Visa card? Amazon I can cope with. Whilst trading with other firms may not be quite so convenient, most things – books, for example – are relatively easy to find elsewhere on the web. Finding a substitute payment card, however, is not so easy. Mastercard and PayPal are also colluding. The Discovery Card seems in the clear but only because it is not widely accepted or issued.
7 December 2010

Snow in Hove 2010

We have an early winter. As usual, we ground to a halt. I’m a little more phlegmatic about these things today. The snow came down very fast and the authorities are not clearing the snow sufficiently for the buses to run. The trains are another story. However, it is not fair to say that other European countries can keep things moving in these conditions. They do not.

Today, in contrast, England won the second Test Match in Adelaide. England are well on the way to retaining the Ashes and taking them away from Australia for the first time since 1987. Kevin Pietersen came into form with a double century. That is long overdue.

And then there is the case of Julian Assange. Assange has put his life on the line to open up government – at least parts of it that are not subject to democratic scrutiny. With two candidates for the American presidency calling for his execution (for all those found guilty of treason), it is very difficult to image that Assange would survive long there if he was extradited. This is a big challenge for the English legal system; should he be extradited, one might conclude that the British Government has also been leaned on by the Americans to achieve it.

19 November 2010

The Royal Wedding has been announced. How macabre is it the Prince giving Ms Middleton his mother’s old ring? What kind of thinking is behind this? Clearly the House of Windsor is going to use this occasion to claim back some lost territory, but any connection with the late Diana would seem to me a little risky. However, if the ring symbolises a new ‘peoples princess’ then Ms Middleton has a lot to live up to. And whilst the House of Windsor may have ‘learned’ something, clearly Ms Middleton (and her advisors) have not. If I was her father, the advice would be ‘love counts for only so much. They are a bunch of aristocrats; we may be rich but we are vulgar by comparison. Keep searching….’

At least we may get the day off  (helping the country’s productivity).

14 November 2010

Here’s a strange thing. Walking towards Terminal 2 at Munich Airport last week I was approached by a man with a camera. He requested to take my photograph on the grounds that I was stylish! I was rather more concerned that it was a ruse to lift my wallet.

Then, last week, I read a piece about beards on Deutsche Welle. A style blogger named Gunnar Hämmerle was interviewed. I did a picture search for this man, and low and behold, it was the very same man from the airport. His blog is called styleclicker.net

My picture is not up there – maybe I was right, I am not stylish (when compared with some of the cool dudes who are on the site), but there you go.

31 October 2010

Yesterday I attended a demo in Brighton against the public sector cuts. It is a while since I have been amongst so many trades unionists. I had forgotten how angry they are; which is strange when we know how much there is to lose when one ‘loses’ it. Some of the most high profile cases in recent times have been the BBC’s Nick Robinson smashing a protester’s banner when it was provocatively placed in camera shot whilst Robinson was waxing lyrically (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rU8YU3loeQ), and Adam Boulton of Sky News losing it in debate with Alistair Cambell (with whom it is often difficult to sympathise) on post-election speculation about how to form a government (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbuXj1HyNy8). Even Caroline Lucas the Green Party’s sole MP (Brighton Pavilion) felt the need to shout at the audience who were all there to support most of the things the speakers were saying. Come on you people, the reasoned arguments are there to be made – this is not ideology, this is pure pragmatism. Leave the ideology to the Tories to hang by.

I nearly take it all back (see entry 14 September 2010); easyJet has reimbursed me for the expensive Lufthansa flight that I had to take after the cancellation yet again of the late Munich flight from Gatwick on 10 September. It took time and a sharp (but articulate) letter and email to do it; but I put my hands up to them for the response. And that is despite the persistent claim that it was a technical fault on the plane that caused the cancellation and not an impossibly punishing schedule for planes and crew.

21 October 2010

That explains a lot. Picture from http://tankthetories.com/

 Yesterday’s comprehensive spending review delivered by George Gideon Oliver Osborne, heir to the baronetcy of Ballentaylor, was the culmination of the expected attack on British society by a wealthy man who is ideologically driven to attack the public sector under the guise of deficit reduction. The impact on myself remains to be seen. I work at at university and 40 per cent cuts are anticipated. I don’t think he is a fan of my subject areas (social science) and my university is not in the elite group. It has no Bullingdon Club or equivalent (even if I was still a student).

As for social housing, another area that I have some affinity with, the CSR is most challenging. I don’t understand the arithmetic that says increasing rents to new tenants to 80 per cent of market rents realeases sufficient funds to build 150000 new dwellings, even if that was fair.

The housing benefit rules, moreover, will cause people to become migrants. There will be considerable pressure on cheaper parts of cities such as London. This then affects service provision in these areas such as social care and education. Local authorities will have to deal with these pressures with reduced budgets. Good for the swanky parts of town, not so good for elsewhere.

If he has applied the same logic to other spending areas, we are in big trouble.

I’ll keep this blog informed of my employment status, and that of my colleagues.

18 October 2010

Cyclists always expect at some time to come off their bicycles. Particularly tricky times are autumn (leaves) and winter (ice). It is autumn now, but I came a cropper on Thursday evening last on engine oil on an internal road at the University of Sussex. I ended up in Casualty, but fortunately no broken bones (see bruises, though).

No broken bones, but

I was lucky, but it did not have to be so.It seems that the oil had laid undisturbed for 3 hours prior to my run in with it. No one responded to the knowledge when it was reported. By contrast, one cannot go into a newly-cleaned toilet without a big yellow warning sign getting in the way. Cover the carriageway in engine oil and no one acts.

 
6 October 2010

External view of FH Ingolstadt Lecture Theatres

It is always interesting to visit other universities. Notwithstanding the people, the architecture usually says someting. Yesterday I was in Ingolstadt in Germany visiting a colleague. The campus such that it is offers a very relaxed and open environment for staff and students alike. There’s lots of glass – and hence natural light. Lecture theatres are always curious places as they are invariably enclosed boxes with steeped seating. One looks very much like another. Look at them from the outside and they are pretty anonymous. Not the ones at Ingolstadt, however!

1 October 2010

easyJet have not been courteous enough to reply to my request for reimbursement from my cancelled flight (see 14 September). Maybe I’m being impatient? Perhaps they have more important things to do, especially as this is the last week of Oktoberfest in Munich. The idea that they fail to get a plane load of English revellers there doesn’t bear thinking about. My humble event on 11 September was worth the sacrifice for them. I’m still livid.

27 September 2010

My quest for products made in the UK continues. Yesterday I secured a UK manufactured dehumidifier. It is unbranded, though sold under the Wickes name. Branded equivalents come from EBAC in the UK. Maybe it is our damp island living that enables us to manufacture them domestically?

17 September 2010

Flyover progress, evening facing south

I am not sure whether any readers are interested in the progress of the road building last reported on 13 July. Well, getting on well I think. Here is the latest image.

14 September 2010

I’m a big customer of easyJet; they have a monopoly out of Gatwick on the route to Munich. So I persevere. This time they have pushed me too far. Too many cancellations and appalling customer service. Last Friday the flight was cancelled at 2000. They could only offer me a flight on 17 September as a replacement. Not good enough. I needed to be in Munich for an event.

The Menzies ground staff assured me that easyJet would re-imburse the cost of a ticket from another airline. So I duly booked with Lufthansa for the following morning at a price of £300. Waiting for me in my inbox, however, was an incipid apology asking for a second chance (do they not know how many times they have cancelled this and other flights in recent months?). More sinister, however, was the reason stated. There was an undisclosed technical fault with the plane. This excuse, when reading the small print, is enough to abrogate easyJet. No liability. Why do I not believe the excuse? Why am I going to pursue my claim?

For the outcome, see post for 31 October.

9 September 2010

Left Luggage Facility, Köln Hauptbahnhof

Here is another gripe. For a long time, left luggage facilities in the UK were non-existent. A few now can be found in major railway stations, but they are very expensive. London Victoria charges £8 for up to 24 hours. It can also take 15 minutes or so to get one’s case accepted as it has to pass through a X-Ray machine and valuables accounted for.

Germany is a little different. In München traditional left luggage lockers are abundant and reasonably priced. In Köln, the left luggage facility (pictured) costs 2 Euros 50 for up to 2 hours and 5 Euros for up to 24 hours. One places the case in the hole at the bottom, the door closes and luggage is taken to some underground storage area. One retrieves one’s case by inserting a card and waiting. So, it takes a fraction of the time to deposit a case and costs up to 1/3 of the price.

7 September 2010

I’ve been doing quite a bit of DIY in the last few days in Germany. In executing my tasks, I have been to a number of Baumärkte to buy materials and tools. What I found particularly interesting is the origin of many of the tools on sale. In my experience, in the UK, many tools and materials are sourced from far-away places. For example, I recently purchased a workbench that was made in China. I expected the same to be true of German retail. In fact, the domestic sourcing in the German Baumärkte is extraordinary. This bench is a German brand made in Germany. The price was comparable; it was easier to assemble than my UK equivalent.

The extent to which this is a phenomenon of building materials and tools I am unsure. Further research is required. For example, kitchen equipment (I know that there are some high-end UK manufacturers making toasters,  for example).

4 August 2010

I cycled home one evening through the volcanic ash cloud that engulfed us in April 2010. I decided that it was worth trying to capture ‘it’ in a photograph. With the aid of a rather splendid light meter, I rehearsed a few shutter speeds and came up with the following.

Volcanic ash cloud over Hove

2 August 2010

Here’s a little innovation for you from Sainsbury’s.  Those of you like me who carry bananas around know only too well that they are prone to damage in one’s bag. The solution, a protective case in the shape of a banana!

However, the designers may not quite have got the curvature right. For my organic banana this morning, I found the curvature insufficient. This meant that I had to squeeze it in to the case. Consequently, when I retrieved it this morning after a typically strong cup of coffee, it was as bruised as if I had carried it uprotected in my pannier bag. On what basis did the designers decide on their average curvature?

Time now for a bit of a rant: easyJet! The route between Gatwick and Munich is troublesome. It is never on time, but now even worse it is prone to cancellation. Now there is another little trick. Instead of cancelling the flight, they  ‘postpone’ it to the following morning. Actually, they put on a completely new plane – unscheduled – which one has to take even if  it is no longer convenient. Normally, if they cancel the flight, one can make a no-cost transfer to a flight of choice that reflects one’s changed circumstances. What’s more, because the flight is not on the system, they force passengers to check in manually. I waited 2 hours to check in earlier this week, even though I only had cabin baggage. What was Michael O’Leary saying about easyJet’s performance recently? Suffice to say, easyJet, my next journey will by by rail.

27 July 2010

Neil Hannon performs "The Complete Banker"

The Divine Comedy’s new album “Bang goes the Knighthood” is in my collection. It is a little understated. But like all good albums, they mature with listening. Even better is seeing the artist performing the songs. This is what Neil Hannon did on 17 July at Somerset House in London. Actually he did a lot more than that. For nearly 2 hours he performed songs from across his career with his piano or guitar. The audience in a few places had to remind him of his own lyrics; but he was excused in that the songs were new and he had performed for so long that evening. The great thing about this performance was the fact that he seemed to be enjoying himeself. On the one previous occasion I have seen him (with a full band) he seemed not to be really interested and keen to leave the stage. This was symbolised by throwing beer into the audience. This time his tipple was white wine that went only into his gullet.

13 July 2010

Lewes Road facing southwest

An update on the flyover. The aggregate has been arriving by the truckload and a wall has been erected on either side.

As for the football, we now look forward to the start of the new domestic season. Watching the Dutch hack down the Spaniards was disheartening. I’d heard a lot about van Bommel, but seeing his dangerous tackles makes me feel a little grubby. This is not the beautiful game. Sadly.

As ever, I love the radio commentary. Robbie Savage’s attempts at commentary on Radio 5 Live was a good illustration of the skill needed to do it at all, let alone well. I also suggest that readers check out Dave Henson’s songs unofficially written for the BBC. His best, I think, was “We’re still not as bad as France”; collectively, they capture everything about this world cup. They have all been uploaded to YouTube.

4 July 2010

The members of the Co-op finally got to have a team day – the first time in my 10 years there when all 12 members have attended the same event at the same time. We did a Go-ape day at Bedgebury Forest in Kent. Three hours of tree adventure – negotiating tricky – and high -walkways. Most afterwards admitted to being a little anxious on certain stretches. Here is me in a tree.

1 July 2010

The work to improve access to the University of Sussex goes on apace. The flyover looks a little like the Arc de Triomphe (see photo). Maybe not. There’s a lot of aggregate to come on which to build a foundation for the road.

On another matter, anyone interested in why (skilled) journalists are needed, even in music industry, view http://vodpod.com/watch/1778993-hypebot-christopher-r-weingarten-twitter-the-death-of-

28 June 2010

Notwithstanding the fact that it was an awful display by England, the aftermath in Munich (and no doubt in other German cities) was almost unbearable. One can feel very alone in a crowd. The celebrations in the City were perhaps a little overdone bearing in mind die DFM are only through to the last 8 (one might have been mistaken that they had won the championship). England were simply poor.

Being English, I could only console myself by listening to the BBC correspondents online just to confirm that it was as bad as I had experienced as a viewer. It was worse.

27 June 2010

Indeed, it will be England v Germany; and I am in Munich. I’m heading into the City to share the experience with die Muenchern. Such is the WM, as it is known by the Germans.

23 June 2010

The day of the big match. I wear my red and white tie despite the heat. Irrational. That’s football.

The team did it. Now, can Germany beat Ghana to set up a match with England? That would be amazing.

22 June 2010

The summer has arrived, for sure. My daily cycle ride into the University is a delight. I need only one layer – the one that keeps me decent. In Brighton there is a rather amusing little cycle counter on the Lewes Road heading towards the town. For some reason on Thursday, the daily number of riders was halved. Not sure why. I’ll keep my eye on this.