Wednesday, August 29, 2007

This Morning

Man with teddy bear heading to Kingsland Road - Barbican towers appear, their teeth ready to bite - Somebody scratching off the name off a funny looking church, 'The Word Centre' - a dead squirrel, lying on its back, on the side of the road -

A dead squirrel.

Centre Point in view.

Descend, maintain course, ready, slow

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sweet Malaise

My illness compels me to take a certain vitamin every other day. For more than a week now I haven't taken any; I forgot them in the previous house I stayed. House moves never come without leaving some things behind. After ten days of a roller coaster ride I finally collect the pieces of my life together, and went to buy more vitamins.

Not only they sold me the wrong vitamin, but the pills were covered in sugar, as I found when I took one an hour ago. The nauseating taste is still in my mouth. Why put sugar in a vitamin pill? The pill has no taste that needs disguising. I suppose they add it because they think people like it. It makes you happy, no? Like the candyman? But I feel like someone has slipped a drug into my food.

It is astonishing how many things contain sugar. It is difficult to come across packaged food or beverages that don't have it in them. After five years of a diet based on fruit and vegetables, the taste of sugar now strikes me as crude and vulgar. I can feel the effect it has on me, like the effect drugs have on people who never took them. I don't like it: it sends rushes through my body, it makes me edgy and erratic.

Sugar has been cultivated from very ancient times but it developed from a luxury drug to a mass-market narcotic only in the age of European colonisation. The connection of sugar with the slave trade is well know. To cover a history stained with blood and exploitation the sugar traffickers became art-sponsors, and Tate is only one example. But there are important correlations and parallels between sugar and fossil fuels. Both have been so successful because of what they give us: plentiful energy. Both are - socially and environmentally - devastatingly unsustainable. For more on this double addiction read Louis de Sosa on the Oil Drum.

I have still to write about the Climate Camp but life has really been out of control. I have been urging it to behave better and finally it seems to relent. Back soon with more.

Monday, August 20, 2007

compost tales

On my arrival to the camp I was reminded how easy it is to make compost from urine: you simply piss into a pile of straw or sawdust. The urinal in the climate camp were a line of straw bales behind a curtain. Straw bales also made the seats in the big marquee where the workshops were taking place. On one occasion I had to give up my seat as the toilets were running low on straw.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

This planet has no emergency exit

Back from two days at the Climate Camp in Heathrow, had an exciting, inspiring, and infuriorating time. Due to lack of time, had to decide between going to the workshops and the direct action on Sunday/Monday, and I chose the workshops. I'm glad I did, I learnt a lot and it gave me much to to think about. I hope Sunday and Monday will be as good.
More later.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Devil in Arsenal

This morning, as I was leaving home, a woman approached me. She said she was very troubled about the rising violence and killings lately, and wanted to know what I thought. I said something about the social breakdown of late capitalism. 'But who is behind all this?' she asked, taking a book out of her handbag, and opening on one of the pages of the Revelation. It mentioned the dragon, the serpent, and the devil. 'He is responsible', she said. I said I did not believe in the devil, declined to take her reading material, and cycled off.

But then I saw him. He was walking on Gillespie Road, coming from Arsenal Tube station. A middle aged man wearing a black bowler hat, and three heavy necklaces, and carrying a Tesco plastic bag. He seemed deep in thought.

* * *

This summer of moving house every four weeks gives me an opportunity to familiarise myself with areas in London I never knew before. Arsenal is the latest: it's a pleasant, nondescript lower-middle class neighbourhood in north London. If you never lived in London, it would look exactly like any other neighbourhood: the terrace houses, the occasional council estate, the park. But between them there is a big football stadium: this is Arsenal, home of the football club, a household name for millions of people around the world. The stadium lives up to the club's reputation. It carries the logo of the Emirates airline and its slick glass and steel design is how I imagine Dubai. But arriving there is a sort of an accident, tucked away as it is between the community nature park and the housing development. Nothing much prepares you to it, and once you passed it you are back in north London.

I am no football fan but even for me the name Arsenal carries some meaning. Reconciling the global trademark with the London reality is a confusing experience, but one that is an integral part of living here. So much of our modern mythology came out of London. The estranging effect of placing the myths back into their pecularly local birthplaces is one of the reasons I like living in this city.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Climate Camp

I am considering going to the Climate Camp in Heathrow. The scheduled workshops sound terrific, and I need a short break away from London. What could be better than some fresh air, good organic camp food, 1,800 policemen to make you feel safe and an airplane taking off over your head every 50 seconds.

Yesterday Downing Street warned the protesters that any disruption to the airport's operation will be 'unacceptable'. If there is a point in these protests it is exactly this: soliciting such statements, which show the reality behind the smooth talking. In moments of crisis the real determining forces are unmasked, priorities and power relations become clear. This is important.

Climate change is caused by human actions, mostly the flaring of fossil fuels. This is something the current British Prime Minister and his predecessor have talked endlessly about, but they never termed these human actions 'unacceptable'. The criminal waste and pollution can and should go on, even if it leads to an environmental holocaust. The only thing that is unacceptable is the disruption of the economic machine responsible for climate change. Heathrow airport is a real place and a symbol for the frenzied movement on which global capitalism thrives. The baggage carousel cannot afford to slow down. Instead, we hear delirious promises of technological solutions, regulation, carbon trading and offsetting, whatever. Just keep the party going.

The camp's declared aim is to stop the building of a third runway, which would expand the number or flights going through Heathrow considerably. For the runway to be built, an entire village would have to be evicted and concreted over, and the media is now turning to cover its struggle. Yesterday they showed it as a postcard of England: the elderly couple and their small well-kept garden; the local pub owner, with his melancholic, understated resolve. Such pictures are easy for viewers to understand and empathise with: they make visible and real the consequences of Heathrow's expansion. Understand, empathise, and move on: progress demands sacrifices. What the media does not and in many ways cannot show, is the real yet invisible link between the ever-more frequent famines, droughts, floods, and the kerosene fuel burnt in Heathrow.

Fossil fuels are an absolute essential to the way we live today, and so much vested interest depends on this order of things that no level of empaty or awareness will bring the necessary change. The rapid depletion of energy sources in the coming decade will be the first step towards transition, but not without a struggle. On the way there, more and more people will realize the unacceptable price of the way we live.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Whenever my life goes out of control, I find myself reading obsessively about the coming oil crisis. It's my very own form of escapism: others go to the cinema, I read about depleting oil fields. There is something very soothing about it. As it seems that the whole petroleum-based economy is going to hit the wall soon at high speed, it puts things into perspective. No place to live? having to move house once a month? struggling to finish my thesis in a state of growing anxiety? sit back and relax while I tell you about the costs of offshore drilling; the fictions of oil reserves figures; the curves of supply and demand graphs. Open wide your eyes, as the peak oil magician continues to conjure food shortages, major panic and a climate disaster.

As I said, it does put things into perspective. The thing is, that even when I get out of my moments of crisis, the oil problem is still there. Did I tell you already? It's running out.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Skipping Hisotry

Once a day I leave my desk at college to go and see my lover in the nearby university institute. On the way I pass by the university dumping site, a hidden corner of amusement and curiosities. Chairs, desks and filing cabinets are guarantied, but sometimes you can find more interesting things. Today the skip had dozens of bookends, a karate suit and belts, and an exercise bicycle. But the most beautiful find was a wooden cataloging cabinet with thirty small drawers, labelled 'history'. I wish I could take it.

The card catalogue is no doubt a thing of the past. It represented a wish to sort the universe according to a rigid set of categories; it had to be constantly maintained, and it was always in crisis. 'No cataloguing system is ever comprehensive' said to me the archive maiden in Oxford Middle East Centre last year. Yet the catalogers tried their best to keep the world in check. Globalisation swept this away: not so much the computer as the Internet. Tabulated databases made way for networks: pyramids of information were replaced with DNA spirals. The triumph of Google is the filing cabinet's kiss of death. The Google algorithm, with its emphasis on paths and links of information rather than content, and flows of information rather than constant structures, has learnt not to search for a euclidean geometrical order in this chaos, but to follow its entropic dancesteps.

This is no song of praise: just like economic globalisation, the death of the authoritative catalogue does not mean a world without hierarchies. It means a more chaotic and confusing world of information, abundance for some and scarcity for many. The Google spider sits in its web and gets fat on something.

When it comes to scholarly work, my own system of cataloguing is dismal, and my note-taking technique continues to fail me at crucial moments. More than anything, I think of myself as scavenger: like in my trips to the wholesale fruit and vegetable market, I pick the rubbish which others left behind: I collect, not to assemble a complete set, but in order to produce a strange collage. My intellectual journey has its logic and aim, but accident is the rule of thumb. At the end of the day, all I can ever produce are my happy findings on a criss-cross journey over a wide field.

I left the catalogue cabinet in its place, but could not resist the karate belt.