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Terrible moments in book cover design.

What is going on here?  In this designers fevered imagination, which seems to be modelled on some sick crossover between The Wind in the Willows and Wall Street, the order of the natural world is such that Sciurus carolinensi (top left) and Oryctolagus cuniculus (bottom right) have decided that their optimal survival behaviour is to hoard each other’s food.

WHY?  Why would they do this?  Can you even imagine what a massive pain in the ass it would be for a squirrel to haul around a load of carrots?  Where the fuck is (s)he going to keep them?

The only economic logic to this would be if it took less energy for a squirrel to accumulate a quantity of carrots to be exchanged with the rabbit for a quantity of acorns greater than those that could have been accumulated through equivalent energy expenditure by the same squirrel.

Are carrots that valuable?

Have you ever seen a rabbit with an acorn?


Of course you haven’t.  Because rabbits don’t go around collecting acorns.  Their (adorable) little paws are singularly unsuited to collecting acorns.

Would rabbits get into the acorn trading game? Carrots typically take just over a month to flower, which means they’re available pretty much all year round.  Acorns fall from trees between September and November.

Acorns are scarcer than carrots.

Now, last time I checked, rabbits can’t climb trees.  Well, certainly not OAK TREES.  So that’s a three month window to accumulate something it doesn’t need in order to trade it for something it does, but which is available anyway.

Which again, begs the question, why would the squirrel (who CAN climb trees and access acorns earlier and easier) waste valuable time accumulating carrots to hoard (in a flooded marketplace) and exchange with a trading partner who’d presumably have the same access to carrots year-round anyway? For that matter, given that squirrels can climb trees, how would a rabbit manage to get hold of acorns in the first place?

So what is happening here?

The squirrel is clearly economically illiterate and highly likely to either starve to death or be eaten by a financially cannier predator.

The rabbit has a clear advantage (holding something scarce).  But why it would even consider hoarding the acorns makes no sense.  Unless it’s out of spite.

Are rabbits spiteful?

This remains to be seen.

Can you give a flavour of some of the key principles behind derivatives, securities and risk management using anthropomorphic representations of animals bartering their respective stereotypical foodstuffs?

You can, but it demonstrates a very limited understanding of woodland ecology, supply and demand, scarcity and access costs.

And it makes some very dubious assumptions about both the intelligence of squirrels and the psychological motivations of rabbits in economic transactions.





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Grievable life, ten years on.

National melancholia, understood as a disavowed mourning, follows upon the erasure from public representations of the names, images, and narratives of those the US has killed.  On the other hand the US’s own losses are consecrated in public obituaries that constitutes so many acts of nation-building.  Some lives are grievable, and others are not; the differential allocation of grievability that decides what kind of subject is and must be grieved, and what kind of subject must not, operates to produce and maintain certain exclusionary conceptions of who is normatively human: what counts as a livable life and a grievable death? – Judith Butler, Precarious Life.

Set aside, for a moment, the American context of the passage above, and the fact that it was written over ten years ago.  It could have been written about the United Kingdom.  It could have been written yesterday.  The great paradox of the last fifteen years, since the declaration of  perpetual war against a tactical abstraction is that for all the talk of everything having changed, a remarkable degree of continuity remains.  As the government prepares the construction of a memorial to the British victims of terrorism over the past ten years (who number, including aid workers, less than 100), the perpetual acting-out of  trauma through a narcissistic, inward looking grief culture inevitably precludes any way to properly work-through this trauma and develop appropriate responses.

“Our” dead are, once again, endowed with vivid inner lives and identities: they were fathers, mothers, football fans, teachers, students; they had aspirations, histories and connection to communities; their faces were our faces.

It is a crude arithmetic that would place the scores killed under the streets of London, the beaches of Tunisia or the Syrian desert alongside the tens of thousands killed in the various “operations” to “secure Britain at home” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and perhaps many more (unofficial) locations.  To create such a ledger would also be a category mistake, because the critique here is not that the innocence of people killed is produced by degree relative to their location, but rather is absolute.  An Afghan farmer is no more responsible for his incineration at the hands of a drone operator than a holidaymaker is responsible for the deranged, gun wielding fanatic.

This is the heart of the problem, though.  Through the ongoing presence of a culture of mourning -vis e vis terrorism-that valourises the innocence of the Western victim whilst not only remaining silent but often actively working to anonymise the Other when they suffer a similar fate, we have fail to develop an ethical imagination appropriate to the globalised world from which we benefit; if innocent life curtailed by violent death is a priori grievable, then this applies to all who suffer this fate.

The above point is not a new claim; indeed it is at he heart of what Butler, and other theorists of cosmopolitan ethics have been writing about since the late 1990’s.  The tragedy of this is that we seem further, not closer, to incorporating the idea that all victims of violence, dispensed by states, armed groups or individuals had individual identities, lives and families; pasts and presents but, no longer, futures. To cultivate an ethical apparatus which is able to perceive in a way which refuses to create victim hierarchies, either explicitly (through the dehumanisation of the Other) or implicitly (by elevating proximate victims through grief-narratives) is more important than ever.

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Radio Geographies and Documentary Film

I’m going on a course in a couple of weeks which, hopefully, is going to show me how to make documentary films using the BBC’s clips archive (although ongoing access to this isn’t going to be available until, well, who knows).

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about communicating research, and how my PhD might be communicated “otherwise”, particularly through film.  Consequently, I’ve been having very early trawl through some of the available videos in the BFI archive and other, linked repositories at the Imperial War Museum.

This post is mainly an excuse to link to this extraordinary film about the “brave new world” of military radio engineering in the 1970’s.  I don’t want to say too much about it, perhaps that’s for later, but it gives a wonderful illustration of the early development of human-technological-military assemblage. Just as in the basic tenets of professional soldiering, the recruit(s) are drilled to become a component in the wider body of the unit/platoon, and also the disciplinary assembling/disassembling of one’s rifle, here we see the training of specialists to connect and become part of the advanced radio/radar assemblages which were becoming vital to Britain’s military apparatus.  Even without the sinister feedback spiral at the end of the film and the bizarre ballroom jazz as the guns are inspected, this is a fascinating piece of military/social history.

WordPress’s seeming hatred for the embedding of video (or rather, my inability to get the html code from the Imp. War Museum to work) means that this link will have to do for now.

More, I hope, in due course…

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March 18, 2014 · 5:39 pm


I am not together with time

Not togetherness brought on by common desire of liberation and love and lust

For one blended mass

But against an anxiety or failure,

An anxiety of failure, an anxiety at the inevitability of failure no matter what

No if or how or when we do as we do we must always do.

Be more,

Be on the move, extending our skillsets

Capabilities to success


This for


There is no solution

There is no positive program

They are words dead and immobile and insincere in their warming homely logic,

Evaporating from lips as one more cold porcelain urn tips out ash on an anonymous body of water and small brass plaques explain “She loved this place”

You have freedom from  toxic death outsourced and displaced to elsewhereland,

A freedom of the comforting and comfortable and comforted conforming cabals of five-story new-build keycard entry apartment apparatus

Floating heavy in the foggy twilight of plenty

The money bubble vexing, veiling every boxed, dead life.

Dead and live again

Dead and live again

Shuffling from nine to unit time of five and back again.

Out  through the long concrete grass

Out into the hinterland

Passed out into units units units

Trading estates and enterprise zones,

Amputated labour

Prosthetic capital

Anxious again awaiting the call

You must always be on the lookout for opportunity 

And maybe then to be motioned, ushered upwards towards brochure-red brick unit with white plastic door,

With white plastic window frame and

White plastic interior design photoshopped

Ushered into the concentric circles

Occasional trees off a trunk road and roundabout,

Arterial road and roundabout.

Trunk and artery and roundabout and cul-de-sac

You are re-located attractive package to transmit you and yours back and forth,

And back and forth from nine to unit time of five and longer now

Back again, your image metastasising

Your unit grows.

Slowly overproducing the image of you

Slowly overconsuming the image of you

Slowly, slowly

Imperceptibly larger by the day

The fat little tumor of your unit

You will be all you can be

In your hallways and on your stairs and by your beds the photographs hang like fascist totems.

Silent smiles and nods to nuclearity

To still-born sanity and regularity

Of you and her and her and little-then-larger his and her replication of you and her and once and once and twice again in the delivery room you wait.

On the factory floor you wait.

In the call centre cubicle you wait.

In the open plan office you wait.

At the transport hub you wait

I must always be ready.

And you are all you can be

But your memory will not outlast time

Your cells will destabilise

Your unit will destabilise

Your mind will run out

And time will outlast your children too

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Immigration: The debate we’re “not allowed to have?”

Racist vans, UK Border agency goons racially profiling commuters and the bizarre spectacle of the Home Office twitter feed gleefully broadcasting tweets and pictures of people being arrested in a clear attempt to get #immigrationoffenders trending.  Aside from the contempt of court necessitated by this, the “debate” on immigration seems to have taken on a far more poisonous hue of late.

The problem with the “debate” on immigration is that we’re constantly being told by those of the Daily Wail/UKIP/Centre for Social Cohesion/Migration Watch persuasion that it’s “The one debate we’re not allowed to have”.  This would be more convincing if the debate on immigration weren’t constantly being conducted, and at the most hysterical register imaginable.  Any attempt to “have the debate on immigration”, we’re told, is immediately slapped down by the “multiculti thought police”.  If only. 

Mainstream current affairs panels such as question time have featured participants who have repeatedly claimed that New Labour engineered mass immigration in the early 2000’s as method of creating a permanent majority and annihilating “indigenous” British culture.  These deranged conspiracy theories and views like them are regularly articulated as part of the “debate” on immigration and are, by and large, subject to very little of the de-bunking and ridicule they deserve.  

The government’s current policy seems to be working on a dishonest conflation of legal and illegal migration.  Illegal immigrants are hardly going to see the billboard van, realise the error of their ways and hand themselves in to police, so clearly the target of this semion is all migrants (code: non-white).  In addition to this, those arrested in the heavy-handed, speculative sweeps made by UKBA (which, let it be remembered, has recently been completely discredited as a functioning agency) would have rights of appeal and will not be instantly deported (no doubt to the apoplexy of those at Telegraph towers).  

The central focus of the “debate on immigration” which is, in reality, never mentioned is pretty much the same question which isn’t allowed to be asked of the financial crisis and global recession, namely the stagnation of real wages and their replacement with an unsustainable credit bubble.  It’s much easier to placate a workforce whose wages have stayed the same or dropped in comparison with senior managers if financial institutions can provide cheap, easy credit to pick up the slack.  Real wealth is concentrated at to the top through ever increasing remuneration packages whilst the chimerical feeling of wealth generated by credit serve only to shackle those at the bottom.  

The eternal refrain of anti-immigrant rhetoric is that of “them” coming over “here” and undercutting (rather than taking) “our” workers.  This isn’t a problem of immigration or borders, it’s a problem of not having wages which keep pace with the cost of living and, moreover, a lack of enforcement in the paying of the minimum wage by unscrupulous employers.  This is the only place where undercutting takes place by “illegal” migrants, at the level below the minimum wage where employers can pay their (illegal) labor force whatever they chose and face no opposition, as they can be blackmailed using their status at any time.  This, of course, is to say nothing of the massive number of “illegal immigrants” who are “working” in circumstances and under conditions which vary from indentured (debt) labor through to slavery.

As for those here working legally, either on visas or as citizens of EU countries, there really is no debate to be had.  Because it’s not a debate about immigration, it’s about membership of the EU.  Such a debate has begun, or really it’s re-started, as it never really went away.  It seems unlikely that a majority of people, no matter what some of them  might say in more lubricated moments at the golf club bar would vote for a the economic suicide which would accompany the an outright exit of a trading bloc which contains all of our biggest trading partners.  This may not be the case, though, if the “debate” on EU membership is conducted with the same level of ignorance and inaccuracy with which it has been thus far. 

The misinformation, dishonesty and divisive, populist rhetoric which is employed by the anti-immigrant lobby has poisoned the possibility of there actually being a sensible debate on immigration, not the lack of trying to have one.  It’s a common tactic amongst capitalist societies to ensure that the instability generated by periodic crises of capital are managed through the setting of the working poor, under-employed and unemployed and marginalised groups against each other, preventing attention being turned towards the underlying socio-economic conditions of massive concentrations of capital and political power in the hands of unregulated corporate monopolies and compromised political classes.  

As red herrings go, immigration is as big as they come.  

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The strange case of the BBC, North Korea and the LSE

A Panorama special with John Sweeney is due to be aired on the BBC next week.  The facts so far, as I can gather them, are this:

A group of students from the LSE including Sweeney’s wife travelled to North Korea earlier this year on an eight day trip under the auspices of academic research.  Sweeney travelled with the group too, although as an undercover journalist, filming secret footage which will form the basis of the Panorama program.

The inevitable debate will concern who-knew-what-when but this raises some uncomfortable questions.  According to Sweeney the students on the trip were “fully aware of the risks”, although this begs the question of exactly how much they knew about his status and reasons for travelling.  Apparently some students believed he was another academic, or post-graduate student, although the idea that they were unaware of exactly who was on staff in their own department seems unusual to say the least.

I’m sure more will come out about this in the next few days as the program is to be aired tomorrow night as “North Korea undercover” at 9pm on BBC 1, and if nothing else Sweeney seems a master at self publicity.  He strikes me as a reporter very much in the Andrew Gilligan mould, and whilst his outburst in a previous documentary about Scientology has become the stuff of journalistic legend, this plan seems ill thought out at best, and outright irresponsible at worst.  Of course there is a legitimate interest in what is going on in North Korea, although perhaps a documentary solely dedicated to the voices of those who have escaped to the South would suffice.  All foreign nationals in North Korea are given teams of minders and shown only an approved picture of the country.  Given this it is unclear what is gained by one “secret reporter” embedded in an academic field trip would add to our knowledge of the country.  Of course as I write this the program hasn’t yet been screened, so we’ll wait before passing judgement.

The reality though, is that no one will come out of this looking good, given that one or more of the following seems to have been the case:

EIther (as the LSE’s media are claiming) the BBC has sanctioned Sweeney to smuggle himself into a country under academic pretences in search of a story, a story that–no matter how important–comes at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions in the region.  If this is the case and neither the students or the LSE knew of Sweeney’s intentions then this is the height of irresponsibility and threatens not only LSE students/academics travelling to sensitive regions in the future, but the reputation of the profession generally.  Similarly, if the LSE, through Sweeney’s wife was also aware of the deception, then this shows a disregard for the safety of students involved.  They may have signed up for an academic research trip to North Korea but I imagine many may have had serious reservations had they been aware that a journalist would be travelling incognito alongside them.

The most worrying possibility though is that everyone was, so to speak, “in on it” and that the students either wanted or were encouraged to feel a sense of “danger-research/secret agent” fantasies towards the trip.  Such an attitude is an even greater threat to academia’s capacity to get into and be trusted in sensitive areas.

Of course, certain institutions international relations departments are notorious for having staff and post-graduates who have…shall we say…”cosy” relationships with both the foreign office and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and this kind of ill conceived tabloid subterfuge will do little to help dispel suspicions of researchers working in geopolitically sensitive areas of the world.

It will be interesting to see how this story develops.


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Netanyahu, Red-lines and Geopolitical History.

Benjamin Netanyahu to the UN General Assembly, 27/09/2012

At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs. That’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Red lines don’t lead to war; red lines prevent war.

Look at NATO’s charter: it made clear that an attack on one member country would be considered an attack on all. NATO’s red line helped keep the peace in Europe for nearly half a century.

President Kennedy set a red line during the Cuban Missile Crisis. That red line also prevented war and helped preserve the peace for decades.

In fact, it’s the failure to place red lines that has often invited aggression.

If the Western powers had drawn clear red lines during the 1930s, I believe they would have stopped Nazi aggression and World War II might have been avoided.

In 1990, if Saddam Hussein had been clearly told that his conquest of Kuwait would cross a red line, the first Gulf War might have been avoided.

Clear red lines have also worked with Iran.

Earlier this year, Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormouz. The United States drew a clear red line and Iran backed off.

Red lines could be drawn in different parts of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But to be credible, a red line must be drawn first and foremost in one vital part of their program: on Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium.

Apart from all the other, creepy parts of this Bibi’s speech (it seemed for a while as though he was giving a PR/motivational speech for “Corporation Israel”, the quotation above seemed the most ridiculous, the most ill-informed and lacking in a knowledge of international relations.  For someone who’s been Israeli PM twice, such ignorance (or wilful misrepresentation) is unacceptable.

I’m going to have a go at “Fisking” the above section…

So, NATO’s “red line” hardly kept the peace during the Cold War.  The idea that the USSR was dis-incentivised to launch a first strike against the USA because the collective security articles of NATO’s treaty doesn’t make sense. (Any Soviet attack would have been directed against the US, not against other NATO members.  What he seems to be saying is that the USSR was put off from launching an attack on West Germany, Britain, Austria etc.. for fear of an American retaliation, whereas all strategic logic indicates that any attack would have been total)

Which leads us to….

According to Netanyahu, “Red-lines” prevented the escalation of the Cuban Missile crisis into nuclear war which, unless Bibi is denying pretty much every historical account of the crisis which exists, is at best disingenuous, at worst outright nonsense.

Whatever “Red-lines” he seems to be referring to (location of missiles in cuba in the first instance or the allowing of transport ships to deliver components to Cuba during the crisis), they don’t seem to stack up.  The Cuban missile crisis was part of an dialectic of escalation within super-power competition caused largely by miscalculation, both of intelligence and intentions which led both sides blindly fumbling towards the brink of a war of annihilation which neither of them desired in the slightest but became convinced that the Other was hell-bent on provoking.  Redlines didn’t prevent a nuclear war, on the contrary, it was, it seems, pure luck (and, in no small part, the resistance of both Kennedy and Kruschev to listen to the advice of their more bellicose generals and defence advisors)

What next?  Oh right, the 1930’s “Nazi appeasement” argument.

If only Britain, France and others had put clear Red-lines around territorial boundaries in Europe, and had they only been willing to go to war on these, early on, then WWII could have been avoided.

To quote Bibi again, “yeah right”

This only stands if you take a very specific counter-factual history which reads German re-armament at a stage in the early-mid 1930’s (the start of Hitler’s territorial expansionism) as being at such a nascent stage that it would be overwhelmed in war by a united front of European nations standing against it.

This is an essentially contested point in the history of international relations and war studies, it is far from clear that what would have resulted from a war in 1934 or 1936 as opposed to 1939 would have been any “better” as a result of a policy of “Red-lines” (the idea that the Holocaust would have been avoided is, likewise moot.  You could just as easily make the case that a Germany defeated in a limited European war could have left Hitler in power, free to implement policies of internal repression entirely unhindered or, otherwise, a Soviet invasion of the whole of Europe.  This is the problem with counter-factual history, very quickly, the variables multiply and escape ones clutches, as though one were trying to capture specs of dust born on a ray of light).

What’s left? Oh right, Kuwait.

British foreign policy engagement with the Ottoman Empire in 1913 resulted in the slicing off of a traditional piece of Mesopotamia and the establishment of the Emirate of Kuwait as a (partial) sop to various other components of territorial and political horse-trading which became part and parcel of the British cartographies of imperialism.  Fast forward through the 20th century (including Britain’s brutal suppression of Iraqi resistance to it’s colonial mandate and recall Winston Churchill’s famous quote that in Mesopotamia “I wholly support the use of poison gas against uncivilised tribes”) to a series of territorial disputes involving Iraq’s (seemingly quite legitimate claims) that Kuwait was involved in “slant drilling” operations in Kuwaiti oilfields, across the border, destabilising existing Iraqi wells.  The specifics, as usual, seem not to concern here.  However, the idea that some “Red-line”, clearly drawn, would have somehow prevented the Hussein regime from invading is bizarre.


Either Netanyahu is saying that Hussein was a rational actor who would have backed down on the dispute,  faced with the knowledge that the invasion of Kuwait would have resulted in the massive military response it did.  This, though undermines the narrative of Saddam as the unhinged, unpredictable rogue dictator who destabilised the regional balance of power.

Alternatively, he’s saying that the charter of the UN which prohibits wars of aggression and threatens consequence for violators had been read, internalised and calculated by the regime who considered that this “Red-line” (which is what it is) could be crossed with a minimum of comeback.  In neither case does the “Red-line” seem in any way an indicative marker of state behaviour (before or after the fact).

Ugh.  Anything left?  Oh right, The Strait of Hormuz.  This is a classic post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc fallacy.  Or it would be, if anything had actually happened.  Hormuz is an important geo-strategic choke point in contemporary globalization.  Partly as a response to a Western military build up in the gulf (16 US/American Warships including 2 Aircraft carriers, and unknown numbers of Submarines as of January this year), the Irainan vice president remarked that in response to sanctions, his country could seek to prevent oil exports moving through the strait.  They didn’t.  The military build up still remains.  To connect this, somehow to the drawing of a political “Red-line” to which one state backed down in the face of a threat by a powerful coalition of others is to confuse cause and effect. Any Iranian threat to close the strait is a response to sanctions and threats against it (you could make the argument that closing the strait is what would happen if Iran was attacked, thereby making it the consequence of their own “Red-line”).


In conclusion, showing the UN General Assembly a big picture of a cartoon bomb is a sure sign of a limited understanding of geopolitical history.


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