Saturday, 30 January 2010

Corrugated iron, corrugated iron, brand new corrugated iron

A couple of dozen poets and three and a half hours of poetry, even in aid of Haiti, stretched my love of the English language this afternoon. It was worth the attention span, though, not least to hear Carole Ann Duffy's closing rendition of Premonitions, dedicated to the memory of U A Fanthorpe but written with the memory of her mother's death in mind.

Gordon and Sarah Brown were the unadvertised openers of the event, with Gordon announcing that the government had today decided to buy up every piece of corrugated iron in the country and ship it to Haiti to provide shelters for the homeless. This prompted Duffy to remark later that they should send the lead off Tony Blair's roof as well.

It reminded me of an old squatters' song we used to sing in the Seventies to the tune of Any Old Iron. Composed by Tony Allen, veteran of the Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Squatters Estate Agency and the godfather of alternative comedy, it went something like this:

Corrugated iron, corrugated iron, brand new corrugated iron,
Yer 'ouse looks neat, talk about a treat
Corrugated iron from the chimney to the street
No water, no gas and the mains all slashed
Can't even have a fire on
And the only thing you've got in yer window box is
Corrugated iron

Friday, 29 January 2010

Aidez Haiti

Philosophy Football's latest shirt 'Aidez Haiti' offers another way help raise much needed funds for Haiti, this time via the TUC Aid Eathquake Appeal. All profits from the shirt will go to the appeal for emergency relief and long-term rehabilitation of the victims of the Haiti earthquake.

Photographer Jes
s Hurd is someone Philosophy Football has worked with in the past year, collaborating on exhibitions. Recently returned from the earthquake zone, she warns that her photos should be viewed with caution; they are extremely harrowing, view them here.

For background on how a natural disaster is made much worse by avoidable human impoverishment, read Seumas Milne here;and for how the Haitian people have been cruelly misrepresented by the media, read Andy Kershaw's powerful antidote to the standard misrepresentations here.

Sign up for Haiti

Carole Ann Duffy, the first female poet laureate, is leading a 'Poetry Live Aid' for Haiti at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday at 2.30pm. She'll be joined by her predecessor Andrew Motion, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, John Agard, Dannie Abse and a dozen or more others. At £10 it's got to be the best value event in London this weekend as well as being in aid of one of themost important causes of the moment.

Meanwhile, I've just joined 300,000 other people in signing a petition for the cancellation of Haiti's US$1 billion debt. Haiti's people should not be made to pay back loans made to unelected dictators years ago even as they struggle to recover from the earthquake.

You can find out more or sign the petition here

The petition below will be delivered to the IMF and G7 finance ministers at their crucial meetings in coming days.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The beautiful game

I'm boarding up the windows in anticipation of this afternoon's Algeria v Egypt African Nations Cup semi final in Angola. Arsenal v Tottenham has got nothing on this one, and after Algeria's explosive World Cup qualifier victory over the Egyptians in Sudan last November the north London Algerian community celebrated with a fireworks display to match the Beijing Olympics.

Chelsea and the Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba is only one of many players and officials who have been complaining about the condition of the pitches in Angola, blaming it for a glut of injuries and poor quality play. Excuses, excuses. I saw one pitch with a road cutting it in two when I lived in east Africa for a while, and another with a tree growing near the centre circle. The quality of play was still higher than you get on our local astroturf.

As for bad conditions, Didier should try playing in Peru, where the the Estadio Daniel Alcides Carrion de Cerro de Pasco stadium is not only about 4,300 metres above sea level but has some, er, challenging weather conditions to boot:

Monday, 25 January 2010

Shanghaied: the missing bottle opener

Now where did they put that bottle opener?

I found Piers Morgan's ITV programme on Shanghai (called, with all the catchy headline-writing skills you'd associate with a former Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan on Shanghai) both entertaining and informative. One hundred and sixteen thousand multi-millionaires in the city? I'd have put it no higher than a hundred thousand.

But Shanghai is obviously growing too quickly for the print media to keep up. Morgan's article for the Mail on Sunday, basically a rehash of the TV commentary, was accompanied by a photo of the Shanghai skyline that was not only missing the smog that is a virtually permanent feature of the city. It also omitted the tallest building in China, the Shanghai World Financial Centre, aka the Bottle Opener. This now towers over the Jin Mao Tower (third building from the right in the MoS photo, above right) and will soon itself be surpassed by the Shanghai Tower, as shown in the model (above left).

Friday, 22 January 2010

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Brown wins election

Google ‘Brown wins election’ at the moment and you get 20.6 million results, which is rather more than most Brits would have expected to see in 2010, when our Gordon finally faces the voters. It’s also about 20 million more than you get for ‘And the lights all went out in Massachusetts’, incidentally, which is of course how most liberal Americans would view the Republican victory in Teddy Kennedy’s old seat.

Or is it? If you take a look at what Tom Jensen of the US pollsters Public Policy Polling has to say on the subject, it seems that Scott Brown only won because most voters thought he was a liberal. According to PPP’s research, ‘Among voters who thought that Scott Brown was either a liberal or a moderate, he won 79-18. Among voters who thought that he was a conservative [the Democratic candidate] won 63-32.’

The lesson there – that the right wing wins when it presents itself as moderate – hasn’t been lost on David Cameron’s Tories, who will continue to present a saccharine face to the rest of us until they’ve got their wellied feet through the door of No 10.

Meanwhile, the man with the biggest egg on his face over the Massachusetts result is the BBC’s Mark Mardell. He stood firm in the face of contrary polling evidence and the views of most commentators on the spot, with his opinion that ‘I don't actually think [the Democrats] will lose the seat’ in an article written in the very week that they did.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Where's my airbrush?

Many more (and make your own) here

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Capitalist roaders

Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Tower was the tallest structure in China, at 468 metres, until 2007, when it was topped by the city’s World Financial Centre (better known as the Bottle Opener because of the trapezoid opening in its upper floors). It’s a mere blade of grass now that the Burj Khalifa in Dubai has checked in at over 800 metres but its ‘space module’ viewing platform is still as good a place as any to watch the human race going to hell in a handcart.

Not so much a handcart, of course, as a motor vehicle. There are around three million of them now in Shanghai, clogging the city’s streets and expressways faster than China’s extraordinary engineering abilities can construct new ones to accommodate them. Looking down from the top of the Pearl Tower on the day that the Copenhagen climate talks crashed, I found it hard to imagine the world’s leaders ever getting to grips with the full enormity of the climate challenge. High above the car-choked metropolis that is in the vanguard of China’s economic miracle you can see only skyscrapers and smog and more skyscrapers and roads stretching out in an endless procession across the east China plain where the river Yangtse disgorges its polluted waters into the sea.

Spending a month in China at the end of last year, I was simultaneously torn between, on the one hand, an awestruck admiration at the sheer scale of the Chinese achievement in raising their cities, at least, to developed-world status in the blink of an historical eye; and, on the other hand, a deadening sense of impotence at the sheer scale of the environmental catastrophe that is following in its wake.

The air pollution in Shanghai, four-fifths of it caused by cars, is so bad that it’s been likened, in all seriousness, to smoking up to 70 cigarettes a day. For every one of the 3,000-plus skyscrapers that have gone up in the past two decades, there is an historic building or neighbourhood that has been flattened. And most of those skyscrapers, awe-inspiring and aesthetically-stunning though the best of them may be, are already showing signs of the design and maintenance flaws that blight high-rise developments worldwide. Cold in winter and blistering hot in summer, they consume energy like a panda gets through bamboo. And for all that the city planners boast that there are now nine square metres of open space per Shanghai resident for every four that existed 20 years ago, there is nowhere outdoors in the city that you can escape the constant drone of the traffic, see clear open sky or breath clean, fresh air.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those who believes that the people of China (or India or Brazil or anywhere else, for that matter) should forgo the development that has already raised 190 million people out of poverty in order that the west doesn’t have to worry about global warming. But there is a real dilemma here.

For all the obligatory green noises that accompany every official statement (the line in the Chinese media after the failure in Copenhagen was that China would continue to try to save the planet on its own), the kind of rampant capitalism on display in Shanghai is about as far removed from sustainable development as you can get. In the absence of cheap energy, the whole shebang would come – probably literally – tumbling down.

The problems arising from China’s huge-scale, top-down rush to development are unlikely to be solved other than by huge-scale, top-down environmental initiatives of the kind that can make small-scale, local environmental actions seem all a bit pointless. If this sounds like a recipe for inaction and despair, it isn’t meant to be. If even a part of the technological genius and socio-political will that transformed the paddy fields and marshland around Shanghai can be turned to environmental objectives, there is no limit to what might be achieved. In the meantime, it is good to be back breathing the clean air of England once again.