giovedì, novembre 13, 2008

When did 'provocative' become a synonym for shitty?

Hoping for third time lucky at the maison communale today. Belgian institutional incompetence still not getting to me - much. Not as much as the economy, as I wrote about 131 more layoffs yesterday and there are strong deflationary pressures deflating things. Including the British pound, which is actually approaching euro levels. Can you fucking believe it? I can't. Do you fucking care? I do. We're going to London next week - I have a conference, and then a date with Rodelinda, and the F-word and I both want to see the Francis Bacon exhibition at Tate Britain. Skipping the Turner Prize exhibition, though we could get a bundled ticket for a mere extra GBP 2.5 or EUR 2.9. It's not that we dislike the sort of things they have on display, it's just that there's no reason in heaven, hell, or in between to pay EUR 2.9 to look at the sort of things they have on display.

And looking at the things they have on display, I must point out I do actually dislike the things they have on display. Crawling up the asshole of something that had already crawled up its own asshole and died. It would all just be a ghastly joke, except there are actual artistic endeavours rolling out all over the world that aren't unbearably boring and masturbatory, and that don't rely on relentless, unimaginative referentialism and the least intriguing and involved symbolism possible for their impact or appeal, and that would benefit by a fraction of the attention this ridiculous, expensive Guarniad joke garners for assholes so mentally and aptitudinally debile they rip off Jeff Koons.

Anyways, I'm off to queue now.

mercoledì, novembre 12, 2008

Are you going to the Scarborough job fair

Off to the maison communale again this morning to get the provisional license. We'll see if anybody bothered showing up today. Sigh. Fucking failed state! Otherwise in a good mood - sort of. A therebutforthegraceofGodgoI sort of mood, actually. Yesterday, a couple hours before deadline, I got breaking news of 500 people getting sacked via two different companies. One of the sites was in Scarborough, my earthly paradise when I was a child. It made me sad. Besides tourist trade I'd figured there was already nothing to do for work there and now there's 100 or so fewer things to do. And all of the other editors present also got word of mass layoffs, all that afternoon.

Balance I suppose - so many people were off for four days for the Armistice celebrations and then it's still more than a month before Christmas, so nobody can accuse the companies of ruining anybody's holidays . . . except, of course, a lot of these layoffs will roll out just before or just after the holidays. I shouldn't think about it so much. But I do. No doubt for selfish reasons - doing it to remind myself my own current prosperity may be ephemeral and I mustn't do things like buy a kayak until I'm a little more confident I won't be getting sacked.

Could be worse. Wrapping up Runciman's First Crusade. I could have been anybody in that, particularly one of the poor people or the women, and that would have sucked. You know I've actually met people who've defended the crusades as more than desperate land grabs by aristocratic younger sons? No doubt thousands of the people who went were seeking something holy, but I see no way they'd have gone to war without fierce goading by their ruling classes. Which brings me to my favorite Goering quote, given when the lousy asshole was awaiting suicide at Nuremberg, trotted out here because I've got to run to the maison communale now and it's as good a way to wrap up as any:

"Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship . . . voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

martedì, novembre 11, 2008

The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little

Work is much more interesting these past two months, I have to say, as the economy tanks. Even in the good times, and 2007 counted as a good time for the markets I cover, it was always dancing on the edge of catastrophe, in part thanks to the corruption of some of the players, in part because of capital flight to Asia and the Americas as regulation here got stronger - anyways, it was always in trouble, and now it's melting down, and the people I'm interviewing are aware it's melting down. Some of them are distressed, and one can't help but be sympathetic, though I'm not as soon as I hang up, really - I feel sorry for the thousands of employees under them. By the time anybody is authorized to speak with me they make obscene pay packets, and anybody pulling in such pay packets over even five years should be pretty much set for life now.

Their employees, not so much. I mean, they are mostly Europeans who I speak to, and those labour types who aren't Mediterranean or British have the sort of excellent conditions that will see them get a healthy severance package, some retraining and decent pogey. Things could be worse for a lot of people, but I suppose when you're feeling these things it's not necessarily relative, and you're not thinking about all the poor cunts in China who are losing their jobs without a safety net. People are distressed.

They've just promoted me so now would be a funny time for them to sack me. I suppose if I was thinking sensibly, what I should be worrying about is how tiny a raise they're going to give me next year after working my promotion into the budget. But - and I can't believe I'm writing this - thank god I live in Belgium; they have to give me a healthy percentage legally just to keep up with the inflation index - it's the law here. So that's not really what I'm thinking about. I'm not thinking about a whole hell of a lot, actually. My equilibrium is just a bit disturbed because my mum is pre-emptively worrying about the economic fates of all us childers, and confided that worry in me last night after I'd spent the day researching how the markets I cover are crashing (answer: messily).

And now I feel that I can't worry. Because these things are relative. The F-word and I have so much to be thankful for compared to most people our age: I have no debt, and he only has Australian student debt, which amounts to much the same thing; we both have substantial and safe savings; and, for now, the money is still rolling in. At work I see things getting pretty bad - worse in some places than others, but pretty bad all over. But we're going to make it and I have a horrible feeling many other people won't. So how can I worry? I can't. The global economy has unveiled itself as a huge set of masticating jaws grinding us all up, and what complaints can I make when billions of people are in front of us in the queue to docilely march into them?

Ah, shit. Where's the change I can believe in? We all have to try something else.

lunedì, novembre 10, 2008

You've got to think, oh geez, would I do that?

Got the papers for my provisional license yesterday. Took them to the maison communale so as to get my actual provisional license - this thing is a Byzantine complex of complexity. But the maison communale was closed. Not because yesterday was a holiday - because today is a holiday, and they do the 'bridge' here to get four day weekends. And you know what? It didn't piss me off one little bit. I shrugged and walked on. It's like my boss told me once upon a time: when something in Belgium goes right (qualifying for the provisional license), celebrate it; when something goes wrong (incompetent, bloated civil service not showing up for work because nobody feels like it) accept it as the status quo, and walk on . . .

Today isn't any old holiday, but Remembrance Day. Actually, Armistice Day is what they call it here. Commemorating the end of the first world war, rather than the war itself, which is reasonable. In German (which is an official language here, as well as French and Flemish/Dutch - little known fact to help you at your trivia nights), it's Waffenstillstand. Isn't that adorable? Waffenstillstand. Hee hee hee. Who knew people who talk a language that adorable could murder millions of ethnic types so soon after the waffenstillstand of the first world war. Waffenstillstand. Precious. I guess it didn't stand still for long.

Anyways, I'm not doing much to celebrate. I keep thinking, living in Belgium as I do, that I should visit some of the nearby killing fields, get devastatingly high, and spend an hour or so mourning those millions of young men who were maimed and slaughtered in the interests of their ruling classes. Today's certainly not the day for that, though. It's raining, I'm working, and the killing fields will be choked to the gills with visitors.

But last night, we did watch some more Australian television, Four Corners this time, doing a special on how the first world war has been used and abused by politicians and different kinds of historians. I recommend it if you have a spare hour or so. One thing I like a lot about Four Corners is that the documentaries have an arc . . . 20, 25 minutes of the proceedings, and then around minute 30 there's some sort of fucking punch to the gut that alters the entire philosophy of the thing at hand. In this case, it comes from Garth Patten, an Australian teacher at UK's Sandhurst military academy, who after more than half an hour of war historians making more or less wanky arses of themselves - acting like the scarier kind of nerdy child who gets really excited over toy soldiers - sketches out why the first world war continues to be important in the training of the officer class. And it's fucking devastating, what he says.

The whole extended interview with him was fascinating. It was interesting to hear what all the interviewees had to say in the context of a discussion about how the first world war has been used, wankers included, but I would have liked to just listen to Garth Patten talk for the full hour. Whenever anybody asks me from now on why I went into the military strategy concentration for my international relations degree, I'm going to send them to that interview. Military strategy and its history tell you the horrible secrets about humans' relationships with each other. My undergrad, with all that literature, music, philosophy, language and art, was about the romantic secrets of how people relate to each other; the grad degree was about the ghastly, ugly, irredeemable secrets. And you know, it's the grad degree that prepared me for business journalism. Sigh. Off to the wars now.

domenica, novembre 09, 2008

It's not bad, it's good tucker

Yesterday we were going to go to Antwerp, get high, and look at Russian dolls. You know, that sentence is the answer to a bunch of questions about female preferences right there, notably, 'how do struggling artistic types (in this case the F-word) manage to score women who you'd think would be going for rich types because they have more resources and we are ruled by our Selfish Genes?' Here's one answer: the artistic types' aesthetic sense is such that they are not only willing to, but propose getting high and looking at Russian dolls. Squeeeee! Dolls! But we didn't go. We started in the wrong order, getting high before going to Antwerp, and then it just didn't roll out - I wanted a woodland ramble in the nearby Dudenpark, as well as to catch up on my own life here by cleaning out our shithole of an apartment a bit, and go for a lovely long grocery shop on the Parvis and the big Delhaize next to the Porte de Hal, and then to bake some bread, and then to do a little light social visiting.

So I or we did all that, and the soda bread I made was a fucking winner - extremely good. The first time I've made a heavy multigrain bread that really worked instead of seeming like a murder weapon. It will be hard to go back to yeasty breads now, particularly as this only took 10 minutes to prepare and 20 to bake. I worked off of this recipe but made some changes:

- we don't have any buttermilk so I used normal milk with a squirt of white vinegar stirred into it
- instead of using only oats, I used mostly oats and some rye flakes
- I used maple syrup instead of sugar
- instead of sprinking sesame seeds on top, I sprinkled cumin seeds, thinking in my height that they were caraway seeds. But the cumin was actually really fucking good.

This weekend was also notable for the quantity of Australian television that we watched. Not sure why. I think the F-word is getting nostalgic as the fucking stupid northern European winter sets in, and I'm probably just looking for a replacement for the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, now that I don't care about the American election anymore. Three shows: Bush Mechanics, Bush Tucker Man, and The Chaser's War on Everything. Call me a stoner but I loved them all. Bush Tucker Man was probably my least favourite, not for the concept, but for the way the Steve-Irwinish Australianisms made the F-word cringe (one of them being the title of this post). He tried to tell me it would be like a Canadian television host using 'eh' at the end of every sentence and saying 'aboot' in an exagerrated fashion, but I'm hard pressed to see any problem with that.

Anyhoo. The Chaser's War on Everything is great. I can't compare it to much - it's a satirical show whose stunts are simultaneously cuter, edgier and, as the title suggests, more scattershot than one is used to from Canadian and American satirical shows. Here's their most famous stunt to date, and the one they only cleared up the legal trouble from earlier this year . . .

But the clear and absolute fucking winner was Bush Mechanics, which I'm tempted to call the best television show ever. I don't like using language enervating or prejudicial to our gay brethren and sethren, particularly after the brutality that's been done to them and their ability to swear their fucking lives away to their lovers in a bunch of American states, but what can I say, it seems my education has failed to provide me with an adequate simile beyond this one (yes, I'm blaming society): Bush Mechanics makes the protagonists of Pimp My Ride look like a bunch of fucking mincing fairy queens. Have a quick judge for yourself with this little teaser.

And on that note, I'm off for the final lesson before hopefully getting my provisional license . . .