Thursday, July 30, 2009

Books and Characters: calling all historians.

Disclaimer: do not read this post if you aren't a really big geek.

MOST interesting characters at the archives today. The old man who sat behind me repeatedly exclaimed random words from the documents he was reviewing. "Krieg!!" "1942!!" "Vereinbarung mit der Sowjetunion!" "Gewerkschaft!" I tried with ALL of my might not to burst into hysterical giggles. Not to mention, he smelled like urine. Oh, and that's not all. The youngest archivist, whose sexual orientation I can't seem to gage, was drunk. He seemed so excited to see me: "Hallo! Frau Wiesen!" So when I asked him to fetch me these files, he came back with the wrong ones, only to stumble out of the room again.

Tomorrow is my last day in Berlin, and I've got to say, I'm going to miss the oddness of this place and its people. But alas, I must return to my second home, the library at the London School of Economics and Politics.

I miss Weldon. The last few days of my undergrad, some dear, like-minded friends and I decided a photo-shoot in our 'house' would be just the thing to finish off the year. My feeling is that, the more industrial the library, the more efficient I am. I suppose it would be entirely different if I was studying English literature or something equally romantic. But oh no. Onto empiricism, tables and graphs! Enough to make any historian shiver, really. And that's the thing...I feel like I've become a real historian. I balk at the thought of enumerating trade data, as opposed to diplomatic exchanges. The latter, which includes personality quirks, childish behavior, (see King of Spain, telling Chavez to 'shutup') and general madness, shape what we plebs understand as international relations. It's bloody brilliant.

Best example of what I'm talking about. Chavez verbally bitch-slapping Bush. Wonderful. Posterity will be grateful for Youtube. THIS is the future of history:

Here's the Weldonia, a fortress of greatness.


ps. I'm really cool.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cafe Observations.


Kreuzberg, Berlin-.

I spy with my little eye: a girl that has a crush. He came in, gave her a kiss on the cheek and asked for a beer. As he turned to find a table to sit at, I saw that very same cheek flush as she ruffled her hair. Rearranging herself. Shyly asking her co-worker how she looks. He likes her too. She just brought him his latte, and his eyes followed her all the way to the patio. He's a writer. Working on his manuscript. Every time she passes him by their eyes meet. It's silly, but so damn beautiful.

Do I have to mention the obvious? I'm attracted to the fact that they were not yet an item. Thrills, and all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Daydream, believer?


What happened at the archives yesterday? Well, I took 1200mg of Ibuprofen (accidentally on an empty stomach) to take care of a suspect back ache. About an hour into my research things started to become strange. The somewhat creepy, but entirely charming archivist, Herr Jakobi, approached me requesting with urgency that I give him two documents dealing with Chile in late 1972, right before the coup. The files had nothing too outlandish in it, but some details of CIA contacts with the right wing opposition. Unfortunately, I was working on one of them. Jakobi explained that a gentleman needed to see them right away and pointed in the direction of a young guy sitting by the computers. Fire red hair, muscular, with a sarcastic facial expression that was all, 'I'm not your average historian'. At this point, frantic and unnecessary questions began to monopolize my thoughts. 'Why did he need to see these files so urgently? Surely Historians are never in a rush?', 'What's in this file?'... and so on.

I daydream a lot, but yesterday was different. My drug induced imagination began to run wild. Here's how it went:

Firebox, (ie. the man who wanted the files), came and sat down beside me, browsing the internet on his laptop, while pretending to look through some documents. His phone was constantly vibrating, and he would leave the reading room, stand behind the glass door and stare at me. When he returned, I politely asked when he needed the document by, and he replied impatiently that as long as I was there on Monday, all would be well. Why Monday? I then imagined that he was from the CIA, and that he was trying to prevent me from uncovering some dirty dirty secret about America's role in the Pinochet coup. Recent literature on the subject has come to the conclusion that what happened in those fateful years in Chile, unlike Guatemala, was mostly a result of economic mismanagement and extremely polarised political forces, fighting for supremacy. The US role, despite Kissinger's famous words, "I don't see why we have to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people," was in fact not so important in the downfall of Allende's government. But what if there was something more we didn't know? It's not like it would change anything, it would just further solidify the arguments of those who believe America is a pure Empire (such as myself). But truth is justice for so many people in the world. Reconciliation also has to come from the US side.

My mind started spinning. I imagined that on my bike ride home from the archives I was followed by a black unmarked car that I stealthily got away from on a dirt path. Before going back to the house, I decided to hide behind the fence near the train tracks, and sure enough, there was Firebox at the door, snooping around. Somehow I procure a gun, approach him, and tell him that he better confess. I order him to give me any weapons he has, immediately. And then, just like Jack Bauer, I make some empty threats: "Tell me what you know!"

At this point, Firebox leans over to me in the archives and introduces himself. He's a student, with the army, and he wants to use the document for his dissertation, just like me. He then proceeds to tell me that I look pretty pale, and should probably go get some fresh air. Anyways, the moral of the story is, I am Lois Lane, especially when I take too many pain killers.


Thursday, July 23, 2009


Not just for the anti-Establishment types, apparently. I like these photos. And I want to reconsider that decision I made back in 2003 when I gave up skateboarding for good. What's another broken arm, when you can be THIS cool?



Wasson. Nice Chapeux.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Adopted Obsessions

I'm DEEP into my dissertation work , so much so that I also spend a lot of time on the internet, (obviously) uselessly plotting away at... well, nothing. But then sometimes you find useful things. Useful can also mean, 'man, that's good news!' Such news comes in the form of a preview video of Julian Casablanca's solo project, 'Phrazes for the Young' (ps. delicious and appropriate use of the 'Z'. Something I've taken to recently, only to preserve my contrived hip-ness which fades oh so quickly after countless hours in archives with crusty old men,.. lolz). Casablanca's long awaited work comes at a key time in the music world... will it be in the top 2009 lists? No one even knows, but its hotly anticipated. WTF Jules? Where were you this whole time? (I'm only a psuedo fan, so I really don't know. For these wholeheartedly relevant facts I would have to go to my sister). Here his band-mates were (The Strokes) making great solo projects. My favourite is Little Joy. But check this puppy out:

As most of my friends will know, I develop obsessions easily. In fact, it can take a mere 45 minutes with a human being for me to fall madly in love... . (Of course, it's never real. It fades. When it doesn't, that's when I know he/she/it/that is a Lifer.) Casablancas is what I like to call an adopted obsession. Because credit has to be given where credit is due: Anna 'T. Pain' Wiesen. Little sis' was all over The Strokes at the tender age of 13, when I was convinced that big arena rock/hip hop acts were where it was At--- see Incubus, and/or Jay-Z. However, there's nothing that reminds me of my first love more than 'Between Love and Hate' from Room on Fire. All this nostalgia led me to google countless photos of the one and only Julian. Needless to say, my obsession has kicked into high gear. If I can't be with him, I'll just BE him.
So my tomboy side will come out for a little while. I will start walking/talking/drinking like a guy- or more specifically like Julian. Is this a relevant topic for all you people? Probably not. But maybe I'm not the only one. Maybe there are countless others out there who suffer from what I call 'permanent-obsession-disorder'.

Sometimes I worry about this. It's creepy, I know. (As always, my mind oscillates between worrying about Kazakhstan's use of child labour in the cotton industry, which is seriously troubling, and I'll be writing a post about it soon, and my own neuroses). It's just that I find all different types of human beings so deeply inspiring. It's the only thing that keeps a cynic like me going. Here are some key words that mark the obsessions I've had over the years: wood/south/poets/north/deathly thin/homey. Shit, son. These men and women have helped construct the person I am now. It's why I'm such a contradiction, but also never afraid to admit it. There's something really important about how syncretic personalities are. Though, I don't think there's anything so awesomely unique about anyone- attributes have come from SOMEWHERE. But the way it all comes together- like a kaleidoscope- ya. It's brilliant. But moreso, I need to leave the West. I enjoy transnational frames of mind that bind young people from Toronto to New York to London, Berlin and Stockholm. But I also know that Marcuse would shake his head at me. I know that the vacuousness of my surroundings are only accessible because someone else is suffering. It's a mind-fuck. Sorry...but it is. And I can't see. So I'll be peacing out to meet more interesting minds very soon. Once I make some money, and once I spend some time with loved ones. Once I shake off this Masters degree for a while. (Oh, right I haven't graduated yet.)

But still.... my obsessive personality will never change.
I know it's not fair or overly creative to pick someone who is already in the public eye, and decide, oh hey, they're really awesome, I want to know what the essence of their Being is all about. But people do it all the time. W.W.J.D.? W.W.O.D? (Obama). And now, in my case, W.W.Julian.D? He would make a new album!
julian casablancas Pictures, Images and Photos

Photo illustration by Williams and Hirakawa

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Here He is! Mitch, the Bicycle.


Here's my new bike! My life has gotten about 49.7% more enjoyable since forking up the 40 quid for this little gem, that I have dubbed Mitch. (Mitch is not cool, Mitch is probably the nerdiest, shoddiest bike in all of London). However, not only can I get to Uni in under 20 minutes, but I can avoid the trauma-inducing tube. Why did I put this off all year? Must say, I was a bit fearful at first. I've historically been a complete reject on bicycles (see summer 2007, where riding my mountain bike like someone at my skill level should just didn't seem appealing enough to me). Needless to say, the horror stories of London cycling were enough to discourage me. But by the end of exams, I knew that warnings from my mother could no longer keep me from one of my deepest passions.

Here I am with my mountain bike that I miss dearly.

I've always had a thing for riding bikes. It's in so many ways a proletarian thing to do. But as anyone living in a big hip city knows, it's also become simply "the thing to do" as a young person. Fixed-gear madness abounds at Brick Lane, or College Street or Brooklyn for that matter. This idea that walking or taking public transportation (gasp!) is somehow less cool than riding a bike is one that seems odd. Rather, the bike has been appropriated from the world's peasantry. My friend from China believes that riding a bike in London is a petty bourgeois choice. (I disagree respectfully, of course, because riding a bike is carbon neutral, and any environmentalist is obligated to do so). Why would you want to ride a bike? He asks. Apparently he had to ride them so much as a kid, because there was no alternative, that he cant stand them anymore.
But I persist. In many ways the bicycle went from being something that was "just for kids", family picnic trips, and hardcore athletic types to being an active form of resistance to the monolith that is car culture in the West. See this dude's tattoo really captures the sentiment!
But now, and especially here in London, the anti-establishment symbolism of choosing a bike rather than a car has been undermined by the aggressive incursion of capitalist values of 'cool'. I find myself admiring other people's bikes all the time, and Mitchy becomes much less attractive. Why? It's just a bike! Just a way to get around! Does capitalism have that much power? Or am I just too weak to resist shallow cultural trends? Both of these questions of course lead to the more long-standing issue of what trends mean (a friend would point me to Bourdieu's 'Distinction') in a class-conscious framework. Not to delve too deeply into a regressive enumeration of how and why people identify with certain trends in a capitalist society, I think it's fair to say that bike-loving hipsterdom is a far cry from the kind of life-choice that is made by eco-socialists. The kind of choice that is made, perhaps, in solidarity with the world's poor who ride bikes as a basic necessity. We may pity that kind of situation, yes, but in fact, we shouldn't. We're the pathetic ones, polluting our air with inefficient SUV's that crawl through cities like bloated cows, farting out the non-biological equivalent of methane. The bike is the better way to get around. It's the fastest way. And its no longer only for the alternative types. This yuppie-friendly mode of transportation is indeed popular among all sorts of people, which as a walker-bus-tube person I didn't expect. At the end of the day, I'll know my world has changed when I see P. Diddy or Jay-Z rolling around on the two-wheeled gems of joy.

Ideological Confusion


I'm in muddy waters. My very own ideological quagmire. I spent the afternoon and evening at the Marxism Festival held at the University of London campus. What I thought would be a loose organization of left wing groups, concerned about how aspects of Marxism are still relevant today, about how we have to fight retrenchment, the alliance of corporations and government, and about how we can awaken people to the reality that unmanaged capitalism is a destructive force, turned out to be something very different. Most of what I heard appeared to be contrived table stomping. I know they would all slap me silly if I said Sweden was the ideal (which it really is, and I want to live there), but I didn't expect them to be SO dogmatic.

The socialist workers movement in the United Kingdom has been historically robust and militant when compared to the rest of Europe. But most former supporters of Labour in many ways feel betrayed by the party. Some will stay, out of habit, others (this shouldn't be exaggerated though) will join nationalist parties, like the BNP, and still others drift further to the left. The most mainstream party in the UK that represents this new group is the Socialist Worker's Party. They were the ones who organised the festival. They constantly receive heavy criticism from the other communist groups, for 'buying into the parliamentary game'. What I find troubling, is that the SWP seems way too concerned about this criticism, and they've taken to heavy posturing in the past few months. Individual members talk about the coming revolution, that now is the time to take the state in the name of the workers, and expel capitalism once and for all.

This is all well and good, and should technically be taken seriously, because the SWP has a significant support base. But it's not serious. The party has never done anything to embrace this so-called revolution beyond hosting anti-capitalist street parties at Canary Wharf, and large talking shops for left wing academics. (Who I am mostly fond of, I might add). However, as a free thinking individual, with anarchist leanings, I felt entirely offended that young dudes from the (also) sell-out organization patronised me, and shamed me for not joining the party. I thanked one guy for his work on the festival, (ironically, it wasn't well organized, considering they are communists) and gave a polite no thanks when he told me to join the SWP. I specifically remember the words, "If you really care, then join a revolutionary movement, join the SWP". Now THAT's insane. I wanted to ask him with all honesty, if he knew how to shoot a gun. My guess is he can't. And there certainly won't be a peaceful road to socialist revolution, because the democratic state just isn't going anywhere. Also, the left is divided on the matter of how to 'smash the state' as it is. So without violence, there really is NO revolution in the West. What the festival brought to light was just how diverse the left is! The Spartacist League, the Socialist Equality Party etc etc. They mainly try to deligitimise each other. It's a waste of time.

And here's my biggest quibble: the way 'comrades' went out of their way to point out that what was going on in Latin America wasn't really revolutionary. For example, there was criticism of Evo Morales' politics. Many believed he was 'negotiating with the fascists' in Santa Cruz. This just seems silly to me. In light of the complex societal dynamics there, and the historic and ongoing power of the military (see Chile '73, Honduras '09) what else was Morales to do? He isn't Chavez. He doesn't have the power to simply drive through reforms. (To their defense, it is from a marxist point of view analytically sound to critcise 'reforms' in and of themselves, because reformism can never be revolutionary). Call it what you like, but in my mind, reformism is just delivering more right now. What is going on in so many countries in Latin America is more revolutionary in actuality than anything that talk-shopping marxists in Europe could ever hope to do. They will remain irrelevant, while Latin American leftist leaders will struggle and achieve some successes in bringing equality to their people by avoiding bloodshed.

My main conclusion has been that the trouble with Western marxists today is that they want to have their cake and eat it too. From their high horses, and deeply informed marxist views, they asses every situation without taking account of nuances or limitations. In fact, they are betraying the entire movement by leaving BEHIND the dialectic analysis of the historical role of monopoly capitalism. Zizek's contributions to the debate were the most entertaining, and interesting. Where I think Marxists should play a role is in fact in criticism. Agitation. ETC. Keep building the kadres, keep an open mind, and embrace every comrade on the left, regardless of whether they are eco-socialists or feminists etc etc. If they fail to do that, then I'm afraid they will lose ALL relevance, and people will indeed find nationalist parties more appealing. I don't need to bring up THE example, but I think we all know what happens when the ranks remain divided in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis. Fascism will win, democracy will collapse, and the entire left will be thrown into camps. The proletariat will never benefit from a divided left. However, the route to overcoming this division is NOT imposing uniformity on the movement in a Leninist/Stalinist way, but rather to accept differences of opinion, and to continue to debate them in the open. In many ways that was the one positive thing about the Marxism festival. But I must say, the Anarchist Book fair back in November was much more enjoyable. If any communist accuses me of being afraid to join 'the revolution', I would ask them where the potential for revolution in the West lies? I would ask them to stop eating meat, and start TRULY living in solidarity with the world's poor, to embrace TRUE internationalism, which means NOT shopping at Tesco for cheap food. Solidarity means personal sacrifice. Too many members of the SWP are two-faced hypocrites. This is something I can't say I found under the anarchists. They lived their cause.

Here's Zizek's contribution, if you're interested. He's inspiring, and I loved his answer. I agree because its logical. Revolutionaries are those who want to overthrow capitalism and replace it with something new and modern. I don't think anyone on the left is brave enough to carry out his prescriptions, though:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Craving Canada

It's hot in London. All I can think about is how badly I would love to be in Canada right now. Living in a concrete jungle takes a toll on your soul. I guess it depends on what kind of person you are, but I for one can't deal with it. This picture made me crave a Northern morning and all that comes with it.

I'm not a Canadian citizen yet, but I should finally be able to get Dual this summer. I've always felt extremely Canadian, having grown up in a small town, with lakes and forests. A large portion of the kids that went to my school were aboriginal, and learning about the different tribes in our area was a big part of our education. Most of our parents were employed by the government. But it was still a very forgotten place. So when Michael Ignatieff talks about his Canadian-ness, I sometimes question the validity of his claims. Defining what is Canadian has got to be one of the most challenging and nebulous discussions of all time. But I know one thing for sure... he's a different kind of Canadian than me. Although I don't hold a passport, I understand the mindframe of rural folks in a way that I'm not sure he'll ever have access to. Does that make him a bad potential Prime Minister? No. Identity is best left to the Andersons of the world... as someone who believes most nationalisms are rubbish anyway, any discussion of Iggy's Canadian street cred seems useless to me. Can he govern in a way that delivers what MOST Canadians want, and not what HE thinks is best for Canada? That's the more important question. In effect, will his arrogance get in the way of his politics?