Thursday, May 29, 2008

Karl Marx Lives!

The following is from a letter sent to me by my old good friend Dave, about a famous building (see above) in the great European city of Vienna where he lives. As he says:

"It's called Karl-Marx-Hof (Karl Marx Court), and is the longest residential building in the world. For its time incredibly advanced for council housing.

"Well, it was of course renamed under the fascists (from 34 to 45) and at the end of the war the American commander of that section of Vienna (like Berlin divided into British, French, Russian and American zones) was a little bit worried about the locals' plans to restore the original name.

"So he called on the expertise of an emigre Austrian, Joseph T Simon, who was then an officer in the US army. According to Simon's autobiography, he was asked, among other things, "Did you know this Karl Marx personally?" "Was he a member of the communist party?" "What was his position on the Soviet Union?"

"Simon, who had been a member of the revolutionary socialist (social-democratic)youth movement in the 30s replied that, no he didn't know Marx personally and since Marx died in 1883 he obviously wasn't in a position to know anything about the Soviet Union, but that he was highly appreciated by social democrats.

"The army commander then sent out an internal army mailing saying that Mr Simon was extremely well informed about Marx and that he credibly argued that Marx wasn't a communist at all, but was closer to the Viennese Social Democrats, so there was no reason to change the name of the building --- so it's still called the Karl Marx Hof to this day."
Thus Karl Marx lives in the name of public building in Vienna.

For my latest story please go to:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Poisoning the Atmosphere

Have you looked at the sky recently? It´s like a motorway up there.

On one day last week in the space of less than ten minutes I counted at least seventeen aircraft. It was nearing sunset so all the lines of exhaust fumes were lit up like little streaks of phosphorescent pink candy scattered about across the sky. Later, as it began to get dark, I could make out the aircraft lights blinking on and off like secret messages in Morse code.

What strikes me is how we have diminished the power of the heavens. We look into the sky to see evidence only of ourselves. The stars have disappeared behind a barrier of light haze and air pollution and all that´s left is aeroplanes.

When I was in Transylvania last year I saw the Milky Way in a clear sky for the first time in years and it was breathtaking. There was no light pollution and the sky was utterly black. Looking up was like being cast adrift in an ocean of stars. Millions of stars like a tidal surge arcing across the infinite sky.

We´ve forgotten how awesome the Universe is. The Milky Way is the heart of the Galaxy in which our tiny sun dances and plays. It is one galaxy amongst millions. Each galaxy consists of billions of stars - billions of suns - each one of them a white-hot nuclear furnace of unimaginable power, unimaginable strength. To look up at the stars is to be reminded of this. To look up at the stars is to measure ourselves against the Universe and to know how insignificant we are.

It takes millions of years for the light from the furthest galaxies to reach us. Looking at the stars is like stepping into a time-machine. It´s like looking deep into the past to a time before our own fragile little planet was born.

Instead of which we look up and there´s some guy in a Cesna buzzing about catching the sunset, there´s a stray passenger plane from Gatwick flying to Lanzarote, and a few high-flying jets on some obscure military manoeuvres leaving plumes of smoke across the sky.

How much does it cost to send a military jet into the upper atmosphere, to catapult one man half way across the globe? How many gallons of aviation fuel does this use?

We´ve been taking this world of ours for granted. Now is the time to start asking questions. Whose purpose does any of this serve? Who gave the orders for these planes to take off? I don´t remember being consulted about it.

Have you noticed how the exhaust trails from those high-flying jets seem to hang around for a long time in the air? You look up into the sky and there´s not only live aircraft skimming the ionosphere, but evidence of previous ones left in long white streamers criss-crossing the whole expanse.

The official name for these streamers is contrails, and the official explanation is that they are the result of water vapour caused by engine exhaust. This doesn´t explain why they hang around for so long, however, nor why, as you watch them, they spread out and start to turn into something resembling a fine white mist.

The question is, what mess of chemicals are hidden in this mist? What effect is this having on our delicate atmosphere?

We can´t go on poisoning the world like this.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Gorilla In The Room

Things are not always what they seem.

For instance a credit crisis is not necessarily a crisis. For some people it's an opportunity rather than a crisis, a chance to buy up failing businesses at knock-down prices.

Meanwhile the war on terror is not really a war, and the front page of your newspaper does not generally give you the news.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Masochist TV

I must be some kind of a masochist. After my last blog, in which I was complaining about the state of the telly these days, I’ve actually ended up with MORE telly.

I have subscribed to one of those on-line digital TV packages with 53 channels and the ability to record and pause live programmes.

This all sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is. Who would want to pause or record most TV programmes anyway?

As for the 53 channels, anyone who has Freeview will already be familiar with them. They consist of the five terrestrial channels, news channels, kids’ channels, supplementary channels - such as ITV2 and Sky 3 (which mainly consist of repeats of 80s American TV shows) - lots of radio channels, plus – my favourite! – a whole heap of shopping channels for those of us who can’t even be bothered to get off the sofa while indulging our consumer habits.

Hand me the handset I want to buy something. How about some kitchen essentials, bed and bathroom furniture, filter products, watches, travel bags, electronic equipment, makeup, fashion accessories? I could get some new diamante bra straps and matching swimming caps to go with my latest beach wear.

There’s something glaring and hysterical about these programmes, something noisy and randomly garish, like being trapped within a glossy shopping catalogue-world with a psychopathic salesperson for company. The world finally gone insane.

I’m not quite sure how I ended up with this. I was after broadband, but somehow the salesperson on the end of the phone managed to persuade me that I needed all of these supplementary packages too.

So I’m a wired-up person. I am wired into the world-wide network. I mean that literally. I’ve just been counting the wires. I have a TV, a vision box, a CD Rom player, a radio, speakers, an external hard drive, a laptop, a wireless router, a telephone, a table lamp, all plugged into the same socket in the same room.

That’s ten electrical leads: plus one telephone cable, one TV aerial cable, speaker leads, scart cables, mouse cable, plus leads connecting all the electrical appliances to each other.

It’s amazing: all of this snake’s nest of advanced technology making it possible to record the latest repeats of Celebrity Come Dine With Me on More 4 + 1 while on-line shopping, listening to the latest top-ten downloads and looking up the TV viewing figures on the internet all at the same time.

Celebrity Come Dine With Me. This has to be the most inane celebrity TV concept programme ever devised: celebrities you’ve never of heard of cooking up food you’d never eat in rooms you would never visit with people you don’t like. People famous for not even being famous doing mundane things we all have to do anyway, like cooking food.

Whatever next? Celebrity Come Shop With Me? Top Ten Celebrity Nose-Picking Moments? I wouldn’t put it past them.

I’ve just looked up the viewing figures. On one night Celebrity Come Dine With Me netted 2.9 million viewers. Let’s say it’s a four part series. So that’s 11.6 million hours of people’s lives spent absorbing this drivel.

That’s 1,324 years – or nearly nineteen whole lifetimes - of people watching dreary people with personality disorders backstabbing each other while preparing and eating food on TV.

Welcome to the future.

It’s more frightening than you could ever have imagined.