Friday, July 29, 2005

Rejection Part 2

Apparently there is. I'm being blown out from a drinking session tonight by a friend (who shall rename nameless lest he be subjected to ridicule from the two readers of this blog) who is off to play...

...I can't even bring myself to say it...

...rounders on Primrose Hill.

I would go and drown my sorrows except that (1) it's barely midday, (2) drinking now might be the first signs of me turning into an alcoholic and (3) I've got no-one to drink with...

Grumble, grumble.
One rejection - any more to come?

One funding opportunity down, one more to go. And it's not looking good. After months of waiting the ESRC letter dropped onto my mat this morning.

Apparently I 'have not received sufficient relevant [research] training' to justify funding. Which I would suggest (and obviously I'm biased) doesn't cast my previous academic, employment and personal experiences in a positive light. Apparently studying Latin American Politics at the Institute, and proposing doctoral work in the same field isn't good enough for the ESRC.

I've got half a mind to appeal. Oh, I see, they've given me details on how to do that.
Ungracious commentary

So the IRA has announced an end to the armed struggle?

Is it just me or do they just seem largely irrelevant in the current climate?

I find myself imagining Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the rest sitting around after the last few weeks and saying they can't really top the efforts of the current crop of fanatics. How many republicans would be willing to blow themselves up?

Time to call it a day, boys.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Couldn't have put it better myself.

Simple and to the point.

As if to reinforce that, here's something sent by a friend of mine.

But it has to be doctored...

Good capitalism?

Last night's Newsnight had a piece on how South Korea is becoming 'cool' on account of its cultural exports through music, fashion and film. Apparently Seoul is the place to go if you want to be with the in crowd in Asia.

What was interesting though was the explanation and analysis given for this transformation. Apparently after the financial crisis of the late 1990s the country was forced to 'modernise' by breaking down state-owned industries and laying off workers, fostering an environment for private sector entrepreneurialism and a consumer culture open to it. The underlying message then was that it was capitalism - of the free market variety as opposed to the old-fashioned state-directed form dominant in East Asia for the past half-century - which had spawned all this.

Which does beg the unasked - and unanswered - question: can a different form of social and economic organisation (alright, socialism) offer such 'dynamism' in the cultural sphere?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Chaos in London and Brazil - one related to the bombings and trigger happy police, the other with this ongoing scandal that's tearing the government in Brasilia apart.

And that's before you consider what we're facing in the next few months: Fernanda Karina, the secretary at the centre of this whole political corruption story, is considering posing nude in Brazilian Playboy.

What is the world coming to?

I think I need to lie down...

Off the back of this tragedy I was emailed yesterday by CNN asking if I would be willing to be interviewed on the differences between policing in Brazil and Britain and how the Brazilian community was responding to the shooting. I think they must have got my details off a few articles I've written on the web about Brazilians in the UK.

I declined, mainly because I know other people far better qualified to speak on these matters; and I would hardly claim that I can speak for a whole community. No, I'm not going to become a self-appointed spokesman.
Exploitation and cheap answers

Last night I went down to Stockwell to take part in a demonstration against the police killing of the Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes. I got there about half an hour after it started. The street outside the station was packed and the front entrance closed so it didn't spill over inside the station.

There were speeches being made, but I and most others couldn't hear what was being said; the sound was awful and wasn't helped by the noise from the passing traffic. But it was probably just as well. Of the few speakers I tried to listen to, there was one who bellowed out his words. He was making a link between this killing and the government's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indeed, the way it was presented you would think that if Blair removed the troops tomorrow we would see an end to tragedies like the one at Stockwell. Nothing was mentioned about the context which led to de Menezes's death, in particular the bombings on the tubes and buses. That made me angry.

There were plenty of people from various communities there - white British, Muslim, Brazilian, Trotskyists and other assorted socialists, human rights organisations - and nothing was said about the terrorist attacks. No doubt this was due in part to the demonstration having been organised by Lambeth's Stop the War coalition - who claim everything is due to our Government's actions in Iraq; that was their attitude after the tube and bus bombings and it's now the case after the Stockwell tragedy. But if that's the best we can come up with we risk coming up with platitudes of the worst kind as I witnessed yesterday.

But I was also angry for another reason: I was there because I was revolted about the way individual police officers held down and man and shot him at point blank range. That is the crux of the matter and what needs to be addressed. Yet instead what we got was a naked attempt to tie this killing to the political axes being ground by the organisers (e.g. people protesting that 'we express our solidarity with the Iraqi people', 'we want civil disobedience now', 'shoot to kill is the result of Israeli policy against the Palestinians' - cue loud cheers).

There was also a demand by the organisers for an end to the 'shoot-to-kill' policy. While that generated the response expected, I couldn't help but feel that once again a simplistic solution had been sought and found. What if the next time the police weren't in the wrong? I don't know. I can't decide how I feel about that.

Only later, after I had been to visit my brothers at their house nearby, did I come back to the station and find what I had come for. An impromptu memorial had been laid out, with posters, flags and flowers asking for peace and protesting against the killing. There were a few local people standing around, but unlike earlier, no-one out to exploit the situation for their own interest.

I spent a few moments there, reflecting on the injustice of de Menezes's death and the wider public indifference - almost acceptance - of the police's claims that the world has changed, that these things will happen in the future and that we had better get used to it.

But that's not something I either want to get used to or accept.

Monday, July 25, 2005

An unnecessary tragedy

So the man shot by the police at Stockwell tube station (near where my brothers live) on Friday was Brazilian. When the news came out we were assured he was a bomb suspect which has steadily been downgraded to an innocent civilian. Worse, I was under the impression he had been shot running away when it now transpires he was bundled to the ground, held down and then shot - five times.

Something is seriously amiss when that happens. I've been trying to think how it might have happened that he got shot. He walked out of the same block of flat under surveillance by the police. But why would it only be people linked to the bombings who would live there? He had a bulky jacket on. But in Brazil it only needs to be 17 degrees and the coats go on. He was followed and became agitated. That's understandable - whenever I'm in Brazil I'm always looking over my shoulder. It's one of those things you do. And apparently the police followed him onto a bus. Excuse me? If they were suspicious why on earth was he allowed to get on there?

Then we have the police shouting a warning. But were they plain-clothed? If so how can we differentiate them from people who might want to do you harm? That might explain why he ran away yet was legally allowed to live here. Yet even if he ran, jumped over the ticket barrier and jumped on the train, surely if he was held down there was absolutely no reason to shoot him?

Looking through some of the messages which have been going around the Brazilian community over the last few days it's clear that there's a lot of anger. There's concern that 'morenos' (dark people) are being targeted by the police, regardless of race or faith. While there is recognition that the police are under extreme pressure at the moment, there's additional frustration that following this tragedy the community has no political voice. As one member said, rather than listening to what Brazilians in the UK think about this incident the first commentators on the scene are Asian Muslims. Yet what the case shows is how concerned all of us who don't fit the national stereotype - white and blond or ginger-haired - may face in this time of high tension.

I have other less-tragic experience of this differentiation. Last week at the rock festival in Tin Pan Alley the police came looking for a barman who had thrown a drunk out and who fell on top of me and two girls sitting by the kerb. One of the girls tried to give a description of the man responsible, calling him 'foreign looking'. But as I mentioned to a friend the other day, he may well have been British-born of Greek parents. But because he didn't look 'English' he had to be 'foreign'.

One final observation: another friend and I were speaking about this shooting on Friday, before any of the details had come out. We both agreed that there would probably be public acceptance for this kind of action, but one mistake would make the whole fight against terrorism that much harder. And there was a case to be made against ID cards in this respect; you could just imagine a 'foreign-looking' illegal immigrant being stopped by the police, running away and the same shoot-to-kill policy being applied. And that has to be unacceptable.

There was a demonstration by the Brazilian community at Scotland Yard yesterday afternoon. There will be another at Stockwell tube station today at 6pm.

Update: There's now conflicting accounts about whether de Menezes's visa had expired. That may well explain why he ran away from the police. But this doesn't change those points I made above regarding ID cards.

I dislike the undertone of all this, which is that if he was here illegally, his death has less meaning than if his papers were in order.

No it bloody doesn't.

Friday, July 22, 2005

New writing to come

Finished my latest review for Brazzil, which has been sent off today. Quite an interesting new book on the life of Charles Miller - better known for bringing football to Brazil at the tail-end of the nineteenth century. Will post if - and when - it goes up.

PS It's up here now.
Further incidences

Once again, bomb scares and threats throughout London. Along with two others, his time there was one at Warren Street (near the Institute where I was yesterday) and on the number 26 bus on Hackney Road - from what I can tell from the photos, it was close to where I go past on my way to capoeira.


We were at lunch in SOAS when the reports first started coming through. But not knowing how serious they were, I was unsure whether I should call people and unduly alarm them. Then when I decided to call it was impossible to get through; the phone network was down once again, creating yet more chaos for people. Thank God for email then - that was still working and most foreign friends were reassured (usually it's those abroad who worry the most since London presumably seems smaller from that perspective). The only positive aspect of these events is that I copy everyone into the email, and so I'm now talking more frequently to people that I have failed to keep in touch with for awhile.

The police advice was for everyone to stay where they were and not move. But that's a bit difficult if the tube lines are down. I walked over to UCL to hand in my application for a position there and found a constant stream of people walking up Gordon Square, pulling suitcases and trying to get people on their mobile phones. As with two weeks ago everyone seemed remarkably calm and the silence resulting from an absence of traffic was eerie.

The contrast with my personal experience later in the afternoon couldn't be more telling. A few of us went for a pint in a nearby pub. The cricket was on the TV and England were failing to capitalise on their first inning success against the Australians. You could also have forgotten anything had happened at lunch time. But getting home in the evening I saw the news bulletins were full of the day's events.

Yet you can imagine that if this happens more often it will come to be seen as a regular event - and people will emphasise the cricket rather than the disruptions caused by these failed bombings.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Not quite what I was expecting...

Yesterday I found myself in Mohammed's grotto. No reason to go into the details - a phone call which I was awaiting today has yet to be received and the longer it remains silent the more I suspect that my visit to Knightsbridge was a fleeting one.

Apparently my visit overlapped with my parents, although we didn't know we had been there until the evening. My mother was being apologetic - "we wanted to do something cultural and we ended up in Harrods".

But she needn't have felt guilty. As I pointed out, al-Fayed has got his own cultural icons there. I actually went down to the 'lower ground floor' and discovered the most kitch, over-the-top tribute-display-contraption with Princess Diana's and Dodi al-Fayed's photos in them. Apparently this is al-Fayed keeping his son's memory alive. Tourists were happily snapping away.

It may not be to everyone's taste. But it looks like Harrod's basement is now on London's cultural map...

Monday, July 18, 2005

London activity

There was plenty going on in town during the heatwave yesterday - and all minutes from each other. In Trafalgar Square there was an Indian festival taking place, although hari krishna music seemed to be the order of the day. Up in Leicester Square the area had been turned over by media types to announce the premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From the screens on the north side it was apparent that director Tim Burton was meeting and greeting; I can't imagine how much noisier it would have been when Johnny Depp made his appearance there.

Further up Charing Cross Road a street had been closed. Tin Pan Alley was hosting its annual rock festival so I hung around for awhile, listening to one of the bands (nothing special). The only downside was a drunk being thrown out of a bar and onto me. But if you go to a music gig you have to expect the unexpected I suppose.
An oasis of tranquility

I am firmly convinced that when the revolution comes one place in London will be passed over. On Saturday I was with friends having a picnic in Holland Park and playing with some of the kids there. Nearby other sun worshippers had laid out their rugs to place their food - some with candles, others with a vase of flowers as ornaments. Meanwhile behind a wall the strains of the latest offering from the opera theatre was making its way over to us.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


More drama this morning. I was at the front of a the top deck on a number 8 bus at the end of Bethnal Green Road when a truck drove dangerously close to us at the lights. The bus driver honked his horn, warning the driver - probably inexperienced - to get out of the way. Instead he panicked and maintained a steady course, whacking the bus on the side.

We all trooped off while the drivers started comparing notes and taking details - although I think the truck driver just wished he could drive away.

A week on and it's odd how easily the unreal becomes the norm. Yesterday I was using the computer room in the Institute for Historical Research when an old man with a marshall armband entered the room. Apparently a suspect package had been found in Russell Square (now open, although traffic continues to be diverted) and the police were debating whether to carry out a controlled explosion.

Walking through the Square this morning I saw a big pile of flowers with various dedications to those who died. Judging by the dates on the notes they have been arriving all week.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Latest article

Contrary to the email which I received last month, it seems the Liberator collective did use my article on the forthcoming Lib Dem policy review. The latest edition has dropped through my letter box, but it's not yet up on the web. Anyway, keep an eye out for it on the left side of the home page here.

In hindsight there may be too much name dropping in it and a few too many ideas for one article. Maybe I might persuade them to let me address specific themes over a given period?!

No, that would be too self-aggrandising!

Last Monday I was in Rio and the Linha Vermelha, the main road between the city and the airport was closed for several hours on account of a shootout between police and drug traffickers in one of the nearby favelas. Which made getting to the airport a speedier proposition on Tuesday because, according to my taxi driver, people were scared to take the road.

Then to get back to London just as the Olympic victory is announced and hear the Red Arrows fly over my flat just as the radio announcer is describing them, followed by the chaos of Thursday and the difficulty in contacting friends and family after the bombings - two of which occurred in places I use virtually every day - Russell Square tube and Tavistock Square.

As of Monday morning Tavistock Square and the Institute remains closed.

Then the temperature climbed at the weekend here, bringing out the hot and sunny weather and making it possible to walk around the city at 10pm with nothing more than a T-shirt.

What a week.

Friday, July 08, 2005

I'm OK. I was at home all morning and much of the afternoon yesterday, so missed any of the events which happened in Liverpool Street and central London. It didn't seem real to me until I started to see on the news that Russell Square tube station had been closed and that a bus had been blown up in Tavistock Square - on the opposite side of the Institute.

I tried to call people but found it almost impossible - the lines were down and when they weren't I could get through. Even then, it still seemed all rather distant from me.

After I had to to drive down to Wimbledon because the tube system (and most of the buses into central London) had been knocked out, it still seemed incredibly far away - aside from the horrendous traffic jams and the constant wailing sirens as ambulances and police (many in unmarked cars) sped past.

Only today did I start to sense the full gravity of the situation. The tube was more than half empty at 9 this morning and there was an uneasy quiet. Virtually everyone had a newspaper which was carrying details of the events of yesterday which can't have been good for confidence: photos full of carnage, injured people, bucked carriages and seats.

Having done some reading at the LSE I walked up towards Russell Square - for some strange reason I assumed only the immediate vicinity of the bomb site would be cordoned off. Maybe it was because much of the tube service had returned with some few exceptions.

But Southampton Row was almost empty of cars while the whole of Russell Square itself was cordoned off, forcing the public to walk around the pavements. As for Tavistock Square, it was completely closed off, with a vast tarpaulin sheet blocking the view of the BMA building in front of which the bus had been destroyed. The entire area was a crime scene and presumably will remain so until Monday. Constantly I came back home to type this up - and get on with the other work which I need to make a start on.

Just as yesterday when the transport system was at a standstill and there were thousands of people walking the streets home, there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency or panic. Instead there just seems to be steely resolve that life goes on. But there are signs which show that things aren't the same. Along Southampton Road afixed to the side of phone boxes was a poster carrying a photocopied picture of a man and a request from his friends for information about his whereabouts.

It was then, after I saw this, that I realised there must be many more such cases around the city. And that just like New York, Madrid, Iraq and Bali, London has now played host to the same awful experience of terrorism without warning.

We've been hearing for years that this was going to one day happen here. But acceptance still doesn't prepare you when it does finally occur.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A tale of two cities

I think I know why Paris didn't get the 2012 Olympics. Forget Chirac's remarks about British food. No, I suspect the IOC delegates were worried that the athletes would get lost.

As someone who had to experience the joys of Charles de Gaulle airport for himself this morning, I speak from personal knowledge. Being met off the plane by a chap bearing a sign for Rome and assuring me that the bus he was touting for was also going to take me to the London-bound plane, I duly stepped on. Only to discover when we arrived that I was at the wrong terminal. With less than 30 minutes before departure I and several other passengers then had to wait for another bus to turn up, which took a leisurely circuit of the airport and its environs.

Unhelpfully there was no announcement to say which terminal we were approaching, or indeed any signs or posters on the terminal itself. And inside the terminal there were two escalators, leading in opposite directions to different gate numbers - and no computer screen to inform us which escalator to take.

And to think that for the last few years London's Olympic bid team has been trying to live up to the image of Paris as having a far better infrastructure.

Don't make me laugh.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Last day

This time tomorrow I'll be back in the hurly burly of London life. It's been a month and time is pressing to return to normality and two months of writing ahead of me! No that writing the dissertation won't be enjoyable - but doing fieldwork is infinitely more preferable.

Silence over the last few days can be explained by various visits to friends and family. Hopefully normal service will now be resumed.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Brass neck

I had to laugh really. With pages 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Folha de Sao Paulo taken up with the post office scandal/corruption story, I found yet anothger case of dubious public office activity in Brazil. But this time it was the bare cheek of the people involved.

Apparently in a town not far from Rio, Itaboari, the mayor passed a law through the council that ties his salary to the tax take, at 0.5%. This means that he earns around R$30,000 a month (over GBP6000). This apparently is in contravention of the constitution which states that no public office salary can be more than that for a Supreme Court minister, set at just over R$17,000 (nearly GBP4000). The president only gets R$8900 a month (nearly GBP2000).

When the Folha tried to contact the mayor they were told he was away on a fishing trip with friends until the end of next week - and both mobile phones failed to work.

If only these people were as good at taking care of matters as they are with lining their pockets then Brazil would have nothing to worry about. But it's the sheer arrogance and contempt for ethics which in a way you almost have to admire (as an addition, Jefferson's allegations don't make him innocent - he freely admits to having engaged in dodgy accounting of his party's election campaigns, using it as his justification to speak with some authority on the matter).
Grim viewing

The cousins I've been staying in with Porto Alegre have been riveted by the scandals emanating from Brasilia this month. And Roberto Jefferson, who I've written about the other week, was back before the cameras last night, this time giving evidence of corruption and misuse of public funds by the PT and its allies in the parliamentary inquiry on the Post Office here.

We went out to dinner at around 8 and came back two and half hours later, to find he was still giving evidence. When I went to bed at around 12.30-1am he was still before the committee (which was made up of the last ew congressmen who had yet to be called).

Jefferson looked like he had been put straight by a few heavies - his left cheek was bandaged up, following a 'domestic incident' in which a cupboard apparently fell on him. All the way through he was puttin an icepack on his cheek while hovering behind him we could make out the surgically gloved hands of the congressional doctors.

As for the questioning, there was plenty of discussion about his involvement in the legislation to allow civil unions between homosexuals and his theatrical qualities, but of substantial questions, very little.

Enlightening in a rather depressing way, really.

Another Esther Grossi tale, this time from another second cousin who I met for the first time yesterday - and who lives around the corner from this famous lady.

Apparently when my second cousin's eldest son was a boy, he used to be terrified when he saw Esther Grossi cycling around the neighbourhood (at the time without the coloured hair). Apparently he was convinced that she would kidnap him!

You look at her now and you can't imagine that she would get away with it. 'Excuse me officer, but did you see a woman with pink, green and blue hair go past with a small child?'
At an end

Last two interviews yesterday, first with the teachers' union, the second with the parents-teachers association in Rio Grande do Sul. Some qualified support from the first interviewee and a more pessimistic view of the PT from the latter, who claim this was due to their organisation being apolitical and autonomous in their dealings with Olivio's government.

I may have to make a few calls on Monday to clarify some matters with previous informants, but now it seems as if the fieldwork part is over.

And now on to the writing...