Thursday, 10 July 2014


Following the Snowden revelations there has been a consistent campaign by the literally unholy alliance of state and commercial bodies who profit from the excessive levels of snooping and security to which we are all subject. We are led to believe that the gormless youths in an ISIS video represent a threat to the state. We are told that Islamic extremists have new kinds of explosives. We are told that we need to switch on our phones and computers at airports. Where is the evidence of the levels of threat and risk to which we are said to be subject in our daily lives? We ask for evidence. "We cannot show you the evidence because that would compromise security". Those with huge vested interests in scaring us can't loose. We cannot trust governments in this, because any government naturally wants more information on us than it should have.
I have been told by security staff at an airport that "this is being done for your safety". I have not asked anyone to carry out expensive and time-consuming checks that are ritualistic in ineffective. I can tell anyone who is interested how to get a penknife on to a plane. Or maybe I won't because it would compromise security.
There are half a million people now employed in the security industries in the UK, costing us billions of pounds. A substantial portion of this cost represents the conjoined success of terrorist threats and the security industry. Terrorists and those employed in security thrive in their entirely symbiotic relationship.
The levels of risk to me and you of terrorist attack are infinitesimally small. There are almost 30,000 gun deaths in the USA each year, none the result of terrorist activity. The lifetime risk of being killed on the roads in the UK is an astonishing  one in 240.  If a fraction of the money spent by security cabals on combatting chimerical risks was spent on improving road safety, something worthwhile could be achieved. If a fraction of the money was spent on the poorest sector of our population, infant deaths would drop significantly.
Every time any security official or representative of commercial security is interviewed in the media, whatever they ostensibly say can be read as "give us more resources [i.e money]". They cannot loose. But we do.

Brazil and the World Cup

Another post after a long gap.
There's been much discussion of Germany's 7-1 victory over Brazil in the semi-finals. The prime reason, which seems obvious, has been largely missed.
The fervour before the game was totally excessive. The Brazilian players became so wound up that they totally lost control. The began by attacking in a shapeless and random manner. Players who were ostensibly defenders surged impulsively forwards, driven by  great doses of adrenalin. Any sense of position and team set-up dissolved in the waves of fervour. Huge gaps developed in the mid-field and defense. The Germans only needed to play a good professional game to score more or less at will.
The moral of this is that when players, supporters and media forget that sport is sport, a game is a game, grotesque things start happening. It is fair enough to feel joy when your team triumphs; it is understandable to feel sad when your team looses. As a supporter of Dundee United I have plenty of practice at the latter. But (pace Bill Shankly - ) it is not a matter of life and death. The death of one malnourished child in a Brazilian favela is infinitely more serious than Brazil conceding 7 goals.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

I was shocked and saddened to hear of Hasan Niyasi's death (see some earlier blogs and I was contacted with him initially in connection with the Leonardo portrait of a young woman. He had an excellent grasp of the key issues and more logical good sense than many art historians. My subsequent contacts confirmed that he was a better art historian than a good number who are paid money for being so. We never met in person, alas.
I am currently in dialogue with a dealer about attributions (in general). I will see if he is willing for it to be posted in honour of Hasan.
Unlike Holmes, not being a pipe-smoker, I go for the three-coffee problem.

Monday, 24 February 2014


I meant to write this 3 days ago. I know Ukraine a little, and have good memories of visiting Kiev and Odessa (including the Eisenstein steps). The media were so obsessed with describing yet another incoherent uprising that they missed the big potential scenario. Now they are asking, more or less. The scenario runs thus.
President Yanukovych goes to the East, where he enjoys support. He musters, from remnants of the army and local militias, a force to claim back power. He does not have that force but as "democratically elected president" he invites Russian military support, which is forthcoming. Putin did this in Georgia, and he is former communist apparachik. What does America do? This is the most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis. 
If the "West" had seen its interest threatened in the way that Russia sees on its behalf, they would be supporting "democracy" against the subversive mobs. 
Russia and the West as always operate according to perceived self-interest. It is ugly and extremely dangerous for all of us. And the decent people of Ukraine are left with a future that promises nothing good. Ukraine could be model of East-West co-operation. It is proving the reverse. Like Syria.

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Oscar season has arrived. This year the choice is rather stark. It could well confirm the parochial and internalised (and ultimately unethical) values of the Academy - if such confirmation is necessary. The front-runners for the best film are 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Gravity. American Hustle is the kind if film that Hollywood does exploitingly well - fast, funny, full of narrative action and characterful people (all over-acted). It also belongs to the genre of film in which we are seduced by charismatic crooks - like Butch Cassidy..., and Bonnie and Clyde, and the another nominated picture, The Wolf of Wall Street. Of these the Wolf stands at the extreme end of the scale, since it concerns a living crook who is clearly raking in money from being convicted of crimes. Gravity is a fine film, visually compelling and unafraid to use slow long-shots, but vitiated by the metaphysical re-appearance of the male astronaut to give Sandra Bullock life-saving instructions. Presumably, being George Clooney, they could not kill him off so early in the film.
This leaves only one choice. Please take it.

banks and bonuses

Bankers bonkers bonuses again. The two main justifications for huge pay, as for other executives, which are rolled out again are never or rarely challenged in the media.
The first is that a corporation must pay a competitive rate to obtain the services of the "best" executives. This policy has failed dramatically. The banking collapse was the responsibility if those who had been recruited and remunerated on precisely these grounds. It would be far better not to have the "best" - i.e. those macho manipulators who are paid obscene salaries - but to recruit someone less exciting who has a measured sense of responsibility.
The second is that bonuses "incentivize" (horrid word) people to work harder. Bonuses may have encouraged executives to take risks, but if employers and employees are loyal and motivated, they should not (and generally do not) work hard or less hard in direct proportion to their pay.  I would not have worked 10% less hard if I had been paid 10% less, and I would not have worked 10% harder for 10% more pay. I would have been pleased to be paid more - but that is another matter.

For some years I have been a "member" of the Co-operative bank, run by a financially illiterate reverend drug-taker. This an excerpt from the letter I have written to them.

"The bank and all those responsible for its operation over the last 5 years should be in no doubt about the level of betrayal felt by its customers. I joined the bank because it was a co-operative and therefore different from other banks. The behaviour of the executive and the failure of the board to operate due diligence, not least in appointing the CEO, has been terrible even by the decayed standards of British banking.

Whatever assurance the bank may provide, any organisation dominated by hedge funds and other financial manipulators will clearly not have “members” welfare as its top priority. Customer care and service will become, as it is for all banks and large business entities, a tool of corporate self-interest rather than a goal in itself.

I will remain with the bank for the time being, largely because there is nowhere else to go."

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Grayson Perry and the Reith Lectures

I started two of Perry's Reith lectures. I did not finish either.
They are full of the stench of cheery hypocrisy. As a "transvestite potter from Essex", complete with cor-blimey accent, he pretends to stand as the plain-person's scourge of art establishment, while being both part of it and absolutely dependent on it. His whole stance, artistically and personally, is designed for head-line effect in the disingenuous establishment of pseudo-transgression that is such a potent force in the art world.
I listened to some earlier interviews on line. In the older ones he finds it harder to sustain the accent beyond the opening sentences. Now he can perform "common" cackles and "working-class" tics with impeccable skill - to rival that of Nigel Kennedy. King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford,  seems far away.
The laddish presentation (yes, he is laddish) somehow succeeds in masking the reality of views that are ill thought-through, and often ill-informed. Just two examples. In an Art Newspaper interview ( he claims that "tapestries came before oil paintings". This is simply untrue. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, tapestries became far more expensive than paintings in exclusive aristocratic contexts - which is not the same thing at all. Then in a Victoria and Albert Museum interview on art and craft ( he tells us that "painting is becoming a craft". This seems meaningless without some kind of supporting argument. Having ill-informed opinions, that are aired with chirpy assertiveness and are self-consciously designed to be contrarian, does not necessarily stop an artist from making great art-works. I think the tapestries and the pots are rather good, even if he's no Hogarth. What is not justified is that Perry should be taken as some kind of authority on anything in art he choses to speak about.