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‘This is a machine for killing people’

The hill was a network of lights in which the twin stars of a car’s headlights traced a live circuit. There was an abstract, designed beauty in the setting of the clusters of bright rectangles that marked out houses along the well-lit roads, climbing at last to the long, low striations of light that signified the offices and labs at the summit. A satellite dish was a shield of gold, a communications tower a lance of silver. The captive power plant twinkled with ruby points of brilliance, cadmium sulphoselenide letting only red rays through. Good gatekeeper, cutting the seamless continuum of light into freed and absorbed, escaped and imprisoned. To the lens, there was only red and not-red. There were no other questions, no other categories. Gopal sat astride his bike and watched. Here, a hundred metres down the approach road from the town to the campus gate, he could appreciate the cold schematic beauty of it all. This complex in the middle of nowhere was the child and citadel of science, clean and limpid in its stark organization, its grid layout, its lit streets and planned bungalows. He could not think of those spaces as containing people. From here it was only infrastructure, a valued and valuable asset to the nation.

Entered in the account books of the republic: so many crores of rupees, so many man-hours of labour invested. Purpose: national security. Aims: laudable. Control: absolute. Glory: unlimited.

This is a machine for killing people. (113-114)

Chatterjee, Rimi B. (2005) Signal Red. London: Penguin.

Pachucos in LA: Beatrice Griffith’s American Me

Beatrice Griffith American MeBeatrice Griffith’s study of the Mexican ‘colony’ of LA in the 1940s is actually quite an extraordinary book. It’s written by a white and quite liberal woman–and I’m not such a huge fan of white liberals when they are writing about poverty and race. But in spite of the resulting prejudice and stereotyped ‘otherness’ and belief that Americanization is the answer that creeps in from time to time (and there is far less of that than most things I have read, especially from that time), this book manages to transcend a lot of that through its format.

Look at this cover, if only it were the version I read.

I need to look more into it, but what I’ve read so far claims for this a kind of pioneering role in sociology and ethnography in terms of combining typical sociological studies of a community (health, education, labour etc) with what she calls ‘fiction’. I am saddened, but not surprised really, that there is almost nothing on Beatrice Griffith herself to be found on the internet, though there exist a number of reflections on her work. Each topic is fronted with a story, and while she calls them fiction, they are essentially the stories that youth in the community have told her, and much in their own words. And they are rather wonderful. Because she was able to listen to them, there is a much deeper understanding here of racism and exploitation and the realities of things like police brutality and child mortality than I have seen in any white-authored book of the time (or today, sadly).

And the period she is in and studying? The period of the zoot suits (the retelling of the mobs of soldiers and sailors and regular white folks going after kids in drapes is rightfully horrifying, I hadn’t know before quite the extent to which it happened and the complicity of authority up to the mayor’s office). It is the period of pachuquismo, and while she doesn’t quite get it, man those kids can tell stories. I loved loved loved the stories. I loved too, how much of the slang is still around! And curious about some of her explanations, as to whether the slang has changed in meaning or whether she just got it wrong (and sometimes there are some things that I think she spells wrong because she doesn’t know what they mean), but mostly it’s all the same. The barrio names were awesome too, some of them are still around, but a lot of them are gone…

Definitely a great read, some wonderful illustrations (though so sadly no photographs), and the glossary in the back of slang is cool. Some good statistics too, this will definitely give you a great sense of the community in ways that other things can’t given the racism and active erasing that has been such an integral part of defining California and Los Angeles.

Corruption in Repealing the Whaling Ban

A provocative little article ran this weekend in the Sunday Times, with the even more provocative title of ‘Flights, girls and cash buy Japan whaling votes.’ Reporters posing as English lobbyists tried to bribe some of the small nations that make up Japan’s voting block on the International Whaling Commission (IWC). They would have succeeded if they’d actually had the millions of dollars to spend.

If there is one thing that the documentary The Cove makes clear, it is that the whaling ban needs to be extended to cover dolphins. Tens of thousands of dolphins have been slaughtered in Taiji, Japan, and the film’s courageous exposure of how this happens will break your heart.

It is horrifying to find out that instead of voting to expand the ban, the International Whaling Commission will be voting next week on whether or not to appeal it. Phrased innocuously as the institution of quotas, some believe it could be the first step to open up whaling on a larger scale. The quotas would include two endangered species.

While the Cove contains some evidence of Japan’s efforts to control a block of votes on the commission, the Sunday Times lays it all out in excruciating detail. Six different countries evinced interest in the undercover reporters’ offer of twenty-five million dollars in aid over ten years to change their vote. The offer from Japan? Tickets to IWC meetings, along with hotel, car and living expenses while there. The offer of university educations. Japan is building, or has built in these countries, a very large number of ice plants to store fish, factories to process fish, markets to sell fish. And of course, they always show people a good time when they visit Japan. That’s when the girls come in.

To read the article, click here. To learn more about the issue or connect to organizations currently campaigning on it, click here.

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La Bruja

I just like this song. Witches. I wrote the lyrics down ages ago to sing in the shower and thought I’d just prove I was alive though I can’t be bothered to translate most of it, but the witch does grab you and turn you into a jug and a squash. And she’s after your husbands and sons. Or are you a witch? I like to fly at night myself. Ay dios.

Ay que bonito es volar – Oh how beautiful it is to fly
A las once de la noche – at eleven at night
A las once de la noche
Ay que bonito es volar, ay mama

Subirse y dejarse caer,
En los tirantes de un coche
En los tirantes de un coche
Y hasta quisiera llorar, ay mama

Me agarra la bruja, me lleva a su casa
Me vuelve maceta, y una calabasa
Me agarra la bruja, me lleva al cuartel,
Me vuelve maceta, y me da de comer

¿Ay dígame dígame dígame usted?
¿Cuantas creaturitas se ha chupado usted?
Senora, ninguna, ninguna no se,
Ando en pretensions de chuparme a usted

Ahora bruja, me encontre
Por el aire va volando
Por el aire va volando
A una bruja me encontre, ay mama

Entonces le pregunte
A quien andaba buscando
Me dice quien es usted
Soy cantadora del guapango, ay mama

Levantate Chucha, levantate Juana
Ya viene la bruja detras de tu hermana
Levantate Pepa, levantate Anela
Ya viene la bruja detras de tu abuela

¿Ay dígame, dígame, dígame usted?
¿Cuantas creaturitas se ha chupado usted?
Senora, ninguna, ninguna no se,
Ando en pretensions de chuparme a usted

Y ahora sí maldita bruja,
Ya te chupaste a mi hijo,
Ya te chupaste a mi hijo,
Y ahora sí maldita bruja

Y ahora le vas a chupar,
A tu marido el ombligo,
A tu marido el ombligo,
Y hasta quiesiera llorar, ay mama

Cuando a tu marido le encuentro dormiendo
le arranco las piernas y me voy corriendo
Cuando a tu marido le encuentro dormido
le arranco las piernas y me voy contigo

Me agarra la bruja,
Me lleva a su casa,
Me vuelve maceta,
Y una calabasa

Beckett and the Workers of General Motors

Whew, been a while since I last wrote I know! Life has been interfering. But I’m back in London, jetlagged and drinking wine to help me sleep…temporary measure promise. And working on my research, I have gotten so much done today!

And finally I have found a website, what I’ve been looking for for ages, the General Motors Workers Blog. I knew this was out there somewhere, but just try searching for it. Anyway, have a look at

But the best?

You click the tab for newsletter and on the screen you see simply this:

Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.

And on the tab? “Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.”
And it’s not just the wine making me happy now.

Michael Jackson…

My thoughts on his death are so conflicted and complicated and he’s been on my mind a bit since I saw the exhibit of his stuff up for auction from Neverland…it was unforgettable. And unsettling.  I’m in Chicago for a conference and am staying with friends, funny how different people’s reactions have been. We went to a bar to see another friend of theirs play, and he played Billie Jean on his base just before they started the second set, and sang and we sang, and it was fitting.

This is Michael Jackson as I like to remember him, and I think it is heart breaking how he ended up… He was incredible. No one danced like him, no one sang like him…Thriller is unbeatable as an album. And now he has entered the halls of legend.

Tom also took me to the cemetery where the Haymarket martyrs and Emma Goldman and Lucy Parsons are buried…but more on them when I have had a chance to upload photos.


I’ve had rather a lot, so I believe I can be held accountable for nothing below…

That said, I had possibly one of the worst days ever.  To start with. To end with, I had macaroni and cheese, champagne (purcharsed wth hedonism in mind, always a good idea), and several episodes of Black Books in the company of Celine and Sophy. And it was the best possible of all possible endings. And I am rather happy at the moment.

Still, it doesn’t quite erase the nature of the day, it just puts it into perspective. And I’m feeling rather Ecclesiastical about everything…dust to dust and all is vanity and such like…I can find nothing else to salvage the day’s lessons, the year’s lessons really. Everything crumbles, things fall apart, the center cannot hold…and etc. You spend your life building things and then they just vanish like a breath of air. It was pretty tragic when I lost faith in the current enterprise, but it wasn’t terrible. An intellectual enterprise, and really, if it falls then the few of us involved suffer of course, but it’s not the worst that could happen. Really. Some of us even deserve it. For me, it was simply a loss of happiness and enthusiasm, and I miss them but I’ve cut emotional ties. But today? Oh no, today I realized the loss, or better said ultimate futility, of my work of many years, of blood, sweat, and tears. Of all of my ideals and so many hours and the grey hairs I claim as mine, and the foundation I hoped I had help to lay, and real people who I both love, and acknowedge to be fucked already, and so…well, it’s devastating.  Of course, had it just been me building things, playing with a set of tinker toys, it wouldn’t bother me. Sadly, it wasn’t just me, this isn’t about me at all, and other folks haven’t moved on to the champagne course of fuck it all, so it’s much more tragic.

And there’s nothing to do. That’s the worst of it all. This might be the banner day when I lost faith in absolutely everything and had to start all over from scratch. I dunno, maybe it’s not that bad, I might decide in the morning…but I thought I’d write just to memorialize it in case it’s true. It’s definitely a turning point. Though a point I was already headed to.  And it’s far too much about me, drinking tends to do that. People lost their jobs today. And other are putting on the warpaint, when that shouldn’t be necessary. And something has been lost which may well never be recovered. Me? I am, quite simply, heartbroken. And I am as far as ever from seeing the way to making things better.