iPhone 6 – Consumerism Encapsulated

Chinese workers making iPhones -  in 2010, 14 committed suicide, having worked in conditions that investigating Chinese academics likened to those in labour camps

Chinese workers making iPhones – in 2010, 14 committed suicide, having worked in conditions that investigating Chinese academics likened to those in labour camps. In 2013, journalists found iPhones being made by employees working 12-hour shifts standing up, given just a single 30-minute break  

It bends in your pocket, takes chunks out of your hair and, on the side, is a neat emblem for a lot that’s wrong with our economic system, and our way of life – it’s the iPhone.

Last month, American tech giant Apple released the iPhone 6, the latest device in its flabbergastingly successful line of smartphones. In cities around the world, gadget devotees queued outside Apple stores for days in advance, hoping to be among the first to bag themselves one of the £539 handsets. Media outlets reported a lucrative trade developing in prime spots near the front, with one eager beaver in New York selling his place in the line for £1,500. At Apple’s flagship shop in Regent Street, London, tents began to appear with about a week to go until launch day. In a Parisian shopping centre, customers fought over one of the few remaining units in stock and had to be restrained by police.

In healthy societies, these people would probably be sectioned. As it stands, they’re just particularly extreme examples of the consumer mania that grips whole populations and, as such, are just treated like kooky oddballs good for a chuckle on the six o’clock news. Continue reading

Dirt (Eugene Chadbourne)

Somewhere under the Heathrow flight-path, Eugene Chadbourne, plump Professor Weeto lookalike, avant-grade country musician, and presumably the only banjo-playing socialist to ever try putting an electric guitar pickup in a rake, sings his chirpily offbeat song about people killing each other over land. Chadbourne’s output slaloms so wildly between almost traditional country and experimental improvised noise-jazz that it’s fully possible – especially given his proficiency on the guitar – that he’s playing the banjo badly because he likes the sound, rather than just not being very good at it.

London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Three) – Canary Wharf

The oligarch's den

The oligarch’s den

Click here for Part One.

… and here for Part Two.

Our unexpectedly politicised amble around the capital had been equal parts fascinating and grim, but it was time to go. The rubbery sandwiches on the coach back to Somerset weren’t going to eat themselves.

Despite our rampaging cynicism, The Bemolution is a sucker for a poetic conclusion. And of all the places we could’ve ended our London adventure, a climactically big square surrounded by international banks seemed especially apt considering everything we’d seen, thought and talked about along the way.

It was completely by accident. We thought we’d try and squeeze in a last rendezvous with a third friend – sassy and savage-witted writer type from home, spent two maddening years bombarding the capital with fruitless job applications, finally got hired and is now doing quite well – before making a mad dash across London to catch the last escape pod out of Hammersmith Bus Station. Travelling to meet her in Greenwich, our witless provincial brain almost overloaded trying to work out where the Jubilee Line met the DLR – you have to physically leave one station at Canary Wharf and walk to another, it took us an embarrassingly long time to realise. And as we glided ethereally up the escalator and emerged from the glass Teletubby dome of the station entrance, it suddenly hit us that Canary Wharf was that Canary Wharf. Continue reading

Welcome To The Bemolution

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The Bemolution is having a good go at providing an accessible left-wing guide to the modern world, albeit in a million instalments, disproportionately many of which end up being about old men with guitars rather than politics. Inevitably, it has and will probably continue to fall short of that lofty objective, but it’s a worthy endeavour.

For thirty years, the Right has used plain language to talk about people’s everyday concerns, and too much of the Left hasn’t. A sanely organised society would cut Western lifestyles down to size to raise billions out of life-threatening poverty, and use our collective resources to ensure the general wellbeing of everyone alive.

The end goal has to be a situation where those of us in the ‘developed’ world live far smaller, more contained, more ecologically manageable lives, while the global poor are heaved out of poverty – and the establishment of a target universal living standard, far less wasteful and materialistic than the one we’re used to in the West, designed to balance reasonable comfort with long-term environmental sustainability and the general wellbeing of everyone alive.

And here’s one on how we started and what we’re all about – What Is The Bemolution?

Sheela Na Gig (PJ Harvey)

And now for the unholy thump of Somerset’s very own Polly Jean Harvey. 2011’s critically-acclaimed Let England Shake was a bit toothless and wishy-washy for our liking. We, unoriginally, prefer the throbbing primitivism of PJ’s early work, where Pixies-grade proto-grunge met gender politics and lyrics that were variously searingly emotional, foggily poetic and rollickingly fun, while generally being far more subtle and nuanced than Elvis Costello claimed when he suggested all her songs seemed to be either about blood or fucking.

Sheela Na Gig, from Polly’s 1992 debut Dry (one of our most favourite albums), is both named after and, as far as we can tell, partially about the charming Celtic carvings of woman with disproportionately huge vaginas found on particularly ancient buildings across the British Isles. Its slashing power chords and quiet-loud dynamics are positively Nirvana-ish, but you wouldn’t catch any of these lyrics coming out of the late Kurt Cobain’s cake-hole.

Nick Clegg’s Speech

Clegg in Glasgow

Clegg in Glasgow

Nick Clegg can string a sentence together. Over four and half years as Deputy Prime Minister and nearly seven as Lib Dem-in-chief, he’s proven that, at least. Watching him give what will almost definitely be his last leader’s speech to the Lib Dem conference yesterday – defiant in the face of intense unpopularity, unshakably convinced of the righteousness of his own actions, and, at times, still startlingly, worryingly persuasive – he looked and sounded more than a little bit like a late-stage Tony Blair. Just as in Mr Blair’s case, though, the lovely rhetoric can’t paper over what will be looked back on as a pretty wretched political legacy.

It’s fashionable to hate Clegg – and certainly understandable, given that he’s enabled arguably the most socially destructive government in modern British history – but he probably wasn’t all that bad a man, starting out. Watching him on Wednesday, you could still see a few flickers of the unsullied pre-Coalition Clegg – especially when he speaks about mental health, there’s no doubting that there’s genuine passion there. Unfortunately, they only served to highlight the selectiveness of that compassion – and, apparently, of his memory of the past five years. Continue reading

Elitist UK: banning private education would be a start

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Last month, a report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission railed against what it saw as the UK’s ingrained elitism. Its knock-me-down-with-a-feather conclusion was that the upper echelons of Westminster politics, law, the media and other senior professions continue to be dominated by – or at least disproportionately filled with – people who were privately educated, people who went to Oxbridge, or, in many cases, both.

For anyone who’s been paying attention for the last forty years, this isn’t in the least bit surprising. The modicum of social mobility enabled by post-war social democracy was dramatically thrown into reverse after 1979, and in the neoliberal era that has followed, the wealth of the family you were born in determines your life prospects more now than it has done in half a century. Continue reading