On The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie – John Cassavetes

Ben Gazzara in John Cassavetes' The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie

John Cassavetes defined an entire approach to film-making; his work is distinctive in that he seems to have made a decision to include what most other directors would leave on the cutting-room floor. This makes for a wonderful, idiosyncratic ambiguity that is as bewildering as it is beautiful.

In his remarkable canon, two later works stand out for me: the terrifying and funny Opening Night and the stark and strange The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie.

Ben Gazzara plays club-owner Cosmo Vitelli as a kind of Musilian ‘Man Without Qualities’ and we are never sure of what he is thinking or feeling – an indeterminacy that makes for one of the greatest performances in modern cinema. In his hands the film-noir anti-hero becomes an even more mysterious and compelling figure in that his behaviour is ultimately revealed as being utterly humane.

There are two different versions – and they are very different – but for me the original 1976 cut has the edge, because the protagonist here is much less tidy, as is the film itself. The bones of a narrative remain but there is absolutely no exposition.

This version also features extended musical numbers from the stage of his club, the Crazy Horse West – drenched in a kind of Wiemar Republic decadence – which augment rather than diminish the sense of menace that pervades the film. And these odd vignettes in some way describe Cosmo, who has created them and who often has to coax performances from his employees, offering up a kind of wise stoicism, borne of anecdote and cod-philosophy, whilst his own life is in the balance.

And then there’s the shifting, sinister coterie of gangsters that orbit the lead – Seymour Cassel, Timothy Carey, Morgan Woodward, Robert Phillips – each played to perfection, each winding Cosmo further and further in to the set-up.

Even though Cassavetes famously balked at the inclusion of the hit itself – it makes an apposite centerpiece, for it demonstrates the lengths to which Vitelli will go to protect his unconventional family: the dancing girls, Mr Sophistication, and those that work his bar and wait his tables.

The film reveals an unhinged, amoral world in which man finds himself alone and yet utterly in thrall to other people’s drive to dominate those around them. Nevertheless, even in this terrible, unforgiving place, one man can balance his foolish behaviour, bad decisions and private desolation with benevolence and empathy if he so chooses.

I try and watch it every so often, and it only gets better with repeated viewings. I can think of nothing else like it in modern American cinema.


Filed under Essays

Content Bandwagon: Back To The Future

Back To The Future II

One phenomenon that results from of the deluge of stuff we now have to wade through in our oh-so-hyper-connected world, is what I’m calling the “content bandwagon”. Such is the desperation to fill ever-expanding content bucket that when someone comes up with a good (or bad) editorial idea, every other fucker jumps on it.

Today’s first entry on the bandwagon is, of course, Back To The Future. By which I mean, today is the same ‘day’ that the fictional time-traveling duo from the sequel to the original film went into the future, which is to say, into our present. Cue content mavens banging on about ‘what the film got right’, which is pretty much nothing, except for Skype, kind of.

Everyone is at it. I mean everyone. Even The Daily Mail, whose readers probably won’t have a fucking clue what BTTF is anyway. They mistakenly call it a ‘cult’ film, which it’s not and then proceed to make some spurious connections between technologies featured in the film and technologies we have today, or that we might have real soon. This, of course, is what everyone else is doing (even Radio 4’s Today Programme).

It’s beyond lazy and just goes to speak to this stupefying need to fill up our world with meaningless shit in an effort to distract us from the from reality of death, taxes and our ultimate insignificance in the face of an unknowable universe.

The question I have to ask myself is this: am I guilty of hopping on said bandwagon myself by writing this? To which the answer is almost certainly yes.

I can only apologise and offer the excuse that sometime back in the past, some time-traveling tossers did something to change the course of history, creating a parallel reality in which, years hence, everyone felt the need to constantly create and publish loads of what came to be called ‘content’ on a thing called the ‘world wide web’, and that that is, unfortunately, where you find yourself, reading this pointless rant – an example of the very thing it purports to critique.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

God save the leader of the opposition ;)

Jeremy Corbyn

And so it continues. The mainstream media ramps up its hysterical coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment today with near blanket coverage of him not singing a song.

“Corbyn snubs Queen and country” (Daily Telegraph); “Veterans open fire after Corbyn snubs anthem” (The Times); “Corb snubs the Queen” (The Sun); “Not Save the Queen” (Metro); “Fury as Corbyn refuses to sing national anthem at Battle of Britain memorial” (Daily Mail).

Of course, this is to be expected. Earlier this week, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis warned of a “toxic media narrative” against which Corbynistas should brace themselves in the coming weeks and months. Varoufakis speaks from experience.

Equating Corbyn’s republicanism with a lack of respect for those who have fought for their country over the years is pure sophistry. This tactic reveals the underside of a press that that is unprepared to countenance any alternative to the centrist politics which stand behind its own entrenched position of power.

Beyond the right’s transparent frenzy, the rest report on ‘what is happening’, adding their voice to the din, circulating the same pictures, and giving weight to the perceived ‘importance’ of the story. So-called impartial editors need to be alive to the fact that doing so can easily make them the unwitting propaganda tool of others.

Millions of more significant things happened yesterday; but this particular thing got the editorial nod. Come on. True impartiality means making tough decisions, both on what to publish and on what NOT to publish. A more nuanced approach to this kind of non-story might help avoid the inadvertent buttressing of a narrative that is clearly designed to undermine Mr Corbyn’s position in advance of him actually doing anything.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A walk around Abney Park Cemetery

Here’s a short film I made about the wonderful Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington in north London.

Leave a Comment

August 31, 2015 · 11:22 am

A visit to Père Lachaise

Pere Lachaise

The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is a city of the dead. Like any conurbation, the housing ranges in quality, aspect and style, from the urbane to the gaudy, the unkempt to the pristine. Many notable people reside there (Moliere, Apollinaire, Balzac, Wilde, Stein), such that it is famed around the world for the reputation of its corpses. One of these is Marcel Proust, who is interred alongside members of his family in one of the more discreet plots in the northern district.

This was not my first visit. On that previous occasion I was accompanied by the beguiling Verity. The two of us strolled slowly among the graves and took photographs of one another in the shade of angel-flanked mausoleums, preserving in silver halide what were to become the strange projections of a once robust desire severed by time, misunderstanding and all the wreckage that love throws up. Since then the world had seemed to collapse in on itself. Now, as I entered by the south-east gate, I was as alone.

Such was the puzzling extent of its labyrinth of tombs, that I soon found myself wandering like Melmoth, unaware which direction to take. My indecision was compounded by the fact that memories of my prior visit kept springing to mind, so that (somewhat heavy of heart) I kept thinking I recognised where I was by the sight of a familiar name or the particular juxtaposition of stone and stained glass, when I really had no idea and was hopelessly lost.

As I continued deeper into the cemetery’s heart, I grew melancholy at the thought of how many of its inhabitants had been taken so young, only to feel the sudden and perverse swell that was the lamenting of a life still mine to live. The truth is that death is a constant companion in life; that every capillary pulses with the prospect of ceasing to pulse, every lover loves in the knowledge that their beloved will perish.

The eventual rediscovery of Proust’s resting place brought with it a strange, almost precognitive sensation, as if I’d turned a corner before the actuality of doing so. For a brief few moments I walked ahead of myself, so that upon seeing his name inscribed in gold lettering on black marble, a kind of double recognition occurred, further re-enforced by the sudden interruption of the past upon the present, the distinctive aroma of Verity’s perfume filling my nose just milliseconds before lighting upon the grave.

Marcel Proust's grave

I sat down, dumbfounded, hardly able to process where I was, or the odd experience that had just occurred. I clung to the copy of Le Temps retrouvé I carried in the hope it might anchor me to reality. But I could barely comprehend how this one man had managed to produce such a heartbreaking work of staggering genius; or how I might be allowed to sit freely by his final resting place, like some awkward interloper at a private party. I felt so grateful and so strangely connected, yet so terribly lost and so bereft that I would never have the chance to say a simple thank you for the wonderful gift he had given me.

For what do you do by a graveside except gawp at the withered flowers? You puzzle at just what the hell is going on and must then eventually walk away and pick up with the inexplicable business of life while there’s still skin in the game. If so inclined, you might ask whether death is the greater truth of this universe? We spend so much longer ‘dead’ than ‘alive’. These sepulchral cities are themselves just passing material totems to this most inconvenient of truths. And what is ‘death’ to the dead, if not as ‘nothing’ is to nothing?

These were some of the thoughts that flared through my mind as I sat with M. Proust. Not wanting to leave him, I stayed for what must have been an hour or more. But time passed, until eventually dark clouds obscured the sun and the rain came. And so I got to my feet and walked away, aware that there was nothing else I could do.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Walks

On Sir Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee as Dracula All my early dreams were nightmares. I was one of those strange children obsessed with the horror genre, which seemed as natural and appealing as anything else that might catch the fancy of a young boy. It all started with Hammer of course, with Peter Cushing and with Christopher Lee.

In The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) and then in Dracula (1958) the pair were pitted against one another, a kind of polarised pirouette, circumspect and deadly; full somehow, of both grace and rage. The latter state existed because the roles demanded it; the former a quality of the men themselves. The fact that they carried such conviction into the realm of fantasy was a sign of their fidelity to the craft, to the audience and to whatever life meant beyond the screen.

Both were present in their creations, and yet they were always nothing less than utterly convincing, which is the mark of the greatest actors. Cushing was always Cushing, Lee was always Lee. Their inner moral fortitude and urbane charm could never be constrained by the swaddling cloth of characterisation. I sensed this and fell helplessly in love with both of them.

Out of this love grew a subsidiary devotion to every shade of red on the spectrum of horror cinema, which has been with me ever since. But I always come back to Cushing and to Lee, wherever I find them, together or alone – to Lee’s stylish turn in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), to Cushing’s imperious performance in the original Star Wars (1977), to the absolute joy of watching them glide off one another in Terence Fisher’s adaptation of The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959). Their celluloid presence has become something deep and necessary to which I turn when in need of solace.

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee
And if Cushing represents something slightly more beneficent to me – a sort of kindly uncle – then Lee is perhaps a little more forthright and fatherly. I seek his reassurance on matters more cerebral. I know from watching him talk in interviews about The Wicker Man (1973) just what it meant to him as both an artistic and an intellectual proposition. Lee was smart enough to underscore its critique of religious dogma, to enquire into the nature of the old gods, to interrogate the pagan conception of death and rebirth, and to embrace and run with the film’s chimerical construction, which is what makes it the work of genius that it clearly is.

There is something of Lee’s shadow – the tall, cloaked frame, at once all form and yet entirely formless – that is always with me, and always has been. When I first saw him as Dracula all those years ago, it was like recognising a thing I had seen some place before, something in my dreams, something to be both nurtured and destroyed, which spoke to me of everything there was to be said about existence, a sepulchral shape that was at once death and dominion over death.

It is a thing to be hardly grasped while in the midst of life, but it is there nevertheless, bubbling up into the conscious mind once in a while, such that death appears a new kind of living, and living an old form of death. It means that everything is as it should be. That fear is only the forgetting of something we already know. That life is about grace under pressure, and dying is just more of the same. This must surely offer us some solace after today’s news, for there can be few men more capable of such effortless grace, and more fit for the final confrontation, than Sir Christopher Lee.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Essays

James Bridle and algorithmic citizenship

Citizen Ex

James Bridle’s project, Citizen Ex, explores a different way of thinking about citizenship, based not on our country of origin, but on the physical location of the websites we visit.

Broadly speaking, the traditional model of citizenship is founded on our place of birth and/or where our parents come from. Networked technology, with its much more fluid conception of what constitutes both international borders and personal identity, is complicating this idea. It is producing a new version of citizenship extrapolated from our online movements, which bounce from place to place with every click.

Bridle uses the term ‘algorithmic citizenship’ to describe this phenomenon, which exposes us to a complex web of legislative, jurisdictional and regulatory regimes beyond those of our ‘home’ state. Such a change offers a challenge to the very definition of citizenship as it becomes increasingly subject to the design and structures of systems architecture, something typically overseen by private organisations which bear no direct responsibility for the creation of shared civic values or public policy.

Key to an understanding of algorithmic citizenship is its link with the slightly broader concept of ‘algorithmic identity’, which is derived from the systems that track us as we navigate networks, and the mass of data this offers up for analysis and commercial exploitation. This new identity is determined to a large extent by the interplay of code and algorithms that are weighted toward maximum efficiency, economic extraction and surveillance, and has little to do with notions of social cohesion, democratic expression or personhood.

It is also a fluid concept, which changes as we move about the network, and is subject to the logic written into the systems involved. The real-time data captured is used to target specific content and advertisements that tally with the various categorisations into which the identity fits at any given moment. As the scale and scope of algorithmic oversight grows, many believe we are effectively losing control over defining who we are online, especially when it comes to determining the meaning of the various categories into which our identities are packaged. This can have very serious implications for our ‘real’ lives.

Patterns of online behaviour that, for whatever reason, fall into the ever more broadly defined categories deemed suspicious by the authorities, are the most obvious example of this. But the issue is far subtler than that. The technological devices we’ve made, the connecting architectures and the code that animates them, mediate our relationship to the world in many profound, but often invisible, ways. This has consequences for how we gather information, interact with one another, form opinions and define our common goals, and relates to the way in which the design and operation of networked information technologies mirror existing power structures and serve established interests.

The formation of online identity, the processes of self-determination and cultural formation become prone to compromise, defined in larger and larger part by the protocols of targeted content delivery, algorithmically defined search and data-scraping social media interfaces. More and more oriented toward the consumption of online material, we become participants in the information-mining and surveillance mechanisms that power the system.

This in turn has a knock on effect for ‘citizenship’, which also becomes subject to the reconfiguring effects of the network. This ecology does not determine citizenship in the traditional manner; rather, it constitutes what legal scholar Julie Cohen calls a “new regulatory landscape” in which “there is no countervailing set of rules broadly distributing responsibility for promoting human flourishing and enabling the practice of citizenship.”

In a recent article, Bridle himself refers to purported NSA methodology, which determines an individual’s status as either ‘citizen’ or ‘foreigner’, and thus whether they can be surveilled or not, by means of algorithm:

“… the arbiter of citizenship is not a passport, ID card or birth certificate but a set of behaviours and attributes classified by a fixed system. A certain day’s gathered criteria might assign us the required 51% confidence to be afforded the protection of the state; another trawl of data might relegate us to 49%, leaving us adrift once again. The rights and opportunities that supposedly flow from our citizenship status thus become as unstable and arbitrary as those of stateless persons.”

This new interpretation of citizenship as a statistical process constitutes a radical shift away from historical precedent, and begs the question of exactly what is a ‘citizen’ in a digital world where surveillance is ubiquitous and transnational, and how rights and obligations are constantly affected by such a shift.

Created as a browser plug-in, Citizen Ex shows us the true physical locations of the sites we visit and the territories that govern our actions as we traverse the web. In this reality, every mouse click leaves a trace, as our personal data is collected and stored in locations around the globe. It is with this information that governments and corporations construct a notional vision of our lives. This is our ‘algorithmic citizenship’?—?the way we appear to the network.

This programmatic fluidity is far removed from the true complexity of human identity. It reduces it to something calculable, which has profound implications for our understanding of privacy, citizenship and the self. The fact is that individual choice about what is public and what is private is being eroded, just as the citizenry as a whole are transformed into tradable data objects.

It’s a reality that philosopher Michael P. Lynch articulates with particular lucidity. He says:

“The storage of our incidentally collected data treats us as means, not as ends. And that is another reason such programs should worry us. A government that sees its citizens’ private information as subject to tracking and collection has implicitly adopted a stance toward those citizens inconsistent with the respect due to their inherent dignity as autonomous individuals. It has begun to see them not as persons, but as something to be understood and controlled. That is an attitude that is inconsistent with the demands of democracy itself.”

In highlighting the jurisdictional chaos of navigating the network, Citizen Ex shows us one aspect of this new reality. It also opens the door to a far murkier world of which, as the matrix grows about us, we should all be aware.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Essays

Interview with James Bridle

James Bridle

James Bridle is an artist, writer and technologist. His artworks and installations have been exhibited across the world, and have been seen by hundreds of thousands more online. His work examines the reality that has emerged out of the increasing impact of networked systems on wider society, culture and politics, and brings to light many of the unseen affects this technology has on our lives.

Some years ago you framed this notion of the ‘new aesthetic’ as a way to describe a visual lexicon that has in some way emerged out of the increasing mediation of the world by technological systems. Can you talk a little about the origins of this?

It came from a frustration at the general level of discussion around the effects of new technologies that I saw. As an aesthetic phenomenon it felt denigrated in some way when compared with other competing visual languages. In fact it has this incredible impact on our lives – emotionally, socially, politically – and by refusing to acknowledge it, by ignoring it as a material and an aesthetic, we were not only failing to use it in useful ways, we were failing to criticise it in useful ways, too. I was looking for shiny examples of the alternative. One of the key qualities is that it’s an aesthetic that often reveals the deeper structures within it, so the glitch became a key example in that it allows for a glimpse into the system that’s produced the image concerned.

Some of the reactions to the ‘new aesthetic’ kind of missed the point. Is that fair to say?

I certainly thought so, because it was assumed it was an art movement. And to be honest it didn’t really have a lot to do with art. There were artworks that I thought were expressing it, but the idea that someone would be a ‘new aesthetic artist’ was not what I was getting at all. So, in some ways that reduced the arguments about it, which perhaps missed my intention, but at the same time it was obviously something that needed talking about, and it was and remains a way of bringing together bodies of work that do address some of the issues in a way that wasn’t being done before. There was a huge gap in our vocabulary and understanding around the digital and I think a lot of people got what they needed to out of the concept because no one else was putting it forward.

This ties into something you’ve talked about in your work many times, which is this idea of “making visible the invisible”. Could you talk a little more about this aspect of your practice?

In the context of the new aesthetic it was very much ‘here is this image’, but in order to understand why the image is important, you need to know how it is formed. One of the things about digital technology is that you can understand how this stuff is generated because you know it comes from code, from these structures, and we can actually start to dig under the surface of this much more. And that’s the wider approach – certain structures, be they technological, legislative, political – are often invisible by default because of their complexity. The question is: how do you make them visible? Although, just to be clear, that has been the job of art for thousands of years…

One of the novel things about the modern world perhaps, is that there are new eyes watching, the ‘eyes’ of the machines. Do you think there’s much mileage in the idea of creating art for these eyes, and what does this mean for humans?

Absolutely. I mean we are all the time in certain respects. Every time you put a piece of work online, you’re making it in part for Google’s ranking algorithms. These things have to be taken into account. Whether that’s radically different from having to consider the mechanisms of publicity before is a different question, but we do share the world with these systems to an increasing extent, so understanding them is useful. For me this thing about the attempt to see though machine eyes is that it’s actually an attempt to see through aggregates of human eyes and intention, because actually what you’re seeing is the previously hidden intentions of the people that built these systems. They could be good or bad, or politically inflected, but, like the technology itself, they’re never going to be neutral. Actually, what you’re seeing is a bunch of biases that may have been latent before taking an incredibly strong and clear form – everything has been built line by line in code, everything is intentional. The outcomes might not be, but that’s what art can help to examine.

And the means of surveillance and data aggregation, they are baked in to the system, yes?

Yeah, one of the not entirely foreseen aspects of the way in which we’ve built larger distributed systems is to make it as easy as possible to access and share information, which has exposed us individually to a vast degree. Most of our technologies contain these kinds of compromises and trade-offs. You can’t have, for instance, contemporary mobile telephony without knowing where the phones are, because that is how they function. The thing is we’ve solved lots of technological problems without solving the corollary political problems and that seems to me a shame, but also something we’re not done with yet…

That kind of relates to something Evgney Morozov said the other night [Bridle and Morozov were ‘in discussion’ at the V&A the previous week] about how we get the tech that the economic and political systems allow for…

Yes, and we saw that in the early web, which was why it was a very different place. Because it was made, by and large, by people with a very different worldview and intention from most of the people making the contemporary web. The reason the web mostly looks like a shopping mall these days is because it’s largely been built by capitalists, and, to get down to brass tacks about it, is the result of a kind of aggressive neoliberalism… that’s not who built the early web.

Has that early sense of Utopianism been lost? Is it gone completely?

No, I don’t think it’s gone completely at all. You see it in within the heart of cypherpunk movements and anti-surveillance activists. The difference is that the web is completely mass medium now. Of course, you can’t just address the consequences of neoliberalism in its online context… you have to go deeper than that.

Your new exhibition Five Eyes at the V&A deals with these issues within the traditional gallery space. Can you talk a little about this?

Yes, it uses items from the museum’s collection to tell stories about the history of the intelligence services. It’s a thoroughly digital work in the way it’s been built and the way it’s been thought about, but it very much takes place in the physical space of the gallery using material and some very old objects. There are a couple of advantages of this: firstly, that you can reach a very different audience; secondly, that you get to engage with a different set stories and politics. The V&A provides a dataset, a collection of objects and information metadata that has a deep mystery, but that makes it possible to make critical work around privacy and surveillance without in some way doing more surveillance, which can sometimes be a problem.

Your latest project is called Citizen Ex. Can you talk a little about the genesis of this work? And about the concept of ‘algorithmic citizenship’ that underpins it?

I’m fascinated with issues around the physical infrastructure of the internet and the importance of making that something we can see and talk about. But also the more specific issue of citizenship and what that means today and what connections may exist between them. Discovering within the NSA documents these descriptions of how they need to assign citizenship in order to determine who can be surveilled, which is a direct application to everybody’s human rights every time we go online. This isn’t some crazy science fiction. ‘Algorithmic citizenship’ is a citizenship that is not bound by physical space, not based on where you were born or who your parents are, but is based very specifically on your behaviour, which is mostly how we are judged online. It is also constantly calculated, unstable and not based on the laws of any one location, but is an emergent property of the network itself.

Could you describe how Citizen Ex works?

So as you’re browsing, you’re constantly visiting websites, and each of those sites has an address, a string of digits, the IP address, which has a registered physical address, not always where the site is hosted, but usually a fairly good indicator of the basic network structure. When you visit these sites, it looks to the internet that you’ve visited these places. Citizen Ex shows you that, so you can see on a map where you are, and it compiles this information over time to determine your ‘algorithmic citizenship’. You start to get a picture of your online movements, your behaviour and where you are going. The point is to make people aware of this.

Do you think the kind of artistic strategies that are developing around these issues can have a meaningful effect on political systems, on judicial systems and the like?

I don’t know and I don’t want to make the claims for it, although I absolutely think that changes are possible, that they will only come about through wider understanding and that is something different forms of artistic expression can help articulate. I’m sceptical about the power of anything but genuine, long-term, strong, popular organisation to bring about real forms of change, but, you know, they need starting points, they need languages and terminologies to grapple with, and that’s part of what some of this work can do.

Citizen Ex is available to download now at http://citizen-ex.com. For more information about Bridle’s work visit http://shorttermmemoryloss.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jamesbridle

Leave a Comment

Filed under Interviews

The art of surveillance

Trevor Paglen

Surveillance has become a fruitful subject for art in recent years. Here are five artists whose work examines the reality of mass surveillance and data capture in the modern age.


Trevor Paglen is an artist, photographer and filmmaker whose practice has long sought to uncover the reality of mass surveillance in the modern world. His piece Code Names of the Surveillance State is a video installation composed from more than 4,000 NSA and GCHQ surveillance program code names that were projected onto public buildings. Other work has focused on the buildings that house security agencies, taken at extreme distances with high-powered telescopes to show the discreet locations that are hidden from prying human eyes.

NSA on Drugs

Something of a pioneer force in the digital/web-based art scene who coined the term ‘post-surveillance art’, Suzanne Treister has been making work about emerging technologies since the early 90s. Utilising various media, she has evolved a large body of work that uncovers the structures that bind power, identity and knowledge. Often spanning several years, her projects comprise fantastic reinterpretations of received taxonomies and histories that examine the existence of covert, unseen forces at work in the world.


A member of the Deep Lab collective, much of Ingrid Burrington’s recent work explores the physical architecture of networked communications technology. Her 2015 publication ‘Networks of New York: An Internet Infrastructure Field Guide’ maps the routes of cabling beneath the streets of the city. These are the arteries through which data flows and from where it is captured.


Deeply ingrained in her lived experience, much of Jill Magid’s work explores and blurs the boundaries between art and life. Through her performance-based practice she has initiated close relations with a number of organizations and structures of authority. She explores the emotional, philosophical and legal tensions between the individual and ‘protective’ institutions, such as intelligence agencies and the police.


James Bridle’s artworks and installations have been exhibited across the world, and have been seen by hundreds of thousands more online. It often examines the reality that has emerged out of the increasing impact of networked systems on wider society, culture and politics, and brings to light many of the unseen affects this technology has on our lives. His recent V&A exhibition, Five Eyes, takes its name from the alliance between intelligence agencies in the English-speaking nations: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US, and saw Bridle pass the museum’s 1.4 million digital object records through an intelligence analysis system that tags names, things and places, and creates searchable connections between seemingly disparate objects. The process is similar to methods used by the agencies to analyse large volumes of intercepted data they now hold.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Express propaganda: don’t believe the type

I know I shouldn’t let things printed in the Daily Express rile me, but yesterday’s article by Leo McKinstry ‘Britain’s economy has boomed under the Conservatives’ seriously takes the biscuit.

It is so full of holes, assumptions and non-reporting that it only really adds up to a transparent Tory propaganda puff-piece. No surprise there then. Worse, it’s actually dangerous because it perpetuates the favoured myth of neoliberal ideologues everywhere: that the current economic model is the only one possible and that it isn’t just a massive Ponzi scheme (which it clearly is to anyone that actually cares to look).

Where do I begin? Well for a start we have a coalition government, so the headline itself is disingenuous! Moving on to the numbers, it takes the recent ONS figures showing an increase in GDP growth but fails to account for the rise in population, which means that GDP per capita is actually stationary and hasn’t risen since the 2007 crisis. Let’s not also forget that the drugs trade and prostitution have also been added into the GDP calculations and so gave it a boost midway through the year.

It’s true that the budget deficit has been halved. Good, yes? Well, only in relative terms. The government is still borrowing in excess of £100billion a year to make up for the shortfall in revenue. Meanwhile, public services are being destroyed by inefficient stealth privatisation and the overall debt is of course still going up (up to nearly £1.5trillion). So again, not the full picture.

The article goes onto laud the current low interest rate as if this is uniformly good for the economy. It is not. While it benefits certain mortgage holders it has a huge negative impact on savings. Even the Daily Mail has touted a figure of £300billion having been knocked off the value of savings.

It also points to the recent rise in wages, which isn’t as straightforward as it looks either. It cites the 2.1% figure given by the ONS, but that figure includes bonuses, so the regular rise (i.e. for most people) is actually only 1.7%, which is actually down on the previous quarter. Let’s also not forget that real wages have been down for some time, so this marginal improvement is just that: marginal. And of course it elides this bump with current inflation, which of course doesn’t include housing costs that are constantly going up (another reason why the marginal increases in wealth aren’t being felt). If it did then ‘inflation’ would be significantly higher.

But The Express just loves to trumpet the wonders of house price inflation, which is good, whereas all other inflation is bad. The “dynamism of the housing market” the article refers to is seen as a universal panacea to all the nation’s ills. And here is where the greatest deception lies, for while the housing bubble continues to line the pockets of some, there are swathes of the population being priced out, forced to pay rising rents, while the government fail to do anything about the supply problem in order to keep the bubble going. This huge transference of wealth (from young to old, from the non-capital to the capital class) is driving the unprecedented levels of inequality we are witnessing.

The oh-so dynamic housing market is based on massive asset speculation and that’s the way they like it, because then the corporate elite and entrenched wealth owners get to make a quick buck on the back of everyone else. The sector is leveraged up to the hilt, which gives the impression of economic activity but is really just vast debt creation by the banks. They take cheap government money, which is pumped into the mortgage market, and the prices just keep on rising. QEd.

Housing speculation accounts for 40% of debt created by banks; the repayments on this debt go back to the banks. The big banks create 97% of all the new money in the economy. It is created as debt. This gives private a banks a virtual monopoly on the allocation of this money, which overwhelmingly goes into the housing and financial sectors and not into business investment. The 2013 figures show that household debt is up to £1,437billion, a trend which tracks the rise in house prices. First sign of a Ponzi: exponentially increasing liabilities. Second sign: incorrectly valued assets. This can only end one way.

This is symptomatic of the wider problems with the way the current financial system is constructed: it is only benefitting the tiny minority at the top, who will have made a mint by the time it all comes crashing down (and are probably hedging against a crash anyway, so they’ll make even more when it does).

Even the former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, famously said: “of all the many ways of organising banking, the worst is the one we have today”. Fiat currency means our money is not backed by anything; fractional reserve banking means that we do not legally own our own deposits; risk and speculation is greatly encouraged; and of course it’s all underwritten by the taxpayer when it goes boom. And what has happened since the last crash? Essentially nothing. In fact debt is even higher. We have buried our heads in the sands of specious housing wealth and pretend that everything is ok.

Finally, let’s not forget that even one of the Bank of England’s rate setters has said that the ONS figures might not be the best guide to the true state of the economy. Commentators jump on these statistics for the purposes of political expediency. This kind of propaganda is the worst form of legerdemain, when what is required is sober analysis leading to long-term reform of the current money system. Without this, we may face some dark days ahead.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized