Columnists

The Overall Sale Experience

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Anyone entering the Selfridges store in London for their new year sale in January may have wondered if the store wasn't doing its best to put off potential customers.

Bold red, black and white signs incorporating phrases extolling the distortion of desire that comes with commodity fetishism were everywhere. It was as if a bunch of Marxist subvertisers had crept in late at night and hijacked the space. Critiques of consumerism sourced from Malcolm X, Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allen Poe, among others, were everywhere - as part of a collaboration between New York artist Barbara Kruger and the store.

Should We All be Tightening Our Belts?

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Halting climate change requires a change more fundamental than a series of lifestyle choices.

On the face of it, the threat which climate change poses to the environment - and even to the possibility of human life of this planet - has nothing to do with the class struggle.

In January the US energy secretary claimed that the private sector will deal with the problem because it affects them as much as anyone else: "The people who run companies do have children, they do have grandchildren, they do live and breathe in this world."

Going Backward

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Under neo-liberalism women are only 'liberated' as long as it means equal rights of exploitation and being commodities for the market.

Sometimes I feel I'm going back to the 1950s. There seems to be an endless parade of mostly women in the media telling us that we can't have it all, and that women who choose careers without giving due thought to how and when they will have children will regret it. You really wouldn't be surprised to see a young Doris Day pop up with advice on how to keep your man, or a new game show on how to beat your biological clock.

A Country Divided Against Itself

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There's more radicalism in Nashville than you might think.

Country music, it ought to be agreed, can't be cool. Teenage kids in the Bronx are unlikely to rob passers-by for their Nike stetson, and you wouldn't increase your chances of getting into the most prestigious nightclub in town if you stood in the queue with a pedal steel guitar.

The End of Subsidies Will Not Solve Poverty

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Cutting state aid to farmers in the North could make matters worse for those in the South.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conference in Hong Kong is over. The 14 political prisoners, mainly Korean farmers arrested during a protest against the Hong Kong agreement, have been released, although three of them will be prosecuted. And, it would seem, the WTO became just that little bit better, by addressing a charge frequently laid by its critics - the WTO is a fig leaf for a kind of agricultural imperialism.

Empire Day Reloaded?

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What Gordon Brown's 'British Day' chooses to celebrate will not be as important as what it chooses to hide.

My dad shared his birthday, 24 May, with Queen Victoria. It was designated Empire Day, and when he was a child in the 1920s and 1930s school children held parades and celebrations of the British Empire, on which famously at the time the sun never set. I was reminded of this with all the talk about a 'British Day' proposed by Gordon Brown, when one suggestion was that this could be a resurrected Empire Day.

Part Man, Part Machine, All Occupier

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In Jerusalem, a terminally wounded Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon returns as a cyborg with memories of massacres haunting him.

In Hadassah Hospital, where Ariel Sharon lies vastly, traditional prognostic categories won't do. Words like 'stable' and 'critical', presumably deemed inadequate to his Ozymandian stature, are mere adjuncts to hysterically precise descriptions of the rotund butcher's every mindless spasm and fart.

Watching Them, Watching You

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Governments all over the world are trying to censor internet dissent.

The issue of censorship and the internet has once again reared its ugly head in the last month. Firstly the French authorities came under fire when, as the first days of rioting spread in Paris, they forced Skyblog, a French web hosting company, to close down three blogs that they alleged had posted messages inciting people to join the riots. Three young French men face prison for running these sites.

A Clean Sweep

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"Slum clearance" often means attacks on the poor

The world's dark forces seem obsessed with urban hygiene these days. France's minister for truncheons and teargas, Nicolas Sarkozy, denounced the 'scum' (racaille) in Paris's suburban ghettoes and promised to use a big hose 'to clean them out'. While bloated bodies were still floating in the flooded streets of New Orleans' black neighbourhoods, a Republican congressman thanked god for 'finally cleaning out the housing projects'.

Electric Reading

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Free downloads benefit artists and the public.

Charles Stross could be described as the latest in a new wave of science fiction writers coming out of Britain, though his first short story was published in 1987. His books Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise have had rave reviews, and the latter was nominated for the Hugo award for best novel. With his latest novel Accelerando, however, he has taken the unusual step of releasing it for free internet download at the same time as it has been published.

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