Our Great Irony: Market Stalinism and Jeremy Hunt

By Patrick Lee

Picture it. You’re a university lecturer teaching a course on Modern American Fiction and you’re conducting your own research into, I don’t know, the conception of protest in different generations of alternative narratives. I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, any example will do. OK, so you have a desire and a passion to teach. You’re looking forward to the course. Now you have to submit a ‘module specification’, listing all your ‘aims and objectives’, which will be assessed at the end of the course; then you have to provide a ‘modes and methods of assessment’ form; then at the end of the course you have to provide an assessment of your performance and the module’s strengths and weaknesses. Then you have to provide some paperwork on how the course will be improved next year. Then you have to submit your four best pieces of published research as part of the Research Assessment Exercise. This is just the start of the paperwork.

Or, as I recently was, imagine you are visiting a dying person in a state funded hospital. In my case we had to plead, and finally insist, that more morphine was given to the patient due to their agony and our distress. Morphine has to be administered by two nurses. This process has to be monitored, and recorded. The patient, dying, in bed in the middle of the night, swimming in and out of consciousness, surrounded by family, then had to be stripped naked, and re-clothed. This was a fundamental procedure, despite the fact she had less than a few hours left to live. A box had to be ticked. The change of clothes did nothing to help the patient’s physical state. The bureaucracy was of detriment to the service. The nurses who changed her were private nurses.

I’ve worked in kitchens where a tick box focusing on what to clean and how to clean it was actually damaging to the process of keeping the kitchen as clean as possible. I’ve worked in restaurants where waiters were given scripted lines to say to customers. I’ve worked in call centres where every line of conversation, every bathroom break, and every glass of water drunk, was monitored and recorded so I could assess my own performance levels.

On the surface it, a focus on bureaucracy seems antithetical to the neoliberal, free market liberal democracy of Western hegemony. The appeal of neoliberalism is that it is the opposite of Stalinist centralised government. It encourages free market growth and empowerment of the individual to achieve in a competitive workplace, rather than serve the interests of the state. Neoliberalism should therefore, theoretically, attempt to abolish Stalinist paperwork and bureaucratic procedures.  In the West only the market rules, and those who participate in it are individuals who can succeed or fail as they see fit. So, the obvious question is: why all the bureaucracy?  And does it benefit anyone?

Think back to the examples of the dying patient in hospital, or of a teacher wanting to lecture his students. Are these students consumers or products of a privatised education institution? This question becomes very tricky and, as you try to work it out, try to imagine you are looking at it from the perspective of free market entrepreneur: how can the education (or health) system generate as much money as possible? The difficulty comes in the fact that these forms of labour are difficult to quantify. An ideal market produces swift transactions, where demands are met directly by an institution. But now we need to monitor this institution in order to maintain that transaction. More management is needed to regulate and mediate on performance of the hospital or school. Boxes must be ticked, evaluations completed in order to preserve the illusion of all round smooth transactions. Performance of the institution must be evaluated and judging the performance of a school, or of a hospital, or a police station, where it is difficult to bracket customers and pigeonhole results, necessitates a lot of awkward, boring and possibly unnecessary questions and observation.

Please note, however, that it is only the appearance of the institutions that actually matter. You will notice that during this evaluation the needs of the customer have become secondary to the needs of the market. More effort must now go into preserving the appearance that work is being done on improving services, rather than actually improving those services themselves. And so we witness the introduction of targets, which everybody knows by now are bad for business. We can all, I’m sure, think of examples of the failure of targets. I immediately remember practising for my GCSE exams, and asking my maths teacher to explain in more detail the reason for applying a certain formula to get certain results (I think it may have been why Pythagoras’s theory worked, or why in order to find 1% of something I divided by 100). Instead of having the rule explained to me, I was just told to remember the rule, as that’s all I would need for my exam. This wasn’t necessarily bad teaching. My teacher simply had limited time to make sure his students got the best exam results possible, and to ensure that he therefore scored highly in his own assessments from management. I, however, never really learnt the truth behind certain maths problems: only the exam mattered, only the illusion that I had a grasp on Pythagoras. Targets become ends in themselves rather than empirical measurements of performance, and the customer suffers.

The result if what contemporary philosophers and social scientists refer to as market Stalinism. Stalin wanted the world to see communist industry at its best and so pushed development of projects until their progress was hampered by his goal-orientated ethos. The White Sea Canal project is the best example of this form of Stalinist industry, and is comparable to how markets are managed in the contemporary neoliberal West.

However, as work has become decentralized and the onus is on individuals to constantly re-evaluate and demonstrate their skills in ever changing work spheres, it becomes the responsibility of the worker to monitor their own performance. As Foucault described with his panopticon metaphor, when a person does not know when they are being monitored, they act as if they are being monitored constantly. As a worker in a decentralized market it is only your responsibility to continue to monitor your own performance and progress, or to fail. Consequently workers will now be expected to find something wrong with themselves, in order to have something to improve upon. Working to a “satisfactory” level is no longer actually satisfactory.

This bureaucracy, the measurement of unquantifiable data in order to try to derive profit, is the price we pay for free market liberal democracy. And what does that provide us with? The answer is ostensibly economic growth, the satisfaction of human needs, the growth of technology and victory of man over nature.

In the instance of unquantifiable and essentially humanistic or egalitarian aims, however, the bureaucratic process clearly does not work. A compromise must be found, and the first step must be in addressing what liberal democracy provides human beings. Rousseau argued that technological advancement did not make humans happier, but rather more miserable. Human needs are only very basic, according to Rousseau: food and shelter from the elements, and not much more.  Technological advancement and economic growth may in fact hinder the most vital human instincts. So long as the desire for exponential growth still exists the bureaucratic procedure in the world of work will rule, as it is the way of monitoring the market. However, in the instance of the NHS, or humanistic institutions, these procedures are damaging. Compromise must be found. Jeremy Hunt’s Statutory Instrument 257 is the next step in the Tory coalition government privatising the NHS, opening up doctor’s records to the private health companies, and further adding a new layer of damaging bureaucracy onto the health system. In order to fight against bureaucracy and the damaging nature of self-evaluation, a new collective political subject must emerge. The first step is in fighting the total privatisation and bureaucratisation of the most fundamental institutions.

A petition against Hunt’s privatisation measures can be signed here


Racism and you: Cameron’s easy EU scapegoat

By Patrick Lee

There’s a book by Andrew Gamble called The Conservative Nation. Gamble suggests that despite all attempts to modernise, the Tory party will never be able to reconcile its nationalistic ideology. Glory to England. God Save The Queen. No surrender. That type of thing. Cameron won leadership of the Tory party by promising its hardcore Eurosceptic members, the nationalists, that he would provide a referendum on EU membership. He will now have to hold this referendum in his second term, if he wins the election outright, which he didn’t manage last time.

In making a pledge to hold this referendum Cameron has put all potential investors into Great Britain in a state of gross uncertainty. 57% of our trade is with Europe, where there are no cost trade restrictions and free goods flow. Isolationist policies have not worked, anywhere, (for the most obvious example, read up on N Korea’s latest famine). Austerity, also, has not worked in clawing any country out of the recession anywhere, and yet we continue to pursue austerity measures. Spending in the EU did not get us into this position. Nor, for that matter, did spending on welfare. What got us into this position was unregulated banking investments and out of control corporate tax laws. Cameron will look to blame the EU to fit his own political ambitions.

It is widely believed Cameron has accepted a deal with UKIP and Nigel Farage, the terms of which are basically that a referendum will be held on EU membership in return for UKIP not standing against Tory candidates in key seats.

Ignoring how strikingly evil and murky this deal is, let’s just focus on its consequences: prepare to hear, especially in the build up to the next election, arguments about immigration. We will be told that The European Union, and the amount of money we put into it, and the weaker state of other economies dragging us down, and the movement between Europe and the huge increase in workers in the UK this has brought, is fundamentally damaging to the UK. This is designed to distract from the real story: the woeful state of our economy and our lost generation of workers. If there is any doubt as to the significance of the EU, read this footnote from The Guardian[1].

Jack Buckby is a perfect example of how our conceptions of race, immigration and equality will be challenged in the up-coming election. He has aimed to change the language used when framing anti-immigration policy, rather than adding anything new to the debate. He has put a new mask on the same face. The point is that immigration is not to blame for the fact that this government is the first ever to preside over a triple dip recession, or the widening gap between rich and poor. The EU is not to blame for the continued failure of austerity measures in every country that tries them. All Cameron is doing by making this deal with UKIP and offering a referendum on Europe is to inappropriately introduce the topic of race back into the debate. Don’t be fooled.

[1] What did the EEC/EU ever do for us? Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade; structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline; clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; lead free petrol; restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile charges; cheaper air travel; improved consumer protection and food labelling; a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives; better product safety; single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance; break up of monopolies; Europe-wide patent and copyright protection; no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market; price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone; freedom to travel, live and work across Europe; funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad; access to European health services; labour protection and enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; equal pay legislation; holiday entitlement; the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime; strongest wildlife protection in the world;

The Culturalist’s Spider Web

By Patrick Lee

It’s difficult when writing about the BNP, far-right extremists and activists, because inevitably the article will end up in a magazine or website sympathetic to left-wing views and will consequently only really be read by left-wing people. So, who is there to convince? No one I guess. But, should the topic of young Jack Buckby come up, this may act as a helpful guide on firstly why he is dangerous and secondly why he is foolish. Hopefully the article will end up in the hands of someone who might otherwise have been convinced by him, and who might have been thinking of joining a far-right group. Hopefully they’ll read this and say “oh yeah, what was I thinking?”

The boy has made it onto Twitter, then started being discussed on Facebook, now he’s the focus of an article in Vice Magazine and ultimately he’s in the public eye and is raising awareness for far-right agendas and the BNP party. The complicated net of rhetoric, non-sequiturs, and twisted political correctness make it difficult to write clearly on the issues that the far-right discuss, as they constantly lure you into that web. So let’s try to stay concrete.

Buckby’s message is pretty simple: the BNP has to change its line. It has to stop being a party which talks about hate and which is seen as racist, and to start being a party that talks about preserving “culturalism” (their word, not mine). The words “race” and “BNP” in the same sentence have negative connotations. Talking about “loving culturalism” sounds better. Negative campaigns have negative political consequences. Buckby is providing a solution: There is nothing wrong with loving culture. Simple.

(You can read his  “statement of ideology” here: please prepare to be absolutely convinced.)

Obviously nobody disagrees with people having the right to an ethnic homeland. Obviously nobody disagrees with promoting “love and a desire to preserve culture around the world”, although it is unclear how he plans to promote love. He could have added that National Culturalists think fun is good and sadness is bad.

Not that this is an original idea. The idea to begin using the term “culturalism” comes from John Press and his Brooklyn Tea Movement. This is a branch of the US Tea Party and is everything that you would associate with it: they protest mosques, they embrace Judeo-Christian ideals and they protest the US health-care bill. OK? So, staying concrete so far.

Now the argument begins. Buckby looks forward to being able to counter “left-wingers” who “accuse” the BNP of being a racist party by saying “our response to criticism is that we are not racist, we are just as concerned with racism as the left are, we are concerned simply about culture”.

Fair enough, so let’s take a look at the BNP: MEPs who are former members of the openly racist Nazi National Socialist Movement; strict anti-immigration policies; anti-EU policies; Holocaust deniers; security for speeches provided by the English Defence League; and an undeniable belief in a link between race and crime and between race and the disintegration of British institutions such as the nuclear family. Put simply: an exaggerated, inappropriate focus on race. Buckby claims to be concerned with preserving culture and vehemently denies being a racist, and yet has not joined the British Cultural Heritage Association; he has joined the BNP, who have a long history of racism.

However, his focus is, undeniably, on language. You can watch him give a slightly awkward speech here. The buzzword throughout is language: Change the image of the party. Stop being a party focused on negativity and instead make it about loving something.

Enter Newspeak. Buckby says, “The left are more successful in universities than we are, it’s sad but it’s true, but perhaps if we can use their language we can become perhaps more well respected”. The problem, for him, is the far right cannot legitimately adopt the language of popular left wing parties because they are not a popular left wing party. Their message will become unclear. “We are not a party who hate other races; instead we are a party who just love our culture. We are a culturalist party, not a racist party.” In Newspeak this is known as doubleplusungood, and it is a dangerous political process for citizens. As soon as we compromise on the language extremist groups can use and can manipulate, we compromise on how much we ourselves can be manipulated.

It must also be noted how hypocritical it is that Buckby’s ultimate aim is to preserve cultural and traditional identity while at the same time he plans on hijacking “the left’s” political identity.

What’s more is the strange emphasis that the BNP and Buckby put on protecting democracy somehow. To use a widely accepted definition of democracy: the ideology involves a system whereby all members of a nation or state can participate in the decisions made by that state, often through elected representatives. It seems counter-intuitive to the cause of democracy, therefore, to reduce the state’s population and democratic potential by creating policies based on the separation of various races within that state. Or, as Orwell says, “It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.” Jack Buckby’s definition of “democracy” is unclear, but I would suspect it is a system of representation in the UK where only white people can vote, or second or third generation families from immigrant families do not share equal rights. Let’s be clear: It is a goal of the BNP and the far right to limit the number of foreign people in the country. I would suggest this is anti-democratic.

What seems like a bizarre decision is to publicize the meetings where public perception is discussed. The far right and Nick Griffin have chosen to make public the meetings they are having about how to best define their public perception: they are in effect telling us in advance how they plan to deceive us with surreptitious rhetoric.

And now to the awkward bit. It becomes awkward to talk about somebody’s appearance and the image that they present, but this is relevant particularly when talking about spin, public relations and changing the face of the British National Party. If Buckby wants the image of himself as the shaded PR political spin doctor pulling the strings of government with a folder under his arm then he and the far-right need to be looked at. Nick Griffin does not have a favorable immediate public perception. He is widely hated both within and outside his own party, was destroyed and ridiculed on Question Time, and, it must be addressed, he has a lazy eye. I do not agree with the amount of PR in politics. I detest Cameron’s public pandering and Blair’s walking into Downing Street with a guitar and walking out still with his mug of tea, but PR is a necessary part of the discussion in contemporary politics and Griffin and Buckby have voluntarily, and slightly ironically, put themselves in a world where people are judged on their appearance. Griffin has just lost an outspoken racist MEP and popular BNP party member in Andrew Brons. Has he picked a good replacement for pampering the image of the right-wing extremist?

The press have, predictably, jumped on the “Griffin’s protégé” narrative for Buckby, and Buckby himself talks about “coming out” as a Nationalist and “going through college as the notorious BNP guy”. What do we know about these kinds of people? The people who discuss their own notoriety and individuality? To put it politely, it is often a way for people who do not fit into the world to find a way to fit in. I can imagine young Griffin with his shuffling demeanor and not-too-friendly political posturing found his notoriety, his voice, in the controversial views that won him so much attention (think of the ignored little child who bashes his sister over the head and suddenly has lots of attention). I see the same in Buckby. People say he’s well dressed, but look closely: do you see a young, dashing Cameron or Blair type? A man who really knows PR? Or do you see a shakey young man with badly grown stubble, an ill-fitting pinstriped waistcoat, a cheap seaside union jack tie, and Yoko Ono’s shades? I see the kid in the student union that didn’t immediately make friends, and who wanted a bit more attention. I see someone relishing the role he’s made for himself in being “controversial” and “intellectual”, with very little behind the façade.

James Elroy talks about when he was a messed up young man following the murder of his mother and his own drug addiction and absolute social isolation from women, his father and his peers. He found solace, and the attention that he craved, in joining the American Nazi party. This is not a man with right-wing views. It was a young man seeking notoriety.

It was not the proudest part of Elroy’s life.

Syria and the perpetual crisis

By Neil Andrews

A visit to the world’s oldest city two years ago and you would have seen men playing board games out on dusty Damascene streets.  Not any longer.  The death toll since hostilities broke out between rebel forces and the government of Bashar al-Assad in March 2011 is 70,000 and rising, and yet the West does nothing.  Why?

The situation in Syria is deteriorating at an alarming rate.  Along with the tens of thousands already dead, up to 2 million Syrians are thought to have been displaced inside the country, many without proper shelter or access to medication.  Added to this is the growing refugee problem: an estimated 700,000 people are thought to have fled Syria into neighboring countries in recent months and the borders of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are bursting at the seams.  It is little surprise, then, that Syria’s neighbours are desperately struggling to cope with the rising influx of people and failing to provide ample healthcare and sanitation.  Added to this, a recent UN appeal aimed at raising $1.5 billion to assist Syrian refugees had only achieved 3% of its target.

The refugee problem is not all, though.  Syria itself remains in a perpetual state of violence and civil war.  Only 3 days ago a car bomb in the capital killed 53 people, a day after a mortar attack fatally wounded a player inside a local football stadium.  This latest wave of atrocities comes just weeks after the bodies of 80 suspected rebel troops were scooped out of a canal in Aleppo, the country’s largest city.  The men, who were later identified by family members, had been shot with a bullet to the head and their hands tied behind their backs, bearing all the hallmarks of a planned execution, most probably by regime troops.  Yet, despairingly, President Assad remains free to commit genocide.

There are two reasons why the West is reluctant to commit.  First is the support that Assad commands.  Inside Syria the government has a large Allawite following and the control of over 50,000 well-armed troops, as well as a pool of maybe thousands more to draw upon.  Supplementing this is the backing Assad enjoys from the Lebanese extremist party, Hezbollah, as well as financial and military aid from Iran, Iraq and Russia.  Indeed, it is the support from Russia, the world’s second-largest military power, that is especially demoralizing.  Having already blocked 3 UN Security Council resolutions aimed at evicting Assad, and on the verge of an agreement to sell air and naval defence systems (as well as a consignment of Yak-130 jets, with ground attack capabilities) to the Syrian government, Russia is proving a major thorn in the side of Western endeavors.  Despite the attempts last month of its Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, to cool talk of Russia’s links to Assad, it is clear that the Kremlin is continuing to prop up the Middle Eastern despot.  Unless Russia withdraws its support for the regime, Assad will continue to sponsor the massacre of innocent Syrians and the West will be at pains to act.

Perhaps a bigger concern for the West is the danger of causing a greater pan-Arabian crisis.  Geopolitically, Syria is nestled in between a number of already highly volatile Middle Eastern nations, and an act of Western intervention carries the risk of inflaming ethnic divisions, as well as fuelling the jihadist cause.  Lebanon has close ties with Syria and any interference by the West has the potential to flare up pro- and anti-Assad divisions within the country.  Israel, which also shares a border with Syria, is another hotbed of political ferment – the installation of an Islamist party, similar to that of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, would only stoke anti-Islamic sentiment.

But this should not excuse the West’s absence.  Pushing for a no-fly zone over Syria, aiding legitimate rebel forces and increasing pressure on Russia would all be welcome moves.  If the West does not act quickly, Syrians will continue to die at an appalling rate and a once beautiful, historic country could burn to ash.

Anonymity for Rape Suspects?

By Kirstin Fairnie

The head of the bar council of England and Wales, Maura McGowan QC, has said in an interview on the Stephen Nolan show that she thinks there is a case to be made for granting rape suspects anonymity.

Putting aside my surprise that the headlines have been filled by comments made on the sports channel BBC 5 live, rather than one of the more usual suspects like the Today programme or the Andrew Marr show, I am relieved to hear that someone has finally come out in support of one of the key tenets of our justice system- ‘innocent until proven guilty’. And what’s more, it’s a woman who’s risking being accused of betraying her sex by hyper-feminists who confuse rape with ‘feminist issues’. Disappointingly however, she has qualified her call by claiming that the scandalous nature of rape cases makes it particularly important that suspects should be granted anonymity. I completely disagree that accusations of rape are any more poisonous to a person’s reputation than other criminal allegations.

At first it seems obvious that defendants ought to be anonymous, since the ramifications of criminal allegations on a defendant’s life are so far-reaching that it is hard to justify making them public before they have been proven. There seems to be something in the human psyche that makes it very difficult to maintain a neutral attitude towards someone who has been accused of a crime, even before we’ve heard the evidence against them. ‘No smoke without fire’ type attitudes mean that even people who have cleared their names in court are still stigmatised in society. In fact, this probably makes them more likely to turn to a life of crime: if the strain of legal proceedings leads to you losing your family and then lose your job (or contract with Nike, like Oscar Pistorius) and then you cannot get another job because of your inaccurate reputation, it’s easy to see how disaffected you would become. If you can’t afford to keep up payments on your mortgage, you might end up homeless. Worse, you might turn to fraud or theft to make money, since society hates you anyway, so it doesn’t seem like your reputation could get any worse.

But there’s more to this than meets the eye. Slander laws are designed to prevent accusations reaching court without any evidence on which to build a case, so it ought to be unlikely that a completely bogus claim reaches court. The high costs of legal proceedings ensure that most plaintiffs cannot afford to bring spurious cases to court. So usually, the plaintiff at least believes that he or she has been the victim of a crime. If defendants are protected by anonymity, plaintiffs might feel that their accusations are not really believed. This might discourage victims from coming forward, and would allow criminals to get away scot-free. In cases involving repeat offenders, if only one victim feels confident enough in the justice system to make legal accusations, this will diminish the scale of the defendant’s crimes. The Jimmy Saville case has shown how naming a defendant can encourage other victims to come forward once they know that they will be believed. This is the case made by the charity Rape Crisis. However, I don’t really think this argument makes sense. If a defendant is named once he or she has been proven guilty, then surely other victims would be prepared to come forward and testify against them? There is no reason why a stronger punishment could not be given to a convicted criminal if he or she is later found guilty of multiple crimes.

We need to get to a position where victims trust the justice system enough to know that they will be believed, and that if they tell the truth they will win in court, even if their defendant is anonymous. This would ultimately lead to victims of crime coming forward, not naming and shaming before both defendant and plaintiff have had the opportunity to make their case in court.

Big Mistakes and Lots of Luck But Rémi Castaignon Blunders Through EPT Deauville

By Robert Hainault

Before the Main Event of the European Poker Tour Deauville you might have been excused for asking, ‘Who is Rémi Castaignon?’ The 29-year-old Frenchman has lifetime winnings of $1,059,266, but until February 9th he had never cashed in a live tournament.

Castaignon, who won his seat through an online qualifier, arrived at the final table as the clear chip leader with over 40% of the chips in play and three times the stack of his nearest rival, Lebanese player Walid Bou Habib.

It might have been a relaxed first few hands for Castaignon but around him the action was less leisurely. Jeffrey Hakim who came to the table with only 11 big blinds was knocked out in the very first hand when he shoved with ace king and unfortunately ran into the pocket aces of brightly-hatted German Enrico Rudelitz.

Castaignon had certainly earned his place at the final table having knocked out eight of the fifteen players the day before, including the last three, and with his easy lead couldn’t stay out of the action for long, losing 3 million in chips with hole fives to Rudelitz’s top set on the sixth hand and going down to second place.

It might have been a bad read by Castaignon, or his lack of experience playing in live tournaments, but faced by a three-bet pre-flop by Rudelitz, a chunky continuation bet on the flop itself, a bet of one million on the turn and an all-in bet on the river, on a board with three overcards it was hard to figure out what Castaignon thought he was beating shy of a maniacal bluff.

However, it was these kinds of big calls, combined with lucky turns and rivers that got Castaignon to the final table in the first place. When he turned his set into tens full of jacks on the river against Rudelitz to hammer his German rival’s already-dwindling stack I began to think – with a lot of help from lady luck and perhaps a bit too much heart – the online qualifier might be fated to take down Deauville’s ninth EPT. An hour and a half later he was heads-up against Walid Bou Habib and had nearly two thirds of the chips in play.

Bou Habib might have had experience on his side with six previous EPT main event cashes since 2008, but – even despite his distractingly shiny pate – against Castiagnon’s impressive chip lead it was always going to be difficult to take the title.

Despite more fishy calls from Castaignon – such as peeling off a total of 1.32 million in chips by calling a board with flush, straight, and top set possibilities with only ace high in his pocket and no draws (which wouldn’t beat even the lightest of semi-bluffs) – the Frenchman drove on, skilfully exploiting his stack size and constantly putting pressure on his opponent. It might have been reckless egotism that saw him paying for too many feather-light hands according to poker strategists, but from a meta-game angle the message was clear, if unintentional: if you want to bluff the mammoth stack, you’d better watch out because Castaignon is coming to call. A few hands later he woke up with queens and with a little trappy play shot up to 7-3 favourite to win.

Before long, Bou Habib had gone all in with king eight suited and Castaignon called with his pair of treys. The flop came six, four, five rainbow giving Castiagnon the up-and-down straight draw, but a seven, eight or king would kill Castaignon’s hand. A ten on the turn helped neither of them. Bou Habib still needed his seven, eight or king when the river revealed an ace making Catastaignon’s first ever live cash an impressive 770,000 euros to go with his new title as EPT Deauville Main Event champion 2013.

It might have been a rocky road with some big mistakes for the obscure Frenchman, but his aggressive style coupled with some serious luck took him to victory. He might not have been the best player at the table, but he had the heart to see himself through. Even though my eyes will be on Bou Habib and Rudelitz in future tournaments, now no-one who follows poker can ask: ‘Who is Rémi Castaignon?’

The acquired taste for horsemeat

By Chris Waller

I’ve been trying to rationalise just why I’ve been enjoying the ongoing horsemeat affair so much in the recent weeks and I am fairly sure it’s not the flowering economy of horse puns that one could easily mistake as the reason for the ongoing prevalence of this story. Alongside the serious need to be able to trust in the industry that provides us with the necessities of life and the clear breach in trust that has effected many homes in the UK  there is a very organic sense of rejoicing that this event carries with it. With each new finding I have found myself desperately scanning the list of products to determine whether I can be part of the joke. The middle-class foodie in me is crying out to say that I’ve tried horse, and yet it seems that my class is exactly the reason why I am left yearning. Though the only people who seem to be outraged by this affair are the politicians, I think that if we are to risk taking a serious tone in these encouragingly farcical events then it should be along the lines of class.

Simply put, there has been a huge division in the quality of food consumed between low income and middle-class households in the last 30 years with the emergence of convenient, low-cost, processed-foods. This uptake reflects changes in family structures and labour which mean amongst other things that the time and inclination to make food from scratch is just not available. This point continues to be made by many more qualified commentators than myself but it is worth noting because I think in an inverse way it explains why the horsemeat scandal seems to be propelled so much by its inherent humour.

Firstly, horsemeat as a concept is already fairly well established as classification for suspicious foods. Off-brand products and fast-food outlets tend to be subject to speculation of this sort by existing outside of our normal practices. Distinguishing ‘the good kebab shop’ tends to say more about the limitations of our experience than of our connoisseurial approach to kebab consumption.
Secondly, this reaction is a somewhat cathartic response to an ideology in British food culture over the last decade that reflects a poorly masked smugness in relation to produce and cooking. In the past, for better or worse, food programming concerned itself with middle-class audiences and their taste for haute-cuisine or exotic dishes from across the world. As ideology began to attach itself to food, the middle-class sensibilities prevailed but presenters began to make clear judgements as to what was to be valued. With his good intentions and outcomes taken into account, Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners was amongst the first and most important of this breed of value laden food television. Soon a host of celebrity chefs began involving themselves in this cause with the predominant aim of making the nation cook like diligent and responsible middle-class people. With economic and environmental causes being added to the list of concerns the notions of locally and sustainably sourced produce began to fill our screens with chefs and politicians alike praising British produce as amongst the best in the world. This may well be true, but world class produce for the most part takes a well trodden route straight to world class restaurants and rarely to supermarkets or homes.

The result is that the food programming and the culture surrounding it puts pressure on us to conform to its morally framed expectations. The presentation of a dish is normally married with an acknowledgment that we’re ‘all so busy’ and that food shouldn’t be stressful. The food is prepared before segueing into a montage where the presenter enacts some instance of their bleakly food-centred lifestyle before returning home to serve a vibrant and delicious meal to a tellingly transient group of friends. The format varies but the message does not; ‘good food is easy to make; there are no excuses.’

Aside from its good nutritional value and its status as a delicacy in many parts of the world this is surely another reason to relish horsemeat. The joy of this story and the reason for its continual strength is that it deflates this sanctimonious attitude that the food industry has deployed to its benefit in recent years. This base and somewhat medieval saga is exactly the antidote to an ideology which has long lost its focus and legitimacy. We should take this as an opportunity to think pragmatically about food as a necessity rather than an elusive constellation of moralistic sentiments that ultimately sells strawberries to those that can afford them and horse to everyone else.