We’ll hitchhike our way…

Sign of the times: a [group of hitch-hikers](http://the789project.eu/), planning a mass hitch this summer, need to agree on a European destination that will give them the least possible amount of hassle with visas and the like. Their choice: Ukraine. Yes, 500 people will be thumbing their way to Odessa because Shengen bureaucracy is so visitor-unfriendly.

This nugget from the [Berlin Beach Camp](http://www.berlinbeachcamp.org/), an annual get-together of [couchsurfers](http://couchsurfing.com/) at a lake near the city.

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38 Degrees

[38 Degrees](http://38degrees.org.uk/) has just launched. It’s aiming to become a UK counterpart to Avaaz: a large non-party campaign organization built around a stonking big email list, picking winnable campaigns and feeding their supporters with small, easy ways of contributing.

They’re kicking off with an attempt to bounce of the MP expenses kerfuffle to give constituents the power to recall MPs. So far they’re pretty vague about what this would entail, and I’m not entirely clear on the benefits. Sure, a few immensely corrupt MPs might be removed. But I dread to think how many local campaigns could end up diverting their energies into unwinnable attempts to remove their MPs.

I’m mildly concerned about a few aspects of their site: the [petition page](http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/recall) doesn’t make it clear whether 38 Degrees will hold onto your email, and they aren’t offering any email address to get in touch with them. But it’s early days yet, and these are things that will doubtless get ironed out quickly. Plus David Babbs is involved, so I already have a fair amount of unpleasantly old-boyish confidence in them.

nuum wars

Simon “[Energy Flash](http://ohuiginn.net/mt/2009/04/book_energy_flash.html)” Reynolds, K-Punk and friends have been having an interesting (and intriguingly nerdish) discussion on ‘nuum’, or the ‘hardore continuum’, the family of British music descending from rave and hardcore, and covering the range of jungle, garage, grime, and a thousand subgenre cousins. A blogger-heavy [conference](http://nuum.org/events/the-hardcore-continuum-a-discussion) at the University of East London has given them license to go into depth. Simon’s posts ([1](http://energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot.com/2009/05/nuum-and-its-discontents-1-centripetal.html) [2](http://energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot.com/2009/05/nuum-and-its-discontents-2-genre-versus.html) [3](http://energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot.com/2009/05/nuum-and-its-discontents-3-wot-u-call.html) [4](http://energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot.com/2009/05/nuum-and-its-discontents-4-party.html)) are unashamedly, delightfully, high-falutin’:

>You could see rave as a whole, and the nuum in particular, as modernism’s last stand, or unexpected comeback, long after the ideals of modernism had been abandoned, eroded, questioned, everywhere else….Miraculously holding pomo at bay, the nuum preserved within itself, within its own partially cordoned off space, the heightened temporality of peak-era modernism: a sensation of hurtling into the future.

K-Punk, incidentally, has a nice little [defense](http://www.factmagazine.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2437&Itemid=105) of criticism.

Thomas Bayrle

More art today, this time Thomas Bayrle. He’s the kind of artist who must have had a fit when Photoshop came along, after he’d spent decades making striking poster images out of identical repeating components. I’ve not yet found anything here to keep my attention more than a few seconds; maybe there are subtleties somewhere in the details, but I’ve not been able to find them. Still, quite pleasant at first glance:

The need for squats

A few weeks ago I joined [Tau](http://taumh.es/) and several thousand others on a [demonstration](http://aka.blogsport.de/2009/03/15/freiraum-demo-14-3-09/) across Berlin, in support of squats and other free spaces. I promised to write about it — and then repeatedly failed to, stymied by the vastness and importance of the topic.

Berlin’s squatters mostly feel they’re fighting a rearguard action, defending decades-old social centres from the inexorable march of private investors.

But I’m, for once, more optimistic than most, and more convinced that squats are an essential part of the urban ecology. Squats are to a city what strikes are to a firm, valuable more as threat than as activity. They challenge the belief that individual buildings in a city can function as private property, without obligations to their neighbours. A building without its surroundings is purposeless, worth no more in itself than its counterparts standing abandoned across East Germany. City buildings can only exist symbiotically, and when one is left empty it harms the others. That harm is fundamentally social, but it can also easily be translated to financial terms as the loss of house value.

Naturally, I don’t think every building should be squatted, or that existing squats should be inviolable. All else aside, a little tension keeps the squatters honest. The squats that survive are the ones which contribute to the life of the city.

So I don’t mind that Berlin’s squats are under pressure. They’re always under pressure, and so they should be. But for every squat evicted, another deserves to be created (at least!). And I still believe that it will happen.

Irish dancing in Minsk

Every guest brings some story to the [corner house](http://berlin.projectvolunteering.net/), so whenever I visit I’m confronted by some unexpected mini-world.

A fortnight ago, it was the popularity of Irish dancing in Belarus, as a troupe of dancers from Minsk passed by on their way home from a competition in Duisburg. Apparently step-dancing got started in Belarus at the start of the decade, imported from Moscow(!). It’s since grown rapidly, with teachers brought in from Ireland, and students traveling to international events. Apparently, the Irish dominance at these events is rapidly declining, with dancers from Eastern Europe creeping up the leader-boards.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising, beyond the surreal cross-cultural charm of saturday-night Slavic-Celtic jigs in a Berlin apartment. It fits right into the whole sprawling North European obsession with the middle ages, something you can find everywhere from Norwegian metal bands to Russian forest-lovers. It’s very apparent in Berlin, and presumably much stronger elsewhere in Germany. I’ve not ventured out to any of the numerous re-enactment fairs — an immense cottage industry, or perhaps more accurately a communal labour of love. Being more at home among cities than trees, I content myself with the Wednesday-night medieval music sessions in [Arcanoa](http://www.arcanoa.de/).

The Belarusian trend is clearly part of this; the one [English-language description](http://medievalbelarus.org/eng/?page=perfomances&p=dancperf) I could find is on a site devoted to “Medieval Belarus”.

As for the corner-house, it has lately been packed out by a [family of 12](http://blogs.bootsnall.com/kiwifamily/) making their way on a massive year-long journey across eurasia.

UK election leaflets, archived

Linkies! [The Straight Choice](http://www.thestraightchoice.org/) is a new website collecting campaign leaflets from UK elections.

If it takes off, this could become a very useful resource. Leaflets ofen show campaigns at their most brutal and desperate. Enhancing the collective memory of what politicians have done is a great way of holding them to account. That goes for the outrageous behaviour that comes out during elections (who [remembers](http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa5391/is_200410/ai_n21358424/) the Tory slogan “if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour.”? Would pictures help?). More importantly, it goes for the little promises that are made and then ignored, safe in the knowledge that what’s said in the campaign vanishes soon afterwards.

Of course, libraries do have collections of this stuff; there’s one at [LSE](http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/archive/gutoho/election_ephemera.htm), and another in Bristol. But I doubt they get much attention, except from academic historians and the occasional zealous party worker. Online images have much greater potential, provided the intial enthusiasm is enough to start it snowballing.

Stéphane Blanquet

There haven’t been nearly enough pictures around here lately. So here’s something by [Stéphane Blanquet](http://www.blanquet.com/journal/), a youngish French artist producing comics, book and CD covers, and a solid supply of drawings. They range from [Steadman-esque sketches](http://www.blanquet.com/journal/images/mars/rasage05.jpg), through an [outright terrifying](http://www.blanquet.com/journal/images/mars/capote.jpg) fake condom label, through to the kind of intricate and gently surreal composition that I’ll reliably fall for: