UKIP: Let All the Pus Run Out

If you think for a moment that all the narrow minded, xenophobic, little Englander sentiment is neatly wrapped up in the UKIP party you would be very wrong. The Conservative ranks are full of such stuff as is the Labour Party and the accompanying trades union movement. And the least said about the fascist British National Party, many of whose supporters have quietly decamped to UKIP, the better.  No, UKIP does not have a monopoly on such reactionary and inward looking ideas. Such ideas permeate all sections and social strata within British society. Maybe it’s a throwback to the days of Empire or more likely a hankering for the return of that empire. To have to doff the cap to German industrialists and financiers must be an indignity indeed for the British Ruling classes and those lower orders that managed to secure a few crumbs from the imperial table. The toxicity of empire has not been fully exorcized from the British psyche and the rise of UKIP is a stark reminder of that fact. 

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Saturday, Ian McEwan, Vintage, London, 2005

It has become popular to mourn the passing of ‘community’ and ‘society’ as the juggernaut of global capitalism crushes all before it. I must confess to having indulged in that pastime myself. But on deeper reflection could it not be possible that the seeming inevitability of personal atomisation is a good thing, or if not actually good, then at least a necessary stage in our collective human development? Could it not be argued that to stand naked, free of all the idiocy of religion, nation, race and tribe, in front of an uncaring, unblinking universe, is the real starting point of human adulthood? To be forced to find meaning in a meaningless universe, without recourse to gods, divine or supernatural, is perhaps the hardest task of all. To take comfort and joy in the mere wonder of it all, and to celebrate the staggering uniqueness and sheer mathematical improbability of human consciousness. Could this not be the real starting point of the human journey? A blank canvass where we are free to paint a trillion adventures unencumbered by ancient superstitions and religious and political dogmas. Somehow I suspect that Ian McEwan’s wonderfully drawn character, Henry Perowne, in his quite brilliant novel ‘Saturday’, is taking us precisely in this direction. Perowne has his work, his family and his political and existential angst. And in one single day we are witness to Perowne’s every conflicted thought. And we the reader are privileged to watch  McEwan interweave Perowne’s tormented and conflicting thoughts with consummate ease.

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Success versus winning in sport

I have been meaning to write about the sporting concept of “winning” for a while. However, as I tried to establish some concrete approach to this, “a unified theory of winning things” if you will, it became clear that instead of winning I was actually thinking about “success”.

Winning is often beyond us, whereas Success is always a possibility. My father is a good example of this. A fierce competitor, in his youth (and beyond his youth) he played football and developed a reputation as a determined and tricky winger, relentlessly pressuring the opposing full-backs. He played until his early forties when his body told him that getting slide tackled a few dozen times every Sunday was no longer sensible. So he took up tennis and for the next 40 years he cultivated a reputation at club level as a dogged baseliner, chasing down balls that many younger men would leave. Now in his 80s, tennis is beyond him. However, even now, at his local senior pitch-and-putt club events, he is there to win, if he can. He’s even been known to instigate the odd steward’s enquiry if he loses. Success for my father involves competing as hard as he can for as long as he can.

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Johnny Rotten versus Russell Brand

Is it possible for two seemingly opposite positions to both be true and at the very same time? Yes it is. Given that ‘truth’ invariably has a huge dollop of subjectivity wrapped up in it, it is entirely plausible that two opposing positions, contradictory as they may be, both contain at least sizable chunks of truth. But before we get carried away, let’s be crystal clear about this ‘truth’ business. Some propositions are definitively true while others are definitively false. The dinosaurs, for example, existed some sixty million years before the evolution of the biped, and those that have argued, and those that continue to argue that dinosaurs and man roamed the earth together are simply wrong. No debate, no ambiguity, no partial meeting of minds. Similarly, Copernicus and Galileo were absolutely correct about the place of the Earth in relation to the solar system, and the Catholic Church, which bitterly opposed these two great thinkers, was absolutely wrong. Ditto for those that argued a ‘flat Earth’ position and those that courageously disputed it. So we have learnt through the scientific age that certain propositions can be proved true or false through rigorous and repeated testing. While always retaining an element of scientific scepticism, we have forged our modern world on the basis of such scientific rigor. All opinions are not equal. Some are demonstrably correct and others are patently false. But when it comes to political ‘truths’ things get a bit messy.

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J, Howard Jacobson, Jonathan Cape, London, 2014

Karl Marx was once asked what his views were on the ‘Jewish Question’. Marx curtly replied, ‘What Jewish Question?’ In a similar vein, Einstein was asked if he thought there was anything special about the Jews. He quickly replied he could discern nothing special and he was certain that if the Jews ever were to attain nationhood they would soon behave like every other nation. It seems that Howard Jacobson has not taken on board either of these eminent men’s wisdom, both of whom by the way were committed atheists from a Jewish background. No, our Mr Jacobson, though I suspect he himself probably tends towards an atheist view of the world, insists on conjuring up a Jewish predicament when indeed there is no such thing. What there is, is a human predicament, which although takes on distinct national and religious particularities, is in the end nothing but the residual ripples of an ancient but stubborn human tribalism. The ‘Jewishness’ that Jacobson is perpetually preoccupied with is nothing more than an accumulation of acquired superstitions, as are all religions, including the two other Abrahamic religions that have grown out of ancient Judaism. By giving oxygen to the so-called Jewish predicament, Jacobson serves only to perpetuate those very superstitions.

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Iraq: Eleven Awkward Questions.

  1. How is the Saudi regime, a supposedly key component of the ‘international coalition against Islamic State’, complete with its routine beheadings and draconian subjugation of women and gays, qualitatively different from IS?

  2. How does the Saudi regime continue to substantially fund Al Qaida, the Taleban and now Islamic State yet still be courted as a key player in the ‘international coalition’ against Islamic terror?

  3. How does Israel, with its relentless occupation of Palestinian land and its regular slaughter of Palestinian civilians differ from the brutality of Islamic State jihadists?

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Consciousness

Something of a blessing, something of a curse

A lifetime of thinking only makes things worse.

What to do with it, where to take it

Am I getting wiser or am I just faking it?

 

They say it separates us from the birds and the bees

They say it makes us superior to the apes in the trees.

They say it’s akin to the greatest gift

But it’s a damn heavy burden and it’s damn hard to lift.

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Pride/ Two Days and One Night, Film Reviews, 17/9/14

 By sheer coincidence, I have recently watched three films with a trade union/solidarity theme. I should more accurately say two and a half because one, a Ken Loach film called ‘Bread and Roses’, was so full of trite clichés that I was forced to abandon it half way through. Don’t misunderstand me; the politics in the film was spot on, as is invariably the case with Loach films. No, the problem was not the politics but the banal and lecturing manner in which he invariably approaches his work. (The Wind That Shakes the Barley being a notable exception). No nuances, no inner tensions, no unresolvable paradoxes. Predictably with your average Ken Loach offering, it is ninety minutes of the forces of good versus the forces of reaction with no shades of grey for the audience to wrestle with. If only life was so clear cut and simple. Of the other two films, ‘Pride’ and ‘Two Days and One Night’, the former sadly fell fairly and squarely into the Ken Loach school of film making, while the latter was an absolute gem both as a defiant political statement and as a piece of subtle contemporary film making .

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Scotland Calling

Who are the Scots, who are the Brits?

During days of Empire, a potent mix.

Signing up for the Black and Tans

Killing the Irish with their blood stained hands.

 

What is the border but an arbitrary line,

Bosses on both sides sipping fine wine.

While the workers either side struggle to survive,

Eking out existence like bees in a hive.

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Scottish Independence: A legitimate Response to Corporate Globalisation

When you examine things carefully, most nations turn out to be nothing but artificial constructs aimed principally at consolidating the rule of a governing elite. Britain is a classic example, consisting as it does of successive waves of Celtic, Roman, Viking and Germanic invasions and subsequently augmented by wave after wave of immigrants from just about every corner of the globe. Prior to the bloody Norman invasion a thousand years ago, Britain was in effect three separate nations, Saxons in the south, Danish in the English north and east, and Celtic at the northern and western  fringes. The ancient Britons, whoever they might have been, were either wiped out by the Romans or assimilated into the new realities.

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Ethnic Cleansing: Editorial

Death to the Other, he ain’t my brother

Death to the infidel, let him rot in hell,

Death to the Ruskies, Hispanics and Yankees

Death to the foreigner with their foul reeking smell.

 

 

Death to the Mongols, the Han and the Hun

Death to the Arabs and Death to the Jews,

Death to the Christians and Death to the Hindus

Death to them all and their foul smelling crew.

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The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing, Forth Estate, London, 1962

There’s a strong argument to suggest that all humans, across the planet and throughout time, have three perpetual hurdles to face. Firstly and obviously there is the material hurdle – the challenge to feed and shelter oneself, to make ends meet and to provide a standard of living close to the local norm. Secondly, there is the challenge to navigate through the minefield of relationships; parents, siblings, offspring, friends, partners and colleagues. And if that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, there is an ever present existential angst to contend with, generally kept at bay through some combination of ideology, religion or dearly held projects. But try as we might, we never seem to overcome any of these hurdles. They seem to be hot wired into the human DNA. Leap over one and inevitably crash into another. Materially, even the very rich are forever looking over their shoulders waiting nervously for unforeseen events to wipe out their dubiously acquired wealth and status. And for the rest of us, it’s a daily grind to stay one step ahead of the bailiffs. And of course, nobody is ever immune from the realm of chaos that is human relationships and human purpose. In her towering novel, ‘The Golden Notebook’, Doris Lessing, while somewhat side-stepping the material hurdles of life, is quite majestic in the way she explores that interwoven tapestry of human relationships and human purpose.

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Sporting Polemics: What A Wonderful Orwellian World, Editorial September 2014

Events seem to be unfolding at such a pace that even the most dedicated of bloggers will have difficulty in keeping up. On the western borders of Russia, NATO seems intent on provoking Russia into a military confrontation. But how would the United States feel if a foreign power was intent on encircling them with a hostile military alliance? Would they care for Russian military manoeuvres on their Mexican or Canadian borders? I think not. And remember when the Soviet Union dared to put a missile defence system on Cuban soil? American Imperialism went apoplectic and very nearly dragged the entire planet into a nuclear Armageddon. But when the European Union backed by NATO forces, seeks to lure the Ukraine into the western alliance through economic bribery and a thinly disguised political coup, and Russia makes a predictable counter move, the Pentagon starts beating the war drums... Well in any case, I’m damn sure the military industrial complexes, east and west, are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of a renewed military east-west conflict.

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Football Has Got Too Big For Its Fancy Coloured Boots, Martin Kettle, The Guardian, 14/8/2014

 

A reasonable article by Kettle that even has the courage to mention old Charlie Marx and the notion of ‘false consciousness’. Well done Mr Kettle. And his summation of Premier League football is right on the button. Kettle writes; ‘The charge sheet against modern football is not difficult to draw up. Too much money. Too many mercenaries. Too little motivation. Too few roots. Not enough skill or nurture. No moral compass.’ That’s about as comprehensive a summation as is required. Whole books have been written providing statistics and anecdotes to flesh out the argument and to compare and contrast with a so called golden age of community based clubs. But Kettle doesn’t do that. Instead he makes comparisons with other sports which he imagines are somehow more wholesome. On this I think he is mistaken. All professional sport is now contaminated, to a greater or lesser degree, with the social ills that Kettle’s list so accurately describes. Doping, cheating and corruption are endemic across the board. And why wouldn’t they be. Sport, like all cultural aspects of modern life, merely reflects the wider economic world. If Kettle had really read his Marx, he would be quoting this equally profound premise and building his article around it.

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A Week In December, Sebastian Faulks, Vintage, 2010

After a few early reservations concerning some contrived characterisation and plot, ‘A week in December’ quickly proved to be a gem of a novel, providing both a tense story line, largely credible characters and most important of all, a most thoughtful discourse on what is real and what is illusionary. Sanity and insanity are cleverly juxtaposed until in the end the reader is left to ponder just where the boundaries between the two might actually lie. There is the socially recognised insanity associated with schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders; the more controversial insanity associated with extreme religious fundamentalism, and finally the rarely talked about insanity deriving from an obsession with monetary gain and social status. Add to that mix our growing obsessions with reality TV, drug induced oblivion, and the parallel worlds of online gaming, and we are provided with a sharp examination of contemporary urban life. In fact, each of Faulk’s main characters can be said to be trapped into their own form of insanity and the collisions between them proves to be both illuminating and disturbing.

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Rape and Warfare – A marriage made in hell

May 2014 saw a number of activists, celebrities and politicians gather in London for a Global Summit. The organizers of this event were the International Campaign to stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

The campaign has worked tirelessly to highlight the use of rape as a weapon of war. It has specifically targeted conflicts in Burma, Haiti, Congo, Colombia and Kenya where the use of rape as a weapon of war is well documented.

The Campaign’s aims and methods are laudable. They are giving a voice to those who have suffered the most from sexual violence. They are supporting survivors groups and are working towards peace within the various theatres of conflict. Most of all they are calling for co-ordinated action from world leaders to help prevent rape from being used as a weapon of war in the future.

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