Michael Gove’s Discriminatory Approach to Britain’s Religious Schools

Where to begin? Certainly not with Gove’s ill-defined ‘British Values’ because as an arch right wing Tory, Gove’s British values will turn out to be nothing more than a rehash of neo-liberal, corporatist ideology mixed up with some fading British imperialist jingoism and a splash of so called ‘common sense’  Anglo-Saxon Christianity. No, the starting point should more appropriately be with Richard Dawkin’s assertion that all religious indoctrination of children is tantamount to child abuse.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

There was a heavy sense of deja vu hanging over me as this novel unfolded, which could have been all part of the mysterious Marquez magic, or alternatively, I may have actually read this bewitching novel a couple of hundred years ago. Either way, it was an enchanting read that, by the pioneering use of magic realism, was able to engage the reader on any number of dimensions. The fact that Marquez was not on my radar until the avalanche of glowing obituaries started flowing in, is probably more an indictment of my Anglo-centric reading habits than anything else, but having finally registered, I knew straight away I was dealing with one of the twentieth century’s great literary gems. I hesitantly beg to differ with Mr Salman Rushdie who claims this is ‘the greatest novel in any language of the last fifty years’. No, I would elevate his own ‘Midnight’s Children’ to that lofty perch, but there is little doubt that this one is right up there in the stratosphere and the fact that it was written way back in 1967 gives it that much more status than so much of what has followed. I know Mr Rushdie would concur that without Marquez there would be no Midnight’s Children.

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Gary Barlow raises taxing matters

If you ever find yourself engaged in a discussion with a journalist, any critique of their profession will inevitably involve a declaration of their independence. All journalists believe themselves to be clear-headed, rational, and probably more cynical than the average person. Above all, they cherish their independence of thought. Irrespective of whom they work for, journalists pride themselves on writing, “whatever they want”.

 

This, of course, is downright weird. In a world where everybody else goes to work and does specific things required to earn a wage, journalists apparently take money in return for writing, “whatever they want”.

 

 

This whole idea is utter nonsense. Journalists write whatever their paymasters want them to write, and the most successful ones learn early that the real rewards come when you no longer even have to ask what your bosses require. As their career progresses, journalists who think the same as their paymasters, get promoted while those who dissent are gradually marginalized. This was pointed out by Noam Chomsky in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr. When Marr claimed that he was not self-censoring Chomsky replied… “I don’t say you’re self-censoring - I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting. 

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The Plot Against America, Philip Roth, Vintage, 2004

Roth produces an absorbing fiction based on the scenario that President F D Roosevelt is defeated in the 1942 US election to a pro German fascist by the name of Charles A Lindbergh, a one-time US ace pilot and all round American hero. But when Lindbergh stops being a willing patsy for the Nazis, a full blown fascist coup is orchestrated in the United States and all the bigoted fascists and anti-Semites come crawling out of the woodwork. It’s a chilling novel for the general reader but doubly, trebly chilling if you happen to be of Jewish persuasion or decent; be it orthodox, liberal, secular or atheist. Anti-Semites tend not to distinguish. It’s a fascinating read but I fear it contains a certain unintended childish naivety, and not just because the narrative unfolds through the eyes of a nine year old. Roth, one of the pre-eminent US fiction writers of the 20th century, is in danger of lapsing into a somewhat black and white, good versus evil mode. The Founding Fathers, the US Constitution, Roosevelt and his New Deal, American Democracy and apple pie; these are all good. Any deviation from the above is bad. Roth might like to invest in a copy of Oliver Stone’s ‘The Untold History of the United States’, for a fuller, more nuanced grasp of American history.

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Socialist Worker Party Implodes: No Laughing Matter

If you don’t have a particular predilection for plucky little left-wing groups, even the larger of them, you might allow yourself a quiet chuckle when reading of the inner party difficulties currently being experienced within the SWP. (New Statesman 10/5/14). But it’s no laughing matter. Because every time a  progressive party, group, faction or tendency implodes, it raises the desperately critical question of just what sort of organisation, if any, is required to shift mankind from a system of private ownership to one of  social ownership. A grim statistic issued recently from one of the leading NGO’s claimed that the wealthiest 1300 billionaires held 96% of the world’s wealth while the remaining seven billion of us are left to scratch around for a share of the remaining 4%.  Or, in the words of the Occupy Movement, the one percent have seized control of the world’s wealth at the expense of the ninety nine percent. Whichever way you wish to phrase it, these are truly shocking statistics. If ever there were need for some form of revolutionary organisation it surely must be now. But the perennial question: what sort of organisation is required?   

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Seumas Milne, ‘Big Pharma Needs a Public Stake’ Guardian 7/5/14

What are the key defining moments in Britain’s imperial decline? The massive Lend Lease debts incurred during the Second World War, and still being paid to the USA some seventy years later. The rapid loss of colonies after the war, with India, the jewel in the crown, being the most significant. Then came the Suez debacle. After Suez came the collapse of the pound and the humiliating need for an IMF bailout. And the final nail in the imperial coffin, the selling off of Britain’s assets to the highest bidder. The takeover of the privatised British Steel by the Indian Tata Steel Group was a particularly painful historical irony for British capital to swallow. China has now been drafted in to finance and build the next generation of nuclear power stations. And the list of once mighty British companies that grew rich on the spoils of empire that are now in foreign hands grows by the day. Last year it was Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury’s.This year it is shaping up to be Pfizer’s takeover of British pharmaceuticals company, AstraZeneca. How the mighty have fallen.

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Brazil’s Decade of Sport: Bulletin No 6

‘Could Rio Games Come to London?’ taunts the front page of the London Evening Standard, 9/5/14. Given the slow progress in the infrastructure preparations for both Brazil’s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, it is hardly surprising that this sort of provocative headline should start to appear. It transpires that Rio is only at 10% readiness as opposed to Athens’ 40% and London’s 60% at comparable points in the timetable. The IOC is starting to sweat, and there is growing whispers for the need for a Plan B and even a Plan C. But all such talk reeks of European colonialism and is the very antithesis of what the Olympic movement is supposedly all about.

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Gerry Adams Need Offer No Explanations to the Remnants of British Imperialism

Fact: The British Empire once spread across the planet and was held together by the use of extreme force including genocide, slavery, state sanctioned torture, endemic racism, ethnic cleansing and mass internment. Fact: the island of Ireland was the first of the British colonial occupations and will most likely be its last. Fact: the remnants of the British Empire are still occupying six counties of the Irish nation. Fact: under the United Nations Charter every country has the right to self-determination.

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RMT Tube Strikes: Act of Defiance

The British media, led by the Russian oligarch owned London Evening Standard, describes in rabid terms, how the RMT industrial campaign to halt the closures of the Underground ticket offices is a disgrace to the city of London. The paper could not be more wrong. On the contrary, the RMT action is a creditable act of defiance against not just another TFL act of public service vandalism, but an act of defiance against so much of what is being done to modern London; zero hour contracts, poverty wages, unaffordable rents, and a chronic and ever worsening housing crisis. What the RMT action stoically demonstrates, is that despite every viscous cut to public services and benefits that working class Londoners are being forced to endure, we are not yet all cowered and beaten.

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Why Ping Pong has Soul. By Tim Holtam

While recently watching a very powerful and moving documentary made by Clark Carlisle, Chairman of the PFA and ex top flight professional Footballer, “Football’s Secret Suicide” (http://youtu.be/j4-DW65nn6g), it struck me just how different the world of football is from the world I am part of, Table Tennis.

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Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers, 2013

Kevin Powers’ ‘Yellow Birds’ is the perfect antidote to all that toxic nonsense emanating from and around the ‘Help For Heroes’ slogan. Whatever the US and UK servicemen and women returning from the bloody imperialist interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan may be, they are certainly not heroes. ‘Yellow Birds’ makes that perfectly clear. Seen from the Afghan and Iraqi perspective they are probably seen as heartless mercenaries in the pay of corporate America. Seen from an Anglo-Saxon perspective they might charitably be regarded as unemployed and unemployable youngsters who naively join the armed forces looking for something more engaging than their dour and demeaning lives in the post-industrial wastelands of Britain and America. Looking for status, manhood and above all, a regular income, this generation of squaddies,  like all previous generations, are little more than cannon fodder in a much bigger game. But however we care to define their motives and character, heroic should not be one of them. There is absolutely nothing heroic about deploying lethal US firepower to humiliate and murder hapless and long suffering Iraqi and Afghan families, most of whom are tragically caught in an endless war between barbaric and medieval Islamic Jihadism, brutal and corrupt local warlords and an ever more veracious and murderous US Imperialism.

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Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, Masha Gessen, 2014

Here’s the situation. Anyone who stands up to corporate America and its giant military-industrial complex, be it the Occupy Movement, or individuals like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Naomi Klein or Michael Moore, deserve our respect and support. Similarly when a country stands up to US aggression we instinctively cheer them on. Cuba, Vietnam and more recently Venezuela and Ecuador all have honourable records in this respect. These days however, with the corporate global economy getting its tentacles around the neck of every nation, only the really big economies can dare to take an independent stand. In short, that is China and possibly India, Brazil and Russia. The BRIC nations. So it is with some cheer that we witness the latter finally standing up to Nato’s relentless eastward aggrandisement. But is there anything really to cheer about? Is there anything remotely progressive about Putin’s Russian Federation? The fact that it seeks to protect its self-proclaimed interests from NATO’s encirclement can hardly be called progressive. In fact, is there anything progressive left in the lands of the old Soviet Union, or are we simply witnessing an old fashioned East-West tug of war for influence and markets?

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Sporting Polemics Marks Its Five Year Anniversary

 

As Sporting Polemics ratchets up its first five year anniversary, the attached Carl Sagan sketch seems to sum up Sporting Polemics’ meandering, eclectic journey as well as anything might. In that one clever little cartoon, one can spot the intersection and overlap between sport, philosophy and politics that the Sporting Polemics enterprise has been clumsily toying with over these past five years. A slightly dilettantish journey to be sure, but no less enjoyable for all that, and perhaps, just perhaps, a coherent narrative begins to emerge. 

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The Future, Al Gore, Random House, New York, 2013

This eminently readable text could very easily have been titled, ‘Common Sense for All’, and could have been written by any number of well-meaning fellows of the Ed Milliband, Will Hutton, Ja Hoon Chang variety. In fact anyone who broadly ascribes to a more egalitarian, more rational, more socially responsible world, will find little to disagree with in Al Gore’s ‘Future’.  Gore makes his thesis seem like good old common sense. However, and it’s a whopping big however, the problem with ‘common sense’ is that it unwittingly enshrines the status quo and singularly fails to isolate the central dialectic at play. Throughout Gore’s six pronged thesis is a single underlying assumption; that of the achievability of a rational and sustainable capitalism. It’s the very same assumption underlying all the various pronouncements by Milliband, Hutton and Ha-Joon Chang. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the rub. Capitalism has been going for something like five hundred years and it has always and everywhere spectacularly failed to be either rational or sustainable. Yet somehow Gore and his fellow thinkers insist on claiming that with a bit of good will by all and some good old common sense, capital will come to its senses and start acting rationally, responsibly and sustainably. I don’t think so.

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Transition, Iain Banks, Abacus, 2009

No matter how clever, how ingenious a sci-fi writer may be, and Iain Banks was unarguably amongst the more adroit, they cannot, no matter how hard they might try, escape from human considerations and preoccupations. It cannot be otherwise, nor should it be. For the point of art, all art, including even that of science fiction writing, is to throw light on the human condition in as imaginative and provocative way as possible. It is something of a credit to our species that we continue to dream up ever more inventive ways of doing so. But when all the artistic tricks and gimmicks are stripped away we are invariably left with the usual human stuff; power struggles, empire building, insecurities, and a fear and intolerance of the ‘other’. So it transpired with Banks’ ‘Transition’, a most enjoyable romp through the multiverse, where the omnipresent ‘Concern’ seeks to create order throughout not just one Earth but an infinite number of Earth’s by tinkering with events and removing the bad guys. No small undertaking. And true to all things human, there turns out to be a power struggle right at the very heart of the organisation. Asimov trod this territory decades earlier with his engrossing, ‘End of Eternity’ but Banks gives it fresh momentum and insight

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Crimea: Pawn in a Gangster’s War.

If self-determination is to mean anything, the West should back off and respect the results of Crimea’s referendum. If the overwhelming majority of Crimea’s citizens wish to decamp back to the Russian Federation, so be it. In any case, the West is hardly in a position to take the moral high-ground when it comes to ‘illegal’ foreign interventions. They specialise in the field. Self-determination is a movable feast for the Western powers as it is for the Russian Federation. If it suits their geo-political interests they’ll scream and shout in favour, but if it contradicts their self-proclaimed national interests then no amount of referenda will be sufficient. As for Crimea, like Kosovo before it, this is an old fashioned East-West tug of war for influence and power. It’s as simple as that. But it  is easy to argue that the whole mess is the direct result of NATO’s relentlessly aggressive eastward expansion with total disregard for Russian sensibilities. Had the West embraced Russia into an expanded Eurasia twenty years ago rather than continue with its cold war mentality, all the resultant nonsense in the Balkans, in Georgia and now the Ukraine could have been avoided.  

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