Desert Storm, Grant Wahl, Time Magazine, 4/8/14

Despite the obvious US corporate nature of Time Magazine, there is a half decent article on Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup preparations. I say half decent, because it is the things that aren’t discussed rather than the things that are, that is the real problem here. Wahl does a good enough job of outlining the three main issues associated with Qatar’s controversial bid. Firstly there are the allegations of corruption and kickbacks connected with the original bid. Despite whatever the FIFA ‘ethics committee’ might come up with, there is almost certainly some meat to these claims. Secondly, Qatar is a damn hot country at the best of times and holding a football tournament in the middle of summer certainly cannot be considered suitable either for players or spectators. A move to the winter months may mitigate against this absurdity but it will be resisted by the powerful European leagues and their corporate sponsors. Thirdly, and most importantly, Wahl gives further oxygen to the damning claims of slave labour conditions under which the imported workers building the huge infrastructure projects are being forced to work under. Over 1000 workers have already died on the Qatar construction sites associated with the Qatar World Cup and that figure is certain to rise dramatically by the time the first kick is taken in 2022. Having fairly outlined these three issues, Wahl correctly reports on the Qatari response; that the criticisms are driven by European racism and anti-Islamic bias. But Wahl, not wanting to upset his US corporate employees, offers no real discussion around this Qatari response.   He should because this is the really interesting bit.

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Jon Snow, Channel Four News.

I’ve stopped watching Channel Four News. Childish perhaps, given that it’s probably the best TV news service available in Britain, but I’m just too narked to watch it any more. The tipping point was Jon Snow’s interview this week with a Hamas spokesman. It was a blatant travesty of journalism. Whatever Snow’s or the viewers’ opinion of Hamas might be, if you are going to invite the man to give his organisation’s viewpoint, then at least give him the courtesy of giving it uninterrupted. Instead he and we were treated to a pointless haranguing by Snow every time the Hamas spokesman attempted to talk. Now I’m all for aggressive journalism, a keystone of any would be democracy, but this tipped way over the bounds of aggressive interviewing. It was nothing short of John Snow trying to foist his opinions onto and over that of Hamas. And in any respect, Snow was surely pursuing the wrong question.

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What Was Promised, Tobias Hill, Bloomsbury Circus, London, 2014

 

There is a touch of Hilary Mantel about the first section of this beautifully crafted London novel. Just as Mantel is able to take her readers back in time with consummate ease, so too can Tobias Hill. Admittedly Mantel has made a name for herself by travelling back hundreds of  years whilst TH contents himself with a more modest sixty, but both have that ability to produce absolutely convincing historical narratives. Just like Mantel, in TH’s prose not one word feels out of joint. The second and third sections of ‘What Was Promised’ might be considered a touch uneven; either it is good, very good or superb. Rarely if ever does it dip below good. But it is the first section, set in 1948 London, that grips the reader with an intensity and authenticity that leaves one breathless and panting for more. TH could easily have set the entire novel in 1948 without in any way leaving his readers wanting. But the ambition of the novel, set over three time zones, is to be respected, and by journey’s end TH can be more than satisfied with his labours.

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Rebekah Brooks: Incriminated or Incompetent

It beggars belief that Rebekah Brooks, one time chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s criminal media empire, would have known nothing of the industrial scale phone hacking that was taking place across the News International organisation that she was charged with running. Even more unbelievable given that she was shacked up with Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and now a convicted criminal for that very offence. If, on the one in ten million chance that she was genuinely unaware of this vast criminal network, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that she was asleep at the wheel. Or more accurately, comatosed in charge of a global media corporation. Guilty or incompetent are the only two possible conclusions. And somehow, whatever Brooks maybe, an incompetent does not spring readily to mind.

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British values and “the Other”

MacDonald’s has recently returned to one of it’s recurring UK marketing campaigns. “The taste of America”. This might seem somewhat odd as McDonalds is already a quintessentially American food outlet. It makes the majority of it’s profits from burgers, an American invention. As a symbol of its home country, McDonalds is right up there with Coke and Harley Davidson. Nevertheless, the burger chain has become such an ingrained part of the UK cultural landscape that McDonalds can introduce “The taste of America” without anyone batting an eyelid.

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World Cup Deliberations. 18/6/14

Eight million children sniffing glue on the street

Selling their young bodies for something to eat

Offering sex like a slice of cheap meat

It’s child prostitution in the Brazilian heat

Then it’s back to the glue for a Sao Paulo treat

Where the cops show no mercy on their merciless beat

With their dreams of Selecao but still nothing to eat

Death on their faces and a ball at their feet.

 

FIFA’s in town but they’re not offering a seat

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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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