The Handmaids Tale, TV Drama, Channel 4, 2017

Based closely on Margaret Atwood’s haunting 1985 novel, this TV series is compulsive viewing and, given the recent political climate in the USA, should be compulsory viewing for all citizens – east and west. Fascism can take many forms; religious cult, national fantasy, international utopia, but in all its varied forms it represents at base, capitalism in crisis. This has been largely misunderstood even by the most well-meaning critics of brutal authoritarian regimes. Mankind has created many such regimes in its ten-thousand-year history of ‘civilisation’ but these should not all be carelessly confused with fascism.  Fascism is a particular and precise form of capitalism but capitalism it still is. Feudal or slave-owning dictatorships were always and everywhere brutal in the extreme but they were not fascist dictatorships. They could not be because fascism is a product of capital in crisis and capital is a relatively modern historical economic phenomenon. This may seem to some as a particularly pedantic point of definition but without it the cause of fascism cannot be understood let alone combatted.

 

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The Men Who Stare at Goats, 2009, Film Review

Apparently based on a piece of non-fiction research into US Army Psychological Special Ops, this quiet little gem, which had escaped my attention until now, is broadly speaking a comedy. But not of the slapstick variety. More in keeping with the Dr Strangelove/ Catch 22 genre, though in places you might say it borrows something from the irreverency of the US TV series Mash. Is it funny? Well, like all attempted comedy, it really is a subjective call. But perhaps a more apposite question is rather; is comedy a fitting genre to tackle the untold pain and suffering unleashed on Iraq and elsewhere by the US military-industrial complex and its corporate vultures?

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Monument for Margaret Thatcher

They’ve been talking about a statue for Mrs Thatcher

Remember her – they called her both the Iron Lady and the school milk snatcher

Remember her – she said this lady isn’t for turning

Hold on a moment, is that the sickening smell of something burning?

 

She’s the one who said there is no such thing as Society.

‘Just balance the books, hard work and sobriety’

Remember her – she ordered the destruction of the Belgrano as it was turning

Just a second, is that the sickening smell of conscript sailors burning?

 

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Jeremy Corbyn and the Tory Press: ‘I welcome their hatred’.

I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn has ever publicly uttered these words but he may well have thought them on numerous occasions. In fact, it was FDR way back in the 1930’s, who is reported to have coined this phrase in response to the vitriolic attacks on him for daring to confront the US capitalists with his New Deal. Corbyn’s Labour manifesto is a sort of British New Deal and the owners of both British and foreign Capital hate it with a passion. And the corporate owners of the British Tory press are virtually foaming at the mouth with their own never ceasing vitriolic attacks. Even the so-called liberal media, the BBC, Channel 4 and the Guardian and Independent newspapers can barely disguise their contempt. And the least said about Jeremy Paxman the better.

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Ping Brighton: Making a Statement, Taking a Stand

Brighton Table Tennis Club has won the beautiful accolade of being the first table tennis club in the country to be nominated a ‘Club of Sanctuary’. That is no small achievement. In fact, in these dark days of growing xenophobia and insularity, this accolade shines like a golden beacon. If like me, you believe that we only pass this way once, it seems incumbent on each one of us to make a stand at least once or twice in one’s life – to take a stand against the general flow of things, to stand up and be counted when all around you are cowering in the shadows. This is precisely what Brighton Table Tennis Club have done. They’ve taken a stand and a to hell with the bigots and the small minded. They have proudly declared that their club is a welcoming sanctuary for refugees, asylum seekers and all those that have been cast aside as ‘the other’.

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The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes, Vintage, London, 2012

In many respects, this little offering from Julian Barnes might be considered a ‘something and nothing’ type of novel. Of course, the novel and the subsequent film interpretation were both exquisitely delivered. But with the pressing issues of the day bearing down on humanity – extreme poverty, extreme and growing inequality, extreme, possibly existential environmental destruction – just to mention a few, you might think that our Mr Barnes might have something a little more pertinent, a little more contemporary to busy himself with. But no. Our worthy Mr Barnes chooses to explore the life of a late middle aged, middle class Englishman who has some unfinished romantic business to unravel. Scintillating stuff. On first reading it certainly seems a tad indulgent to say the least. And yet, give yourself a little time to ponder this work and you can’t help but conclude that Barnes might just have something rather important to say about the human condition.

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Homeland, Series 6, Channel 4,

The interplay between the so called real world and the world of TV is a strange place. If you want a  realistic appraisal of what the United States is actually like, you could do a lot worse than to watch its leading TV series. In this I specifically include The Wire, The Sopranos, House of Cards, Sons of Anarchy and Homeland. Add to these some excellent documentaries like 13th

and you will get an immediate snapshot of the violence, endemic racism and institutional corruption that underpins nearly all of American society. Strip aside some of the more lurid and fanciful scripts and you have the USA in a nutshell. A thoroughly nasty piece of work.

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UK Sport in the Dock

It simply isn’t good enough for UK Sport to put all the blame for the allegations of sexism, bullying, cheating and general boorish behaviour currently emerging at British Cycling solely onto the shoulders of cycling’s governing body. Certainly, like all national sports administrations, British Cycling has questions to answer when it comes to all round good governance. But it is UK Sport that have the most to answer. Any national sports strategy and associated funding policy that is skewered obsessively towards international medals is guaranteed to create a dysfunctional and socially regressive climate in the upper echelons of British sport. British Cycling, once the golden girl and boy of British sport has inevitably succumbed to the insane pressures piled on them from UK Sport and their political masters in Whitehall and Westminster. Whilst those pressures persist, we can expect many more examples to emerge of bullying and general dysfunction, not just in cycling but across the entire sporting spectrum.    

 

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Ping Philosophy

Pick up a bat if you see it

Have a quick game if you feel it

Take on the world if you dare it

If the ball comes your way then just ping it

 

If you’re feeling anxious and alienated just ping it

If you’re saddened by the state of the world just swing it

If you feel your youth slipping away then just wing it

Because Ping England’s in town so just sing and be in it.

 

Ping at the park and Ping at the school

Ping in the office – up to 11 as a rule

Ping on your way home with your bat as your tool

Play with your mates or any old fool.

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Martin McGuinness: Freedom Fighter, Humanist and Astute Politician

Can we ever really ever know major public figures? Probably not. And in any case, like all humans, they are always complex and contradictory. But we can at least examine the concrete conditions from which such figures emerged and do so with some degree of objectivity. In the case of Martin McGuinness, we can say emphatically that he grew up in a country that had for centuries been socially, economically and militarily occupied by England, and that during his formative years, that occupation continued with great brutality in six counties of his country of birth. Even at the moment of his death, despite some reluctant attempt at power sharing by successive British governments, that occupation continues.

Let us be absolutely clear here; there is and never has been a country called Northern Ireland. There is only Ireland and the six counties in the north of that country are still under British colonial occupation. The occupation has today, due to decades of fierce resistance by the Irish people, become somewhat benign, but if we are to get anywhere near an understanding of what motivated Martin McGuinness, we must start and finish with this central objective historical fact - the ongoing colonial occupation of his homeland.

 

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A TEN POINT MANEFESTO FOR THE BRITISH LABOUR PARTY

Like hundreds of thousands of other Corbynistas, I am greatly heartened by the totally unexpected arrival of Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell at the apex of the British Labour Party. After decades of Tory and New Labour governments seeking to manage capitalism in the interests of the corporates, here is a leadership team that threatens to challenge the corporate agenda. The inevitable coups against their leadership began immediately, and they persist, without respite, to this day. Mandelson as good as admitted as much, and Tony Blair and David Miliband are already manoeuvring around the fringes of the party. We should expect nothing less. But moaning about these attempted coups is wasted energy. The point is to formulate an alternative manifesto for governing Britain and to do so with great urgency. This is a rare moment in British political history and the opportunity should not be squandered. Above all, we Corbynistas must be radical not mealy-mouthed and ‘practical’. We have seen all too clearly where middle of the road New Labour practicality leads and there is absolutely no point in going down that road again. Put a radical programme to the British electorate and let them choose. Far, far better to go down with a bang than a whimper. Here is my contribution.

 

                      Manifesto for the forthcoming General Election.

      WE SAY UNEQUIVICALLY: NO TO FASCISM, NO TO RASCISM.

Above all else, the British Labour Party is an internationalist party. Global problems can only be solved by global cooperation. There are no national solutions to climate change, global pollution, corporate tax evasion, militarisation, fascist resurgence and economic and social inequality. A Corbyn led Labour Government will work tirelessly to uphold and enhance the work of the United Nations and associated global institutions in the interests of global progress. It will work tirelessly to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It will strenuously resist the retreat into narrow xenophobic nationalism and its poisonous politics of racism, sexism and bigotry.

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Algorithms:

Algorithms:

 

I’ve been reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus- every line

And it’s got me thinking and a fretting about the future of mankind

I’ve been thinking that maybe we humans have truly passed our prime

And that Artificial intelligence is going to leave us humans far behind.

 

Algorithms clogging up my brain

Algorithms monitoring my pain

Algorithms calculating gain

Algorithms trying to keep me sane.

 

My computer is a wonder -  it is far smarter than you and I

It computes my bio-rhythms at the blinking of an eye

It whips me at the chess board no matter how I try

And it’s even taken to predicting the very day I die.

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PING London: From London Progress to London Ping

There is nothing inherently wrong with success. It is, in all probability, hotwired into the human condition. Success in adapting to new circumstances was everything to our ancient ancestors. Success or failure in hunting could mean the difference between survival and an early death. Success in securing a suitable mate could mean the chance to grow the tribe and stay one step ahead.  Whichever way you look at it, either in terms of cooperation or competition, or an intricate matrix of both, success has been at the heart of the human journey. The forms and definitions of success continue to vary over the millennia, but it is hard to envisage the history and future survival of we homo-sapiens without the drive to not only compete but to succeed both in collaboration with and at the expense of others. And we have some claim to be the most successful species ever.

Today the drive to succeed can be measured in a dazzling array of human endeavours; technological, financial, political, academic, artistic and of course, sporting. But ask anyone who has been deemed to be ‘successful’ and they are more than likely to admit, in private at least, to a dark and menacing downside to their publicly acclaimed success. Too much fame, too much pressure, too much pain in the pursuit of gain. Success in the modern era invariably comes at a cost which, if left to fester, can easily overwhelm and tarnish all that has been gained. Furthermore, modern day success can all too quickly turn to obsession. In professional sport it invariably leads to doping, match fixing, corruption and outright cheating. Excellence becomes tainted by human frailties and success is turned into its opposite.

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Fake News; Just another Fake Story.

What is all this nonsense about fake news? We live in a world of fake news. Always have done and dare I say it, probably always will. Only it used to go by a different name; propaganda. As national elites struggle for supremacy, over both the general populous, and over other competing elites, propaganda has been one of their essential weapons. George Orwell brought this dramatically to our attention in his dystopic novel, 1984. War became peace, hate became love, plenty was the cover word for starvation and the Ministry of Truth was responsible for disseminating an endless stream of lies. This Orwellian world is pretty much the world we have always had since ‘civilisation’ began’.

The clever and cunning elites told us lies about the other tribes. They told us lies about a paradise in the afterlife. They created a fiction about eternal hell. They told us lies about creation itself; complete with fictitious gods, prophets and miracles. They are still up to the same old tricks. The only thing that has changed, in the internet age, is the speed and range in which these lies can be spread. In our modern world, freedom fighters become terrorists, repressive governments become democrats. Free speech becomes communist subversion and global imperialism becomes sanitised as world democracy. 

 

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President Trump: This Is No Aberration

In the year that I was born, African Americans were being lynched with impunity. When I was in my teens, the American military was in the process of dropping more explosives, including lethal cocktails of chemicals, on the peasant farmers of South East Asia than had been used in the entire Second World War. Three million Vietnamese and more than a million Cambodians and Laotians were to be murdered by the US military-industrial complex for the crime of wanting to be free of European and American colonialism. By the time I had reached my mid-twenties, that very same military-industrial complex was in the process of wreaking bloody havoc across Central and South America, repeatedly overthrowing democratic governments and installing in their place vicious dictators propped up by US trained death squads.

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President Trump: Wrong Person with the Wrong Agenda.

That Trump is totally unfit for public office is blindingly obvious. All the opprobrium that has been hurled is way is, without the slightest doubt, justified. He is a demagogue of the worst kind. Playing to the economic insecurities and basest instincts of a largely marginalised American working class, Trump has shown himself to be a bullying misogynist, a crude racist, a vile narcissist and in all probability, a tax evading crook. But his personal characteristics, such as they are, pale into insignificance when we consider his political agenda.

 But, it’s not true that everything he has been saying is totally off the planet. Far from it. Like the infinitely more reasoned and socially responsible Bernie Saunders, Trump has accurately highlighted the deteriorating plight of the American working class at the hands of global capital, but, unlike Saunders, Trump’s proposed solutions are socially toxic and economically fanciful, bordering on the fascistic. To ‘make America great again’, will necessitate triggering a global trade war, in which there can be no winners. And trade wars, as we should have learnt from the bitter experience of the mid twentieth century, can all too easily morph into a full-on military war.

 

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