Everything You Know is Pong: How Mighty Table Tennis Shapes Our World.

I don’t think the book quite lives up to its grandiose title, but aspiring as it does, to be part of the genre of New York satire, I don’t suppose it ever intended to. It does however provide some useful ammunition to my half-baked thesis that it is ping pong and not football that has the real claim to be the ‘peoples sport’. By this I mean not simply that some 300 million citizens in the Peoples Republic of China are said to be registered players, a statistic I suspect is somewhat inflated. What I’ve been hinting at is that in both East and West, North and South, while football has ingratiated itself, courtesy of News Corporation and other global media conglomerates, into the popular imagination, for countless millions, it is the humble game of ping, far more than football in all its varieties, that is likely to play an actual part in peoples weekly sporting and leisure routines.

 

To give just one example, the army of school dinner ladies, cleaners and caretakers, not to mention the teachers, assistants and clerical staff are a thousand times more likely to pick up a ping pong paddle and have a go, much like they used to do as kids, than kick a football around in the windswept muddy fields that pass as school football pitches. No real fanfare is made of their efforts but play they do. They do it for fun, they do it to prove a point, they simply do it to prove that they are still youthful and alive. And when they play they laugh – even when they are deadly serious.  

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Fast Food Olympics (Olympic Notes No 9)

It is as depressing as it is predictable. McDonalds have just announced that they are going to construct their largest ever restaurant in the Olympic village, one of four McDonalds outlets serving the Olympic Games underlining their official monopoly on the distribution of fast food at the London Olympics.  It will be a two storey, three thousand square metre factory pumping out some 1.75 million burgers throughout the Games. Oh what joy. The subliminal message to the general populous – the obesity epidemic is all a left-wing myth, just stuff down another burger and chips and stop worrying. If you are feeling a tad unhealthy just watch all those super fit athletes and you will feel a whole lot better.

 

Having all just witnessed what a criminal mess total subservience to the corporate media conglomerates leads to, you might have thought that our political masters might have been just a little more wary of getting into bed with the global fast food corporations. Not a bit of it! With the Murdoch scandal safely tucked away for the summer in a maze of official enquiries, it’s business as usual. It’s the same old narrative – global corporations coalescing into a sort of shadowy global government, unaccountable, unregulated and totally out of control. And our democratically elected representatives? Complicit, compliant and totally compromised.

 

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Channel 4 Dispatches: How to buy a Football Club 18/7/11

A few months ago Matthew Syed was waxing lyrical in The Times about football being the ‘beautiful game’. I wasn’t convinced then and I’m even less convinced now having watched Channel 4’s Dispatches which outlined the shadowy world of shady businessmen buying and selling English football clubs in order to make a quick buck, often asset stripping the club in the process. One of the key protagonists in this sordid tale was a certain Mr Bryan Robson of Man United fame, who at least was honest enough to admit that football was no longer a game but purely a business. And what a dirty business at that. Coming close on the heals of the FIFA corruption exposures, how Mr Syed can still romanticise about the ‘beautiful game’ beggars belief. Still he is employed by a certain Mr Murdoch, sponsor of Sky TV’s English Premier League, so I guess it pays to keep up the pretence if you want to keep in with the boss.

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Unsurprisingly the sharpest journalistic account so far of the unfolding Murdoch saga has come from George Monbiot writing in his weekly Guardian column 12/7/11. Precisely exposing the myth that the tabloid press somehow represents the voice of the much put upon working class, Monbiot reveals the real corporate interests that the News of the World, The Sun and other tabloids represent. Britain, like most countries has become little more than a play thing of global corporate interests and most of our press has a singular task – to represent those corporate interests. In order to camouflage those corporate interests an elaborate charade is created whereby the language and concerns of the working class is used to cynically hide the real agenda. No one unravels this charade sharper or more eloquently than Monbiot;

 

‘The papers cannot announce that their purpose is to ventriloquise the concerns of multimillionaires; they must present themselves as the voice of the people. The Sun, The Mail and The Express claim to represent the interests of the working man and woman. These interests turn out to be identical to those of the men who own the papers. So the right wing papers run endless exposures of benefit cheats, yet say scarcely a word about the corporate tax cheats. They savage the Trade Unions and excoriate the BBC. They lambaste the regulations that restrain corporate power. They school us in the extrinsic values – the worship of power, money, image and fame – which advertisers love but which makes this a shallower, more selfish country. These are not the obsessions of working people. They are the obsessions thrust upon them by the millionaires who own these papers. The corporate media is a gigantic astroturfing operation: a fake grassroots crusade serving elite interests.’

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Manchester United: The Biography, Jim White, Sphere, 2009

This brilliantly crafted history of Manchester United contains, in reality, three stories running parallel to each other. The first and obvious story is that of the football club from its humble working class origins through to the billion pound corporate global monolith that it has become today. Even as a life long Chelsea fan, I found this history of the Red Devils compelling reading. A second less obvious, but equally compelling story, emerges concerning how football in Britain has changed its complexion over the decades from its amateur, local community status to its current status as a global corporate brand and play thing for the obscenely rich. Manchester United is now just one of half a dozen such clubs in Britain whose economic turnover is every bit as powerful as that of a medium sized multinational company.

 

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, Jim White has produced a tale that reflects the changing nature of our world; socially, economically and politically. To read this passionate and detailed study of Manchester United Football Club is to understand, in microcosm, how the British nation has been forced to evolve in the face of a rapacious globalism that is drawing everything into its orbit. And, without in any way wishing to detract from the magical story of Manchester United Football Club, it is the latter two narratives that I found myself drawn to, and it is to these historical narratives that I feel I ought now to give my attention.

 

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Can Capitalism Ever Be Regulated? Editorial

There are two central questions that emerge from the ongoing world wide financial crisis, questions that are underlined yet again by Murdoch’s News International

(see earlier blogs ‘Declare War on Murdoch’ & ‘Murdoch’s Empire Knows No Bounds’); can capitalism ever be effectively regulated and if it can, will it really still be capitalism?

 

Clearly, we have reached a stage in the rise of monopoly capitalism where some five hundred global corporations, some now state owned in China and Russia, largely control the world’s economic production, and these corporations covering manufacturing, energy supplies and financial and consumer services have become so inextricably linked with casino capitalism that the entire global edifice is perpetually on the brink of implosion. Criminality and corruption are everywhere.

 

In 2008, large companies and banks defaulted and had to be bailed out to the tune of trillions of tax-payers dollars. Now entire countries, including the once impregnable US, are on the verge of defaulting on their massive and unsustainable debts. Soon, entire trading zones will become vulnerable to the toxic contagion of debt. Urgent action is required but what specifically is to be done? The common call now is for regulation, but can the beast be tamed?

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LTA Incompetence

Attacking the LTA during the Wimbledon fortnight is almost as much fun as the tennis itself. It’s near on impossible to resist. Faced with all that privilege and middle class, self satisfied smugness oozing from our TV screens, no self respecting journalist or self styled blogger should remain silent. I’ve just re-read my own blog on the LTA entitled, LTA Mediocrity’, written nearly two years ago, and to be honest I wouldn’t change a single word. In the past two years nothing has changed.

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Fire In Babylon: Film Review

If you want to get a sense of what lies behind the continuing successes of today’s Jamaican sprinters, this documentary is as good a place to start as anywhere. Documentaries on sport may be informative but are invariably dull and a little predictable. ‘Fire in Babylon’ is anything but dull. In fact, it is wholly uplifting, and must be a candidate for one of the best sporting documentaries ever made.

 

The history of the all-conquering West Indian cricket team of the 70’s and 80’s, set to a mesmerising reggae soundtrack, brings back to life the history of ‘one of the greatest sporting teams in the history of team sport’. But it does much more than that. You don’t need to be a cricket enthusiast to get a real buzz out of this documentary. Anyone with a sense of history, a sense of social justice, or just a sense of the under-dog biting back, will love every minute of this compelling story. For ‘Fire in Babylon’ is not only the story of the super-charged West Indian cricket team, but an integral part of a much larger story; the story of the anti-colonial, anti racist struggles that were taking place across the globe at that time. From the civil rights struggles in the US through to the anti–apartheid struggles in South Africa and all the other anti-colonial struggles taking place at that time, what was happening on the world’s cricket pitches was very much part of the unfolding story for, in the words of Peter Tosh, ‘equal rights and justice’.

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Britain Still Constrained by Class (Olympic Notes No8)

Two articles appeared in the British media last week that confirm, yet again, the rigid class structures that still hold Britain in a vice like grip. In the Saturday Guardian under the heading; ‘The New Boys network: Etonians flood into Who’s Who’, we see in hard figures just how little class mobility there really is in this country. These figures are particularly depressing given that we have just experienced 13 years of a Labour Government. Elaborating on the latest statistics, James Ball writes,

 

‘The return of the Conservative party to government has been accompanied by a resurgence in the number of Old Etonian entrants to Who’s Who, long regarded as the definitive guide to the British Establishment. The findings also show the resurgence of the UK’s elite universities and member’s clubs, revealing a glacially slow pace of change. In total, more 2,300 people in Who’s Who attended the top five public schools – Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby and Marlborough. Oxford and Cambridge graduates also continue to dominate the establishment.’

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Bob Dylan at 70

Aficionados of Bob Dylan like to play a little mind game, either with themselves or other Dylan obsessives, concerning the ten greatest Bob Dylan songs of all time. As someone who proudly falls into this category of fanatical Dylanites, I can tell you it’s no easy game. If you love the Zimmerman then the permutations are endless. The pre-eminent wordsmith has a song for every occasion and every conceivable mood. As our moods change, so does our all time greatest top ten.  

 

There are variations to this game that can create for the contestant an even greater challenge – place the top ten greatest Dylan hits in ascending order with the greatest  of the greatest sitting majestically on the top, like a king on his throne, as Dylan might put it.

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 I Caught the BBC’s biography of Alex Higgins the other week and found it quite hypnotic. Here was a great, great sporting talent, just like his contemporary, George Best, hell bent on personal destruction; of career, of relationships and of his prodigious talent. Yet I found myself glued to the screen, knowing that all was lost yet unable to walk away. Something akin to a Shakespearean tragic character whose fatal flaw all can see, except of course, the leading protagonist himself. You loved him, you loathed him, you despaired of him, yet when he re-emerged at the final scene, withered and broken from cancer, from booze and from gambling, you could not but help fall in love with him all over again. The story of the snooker ‘Hurricane’ was indeed hypnotic and I knew I must read his own account in order to get a more complete picture.

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Terror Police Warned Not To Abuse Their Powers During The 2012 Games.

Sometimes, quite often in fact, I get the feeling while blogging away, that I have become dangerously paranoid. Most people on the left get this feeling from time to time. We are forever warning of the creeping fascism all around us. Then suddenly, you get the unnerving thought that it’s all in the mind. There is no incipient police state in Britain, just the perpetual dialectic between personal liberties and legitimate state security. The modern neo fascist state is nothing but a delusional state; the only fascist jack boots are in the mind. Then a little something happens and suddenly it all comes flooding back. The dangers are real. The State really is malign. And further more, the State is more than prepared to stamp on any dissent, real or imagined. Just consider the following.

 

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There is little surprise to learn that no less than a third of the FIFA executive have had substantial allegations of corruption made against them.  It is alleged by Lord Triesman, The Times and the BBC that Qatar won their 2022 World Cup bid by employing some FIFA fixers to organise the appropriate backhanders, worth many millions. No doubt similar ‘gifts’ and ‘promises’ were made by the Russian oligarchs to ensure Russia won the 2018 bid. So where does that leave countries like Britain, the US and the other developed nations? Squeaky clean? Not a bit of it.

 

 Why is it that the poorer, developing nations and their representatives are more prone to be caught taking back-handers than their more wealthy European and US counterparts? The answer is screamingly obvious. The world’s powerful economies tend to carry out their ‘persuasion’ by nothing so crude as a back room transaction. No, their modus operandi is far more subtle but no less corrupt for all that. Without uttering a word, the handful of powerful nations, commonly known as the G8 club, implicitly let it be known that if they were to win the bid, their transnational corporations will be available for business. If for example the World Cup or the Olympic Games heads to the USA, nothing illegal is explicitly said but everything is implied.

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Memories are short and Western Imperial propaganda is ubiquitous. We conveniently forget, even assuming that we ever knew, the bloody march of European and more latterly, US colonialism. After all, we in the West are the beneficiaries of these past five hundred years of European colonial plunder. We hesitate to remind ourselves of it, but the plain historical truth is that European development was largely at the expense of the rest of the world. We industrialised and, at the same time, deliberately de-industrialised the opposition. Those that stood in the way were mercilessly eliminated.

  The casualties are not to be measured in the thousands, nor tens of thousands, nor even hundreds of thousands, No, we are definitely forced to count in the millions and, despite the whitewashing of this human toll by Tory historians like Niall Ferguson, the real figure is comfortably in the hundreds of millions. It is estimated that some ninety million indigenous peoples of the Americas were slaughtered during the initial stages of European conquest. Similar grisly figures are needed to account for the Africans who did not survive the traumas of Western imposed slavery.

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Royal Weddings: Just another Opiate

Don’t think for a moment that the British monarchy is a benign force. No monarch from any epoch can ever be described as a friend of the people. Emperors, Kings, Caesars and Pharaohs of the classical slave owning societies were tyrants all. The kings and queens from the feudal epoch were tyrants too – bloody barons that usurped power without a shred of legitimacy.  The kings and queens of Britain in the early capitalist era were no less tyrannical - all aristocratic thieves, enclosing the common land for their own gain and stealing foreign wealth at every opportunity. As for today’s crop of monarchs and their ever expanding circles of hangers-on, the best we can say of them is that they are a parasitic growth on society, clinging to their privilege by virtue of an archaic constitutional settlement and the nostalgic longings of the general populous who care to imagine a kinder, less brutal past.

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Sectarian Hatred in Football and Religion

If mankind has a spiritual dimension it is very much an earthly one. Sure we have always stared up into the sky and pondered the big questions, and for those of a superstitious disposition, gods and religions are quickly summoned. For the more rational amongst us, a never-ending quest for scientific understanding is our form of spirituality – an ongoing endeavour to deconstruct the universe and our puny place within it. Down here on earth, our human spirituality is occasionally expressed by an empathy with those less fortunate than ourselves, an urge to share our own scarce resources, and a vague sense of belonging to a human collective. But for the most part, we humans rarely transcended our tribal state, perpetually fearing ‘the other’ and going to war at the first pretext. At this primitive stage of our social development we just can’t seem to help ourselves.

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