Jamie Oliver for World President

 

If we had an elected post of President of the World, Jamie Oliver wouldn't be the worst candidate. In fact he would be quite high on my short list, if for no other reason than his tireless campaigning for decent food. This campaigning is now taking him directly to the UN, where there is to be a major medical debate on non-communicable diseases, with the world-wide obesity epidemic high on the agenda. Oliver has called for a global movement to make obesity a human rights issue, and he is attempting to generate a global debate on the subject. In a hard hitting, no nonsense language that he has become famous for, Jamie tells us,

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Simon Jenkins; Bourgeois Historian

Simon Jenkins has entered the debate about exactly what should be taught in the teaching of history and his contribution is a contradictory one. On the one hand he argues, correctly in my view, against the hotchpotch approach to history teaching, whereby no discernable connection is made between each taught unit, so in the end students have no understanding as to how it all fits together and what actually is the driving motor of history. A dollop of Roman history followed by some maraudering Vikings and some nasty Normans and lo and behold its time for the Tudors, who apparently had lots of wives. If that eclectic mish-mash hasn't got our students sufficiently switched off, a predictable dose of twentieth century wars with jack-booted Nazis stomping around will soon be coming their way, but of course, any possible connections between all this historical blood and thunder is never made. Jenkins professes to be, an unashamed chronologist, arguing that history cannot be told spasmodically. On this I 100% agree. Jenkins adds, I cannot see how any narrative can avoid starting at the beginning and running to the end, however hard it seems to tell it that way.Three cheers for historical chronologists!

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Why Marx Was Right: Terry Eagleton

Eagleton does his magnificent little text a small disfavour by choosing a rather didactic sounding title. Something a little more open-ended might have been more appropriate, something along the lines of, why we should study Marx or Marx's critical relevance for today. Maybe the author felt his title would catch the reader's attention, which it does, but it also plays into the tradition of turning Marx, and the school of thought that followed, into something akin to a religion, the very opposite of what Marx would have wished for. In fact, so concerned was Marx that many of his adherents were treating his ideas dogmatically that he once reputed to have declared, whatever I am, I know I am not a marxist.

 

For me, when Eagleton is at his least didactic he is at his most effective. When he debates and explores and hypothesises Eagleton provides his readers with a timely gem, but when he lapses into uncritical mode he does his own cleverly constructed project a disservice.

 

With these few preliminary observations out of the way, I can say unreservedly that this is a compulsorily text for those trying to make sense of the unfolding global chaos; from urban riots on the streets of London and Athens, the ill-defined bloody revolutionary upheavals in the Arab states, the ebbing and flowing of the world financial meltdown, the huge swathes of humanity still subject to the most degrading regimes of poverty, hunger and outright famine, the ecological disasters looming at every corner of our planet, and dare I omit to add, the never-ending revelations of corporate corruption, avarice and outright criminality. Marx was no god and never saw himself as one, but he was certainly as groundbreaking in his world view as Charles Darwin or Sigmund Freud, and in terms of real politics and actual lives lived, surely he must be considered the most influential thinker of the modern era who had something definite and coherent to say about all of the above. If for no other reason, Eagleton's eminently readable text is worthy of our immediate attention.

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Freedom, Jonathan Franzen, Forth Estate, London, 2010

'Freedom', Jonathan Franzens big follow up novel, arriving some ten years after his widely acclaimed 'Corrections, is trumpeted as a great American novel for our time, and worthy of a Tolstoy. This may be pushing things a bit far, but like Corrections, there is plenty to enthuse about this latest offering. Set against the backdrop of some very contemporary American preoccupations, Franzen delivers a web of moral dilemmas that do serve to challenge some of our more routine assumptions about ourselves. The characters and plot may be a little contrived in places, and our own Zadie Smith seems rather superior in this department, but that doesn't overly detract from us enjoying all those moral conundrums that Franzen conjures up, conundrums that we all create for ourselves in our daily neurotic lives.

 

And underlying the usual family dramas complete with their guilt's, resentments and absurd expectations and ambitions, lay the ever present existential void. Try as we might to fill that void with family, religion, politics and projects of every conceivable description, that void keeps on gnawing away- keeps on beckoning. Rich or poor, young or old, no one is totally immune. Franzen seems to grasp this as well as any modern novelist. It is this unsettling sense of an all pervading absurdity lurching behind our lives, more than all the busy comings and goings of his main protagonists, which makes this an intriguing book as well as a damn good read. 

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London's Burning: Olympic Notes

The chickens have come home to roost. How I love that saying. It first lodged itself in my brain when Malcolm X controversially used it immediately after the assassination of JFK. He was pilloried by both middle-America and his own Nation of Islam for daring to state the obvious. Violent, aggressive, imperialist America was now turning on itself. It was the self same expression that first came to mind after the multiple 9/11 attacks. Yes they were truly horrific but not more so than America's bloody foreign policies that had left countless millions dead and crippled in their wake. And more recently, I again turned to those succinct few words to sum up the News International hacking scandal and the web of high level criminality that surrounded it. After decades of courting this corporate media monster, the chickens had truly come home to roost. And that story is not over yet, not by a long shot.

 

And so we come to this week's urban rioting and again I can find few better words to sum up the situation. For three decades, since the last major urban riots, successive governments have ignored a growing under-class that has been allowed to fester on decaying housing estates across the country. They don't vote so why worry. Well this week they did vote but they voted with bricks and bottles and a total disregard for polite parliamentary norms.

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The Damned United, Film Review, 2009

I would imagine that most sports fanatics, and especially football fans of all descriptions, would have clocked this film many months ago. I, for some inexplicable reason had not, so I had the immense pleasure of viewing this cleverly constructed documentary/drama without the surrounding hype and without any preconceived expectations. If there are any of you out there in the blogesphere who have not yet seen this little gem, I can say without the slightest reservation that in all departments; acting, production and direction, this is a must see film classic.


Personal ambition, ego and psychosis are cleverly woven into the broader themes of 1970's English football, complete with its violence on and off the field, its decrepit and decaying stadia and the emerging clash between outside money and local traditions. To look at some of the real life footage of the football stadiums in that decade you would be forgiven for thinking this story was situated in some impoverished third world nation. The streets surrounding the stadiums were no better. When the film depicted the household lights going out as a routine part of the electricity power cuts so common in those industrially charged times, it felt that the 1970s had returned for real.

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Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian 29/7/11

I'd not heard of Felicity Lawrence prior to catching her resoundingly sharp article in The Guardian last month. (A mere state can't restrain a corporation like Murdoch's). It transpires that she has already written two excellent books outlining the power and corruption of the international food corporations. (Not on the Label and Eat Your Heart Out) Although I have recently blogged on this topic, (see End of Over Eating by David Kessler) I am now tempted to start reading Lawrence's work, based on her clear headed summation of the unregulated, unelected power of the transnational corporations. Hear is a hard hitting example of Lawrence's well constructed thesis a thesis that is becoming increasingly difficult to refute, even for the most ardent neo-liberal free-marketeers, as each new day passes.

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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'be 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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George Monbiot: Hold Power TO Account

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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