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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Alex Higgins- My story

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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FIFA The Final Whistle

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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Al Qaida: Made in the USA

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 place.

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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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Civilisation: The West and the Rest, Review by Alex Von Tunzelmann, Evening Standard, 10/3/11

Niall Ferguson is a dangerous man. Victor Vijay is right to lambaste him for being an apologist for imperialism. Alex Von Tunzelmann is no less damning. Why is Ferguson so dangerous? After all there is no shortage of history texts whitewashing the brutalities of the British Empire. No, Ferguson is dangerous because he has the ear of the current Tory government and is advising the government, officially or otherwise, on the history curriculum in schools. Think about it. If Ferguson gets his way, countless thousands of young British students are going to come out of secondary school believing that the British Empire was primarily a force for good, and that any rough stuff was probably the work of a few bad apples. We'll be back to an era of imperial history at the very time that we desperately need a global history that lays bare the realities of the past five hundred years of barbaric European colonialism.

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Respone to Niall Ferguson by Viktor Vijay

In rebuttal of the racial-superiority and Colonial justification arguments of Ferguson I quote from my book 'MONA LISA DOES NOT SMILE ANYMORE' (ISBN 978-81-8465-512-4)
" No human or animal desire to live in cage or chains. Would the British have swapped development at the expense of slavery under Nazis? It is the primary motive that counts, incidental outcomes there from are of no consequence. British subjugated India and sent Indians as virtual slaves to different islands from Fiji to Mauritius, to West Indies to South Africa to work as indentured plantation labour, they occupied an independent country and used its resources and humans in a bland exploitative manner over nearly two centuries. It is not stupid but cunning to justify robbing of freedom of other nations. No religion should make a business of distributing moral righteousness by way of force and temptation to convert. No religion should have had legions of missionary priests disembarking from colonial ships, whose life mission was to convert as many as possible.

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The London Marathon

 

Life's a marathon. Some drop out early and some struggle on to the finish. Of the finishers, some are nearly crippled; others just take it in their stride. Personal physiology, psychological aptitude, training routines and, most significantly, the necessary economic circumstances to allow that training, all come into the equation. Which ever way you look at it, the marathon metaphor proves quite apt to life itself. Perhaps that is why I find myself increasingly drawn to the marathon as a form of sport worthy of human endeavour in the 21st century. Let's clear up a few things first though. I have never run a marathon of any type and, at nearly three score years, I have little prospect of doing so. The nearest I came to a sporting marathon came when, in my late teens, a buddy and I cycled leisurely from London to Athens, taking the Austrian Alps in our stride. We took the best part of a month, so it hardly rated as a feat of sporting endurance, rather a damn good cycling holiday with no time limits other than those we set ourselves. We averaged a hundred miles a day over the flat so perhaps I have some vague claim to marathon status. But that was then and this is now. Now I am content to polemicise about marathons rather than to actually run the things.

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Wiff-Waff for the Riff Raff (Olympic Notes No 6)

Under the cleverly constructed heading, Wiff Waff for the Riff Raff, I recently received a request for a donation towards a bid to win some Olympics table tennis tickets for some youngsters in a hard up community table tennis club.

(For those unaware, wiff-waff was the original name for ping pong, which itself eventually gave way to the more sober sounding table tennis, and it was wiff-waff that Boris Johnson bizarrely referred to in the closing ceremonies in Beijing.) Behind this wonderfully astute touch of self deprecating humour lies a deadly serious point of contention. Why is it that our sporting youngsters have to go begging for the money to get a foot inside the Olympic circus when thousands of top class tickets are freely distributed to every two-bit VIP and corporate tax avoiding criminal? The answer is self evident of course. The modern Olympic Games would be better named the Global Corporate Games, because that is exactly what they have become with any trace of the original Olympic Corinthian spirit long ago being jettisoned in favour of the big buck. The chances of London's lowly paid working class, let alone the huge impoverished unemployed underclass, getting into the Olympic arena are close to zero.

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Civilisation: The West and the Rest, Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane, London

There is one very important point to which I am in accord with Niall Ferguson, and that is the need for a clear and consistent narrative in the teaching and understanding of history. The current vogue of offering school kids an eclectic patchwork of bite size mouthfuls of history is simply of no value. A few weeks of the Romans followed by a few more weeks of 1066 and the Norman Invasion, closely followed by a month of Tudor history and then, inexplicably, a lurch into the rise of the Nazis, with perhaps a unit of American civil rights thrown in, makes absolutely no sense at all. No, the human story, the most intriguing of all stories, needs to be presented in a coherent, chronological and intelligible manner. On this I agree with Ferguson but then, on much else, we must part company.

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Time For Outrage, Stephane Hessel, Quartet Books, London 2011

Hessel's hugely popular, multi- million selling pamphlet, Time For Outrage has found resonance in today's fraught times due to his own combative past as resistance fighter against the Nazi regime; as a survivor of Nazi torture and their bestial concentration camps; as one of the original authors of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and as a UN diplomat seeking to put substance into those fine sounding words of that Declaration. Hessel must be a huge embarrassment to today's authorities because while they, the Bush's, the Blair's, The Sarkozy's and the Cameron's, pretend to stand for the democratic ideals that helped defeat fascist aggression, Hessel indicts them precisely for having abandoned those very ideals.

As millions of people worldwide now desperately protest against the ravages of global corporatism, including in London today, Hessel's words shout out like thunder and remind us all of our responsibilities to stand up against social, political and economic oppression in all its myriad forms. How the old Etonians must be squirming in their suits and tails as they busy themselves with yet another Oxbridge Boat-race and yet another foreign adventure in North Africa? They must squirm a little as they contemplate just how far they have taken us from the egalitarian ideals of the welfare state as imagined and demanded by earlier generations after the slaughter of the two world wars.

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The Promise, Channel 4, February 2011

At last, something intelligent on a terrestrial channel. It's been a long time coming. There was a time, of course, when the BBC and the others regularly produced gems, but the years between these classics just seems to get longer and longer. American HBO is different. They are churning them out in rapid succession. They are arguably light years ahead of the Brits now and the gap seems to be getting wider.

 

I never imagined myself pro-offing such a glowing trans Atlantic sentiment but facts are stubborn things. There is simply no comparison between say, the Soprano's, The Wire, and best of all, In Treatment, with such turgid fare as Downton Abbey and all the rest of the highly predictable English costume dramas. Some of the Dickens and Shakespearean re-enactments can hold the attention but they don't exactly require much new cerebral effort. As for the contemporary dramatic offerings, most of them are only just a nudge above the weekly soaps.

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