The Plague, Albert Camus, 1947, Penguin, London

 

A mountain of words has been written about this all time post-war classic, so it remains only to ask the question; how goes the plague in 2016? On one level Camus’ Plague clearly concerns how we humans respond, in our various ways, to fascism, be it military, institutional or cultural. Some of us oppose it outright, others seek to accommodate to it, while others willingly collaborate with it. And of course there are a thousand shades between. But I suspect Camus’ Plague operates at a far deeper level still. For Camus, the Plague is that of human indifference, of a deficit of empathy; of a retreat into ones own selfish needs. As such, the Plague is always with us, lurking in every country, in every community and in the consciousness of every individual. Try as we might, we can never  totally inoculate ourselves against this form of plague. It is a virus which seems to be an integral part of the human condition. One only has to look at the developed world’s faltering response to the current refugee crisis lapping at the shores of Europe to get a sense of what Camus was getting at.

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Purity, Jonathan Franzen, Forth Estate, London, 2015

If you’re looking for purity in this world, and I’m pretty damn sure there is only this world, then don’t bother being born. It’s as simple as that. Because, sure enough, the moment you pop your messy head out of that messy womb, you’re bound to compromise your messy arse until the day you die. Your family will compromise you; your political world will comprise you, your work, or lack of it will compromise you; and for absolute certain, any and all of the relationships you stumble into will bury you up to the neck and beyond in all manner of messy compromises. And all of your ideals, slippery as they invariably are, will definitely land you in a quagmire of compromise. So, if you’re foolish enough to be looking for some sort of purity, then planet earth is definitely not the place for you. Jonathan Franzen, in his third major novel, makes this point abundantly clear over every page of his engrossing tale of the fruitless search for purity.

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Twenty-First Century Feminism. Contributed by Charleigh Kirby

I am a feminist. Am I a wild, radical extremist who demands men to be eradicated from planet earth? Occasionally. 

“What about International Men's Day?” a male comrade of mine recently exclaimed. “Why are women entitled to an entire day celebrating their existence and men aren’t?” Oh the anguished tears of oppression.  And in case you're wondering, international men’s day actually falls on the other 364 days of the year.    

A lot of men will see the title of this article and think ‘Oh brilliant. The F word. We need further discussion on this? How is that possible when it’s bloody EVERYWHERE?! Women can vote now. Get over it’ 

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Spotlight: Film Review, 1/3/16

I watched this one the day before the Oscars, unaware that it had even been nominated. When I discovered the next day it had in fact won ‘best film’ it was further confirmation that the entire circus that is the Hollywood Oscars is not worth two beans. This is a mediocre film by any standards. A typical Hollywood, ‘good versus evil, righting injustice’ type of film that could apply to just about any type of injustice you could care to mention. Totally formulaic in its construction, without a hint of nuance or complexity. The characters are all one-dimensional, as is the script and dialogue. Of course the content of the film - the endless cover-up by the Catholic Church of paedophilia by its army of priests and bishops - is spot on. Anything that throws a spotlight on this high level corruption and criminality is to be applauded. But as a piece of film – I wouldn’t recommend rushing off to see the thing and if you do then that don’t be expecting too much. Compared to say the highly charged Magdalene Sisters, this film simply doesn’t rate.

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Europe: In or out, the corporates will still rule the roost.

While the Bullington Bullies turn their spite on each other with their spurious arguments over the UK’s status with the European Union, the British electorate are faced with an imponderable choice. But when one considers the matter closely, it is really no choice at all. In either scenario the giant corporations and banks that bestride the planet will still be in control of the British economy. No rational person can really believe that, post referendum, the chronic housing situation in the UK is going to be sorted out by either the in camp or the out camp. And no rational person can believe that either the stay or leave camps, are going to regulate the banks and corporates. The tax havens that facilitate wholesale tax evasion will still be in place whatever the outcome of the referendum. So too will the toxic fossil fuel industry and the equally toxic food industry. Post referendum, all the accumulated social problems afflicting the UK will still be there; pollution, congestion, homelessness, low wages, zero hour contracts and chronic indebtedness. And to those that are forced to exist on a day by day basis, the referendum on Europe is really a giant red herring. Smoke screens and mirrors as Jeremy Corbyn so astutely put it.

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Coffee Shop Reality: Contributed By Raan Oosha

"Most of the hatred in this world is of the manufactured kind; created purposely, skilfully and manipulatively to keep the people fighting amongst themselves so the business elite can control the land we live on, the labour we expend and the goods and services we produce.

They continually propagate hatred based on the major themes of race, religion, nationality and sex; but any difference will do because it is conflict they want, and conflict they encourage.

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"Thank you dear someone" By Raan Oosha

I've been down trodden neglected and I've been cast aside   
Left on the platform as the train of life passed so quickly by 
Invisible to the many, by the few I was never seen 
But I saw a great life possible, because someone believed in me 
 
I Saw the TV show a life I could never grasp 
Advertisements in magazines told me I was not enough.
Too small too dark too fat too thin, too old too young to compete 
But I realised that didn't matter when someone believed in me 
 

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Podemos, Syriza, the SNP and the Corbynistas: The fightback gathers Momentum.

Podemos, Syriza, the SNP and the Corbynistas: The fightback gathers Momentum.

Earlier this month Eamon Brennan wrote an article for Sporting Polemics calling for the need for an alliance of progressive parties. I believe on this he is spot on. During the hustings from the last election, my heart sank when Ed Miliband declared unambiguously that he would never entry into an alliance with the SNP. This was not only politically inept but strategically muddle-headed, especially when you consider that at that point in time the SNP was far to the left of Labour on virtually every issue. Miliband, playing to the agenda set by the Tories, fell head-first into their trap. At the very least he should have remained silent, thereby keeping his political options open. Contrary to Miliband’s dogmatic stance, Brennan, after outlining the historical pattern of increasing fragmentation of the popular vote, recommends that;

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New Government Sports Strategy: Eighty-four pages of fine sounding platitudes.

  When it comes to entrenched poverty it is often asked: is it a culture of poverty or a poverty of culture that is the problem?  But there really is no chicken and egg situation when it comes to poverty. Material poverty always and everywhere drives cultural poverty. It always has and it always will. Admittedly, once a culture of poverty has taken hold it too can work to further entrench a material poverty, but we should not allow ourselves be lulled into the mistaken belief that cultural poverty is at the root of the problem.

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Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton, New York, 2015

The easy part of this review is pointing out what’s great about this collection. It celebrates human diversity; it allows the human spirit to triumph over human adversity, and above all it is always and everywhere life enhancing. Given the current state of play with respect to drones and jihadists,  the three photos selected by  Stanton of young Muslim women, is a wonderful antidote to all that Islamophobic fear and loathing that is currently swirling around. The subjects seem to just want what we all want, to be allowed to get on and just be. In fact, that is probably a fair summation of the whole collection. Here I am – take me or leave me. I’m not bothered about anyone’s preconceived conceptions. I’m simply too busy to worry about your preoccupations and prejudices. You don’t like the way I look? Too bad. You want me to conform to your values and norms?  Forget it. You want me to subscribe to your agenda? No way. Who could not warm to this brash New York can-do attitude? But it’s what this collection doesn’t include that is the unsettling thing.

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David Cameron: ‘No if’s, no but’s, I promise to faithfully serve the corporate interest.’

Somewhere along the line, national democracies, limited as they were in both scope and ambition, were quietly but comprehensively supplanted by global corporations. At current estimates, the largest five hundred of these wholly undemocratic and unaccountable monoliths have taken control of the planet –its governance, its economy, its infrastructure and its culture. They control our socio-political present, they manipulate our understanding of our past and they seek, at every turn, to control our collective future. They are, to all intent and purposes, omnipresent and omniscient. Their wealth exceeds all but the biggest nations but collectively they are far, far more powerful than even the most powerful of nations. At times their support from state authorities is explicit, at other times less transparent, but always the state is forced, willingly or otherwise, to do their bidding. They employ an army of lawyers, accountants and lobbyists to ensure that national governments comply. Those that dare to resist, in even the most tokenistic of ways, are quickly dispatched. Corporations brook no opposition from whatever quarter. They bestride the globe like gods pausing only to bicker amongst themselves for ever greater status, wealth and power. They are truly the self-appointed masters of our universe.  

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Religion: Keep it out of schools.

The other day I walked into one of my schools for a regular tt coaching session and what was I confronted by? A hall half full of kids being drilled into the wonders and joys of the perennial Christmas Carol. ‘Hark the herald angel sings, glory to the new born king’. I recognised the words because I’d had them drilled into me during my own school days some fifty years ago. It was a particularly incongruous scene because at least half the students were from a Muslim background. It felt wrong and not just because of any Muslim sensibilities. After all these years it was the same old story. Someone, somewhere seemed to think that rolling out the Christmas agenda was a form of upholding British values. On this, I must tell them, they are misguided. So much nonsense has been uttered on this spurious topic of ‘British values’, but the reality is – they don’t, per se, exist. What does exist, are the half-formed, half-forgotten remnants of the European Enlightenment which had at its core, the separation of Church and State. I say half-formed because western nations seem to uphold this concept in a most haphazard and very uneven way. France and the US are probably the most zealous in implementing this core principle but Britain’s policies, of all the Anglo-Saxon nations, are probably the least robust. Britain continues to finance its existing religious schools and is bending over backwards to expand the religious sector. Furthermore, successive British governments  have allowed religious indoctrination to creep in through the backdoor in what is left of the state comprehensive sector.  A few carols may seem like a bit of harmless Christmas fun, but the wider implications are anything but harmless.

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Syria: Puppets and warmongers exposed. Raan Oosha

 

Contrary to what the mainstream media would have us believe, Jeremy Corbyn’s first few months in charge of the Labour Party has been a resounding success and some of the seeds that he is presently sowing may well, if nurtured, yield handsome fruit in the years to come. Of course, the media has done its absolute best to undermine the man with subtle and not so subtle barbs of every conceivable nature; to his character, to his principles, even to his dress code and how low he bows. At every opportunity they have tried to belittle and demean him. He’s been lambasted as a coward, a communist and completely out of touch. The list of his character and political failings seems endless. But Corbyn’s great success has been his quiet ability to expose those in the Labour Party machinery that are indeed  cowardly in their convictions and sycophantic in their attitudes to both big business and the corporate media.

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Why Jeremy Corbyn’s election could spell disaster for the Labour Party. Contributed by Eamon Brennan

If you posed the headline above as a question, most people would probably reply with the assumption that Corbyn is considered unelectable and Labour would be similarly unelectable with him at the helm. But that’s not the disaster that I am talking about.

 

 

Single elections are rarely that important in the long run. The Tories were eviscerated in 1997 but eventually they could only profit from Labour’s move to the right (or centre as Blairites like to say). In 2010 the Liberals won enough seats to enter government for the first time in 100 years (or first time ever if you refuse to draw a line connecting the Whigs and the Lib Dems). Five years later, that decision has turned them into an electoral irrelevance. A situation that seems set to last for the foreseeable future.

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Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby, Penguin, London 1992

It would be seriously remiss of Sporting Polemics not to review this one, even though it has been around for nearly twenty five years. The category of ‘classic’ is heavily overused these days but in its own unique and particular way I think ‘Fever Pitch’ can rightly claim that epithet. In an age of relentless atomisation and the accompanying alienation, this little tale of football tribalism and personal obsession, is perhaps more apposite than ever. Families, local communities and entire national, class and religious affiliations are crumbling in front of our very eyes. So it is little surprising that fanatical sporting allegiance should step forward to fill the void. Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch’ is not only funny and poignant but sociologically spot on.

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ISIS: Mirror image of western neo-colonialism

I was going to blog on the folly of the proposed British bombing of ISIS, but having recently read two articles in The Guardian, one by a Jurgen Todenhofer 27/11/15 and the other by regular columnist, Seamus Milne written way back in June of this year, I decided there really was nothing else substantive I could profitably add. Instead I would content myself with highlighting the key points of their arguments, adding the odd emphasis here and there. When the British State has such a monopoly on the prevailing narrative, it is so refreshing to know that there are other people are out there, even if in a relatively tiny minority, who share your views. Without coming across a few like-minded souls one is in danger of fearing for one’s political sanity. Thank the gods for the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Seamus Milne. To my logic, dropping yet more bombs on the countries of Middle East has to be the most insane idea since Langley thought that arming, training and financing the Afghan mujahedeen would bring peace and harmony to that war weary nation. As for dropping bombs as a way of defeating a determined and ideologically coherent enemy, Cameron and Co might care to reflect on the fact that the US and its allies dropped more bombs on Vietnam and Cambodia during that barbaric, twenty year imperialist war than they did during the entire Second World War and they still lost! Furthermore, Nazi saturation bombing of British cities during WW2 did not break Britain’s resolve, if anything it strengthened it. Have these privately educated, Old Etonian Oxbridge graduates learned nothing from history? Every sane, secular and rational person would want to see the speedy and total elimination of the ISIS creed and its foot-soldiers, but trying to bomb them into submission will simply not work.

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