The Untold History of the United States, Chapter 2, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

 

So rich in detail and documentation is this unprecedented history of the United States that I promised myself that I would review each and every chapter. Then I got side-tracked and I only managed to deliver on the introduction and chapter one. Well now I'm back with the full intention of delivering on the original pledge. If we want to get a grasp on the current state of play in US political history there is no better place to start than this explosive chapter. It's got everything; corporate fascism US style, greedy bankers holding the country to ransom, fascist plots a plenty and the revolutionary New Deal as served up by President Roosevelt. It's as if someone has pressed the replay button. All that history we have witnessed with Reagan and the two Bush's and the Clintons with Trump in the wings, it all seems to have its roots way back in the inter-war period. Just have a look at this selection of quotes to see what I mean.

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All That Man Is, David Szalay, Jonathan Cape London, 2016

 

Not so much a novel than a series of short stories, which potentially could have been far less satisfying than a single story. But no need to worry on this score because Szalay has produced a work of fiction that is every bit as absorbing as anything a high quality novel might offer. And here's the wonderful thing. After each magically produced story the reader is momentarily left frustrated that it's all come to such a sudden and premature end, but almost immediately Szalay has us totally gripped by the next totally discreet story with its totally new set of characters. That is surely a real skill and for me, Szalay does not put a foot wrong. Every character and every piece of dialogue is so genuinely convincing that by the end of the nine stories I was left with a sense of reader satisfaction as complete as any conventional novel could ever hope to deliver.

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Being Dead, Jim Crace, Penguin, 2000, London

 

I'm still reeling from the wonder that was Harvest, Jim Crace's most recent novel, and I was very reluctant to try one of his earlier novels for fear it might disappoint. It didn't. In fact, in many ways it was the equal to Harvest  haunting, compelling and unsettling in equal measure. To say that Jim Crace is Britain's most powerful living novelist is perhaps too wild a claim, but for me he is right up there with the very best that the English speaking language has to offer.

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Bad Jews, Joshua Harmon, Theatre Royal Haymarket, 2016,

 

Had loads of fun with this one. Cleverly scripted, well acted, and most critically as it turns out, a highly topical polemic. In short, brother and sister are at war with each other. Usual sibling rivalries but with an added ingredient. Jewish brother brings home his blond girlfriend/fiance who just happens not to be Jewish. Sister berates brother for threatening to marry outside of the Jewish faith thereby weakening the purity of Jewish line. Brother retaliates by accusing sister of upholding a fascist ideology more akin to the Nazis. All good fun, but in the light of the anti-Semitism accusations swirling around the Labour Party at the moment, and in particular those aimed at a certain Mr Jeremy Corbyn, this turns out to be deadly serious stuff.

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Hillsborough: A Case Study in Britain’s Tainted Democracy

 

Much of the British media, excluding of course the criminal Murdoch Empire, are feigning a moral outrage at how shabbily the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy and their surviving relatives and friends have been treated. Perhaps some of the outrage is genuine but it doesn't feel so. It feels manufactured for the moment, and will be just as quickly forgotten as soon as the next big news story comes along.

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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.

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'a 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 Buts - 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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