English Table Tennis Snuggles up to Dirty Oil

 Yesterday I was innocently surfing the English Schools Table Tennis Website when I was most surprised to learn that a new sponsor by the name of Heritage Oil is now sponsoring one of ESTTA’s premier events. I assumed that In an age when many companies and public institutions are starting to disinvest from fossil fuels, an organisation like ESSTA would have nothing to do with global oil. It seems however that ESTTA is heading in entirely the opposite direction. My curiosity was further tweeked as I did a little more surfing, and low and behold it transpires that Table Tennis England, the governing body of table tennis, is also in bed with Heritage Oil. Now while I fully appreciate that relatively small organisations like Table Tennis England and The English ESTTA are desperate for corporate sponsors, I couldn’t help but wonder at the wisdom of such a move. After all, just today there was a major article in The Observer 21/6/15 which unambiguously pointed out that our planet is facing another planet wide extinction moment, only this time it is not by meteorite or volcano but by our very own human activity. And burning fossil fuels for energy is at the very heart of this extinction threat .Surely an organisation such as ESTTA, based as it is entirely in schools, would show a little more discretion as to who it accepted money from. But the story gets a whole lot more nasty once one digs a little deeper.

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Magna Carta: Please stop this nonsense.

Whatever the historical merits of the  magna carta agreements that variously date from 1215 to 1235, the sight of today’s arch reactionaries from the British monarchy and the British Tory party seeking to celebrate this ‘democratic’ document is enough to make one’s skin crawl. Sure, every nation likes to tell itself heart-warming myths, in part  as a way of bolstering its current ruling elite, and Britain is no exception. The favourite narrative of Britain’s establishment is that England is the birthplace of democracy and the English parliament is the mother of that democracy. Try telling that to the billions who suffered under the brutality and humiliation of the British Empire. Try telling that to the Irish, Malayan and Kenyan freedom fighters who languished in Britain’s post war network of concentration camps and subjected to the most horrendous forms of mental and physical tortures. And still the torture goes on. But like all nations we love to perpetuate our national myths. Britain is probably no worse than others in this respect but the hypocrisy is no less sickening .

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FIFA: Corruption is in its DNA

Some years ago, I had the unsettling experience of listening to a radical Scottish academic outline his thesis on democracy. Selection by lot rather than ‘democratic election’ was the way forward. Elections, explained the good professor, always favoured the better situated, the most articulate and of course the most wealthy. I didn’t take a position either way at the time, but there was no doubt that his subversive thesis had lodged itself somewhere in my muddled consciousness. the more I thought about it the more it rang true. Even my own experience seemed to bear out its validity. Whenever there were trade union elections I always won the day, not because my ideas were necessarily superior to my opponents, but rather that I was a little more articulate in expressing my ideas. I could play the crowd in a way that my worthy opponents could not. And in the bigger world of global politics it transpires that every US President that has ever been elected had a bigger war chest than his opponent. Money talks, it seems, every damned time. Armed with this indisputable evidence, it seems that elections, just like the good professor has argued, were not nearly as democratic as the establishment would have us believe.

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Heretic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Harper Collins, New York, 2015

These days it’s not so wise to say you have heroes, they’re sure to let you down sooner or later. Some dirty little secret is almost certain to emerge, or they turn out, after a trailblazing start, to be a thoroughly nasty piece of work.  Notwithstanding this caveat, Ayaan Ali’s journey to date can be described as nothing short of heroic. In some ways her journey reminds me of that taken by Malcolm X, a journey that was cruelly if predictably cut down by America’s forces of reaction. Ayaan Ali also faces, on a daily basis, such a fate, but she is far from cowered. We will never know just how far Malcolm X would have travelled had he been spared the assassin’s bullet, but we do know that towards the end of his short but spectacular life he was meeting with the likes of Fidel Castro and other radical nationalist world leaders. As for Ayaan Ali, her journey from impoverished village life in Somalia to that of leading spokesperson for an Islamic reformation is truly inspirational.

Her latest book outlines the specifics of that reformation and t

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Money and greed has ruined the beautiful game, Justin Cartwright, Evening Standard, 29/5/15

Confucius say,’ Big sum of money on top of table – big corruption under table.’ He didn’t say this of course, but he may well have had he been around in the early years of the 21st century. There are billions of corporate dollars sloshing around the so called ‘beautiful game’, so it should surprise nobody that FIFA, the governing body of the game is mired in systemic corruption. We see it in every facet of our globalised corporate world; banking, arms sales, corporate manoeuvrings and political lobbying. Why should we expect globalised sport to be any different? Justin Cartwright, writing in the London Evening Standard, a highly manipulative free newspaper owned by a Russian oligarchic family, makes some superficially useful points, but rather fails to nail the beast. But then, how could he when he gets paid by the very system that he seeks to expose? There is a distinct whiff of hypocrisy about much of the commentary surrounding FIFA and Cartwright I’m afraid has, inadvertently perhaps, added to it. Did I say whiff of hypocrisy? I should have said ‘stench’.

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FC United revel in their rebel blueprint, David Conn, The Guardian, 27/5/15

A few years back I blogged on the creation of FC United of Manchester, musing on the revolutionary potential of such an audacious development. A few years hence and I’m proud to announce that that potential is starting to materialise. And it is fitting that in the very week that FIFA looks set to implode under the strain of systemic graft and corruption, it is truly inspiring to see this community based venture bringing back some integrity into the sporting arena. But it is more than community integrity that is at stake. What FC United reveals, perhaps even to the surprise of their own supporters, is that there are ways of organising human affairs that don’t rely entirely on the motivation of money and the myopic greed of the so-called free market. And that human endeavour can be rewarding simply for the intrinsic pleasure of the activity itself, be it in the sporting, artistic or economic fields. If there was ever a germ of a communistic future, unsullied by stultifying state bureaucracy or the corruption of the capitalist market, then FC United is it. 

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Heroes

Heroes are people we know nothing about

I should know, I’ve followed a few in my time

Heroes are substitutes for I’m not quite sure what

And we follow them without reason or rhyme.

 

The usual suspects have been up on my wall

 John Lennon, and Lenin and Mao

Up on the pedestal was Marley of course

With Karl Marx as the sacred old cow.

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After the Circus left Town, Contributed by Raan Oosha 13/5/15

 

 

After the trials and tribulations that the leaders of the three main political parties have had to endure over the last few months, there are some who are worried about their immediate future. 

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This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein, Penguin, 2015

 Still working my way through this one but thought I’d whet the appetite of potential readers by drawing out the main points in what can only be described as is a scintillating introduction. A genuine stick of dynamite. Perhaps the definitive work on climate change to date. There is hardly a single line that doesn’t deserve to be highlighted, underlined and generally broadcast across the planet. Which brings us to the key point. Klein is telling us that our planet is dying. Right in front of our eyes. Not in one hundred years’ time. Not even in twenty years’ time but right now. And we’re all complicit. At least all of us in the developed world. But most significantly it is not so much the individual that is complicit, though clearly we each must take some responsibility, but rather our insane economic model, the one that generally goes by the name of capitalism. Capitalism and its leading exponents in the boardrooms and in the parliaments are driving our beautiful planet into the ground in pursuit of a meaningless GDP and their own avaricious ambitions. Corporate profit is killing the planet and systematically undermining every attempt to reverse the process. It’s a sobering work that Klein has produced and as the title suggests, it should change everything, but bizarrely nothing seems to change. It's business as usual and to hell with the consequences.  Here are her key points.

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UK Elections: Nobody’s Talking Climate Change.

One thing is fairly predictable no matter which party or coalition of parties comes out on top of the forthcoming UK voting circus; in five years’ time when the next election bandwagon rolls into town Britain will be still be faced with a chronic housing crisis, private corporations will still be trying to get their greedy claws into the National Health Service,  Britain’s foreign policy will still be in hock to the US military-industrial complex, and the widening gap between the one per cent and the rest of us will continue apace. And the Tory press will still be blaming immigrants and benefit claimants for all the nation’s ills. This much is almost certain. And we’ll still be in denial about climate change.

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Ode to the NHS

We are told that Churchill was our greatest all-time leader

Inspiring the nation to combat the marauding Nazi hoards

But the post war British voters soon sent Churchill packing

And put the Labour Party in charge of the Westminster board.

 

The pre-war years in Britain were a living nightmare

Of unemployment and hunger and despair

So having seen off Hitler’s fascist armies

The British workers demanded something profoundly more fair.

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That Damned Dialectic

From the humblest sub-atomic particle

To the entirety of the Universe itself

A remorseless struggle of opposites

Creating unity by infinite stealth.

Centripetal and centrifugal forces

Struggling through the eons of time

Stability just a momentary illusion

Perfection just an illusionary crime.

The attraction and repulsion of opposites

In both the physical and philosophical world

Creating an awful yet awesome predicament

A universe of opposites unfurled.

Quantitative and qualitative changes

interacting and intermingling like twine

As relentless as the heartbeat of any living creature

As beautiful as a well-constructed rhyme

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In The Light Of What We Know-Zia H Rahman

 

A serious polemic, with class as one of its central themes but also a fascinating deliberation on the issue of belonging in a globalised world. Did I enjoy this book? I’m still not sure. The two central characters are the two narrators who offer over five hundred pages of polemical wisdom. The trouble is, there is only so much wisdom a reader can genuinely absorb in any one novel without starting to switch off. Rahman offers philosophical insights by the bucket load with the danger of placing his readers in overload mode. The plot, such as it is, is rather light, and when the novel does get involved in real stuff towards the end, it becomes all rather fanciful. Without rooting his two narrators into something more solid it is difficult to warm to either of them. And being a little old fashioned in this respect, if I don’t warm to the characters I find it difficult to ultimately warm to the novel. I’m not a particularly fast reader at the best of times – I like to savour a good novel- but this one seemed to take forever to get through.

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The NHS: Labour and Tories both get it wrong.

Nearly everything the Tories say and do is, in the final instance, a reflection of the needs of global capital. They are the mouth piece of the corporate world and have been since the arrival of the Thatcherite neoliberal revolution. Even national capital now plays second fiddle to global capital. And of course we should expect nothing different. Labour in government however has proved to be equally compliant and even in opposition we struggle to find a radical edge to their policies. No more so than in respect to the NHS. So the big Labour ideas around the NHS is all about protecting budgets, getting more staff in and merging health provision and social care. Fair enough in itself, but on further refection these  policies go nowhere near addressing the real issues concerning health care in the 21st century in a post industrial age. With a dramatically aging population relative to the working population, and the demand for treatments that will supposedly provide an ever increasing life expectancy, the status quo simply will not suffice. Something far more radical will be required.

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Amnesia, Peter Carey, Faber and Faber, London, 2014

 In too many places this one reads like something from the much loved childhood classic Famous Five series, but it does contain, for all that, much of interest, both historical and current. It is certainly not the novel I had hoped it would be. The illegal sacking of the left leaning Australian Labor Government in 1975, which forms the backdrop to the novel, is close to home for me. This was precisely the subject of my degree dissertation way back in the day. Of course there was nothing startlingly original in what I served up, just a reasonable summation of what was already in the public sphere at the time. But what did I get for my troubles? Scribbled all over the thing by my straight laced supervisor were the words, ‘circumstantial evidence’. Fair enough, but if anyone today genuinely believes that the sacking of the Whitlam Government was anything but a carefully orchestrated CIA coup is clearly in ideological denial. Anyway, I had hoped that Carey’s book was going to throw new light on all of this. It didn’t. In fact, all it really did was to state, and in a rather clumsy way at that, the bare and basic facts as they are already known. I felt rather disappointed, almost cheated by the end of the story.

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This Bleeding City, Alex Preston, Faber & Faber, London 2010

 

Something of a book of two halves, with the first half an absolute cracker – tense, gripping and relevant. The second half I’m afraid is something of a damp squid, except for a clever twist at the end, which I must confess I should have seen coming but didn’t. The first half of Preston’s story, I assume largely autobiographical, tells the exhilarating story of an ordinary sort of bloke making it good in the City of London until, you guessed it, the big crash of 2008. After the crash come the bankruptcies, the suicides and the disillusionment. The second half of the story gets bogged down in relationship stuff which is not, to be honest, Mr Preston’s literary forte. But the twist at the end makes it all worthwhile and leaves the reader with much to ponder. There is no Hollywood ending here unless you consider the mathematical algorithms swirling around the financial institutions in the City as a beautiful end in itself. I don’t but I can see how some might.

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