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Showing posts from July, 2008

THE AGE OF COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT 2

Two stories from the week ending 26th July 2008: A man is fined £30 for smoking in his van as this is deemed his ‘place of work.’ I speak to a man in his early sixties, mild mannered to the point of being self effacing; he enjoys a beer, however being on benefits he can no longer enjoy drinking in the pub as much as he would like. He goes to a Local park in Haringey to drink a can of beer. However it is now an offence to drink alcohol in any Haringey park. A Police Community Support Officer arrives and not only confiscates the can from him but insists on pouring its contents away in front of him.
Both stories are so translucent that further comment seems superfluous however at least one point comes to mind. One wonders if our drinker had instead been two local councillors enjoying a bottle of Champagne in the park our PCSO would have been quite so officious.
I feel weary of rehearsing arguments I have already made however again I point out that anyone who is drunk in a park, especially …

LETTER FROM BULGARIA

I write this overlooking the great expanse of the Black Sea, a gentle breeze blowing into my room from the open door as the early morning sunshine, already warm, heats the decking of the balcony where soon I will be eating breakfast.

Holidays are a creation of ‘enlightened’ late 19th Century capitalism, allowing the workers some time off so that they might return as refreshed willing slaves. A whole industry has been created out of this segmented leisure culture, time given back in exchange for wage slavery. There has consequently always been an element of torture about this phenomenon, with its annual fortnightly taste of freedom, of life as it should be lived, as it should be experienced. As the annual two week trip to sun and sea draws to a close the reality of daily existence is thrown into sharp relief, back to work on Monday and the colourless routine of the factory floor or office.
This was well understood by the Anarchists and Situationists who had a healthy contempt for the phe…

GOOD/BAD POETRY: THE POETRY OF A E HOUSMAN

I cannot remember who it was that reflected upon the pleasure provided by good/bad films, those B movie creations which, despite the sometimes wooden acting or cliché ridden scripts can often grip and even move one. Casablanca for example, for all it’s celebrity contains a plot that is barely credible and moments that demand more than is reasonable in efforts of willing suspension of disbelief .Yet it undoubtedly contains within it a fable of considerable power that speaks to something very deep in the human psyche.

A similar pleasure can be had from good/bad poetry, A.E. Housman’s Epitaph on an army of mercenaries for example.

'These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.'

The poems sentiments seem somewhat dated now, ho…

Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History by Damian Thompson

In Europe the widespread disappearance of religious belief as traditionally understood, that is in God, Heaven, the central role of the Church, the belief in an afterlife has had consequences that I believe have not been sufficiently understood. (I leave aside here the resurgence of Islam which is an imported phenomenon and itself requires greater analysis).
It is I believe Umberto Eco who reflected that “when men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.” When faced with the daily stream of ‘New Age’ drivel in the broadcast and written media, the obsession with horoscopes, with the varieties of ‘alternative’ medicine, Tarot readings, and all other manner of quackery voodoo and other sundry nonsense one is inclined to sympathise with the sentiment.
Of course the flight from science, from rationality and reason has complex roots and ever since the Thalidomide disaster the claims of the pharmaceutical industry have been greeted with…

Taking Offence

Recently there has been a peculiarly pernicious development in public discourse, the capacity to receive offence, particularly offence respecting religious beliefs. During a debate on the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed a spokesman, inevitably of course self appointed, for the Muslim community declared that free speech did not include the right to inflict insult! This remark, astonishingly, went unchallenged. Of course divorced from its capacity to wound strongly held beliefs the concept of freedom of speech is rendered meaningless. More alarmingly an added dimension to the capacity to receive offence is the growing tendency to legitimise violence as a response to real or imagined offence. In the early 21st century we are living in the age of the Fatwa.
I fear that we may have already lost more ground in this respect than we realise; self censorship already a significant feature of the press and broadcasting media. Moreover what London theatre would now stage a satire on the ab…

A CASE OF ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

Since the collapse of Communism, indeed since its very inception, Bulgaria has struggled to develop a legitimate functioning civil society. Plagued by organised crime and institutional corruption it is still a young democracy. However in one respect it is considerably more advanced than our own, for Bulgaria unlike the UK is a republic.
Often when travelling overseas and having identified myself as English, (interestingly no longer British, or indeed Irish to which I can make a valid claim), people invariably bring up the monarchy, questions about which are always framed by a certain amount of wry amusement. The Queen and her considerable entourage reflecting something rather infantile about England in particular and the UK in general. And at such moments I know that I live in a country not fully grown up, not politically or institutionally mature. The very presence of hereditary monarchy stunting our political growth, a masturbatory fantasy harking back to a medieval past. I fear th…