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Showing posts from 2018

THE PRESIDENT'S BREAKFAST

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The President's Breakfast A Short Story For The Holiday Season  Eliot had served three previous Presidents and up until the last year, he had thought that he had seen pretty much everything.  However, the previous incumbents had not prepared him for this. Nothing could have prepared him for this nightmare. He was due to retire in just over six months, but this morning, for the first time, he had begun to doubt that he could make it. It wasn’t the daily humiliation that got to him, he had known humiliation before, though had often enjoyed the satisfaction of those who had humiliated him be humiliated themselves in turn. No, it was much worse than that, it was watching the greatest elected office on the planet being daily degraded, humiliated in front of his eyes, and then in front of a global audience, and, to put it in language that he had suddenly become accustomed to hearing, being dragged through the shit. That morning the bell had rung and he entered the presidential bedroom t…

MY LIBERTY RIGHT OR LEFT

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I don’t think it would be accurate to call me a ‘socialist’ anymore, though it is a term I have used to describe myself for more than five decades. It is not that my fundamental worldview has altered greatly, I still believe in equality, economic and social justice and a political system that eschews privilege and preferment based on class. I also still believe in free speech, civil liberties and free assembly.  These latter two principles used to be associated with the left, no longer. When I was growing up the prohibiters and censors all came from the right, these days they are more likely to come from the left. Would a contemporary Oz trail now have the left supporting the publishers of the Schoolkids edition? I doubt it. We have moved from a culture of freedom and diversity of opinion to one of offence. Rather as a backbench MP can stop a private members bill by shouting ‘object’ so any argument can be stopped in its tracks by the cries of those claiming to be offended. The censor…

FROM FARCE TO TRAGEDY

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To watch the collapse of your country’s democratic political infrastructure can be interesting, occasionally entertaining, but ultimately appalling. Brexit has wreaked havoc, in no order, on cabinet government, parliamentary sovereignty, the Conservative party, the Labour party, -though this is primarily Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘achievement,’ – the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland, including the peace process, the temper of political debate, our standing in the world, and last, but by no means least, our relationship with our closest neighbours in the EU.  Quite a list. And this all because of a small group of Conservative Europhobic malcontents.  Having wrecked the Major government in the 1990s they have now succeeded in doing to the country what they once did to him. History turning Marx’s famous dictum on its head, moving from farce to tragedy.
Now on the cusp of their greatest achievement where are they to be found?  Well nowhere near the crime scene, except for Michael Gove, more …

LONDON LETTER OCTOBER 2018

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CRUDE AND TASTELESS IS THE NEW COOLMany illusions have been stripped away during, what must now be called the populist Trump/Brexit era,[1] however the greatest of these must surely be that expressing yourself crudely in political debate is a voter turn-off. Misogyny, blatant antisemitism racism and bigotry, are the new cool. Words like Yid, slut, and worse have all found a way back into the political discourse along with expressions of the crudest xenophobic sentiments. Anti-Irish slurs and stereotypes seem to be making a comeback, all without any political cost. Jeremy Corbyn can make sneering remarks about Jews still not assimilated enough to get British irony, Donald Trump can talk about grabbing pussy, Boris Johnson can talk about walking pillboxes, the voters couldn’t care less, in fact in for the most part they lap it up. Every remark, every opinion, no matter how gross or repulsive will find a host of defenders.[2] The idea that political discourse must abide by certain rules…

THE TICKING CLOCK

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‘Time, he's waiting in the wings. He speaks of senseless things. His script is you and me, boys’
'Time' David Bowie
Time is the most fascinating of all aspects of existence so that any exploration of the subject from Proust to HG Wells is bound to fascinate. Time is what we are born into, the place where we live, the stage on which we act out the drama of our lives. Time is invariably the boss, it removes beauty and agility, brains and brawn and, or so it feels, slips away ever faster just as we realise how precious it is. We live in it but cannot grasp it or make it change direction.  Time is dying is dissolving as we breath, it is constantly slipping through our fingers.  We are not killing time; time is killing us.
Twenty four hours, as James Joyce, Malcolm Lowry and others have depicted, can represent a lifespan, and twenty-four hours is the subject of Christian Marclay’s installation at the Tate Modern. simply entitled 'Clock.'  Consisting of a film montage that …

THE CHAOS CONTINUES

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Politics feels like a refuse dump, full of waste matter, foul smelling and with the distinct odour of decay. The excessive hyperbole of years which, in hindsight, trivial problems were hyped up into life and death issues on which civilised life hung have robbed us of the language to respond to our current crisis and its all too real existential threats. The venality, dishonesty and incompetence of politicians can and have been, a lazy response and a means of shedding responsibility. I know, in the years I canvassed for the Labour Party it was an argument, -they’re all in it for themselves,’ – that I had regularly to rebut. And in those days it was largely untrue. Most politicians were idealistic, with sound motives, basically decent people trying to do the right thing. Of course, there have always been charlatans, from Horatio Bottomley to Boris Johnson, cynical careerists, barefaced liars and the criminally corrupt. But these were the exception. Now we have world turned upside down, w…

CORBYN AND TRUMP, A FAREWELL TO NORMALITY

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A POOR QUALITY SAINT 
Jeremy Corbyn is unique among the figures that have dominated British politics for the last half-century in that his supporters both venerate and seek to protect him. He has been elevated to Christ-like status whom, in a memorable turn of phrase coined by Helen Lewis of the New Statesman, is treated by these same disciples as if he were ‘a bird with a broken wing.’  This explains the strange mixture of whining victimhood and aggressive bile that descends upon anyone of substance who dares to criticise ‘the great leader.’ They seem themselves as a loyal praetorian guard defending a saint who is unable to fully defend himself.
That such a man, whose sordid past is littered with friendships with cold-blooded killers, Islamist misogynist and homophobic fanatics, an apologist for every anti-democratic regime from Gaddafi’s Libya to Putin’s Russia, be venerated in such a way is both grotesque and pure Monty Python.  His life is littered with utterances and actions that h…

LONDON LETTER JUNE 2018:

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TRAVEL AND TIME 
I currently do not have a passport, my British passport is up for renewal, though since I am eligible for an Irish passport should I obtain another it will, because of Brexit, be issued from Dublin. Passports are weighty icons and people invest them with extraordinary symbolism. True, to be denied one is no small thing, as the appalling Windrush affair has so grotesquely illustrated. Still, this iconic investment is strange, as AJP Taylor observes in his history of Britain 1914 to 1945 prior to 1914 British subjects could travel across the continent passport-free. The introduction of passports was the first step in curtailing this freedom. Now significant numbers of the British public it seems are happy to have their freedom of movement again curtailed in the belief, erroneously as it happens, that only this will allow us to change the colour of these little documents. As I say, strange indeed.


As it happens I currently have neither the funds or, more importantly, a par…

THE STALIN SEED

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When Victor Serge was ever presented with the argument that the Russian Revolution held the seeds of Stalinism from the very outset he would concur, although pointing out that there were many other seeds as well, which I also believe to be true. Looking around the world from China, to Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam, it is evident that the Stalin seed has proven to be much more virilant, aggressive and resistant to antibodies that it invariably ends up strangling all the other seeds before they get the chance to thrive. Why should this be?
For all its many faults Twitter can be a useful place for examining the mindset of the fanatic of either left or right, though it can be a depressing affair. When reading the tweets of those imagining themselves to be very left wing or progressive defending regimes like those in Cuba or Venezuela one cannot but be struck by the prevalent imperviousness to argument, the aggression and hostility to any narrative other than their own. Any such narrative can on…

HANDS ACROSS THE SPECTRUM

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Where Far Left and Far Right Meet
Quiz question, what do the following people and organisations have in common: Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, George Galloway, Viktor Orban, Pat Buchanan, Seamus Milne, Leave EU, Stop the War Coalition, Christian Evangelicals and The Morning Star newspaper.*
Answer: They all, at one time or another, have praised or acted as apologists for Vladimir Putin.
Now any list that brackets Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, The Christian right in the US, and Stop the War in the UK is an unusual list. Or perhaps, I should add, since it is more accurate, would once have seemed an unusual list. However, since we live in strange times the once inconceivable is becoming the norm.  We are witnessing hands stretching across the political divide, from the fascist far right of Britain First and Marine Le Pen to the Trotskyite West haters of Stop the War, all either pay direct homage to Putin or continue to offer an apologia for his violence and thuggery. Since the …

CAN DEMOCRACY SURVIVE?

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The Retreat of Western Liberalism’ By Edward Luce, ‘How Democracies Die’ By Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky 
2012 is often cited as the high point of a confident, multicultural, outward-looking UK. The faces of that Olympic year, Mo Farah, Nicola Adams, Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins testimony to a grown-up society at ease with itself. Or so we thought. With hindsight, it looks like that year represented the swan song of liberal Britain, or put more harshly we were fooling ourselves. That in fact Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony represented a thin, possibly London manufactured, veneer covering a society seething with bitterness, hatred and division. Their first signs of this came in the referendum on Scottish independence, the tone of which, particularly on Twitter was exceptionally unpleasant. Much worse was to come. Brexit opened the floodgates to a torrent of xenophobic hatred, poisonous abuse and split society wide open, creating two hostile camps, Remainers and Leavers. Words and…

WHEN THE POSTER WAS KING

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Paddington Printshop produced posters for the burgeoning squatters rights movement, for community resources, and for acts of social and political activism in the centre of London in the mid-1970’s for over a decade…. The posters are visually striking examples of silkscreen and stencil printing at its most vibrant.’
Boo-Hooray, NY Art Book Fair, 2017 edition.
In the age of social media and the Internet we face a daily barrage of urgent and demanding communication, sign this petition, support this cause, retweet, follow us, adopt this hashtag. Politicians and political campaigns seek to grab our attention either by softly imploring or shouting in our face. All this in less than twenty years. Before this, there was only the leaflet, direct mail, and, of course, the poster. This exhibition at the London print studio allows you to travel back in time and enter the age of community activism in North West London, the age of the poster. The idea that the sixties ceased at midnight on 31st Decem…

THE CULTURE OF LIES

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Everybody tells lies, even the saintly tell lies of omission. Lying maybe in innate in people, a former of survival mechanism.  However, most people feel that telling lies is not good and carry a hierarchy of lies in their head from the acceptable ‘white lie’ to the unacceptably dishonest. Historically politicians caught lying were expected to resign, or, when out of office,  to demonstrate an appropriate level of contrition. No longer.
Most historians will see 2016 as the point at which political lying without consequences became the norm. Trump, of course, is the chief exemplar of the new breed of lying politicians, but Brexit and the performance of Boris Johnson and the other Brexiteers in deliberately misleading the public also touched new heights of duplicity, deceit and calculated untruth.
On the left, we have Corbyn, a man who tells lies about his past on a  daily basis, from Northern Ireland to Iran and Russia. Corbyn rewrites his role as cheerleader for violence and reaction a…