Category Archives: politics

Hello Again!

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It’s been a little while – hope everyone’s been well. I hadn’t had much time or inclination for blogging, as I was dealing with insomnia and anxiety in October and November. I get spells on and off and they last for a couple of months at a time. Maybe sometime I’ll write a longer post on it, but for now, I’ll leave it at the fact that I feel better and I’ve been getting more sleep.

We’re now in Gregorian calendar year 2016 – 2015 whizzed by, eh? Sadly, most of the news seemed to be dominated by terrorism, xenophobia, killing and war. I’m hoping that underneath it all, evolution is happening on this boondocks planet. I always try to remain optimistic, but it’s really, really tough sometimes.

Anyway, before I get off on a massive rant about stupidity – I did have some good times in 2015. My holidays in Lyme Regis and Great Malvern were pretty good (though the cottage in Great Malvern left a lot to be desired). The weather in the first half of the summer was lovely – lots of sunshine and low humidity. I didn’t see that many films – in fact, I don’t think I saw any in the cinema. The newest “Mad Max” film looked pretty good and there were a few others, but largely I wasn’t impressed enough by Hollywood’s output. Not much change there, then. There’s a new “Star Wars” film out now. From what I can gather, the plot’s a retread of the original 1977 film, so I’m not too bothered to catch it in the cinema. Maybe I’ll rent the DVD when it’s available – I left my “Star Wars” nerd-dom behind a long while ago. I did watch “Slackers” on DVD, for the first time in years and I still enjoyed it. It’s dated a bit, but I’ll take the 90s hipsters over the ‘millennial’ version – perhaps I’m just getting old. “Toast Of London” and “Horrible Histories” (all five series) were also a mainstay in our house – we’ve had to stop watching both for a while, ‘cos we’d seen them so many times.

Sadly, I didn’t get to many concerts last year – my gig attendance has been pretty shocking. In my slight defense, there wasn’t much on in Oxford that I really had to see. I did see Gryphon at the Union Chapel in London in May, which was a treat and a great show. They’ve since been named as part of the line-up for the 2016 Cropredy Festival, so I may get to see them again – if we decide to go. I wanted to see Matt Berry & The Maypoles in December, but the closest they got was London and I didn’t have the cash. Hopefully, they’ll do an Oxford show sometime. Some ginkus gave their show a negative review, in The Guardian – apparently, they thought they’d be attending a musical comedy gig. Tsk tsk.

Pixie and I also saw the Patrick Marber adaptation of Ivan Turgenev‘s A Month In The Country, titled Three Days In The Country, at the National Theatre in September. The cast featured John Simm, Mark Gatiss and Amanda Drew. I enjoyed it and Mark Gatiss in particular was excellent – a great comic role for him. We lucked out and had a nice, sunny September day in London. There were loads of people out on the South Bank enjoying the weather and the coach ride back to Oxford was fairly relaxing.

There were a load of new albums I meant to buy, but didn’t get round to – here’s some of them:

Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love

Flying LotusYou’re Dead

Sunn-O))) & Scott WalkerSoused

Fuck Buttons –  Slow Focus (released in 2014)

EarthPrimitive And Deadly

Six Organs Of AdmittanceHexadic

Field MusicMusic For Drifters

The Chemical BrothersBorn In The Echoes

The OrbMoonbuilding 2703 A.D.

There were a load of reissues, too – the four Yes reissues with bonus tracks and surround-sound disc, the deluxe reissue of Jethro Tull‘s “Minstrel In The Gallery”, the deluxe Procol Harum reissues are just a few I’d like to add to the collection. I also bought quite a few LPs, but I won’t list them all here.

I don’t have too much planned for this year – but I may get the Kaleidophonic Stroboscope podcast up and running again, even if just to post the old shows in a new site. We’re having the house re-decorated and getting a new boiler, which is going to soak up most of the cash, so I’ll have to see what I’ve got time for. Stay tuned, kids – I’ll keep you in on the skinny.

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Cinema Corner #315: “Dear Zachary” & “Bitter Lake”

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I was doing a bit of Wiki-hopping. You know, where you look at one Wikipedia page, then follow a link to a different page and so on. I bought a used copy of Spiritualized‘s Songs In A&E last week. Running through the other tunes are short tracks all named “Harmony” (with slight variations on the title). I thought I’d check the Wiki page for “Songs…” and discovered that the tunes are named that after Harmony Korine, the actor/screenwriter (most famous for writing the screenplay to the 1995 film “Kids“, a bleak look at da yoof in 1990s New York City). I then looked at the page for Korine and remembered reading about his film “Gummo” a while back. Apparently, it’s quite a difficult film to watch. That led me to one of those list-articles on Buzzfeed, about the “25 Films That Will Destroy Your Faith In Humanity“. Now, it is Buzzfeed, so expect a lot of hype – but some of those films seem to be really draining on the psyche, just from the descriptions. Amongst the violent revenge flicks like “Oldboy” and “I Spit On Your Grave“, is a documentary called “Dear Zachary“. Unlike a lot of the films on the list, it’s available to watch on YouTube. I was curious as to how it ended up on the list, so I gave it a go.

Essentially, it’s the story of Andrew Bagby’s murder in 2001, carried out (or so the evidence seems to show) by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner. Bagby had a relationship with Turner while they were both in medical school. Bagby broke it off and Turner, unable to take being jilted, drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania and (again, as the evidence seems to show) killed him in cold blood after he agreed to meet her one last time. Kurt Kuenne (which he pronounces “Kenny”) was a childhood friend of Bagby’s and Bagby acted in a lot of Kuenne’s amateur films when they were students. There are several talking-head interviews with Andrew’s school friends and work colleagues and even his relatives in England, describing his personality in glowing terms.

Bagby’s parents, Kate (an ex-pat English nurse) and David, are given special focus, as they were the main campaigners to get Turner brought to trial in the States (Turner was a Canadian citizen and fled to her native Newfoundland after Bagby was murdered). Turner then revealed she was pregnant with Bagby’s child (she also had three other children from previous relationships). Bagby’s parents moved to Newfoundland to work on Turner’s extradition and then to get custody of ‘Zachary’, as the baby was eventually named. The Bagbys are awarded (very tenuously) joint custody of Zachary and Kuenne drives up to Canada to meet and film The Bagbys and the child.

Tragedy then happens a second time when, realising that her extradition may be imminent and that another episode involving a man jilting her caused Turner to become unstable – she strapped Zachary to herself and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean. Both drowned within minutes. It’s made obvious that the film, while being a tribute to Andrew and Zachary, is more of a tribute to The Bagbys and their resilience in coping with the loss of a grandson and a son and taking on the caprices of the Canadian justice system.

The film, despite it’s depressing content, is well-made. Kuenne probably could have relied less on the musical score for emotional cues (such as the Bernard Hermann “Psycho”-like music for the parts where Turner is shown). Turner is never really investigated, either – her family aren’t interviewed, her background isn’t researched or presented at all. She becomes mainly a cypher and a villain for viewers to project all sorts of ‘evil’ onto. Now, she was more than likely guilty of murdering a man in cold blood and she took the life of a child in a ghastly selfish way. Still, we never know what motivated her to behave that way. She clearly had mental health problems and was quite unstable. Also, the Canadian justice system seems quite flawed – but was this a case of a small community protecting one of its own? Particularly in the wake of 9/11, was there a broader link between the foot-dragging of the extradition trial and the central Canadian government (vis-a-vis: distancing itself from the U.S. government)? I suppose that may be veering into conspiracy theory, but it could be an interesting avenue to explore.

Adam Curtis, the UK documentary film-maker, announced on his blog a short while ago, that he was producing a doc to be shown strictly on the BBC iPlayer. It was to be about Afghanistan and its relationship to Russia, Saudi Arabia and The West.

It finally arrived (called “Bitter Lake”) on the iPlayer in January and I watched it as soon as I had a couple of hours to really absorb the film. It starts with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s meeting with King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, on an American warship in 1945. The U.S. needed oil to run it’s growing industrial complexes and fuel it’s new-found military might. Abdulaziz agreed to produce the oil, but his condition was that the U.S. not interfere in the Saudi faith. That faith is Wah’habbism, a very conservative branch of Islam. F.D.R. also agreed to a massive dam project in Afghanistan, that would help work to ‘modernise’ that country and create a Western-style democracy in the Middle East.

The film then presents a dizzying lesson in Afghan history since 1945, using archival footage, interspersed with unedited BBC news footage shot after the 2001 invasion by U.S. and UK forces. The West, seeking to create a Middle East idyll in Afghanistan, runs afoul of the Saudis after the U.S. overtly supports Israel in the 1950s. The democratic Afghanistan does well in the the 1960s, but then Western student visitors bring leftist ideas with them in the early 1970s. A few years later, after the 1973/1974 oil crisis, which gave the Saudis even more leverage in world affairs, due to ‘petrodollars’ flowing into their coffers – Communism (with a capital ‘C’) started to flourish in Afghanistan. This didn’t sit too well with the Saudis.

Russian citizens, encouraged by this development, started to move into the country. There was a backlash, however, and soon things started to get ugly. The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to back the failing Communist regime. Groups of disparate tribal fighters (with Wah’habbists among their ranks) rebelled against the Soviets. The U.S., seizing an opportunity to fight a proxy war, trained and armed (via the C.I.A.) these groups, who came to be known as the ‘mujahedeen’. The roots of what then morphed into the the Taliban were formed in the mujahedeen.

Some of the uncut footage is extraordinary, unsettling and shocking, sometimes all at once. Footage of then-President Karzai’s motorcade wends it’s way through Kabul. Three men sidle up to Karzai’s SUV to greet him – suddenly automatic gunfire rings out and seconds later, the men are laying heaped in the street. U.S. soldiers are shown boasting about being ‘born killers’ and ‘off command’ kills (presumably that means civilians or people the soldiers themselves suspected being Taliban combatants, but weren’t confirmed as such). In one really lovely bit, a British soldier holds a small bird that has landed on his rifle, while a Middle Eastern pop song plays as a soundtrack.

The British presence in Afghanistan, particularly Helmand Province, after 2001 is shown to be largely an exercise in futility, as the soldiers couldn’t tell who were the ‘real Taliban’. Curtis argues that many of the locals were fed up with Karzai’s corrupt police forces and saw the British as backing the police. The locals decided to attack the British, which emboldened the Taliban to return from Pakistan – so essentially, the British were fighting on two fronts at once.

Things changed yet again after the 2008 financial crash, when the ‘bankers and techno-crats’, trusted by the leaders in The West to work out the complexities of the markets, failed to do so. Money was flooded into the U.S., UK and Afghanistan economies in an effort to prop up the system. A lot of the money injected into the Afghan economy was siphoned out to Dubai, further frustrating the Afghan people.

In the end, Curtis argues, despite many different leaders trying to imprint their version of Islam on radical groups, Wah’habbism was still the driving force behind even the newest group of fighters, ISIL (the Islamic State of Syria and Levant), or ISIS. The original strain of Islam that the king of Saudi Arabia tried to wipe out in the 1940s is alive and very much kicking. Curtis also states that The West had to confront the notion that all of its efforts to transform Afghanistan amounted to nothing, but like the lake on the planet in the 1972 film “Solaris”, Afghanistan has left an effect on the Western psyche.

You can watch “Dear Zachary” online here

You can watch “Bitter Lake” here (UK only) and here (rest of the world)

 

Leftovers: January 2015

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Hey now! Well, we’ve all transitioned into a new Gregorian Calendar Year – hopefully your holidays weren’t too stressful. Mine were quiet, which I enjoyed. I wasn’t really up for a busy X-Mas/New Year season.

I seem to have missed a couple of things in my 2014 round-up. The ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, which started at the beginning of the year, gained momentum and is continuing. Of course, this stoked the press in the U.S. and UK, with many freaking out that the virus might actually, y’know, start killing white people in droves. The BBC showed more than a few info-segments and Faux News bonehead-in-residence (one of the many) Glenn Beck demonstrating how difficult it is to keep the disease contained, even with protection suits, with chocolate sauce and spaghetti substituting for bodily fluids. Keep ’em frightened, Glenn, that’s the F.N. way, innit? There is some hope, though, as a vaccine will be tested and if successful, taken to West Africa.

The U.S., besides having to worry about a possible ebola scare, also witnessed a bad year for police brutality. Incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City compounded African-Americans’ mistrust of law enforcement and lead to near-riots in many cities. It was like 1991 again, except without a Bush in the White House (thankfully). Dreadful incidents, all. There were moments like those during the Occupy protests a couple of years ago, but when African-Americans are being singled out, it brings into sharp relief the precarious nature of race relations in the U.S. and of the increasing militarisation of some police departments.

2015 hasn’t got off to a banner start, either. The Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris was a reminder that radical Islam is alive and well. Both sides of the ideological fence weighed in on matters of free speech and whether faith ‘is’ a matter for satire. I thought about devoting an entire post to the murders, but I suspect anything I could say, someone has put far more eloquently. In the aftermath, the city did hold a ‘Unity Rally‘ and for a moment, the human potential for empathy shone through ideology and religious differences.

One bright spot was the Greek elections, in which left-wing party Syriza was swept in, defying both the far-right hatemongers Golden Dawn and the more moderate, austerity-policy parties. Will Greece give the IMF and the Euro-zone the boot? That remains to be seen, but it definitely seems a step toward something better for that country, which has been mired in mass unemployment and riots for a while now.

Gregorian calendar year 2014: R.W.C. stylee

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You’ve probably got used to me typing this, but jesu crisco, did this year zoom by! It’s been a bit of a weird one, to be honest – not particularly for me, but world events-wise. I’m not sure what anyone’s got against various Malaysian airline companies, but they’ve lost not just one plane, but two, in the space of 8 months – not counting another which was shot down over Ukranian air-space (which was either the fault of pro-Russian rebels, or the Ukranian government military, depending on who you talk to). The only thing I can be certain of is that the insurance affiliates of those airlines are going to busy with claims for the next five years.

Things kicked off again in the Middle East: the Syrian civil war is still raging, with thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, which has been left as a power vacuum, after the botched invasion and occupation by U.S. and UK forces, a curious army of hard-line Islamic militants managed to defeat the ‘trained’ Iraqi military, seize a lot of their equipment and rampage through most of the towns and villages in their wake. Calling themselves the ‘Islamic State’, they threatened the Turkish border and moved into parts of Syria. Once again (as in Libya) – a Western coalition was formed to “bomb the crap out of them” (in layman’s terms). Has that been effective? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama authorised 1500 more U.S. troops to head back to Iraq in the fight against I.S. – hmmm, I suspect it’ll be “Iraq Invasion – Part III” in 2015. Happy Happy Joy Joy. Israel also had its own conflict in the summertime, as it’s government decided to launch another attack on Hamas. As always, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, along with some Israeli soldiers. Most of the human rights abuses appear to be on the Israeli government’s hands, as shown by an Amnesty International report. There seems to be a cease-fire on at the moment – how long it will last is anybody’s guess.

Back in Blighty, things looked pretty grim as well – the coalition gubberment continued its austerity bullshit. Scotland had a vote to determine whether the people wanted to remain in the UK. Both sides campaigned fiercely – even “Dave Scameron” had to make a grovelling speech, sounding like a jilted lover. In the end, the Scots said they’d stay…for now. That bunch of clowns UKIP gobbled up air-time and web-space for winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election. It almost became impossible to look at anything without seeing Nigel Fart-age’s rictus grin plastered on it. The fact that some critters are entertaining an ex-banker’s notions as their own (as ‘one of the regular folks’) just shows how much that ‘this shit just got real’. I just hope people get some sense for the general election in May. We shall see…

I don’t want to be a total downer, so here’s a list of things I enjoyed this past year:

I had a brill holiday in Amsterdam in April – my first trip to mainland Europe. The missus and I stayed with a friend, which saved loads of cash, so we were able to check out the Reijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Hash Marihuna and Hemp Museum and a few more. I walked by the famed Paradiso (didn’t get to go inside, however) and I saw the Concertgebouw, too. We checked out the Cat Houseboat, which was a highlight (well, if you’re a cat person, it is) and did a boating tour of the canals and the harbour outside the city. I met up with my MLA pal Steve Fly at the 420 Cafe and we had a laugh. I was even allowed to do a bit of record-shopping and I picked up a few goodies. We covered so much in a week that it was actually quite exhausting. I loved it, though, and I want to go back sometime soon.

TV: I didn’t watch many series this year – I haven’t seen any Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. Other than a few BBC Four history docus, the only show I watched regularly was the excellent Toast Of London, with comedian/musician Matt Berry in the title role. The second series was shown in November and December and it’s even more surreal than the first series. Nice to see Berry’s Garth Marenghi cast-mate Matthew Holness in a bit part in one of the episodes. I also watched the Black Mirror X-Mas special. I didn’t catch the second series (still want to watch it sometime), but when I saw an ad for “Black Mirror: White Christmas“, it looked intriguing enough to me to see it. It seemed quite clever to me, with the three stories intersecting each other, though that wasn’t fully revealed until the very end.

Music: There were loads of albums released this year which I haven’t checked out yet. Hell, there’s still albums from 2013 I haven’t added to the collection. Flying Lotus released “You’re Dead” and Sunn-O))) teamed up with Scott Walker and released “Soused“. Mike Oldfield returned with “Man On The Rocks” and Beck‘s “Morning Phase” was rumoured to be pretty good. Karl Hyde (out of Underworld) and Brian Eno released two collaboration albums, but again, I haven’t heard anything from them. Pink Floyd (or ‘Pink Three’, really) released “The Endless River“, culled from sessions in 1993 and ’94 – it’s the final recorded appearance of Rick Wright and, according to David Gilmour, the last P.F. album ever. Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf Generator and a long and varied solo career) and Gary Lucas (mostly known for being a member of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator), got together and produced “Otherworld“. Those are just some of the albums I meant to buy. I did buy the newest Mastodon record (on disc – I don’t have the space to buy everything on LP), “Once More ‘Round The Sun“. I’ve only listened to it once and the verdict so far is pretty good, but I need to give it a few more spins. There were also the usual hundreds of reissues, but the ones that got the most attention were the release of the complete “Basement Tapes“, by Bob Dylan and The Band and the massive Led Zeppelin box set reissues, for each Zep album (the first five have been released so far). Luckily, the albums are also available in 2-disc sets, so you don’t have to shell out for the super-deluxe boxes, to get the extra tracks. The Quietus website published an excellent article on what they consider to be the epitome of psychedelia at the moment, which led me to check out The Cosmic Dead, Demdike Stare and UK stoner/doom merchants Electric Wizard. There’s a great D.S. DJ set from the Boiler Room in 2012 that you can watch here. I’m going to listen to more from those bands in the new year. Concert-wise…well, I saw Kate Bush in September – ’nuff said there. I also saw The Orb in November, which was a treat as I hadn’t seen them since 2001. I hope to see more shows in the coming year, provided I can afford tickets.

Film: The only film I watched in the cinema was Wes Anderson‘s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, which I enjoyed, possibly even a bit more than “Moonrise Kingdom” and definitely more than “The Darjeeling Limited“. I’m not usually a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, but I thought he was excellent as ‘Gustave H’. The supporting cast were great as well, including Jeff Goldblum and a very sinister Willem Dafoe. I meant to watch “Gravity” in the cinema, but I waited too long and the run finished. “Interstellar” looked interesting as well – a decent sci-fi flick amongst the usual Hollywood dross. One cool thing I discovered is that The Filthy Critic is back in business. I used to read his reviews all the time in the early 00s – but a few years ago, he seemed to give it all up. I happened to check his site a couple of months ago and found he’s back at the movies – seeing a lot of shitty Hollywood films, so I don’t have to (though he and I disagree about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Good times!

Theatre: I only watched a few plays this past year. I saw “Strangers On A Train” at the Gielgud Theatre in London in February. It was pretty good, though Hitchcock‘s film still seems the definitive version. This stage adaptation covered more of the psycho-sexual aspects of the story and characters. Jack Hutson was especially good as ‘Bruno’. I also saw “Dial M For Murder” at the Oxford Playhouse in March (yet another Hitchcock connection). The staging was quite clever and the cast were competent and didn’t try to be slavish to the film. The Oxford Shakespeare Company put on another of their brill outdoor productions this year at Wadham College. It was “As You Like It” this time and we watched it in early September, on the final night of the run. I also caught “Electra” at the Old Vic in November, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas in the title role. She did pretty well, though the cadence of some of her line-reading seemed a bit strange. The rest of the cast were quite good, too (though I would have rather seen Amanda Drew as ‘Chrysothemis’, but Liz White was O.K.), aside from Tyrone Huggins (as ‘Aegisthus’), who seemed to want to be a bit too “actorly” in his part.

Books: I started the massive published version of Philip K Dick‘s “Exegesis” (whittled down to 1,000 pages from a much, much larger archive) – but the sheer volume of ideas and concepts in it caused me to put it down a few times, to let my brain process what I had read. In between, I read a crime thriller (“The Bat” by Jo Nesbo), an atheist call-to-arms (“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins) and several weirdo/speculation books (Charles Fort‘s “The Book Of The Damned” and John Michell‘s “The Flying Saucer Vision“, among them). I actually finished more books than I thought I would this year, which I’m happy about – squeezing reading time in between work, making mixes and internet time. I even read a couple of online ‘books’ on my phone on the work commute: Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and David Keenan‘s “England’s Hidden Reverse” (which, like the Quietus article, turned me onto a few artists I hadn’t heard of and re-introduced me to Nurse With Wound). I’m looking forward to starting on David Mitchell‘s “The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet” and “The Bone Clocks“, Nick Awde’s Mellotron” and my friend Matt Bartlett‘s “Gateways To Abomination“. If you want to see all the books I read last year – check the Goodreads widget in the margin of the blog.

Well, kids – that was my 2014 – as a last note, I’d like to shout out to my pal, Singing Bear, who’s also a co-author of this blog. He had a pretty rough year. I won’t go into detail, but he had a shocker. I wish him the best for 2015 and I’ll try and cajole him to maybe post once or twice here in the next twelve months. In the meantime, check out his own blog, Grown Up Backwards.

Onward and outward, friends!

Radical Feminism and ‘White Privilege”

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Fairly recently, I fell afoul of a couple of women when I dared to utter the heresy that ‘not all men do X to all women’. I was labelled a misogynist and was told that saying that ‘shuts down discussions of sexism’. I disagreed with that assessment and then suddenly, ‘privilege’ entered the discussion. I was told I enjoyed ‘privilege’ as an American of European descent, or “white”. I’d heard that word (privilege) being thrown around of late, but I hadn’t had it thrown at me, especially during a discussion on whether it’s O.K. to tar all men with the same brush.

It got me thinking, though – am I really ‘privileged’, in the sense that I have things bestowed upon me just because of skin colour? I do admit that I’ve enjoyed a few advantages in life. I didn’t grow up in a ghetto. My family, while certainly not anywhere near wealthy, weren’t lacking in the basics of food, clothing, shelter and we received gifts on birthdays and holidays. When I was 13, I had orthodontics to correct some crooked teeth – they weren’t cheap either. My siblings and I were able to attend Catholic middle school, mostly on our mother’s behest, but my parents could afford the tuition (though, at the time, their budget was resembling a fibrous element that keeps footwear on feet).

I come from a large family – my mother last gave birth in the early 80s, just as I was hitting my teenage years. By then, inflation was up and the money was stretched. I didn’t like Catholic high school much, and luckily, due to their fast-dipping bank balance, was allowed to go to a public high school for my final three years. I don’t recall a whole lotta privilege in the school – when I didn’t put the graft in for an Algebra course, I was failed and had to go to summer school. There wasn’t any “nudge, nudge – wink, wink – it’s O.K., son, you’re white, here’s a passing grade….” going on.

I wanted to attend a technical uni in Britain or Ireland (a pipe dream, given my financial circumstances at the time). My SAT scores weren’t the best and I didn’t even have a ghost of a portfolio to show. I hastily slapped some (very amatuerish) drawings together and applied and was turned down by the three or four I had applied to. Again, it seems like the ‘white privilege’ network let me down – the nerve! I mean, I’m white and everything. They’re deciding stuff on merit???!!! No-one told me. I was accepted at a technical uni in Boston. My father could only afford tuition for one year. When I tried to secure a bank loan for my second year, I was turned down – I didn’t have any credit history at that point, you see. I had to leave school after the autumn semester of my second year, with a small (compared to now) pile of student debt and no job.

I embarked on a ‘career’ of dead-end retail and service jobs – I wasn’t given any extra pay for being white, or any extra power. At one job, I was made redundant the day I was due to sign my union papers, so I could stay at the job. What happened there? I mean, I thought I was supposed to be offered things because I’m white. I finished up courses for my associates degree, going part-time to a technical college, with loads of minority students. In the courses I attended, I wasn’t treated any differently, advantage-wise, to anyone else. I landed a job at an architecture firm, after applying for three years, as a courier/runner. My immediate supervisor was an African-American woman. She was great, and we got on well. One of my duties was to drive another African-American woman to pick up office supplies – we got really well, too. After three years, I was made redundant, due to costs being cut and my drafting skills having suffered for me not using them in the interim. I just wasn’t capable at that time of keeping up the speed needed for the work.

There’s loads more examples – I wasn’t just given a visa to move to the UK, I had to apply for one and pay the coin of the realm, just like everyone else…and on and on. Now, yes, I may have enjoyed advantages – but to me, that doesn’t seem to equate to privilege – which the families who constitute the oligarchy seem to enjoy.

I don’t want this post to be a “woe-is-me”/”I’m a victim” kind of thing and also, to any National Front/Stormfront types who think this is some sort of call-to-arms – I’m not with you at all, at all. I’m not down with racists or sexists – I’m just discussing the language of “privilege”. To me, I’ve not enjoyed a lot of privilege. Yes, I’ve not had to confront institutional racism on a massive scale and as I say, I’ve been pretty comfortable most of my life. I was also told that African-American opinions and those of other minorities “are inherently more truthful” than those of whites. Yeesh!

Anyway, I agree with Lewis Gordon when he stated: “A privilege is something that not everyone needs, but a right is the opposite. Given this distinction, an insidious dimension of the white-privilege argument emerges. It requires condemning whites for possessing, in the concrete, features of contemporary life that should be available to all, and if this is correct, how can whites be expected to give up such things? Yes, there is the case of the reality of whites being the majority population in all the sites of actual privilege from prestigious universities to golf clubs and boards of directors for most high-powered corporations. But even among whites as a group, how many whites have those opportunities?”

Also, for further edification, please read the late, great Robert Anton Wilson‘s essay about Radical Feminism and language, titled “Language And Lunacy” (originally published in 1996 and reprinted in the collection, “E-Mail To The Universe”, in 2005). You can read it here.

Of course, this ‘is’ all just one human’s opinion, based on my own life experience – perhaps other ‘white’ humans do experience privilege in this society. Then again, perhaps some humans of Asian descent and African-American descent enjoy privileges too.

 

Politics: What Is The Point, Exactly?

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Many moons ago I was a member of the Labour Party; not just a ‘member’ but an ‘active member’ who not only paid up my annual subscription but attended ward meetings, sat on committees, posted leaflets, collected food for striking miners and knocked on people’s doors at election time asking for them which way they were likely to be voting. The truth is, I believed in all this stuff. This would have been the mid-80’s, when Britain was under the Thatcherite jackboot and was becoming one of the most divided societies in the western world. I called myself a Socialist (with a big S) and all these years later, when pushed, will tell anyone who wants to know that I am still a Socialist, though what has happened to my fellow travellers on the left I’m none too sure. You may well be thinking, ‘What was a hard-line socialist doing in the Labour Party at a time when Neil Kinnock was doing his utmost to rid said party of such evils unless it was part of some Trotskyist plot?‘ (you were thinking that, weren’t you?). Well, I wasn’t a Trotskyist and had no time for Militant Tendency or the International Marxist Group or Derek Hatton or Arthur bloody Scargill; I was just an average working class young fellow who was sick of things never changing for ordinary people, rising unemployment figures, lack of housing, an increasingly stretched NHS, shit state education and the rise of the Yuppies.

I believed that state control of essential resources and services to be used for the betterment of the lives of the poorer folk would be the best way forward for British society. Call me naive if you like but I still do. Where I do think I was wrong was in believing that the British political system could ever deliver this for the working class. I may have occasionally spouted off dreamily about the need for ‘revolution’ (although this was mainly to wind up any perceived old codgers I encountered) but, in the main, I did think that we’d eventually change things through the electoral system. How wrong I was.

It’s probably fair for anyone to observe that the reason Britain never made the necessary swing back to the left was because old style socialism was generally discredited and no longer desired by the British public but I think there was something else going on that has proved to be a far more potent weapon in the right’s determination to destroy leftist aspirations: the deliberate engendering of apathy amongst the working class. The growth in apathy took a number of forms depending on who needed to be inoculated with a dose of ‘couldn’t give a toss, mate’. On one hand, you had the so called ‘aspirational working class’ who had always, in the main, been solid Labour Party supporters but were not averse to the idea of buying their council houses, sending little Johnny or Jenny to private school give the chance, joining the golf or squash club, joining the ranks of lower management at the factory (‘Daddy, what’s a factory?‘) and taking their annual holiday in Spain or even Turkey. Now, taken individually, it could be argued that there’s nothing wrong with any of these things but when you put them all together as a ‘lifestyle’ there is an undeniably pernicious tang to such delights. It’s that little useless carrot that says, ‘You, too, can have all this…providing you are good girls and boys and keep supporting the status quo.’  Of course, you have to promise to take little care for your poor unemployed neighbour or the elderly couple across the road or the sick gentlemen on the corner; after all, didn’t Thatcher tell us that ‘There is no such thing as society’? What we had to accept for this golden opportunity to shine was that Darwin’s notion of survival of the fittest had to be allowed to do its work throughout the land – it was the only way. Many people bought into this crap.

The other side of this coin was aimed at the people who were perceived to be irredeemably out of the loop as far as the new social revolution was concerned: the long term unemployed, the poor, the unskilled workers, the ‘underclass’ (probably all pissed or on drugs anyway). It was vital to make these sections of society believe that there was basically NO HOPE for them within the normal political process, thus making things like taking an interest in current affairs, reading a proper newspaper (or reading of any kind), joining a political party or even bothering to vote  a complete irrelevance to such people. Providing they had TV, cheap booze, cigarettes, take away food outlets, football etc. then they would remain like passive sheep, ultimately to be herded (can you ‘herd’ a ‘flock’ of sheep?) to market or even the slaughterhouse. The relatively recent rise of the ubiquity of computer games, the internet and any other ‘must have’ gadget you can mention has only added to the weaponry of the Establishment in their struggle to make us drown in our own apathy. If this doesn’t work, flooding sink estates and inner city areas with cheap drugs should do it. (I’m only too aware that drugs are also prevalent in more rural areas these days as well but I hope you get my drift). Yes, it’s old Karl’s ‘opium for the masses’ but this time it really is opium or, at least, some sort of derivative. On the whole, however, the Sky Sports, cheap supermarket booze and The X-Factor is sufficient to do the trick.

Whilst all this is going on, the political classes become harder and harder to tell apart, no matter what they happen to call themselves; they rip the nation off royally (I haven’t even mention the role of ‘Royalty’, have I?) with their expenses claims, tax dodges and cash for questions, knowing full well we are all too drugged to the eyeballs on all the crap they’ve sold us to care one way or another. On top of that, whenever they decide that its high time we helped the US invade yet another country (Syria, are you ready?), we’ll not only go along with it but we’ll supply the cannon fodder too. Of course we could go on and on complaining about the state of the NHS, mass immigration, the genuine threat of militant Islam, gypsies on your doorstep nicking the lead off the school roof, the crumbling education system, homelessness, the EU, unemployment,  paedophiles in the higher echelons and anything else but they now know that we are far too apathetic to really do anything about it whilst we still have out iPods, iPhones, 44″ HD screens and ‘East Enders’ three times a week. This is what it’s all about, folks: behave yourselves and you can have your crap and eat it but if you do have the audacity to try to change things through the political process they won’t even have to kill you (unless that happens to be convenient) because they’ll merely corrupt you

I can hear you saying, ‘We know the problems, what’s the answer?’ Currently, I can see no answer. Join UKIP? Fine if you want a re-run of Nazi Germany. Think I’m exaggerating? Wait until they form a coalition with the EDL. Change the Labour Party from within? No chance – the politics of common sense and the average British person is anathema to the chattering classes of Miliband’s crew; they’ll ensure you are silenced before you can say ‘Clement Attlee.’  How about the Green Party? Do you really want to spend weekends camping with the neo-fascists of the expensive hand-kitted jumper from Peru brigade? You could head for Stornoway but that’s my dream and I bet the bastards will be there as well. No, the only thing to do right now is live our lives in as Dadaesque fashion as possible, making a mockery of the whole stinking cesspit until the system eats itself and we can rise from the ashes and establish a true socialist Utopia of peace, love and equality. Don’t expect too many to follow, though, because they are all too busy on their iPads booking tickets for ‘Glasto’ (maaaan) – though I expect that sold out a long time ago, baby.

Merde to la revolution! (for now).

The ‘Iron Lady’ finally rusts away

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It was announced earlier today that Margaret Thatcher has passed away from a stroke. I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, given her health decline in recent years. Another nail gets hammered into the coffin of the ‘Decade Of Greed’. She was the last of the big-name 1980s politicians to leave the planet.

I don’t want to re-hash her entire career – her main achievement was being elected Britain’s first female Prime Minister. If only it wasn’t her – but she seized her moment and ran with it. It’s true that Britain seemed in a pretty dire spot in 1979, due to inflation and some union leaders being in it for themselves and not for the good of the union members. Still, her changes cut far too deep and her closure of the mines and other industries caused widespread unemployment and disillusion.

She remains divisive to this day and a symbol of the greed and corruption of the 1980s. Now, I was living in the U.S. at the time and while I didn’t experience Thatcher’s policies directly – her counterpart in the U.S., Ronald Reagan, was playing funny games with the economy – deregulating the banks, sky-high spending on the military and other not-so-legal adventures. His theory was that by giving the very wealthy tax cuts, they would create more wealth and it would ‘trickle down’ to everyone. Of course, it didn’t work like that – the wealthy made more money and hoarded it – so nothing ever trickled down.

Thatcher also staved off negative criticism by going ahead with the Falkland Islands conflict, which, when the British forces were victors, boosted her popularity. Reagan did the same with the Grenada action (he needed it after the killing of 240 U.S. Marines in Beirut, following an attack on the U.S. compound in that city). It’s said both Thatcher and Reagan brought the Soviet Union down – but I’ll tell you, I was never more frightened of nuclear war than in the early 80s. Of course, films like The Day After didn’t help my paranoia.

I suspect that for all Reagan and Thatcher’s rhetoric, it was more of the relaxing of the Soviet leadership that allowed the break-up of “The Iron Curtain” and the Berlin Wall to collapse. Yes, the U.S.S.R. was bankrupt, but the UK and U.S. were heavily in debt from their own weapons programs.

In the end, Thatcher was ousted by her own party over the Poll Tax and for not regarding opinions of her cabinet. She became a feeble and withered old woman and it seems likely she would not have lasted long in the 1990s, even if she hadn’t been booted from Downing Street. Of course, her legacy lived on as the Labour Party practically adopted her policies in an effort to win elections. They were successful in 1997 with their leader, Tony Blair, who brought the party further to the right, ideologically and dubbing the party “New Labour”. Blair also followed Thatcher’s way of getting into conflict and partnering up with the U.S., committing UK troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Reagan served two terms, but his image was tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal and despite claims to the contrary, never fully recovered from it. It was revealed that he had Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 1990s and he passed away in the late 1990s.

We all know what happened in 2000/2001, after George W. Bush was elected. He’s the son of George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice-president and was elected to the presidency in 1988. G.W.B. and Blair engineered the invasion of Iraq (Bush’s father had forces invade in 1990, after Iraqi forces crossed the border into Kuwait) and allegedly, Bush’s advisors were impressed with the way Thatcher handled the Falklands campaign. They modelled their action, which happened in 2003, on the Falklands conflict.

Maggie Thatcher remains a divisive figure – despised and pronounced a failure by one contingent and lionised and canonised by another. I must admit I’m far more in the ‘despised’ camp – the 1980s, to me, was a dismal time and I am glad they’re over. Now with Thatcher’s death, I hope we can all say goodbye to that decade. Not forget, mind – but lay it to rest.