Monday, 21 December 2009
An incredibly readable document of a period of time I knew very little about. Ostensibly a study of the intense period of scientific development between the late 18th and early 19th Century. But offers a lot more than that. It explores the intimate links (sometimes literally) of the Romantic poets of the time and the Scientists or more accurately Natural Philosophers of the time. In particular the Shelleys, Keats, Coleridge - of which I think Holmes has written biographies (not read them but am now tempted). There is a lovely intertwining of verse in the context of various scientific developments. It introduced a lot of poetry I was not really aware of.
It also is really a study of knowledge being in the hand of an elite and the tension that brings. Should there be a broadening out of this or kept in the hands of an elite. At this time there seemed to be a slight broadening of knowledge in the relatively new British state from the aristocracy to slightly more middle class geniuses - personified here by William Herschel and Humphry Davy(pictured). But what I like is Holmes introduces a whole new generation of young Turks who challenge these modest advances.
It is also a time of revolution - American, French, industrial which is a constant background though never dominating the discussion. It is telling how men of science fell into the nascent capitalist state - Mungo Park becoming seemingly reluctant imperialist adventurer. Davy developing his lamp in the face of major industrial change - one of the best chapters of the book I think.
By combining quite indepth personal details of several individuals with societal and artistic context the work comes across as very full. Radical politics are examined - notably with the intriguing figure Dr Beddoes in Bristol. But equally aristocratic machinations are explored representing the dichotomy of the day I think.
A great platform to explore this era - with a very inviting bibliography. Holmes is also a brilliant writer if perhaps a little inconclusive. One to keep if only for the excellent quotes
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Absolutely breathtaking. Sometimes you have to just stop reading a book either because you dont want it to end or because the situation and characters are so real and moving you dont want any harm to come to them.
This was one of those books - I am only sorry I have never read this before. Ostensibly a family drama but set in a turbulent India not often written about the 60s when the Maoist movement was just beginning to take off, The writer links the "small things" of the household with the big picture of Indian society: class and caste struggle, the machinations of the Stalinist dominated CP and trade unions, the role of religion, human desire and abuse
The scenes with the twins - the fulcra for the book - are funny, well observed but ultimately almost unbearably sad. Nature and animals are a common occurrence almost a character themselves - coming to a head in the moving final chapter.
The narrative structure is very clever and in a funny way prepares and disarms you for what comes next. It's a bit cinematic and I read that Roy also did compose some screen plays but she also trained as an Architect which you can also see in the craft of the work.
Some of the most significant and saddest happenings in the book take place almost in a flash but their impact is huge.
There is so much in this book I could write and talk about it for hours. It reminds me a little of Franzen in its witty/sad/informed narrative of human relationships and societal structures.
In some ways not a surprise that Arundhati Roy has not written a major piece of fiction since. Testament to her humanity though that she has committed herself to activism and raising awareness for the Indian peoples.
Saturday, 3 October 2009
"An extreme metaphor for an extreme situation" Ballard writes in the foreword of the edition I read - too true. A brilliantly written but disturbing and towards the end pretty gruesome tour around a male psyche and sexuality.
In some ways it is more poetic than prose with a lot of repetition of phrases and words: pubis, mucus, semen get a lot of coverage! There is a lot of repetition in JGB's work. And it has a very dream-like feel to it.
Knowing about the time of JGB's life he was also working through issues in his own head - losing his wife in a freak accident, bringing up 3 young kids himself. The main protagonist/narrator is actually called James Ballard.
But it is more than that - it actually takes quite a radical approach to the novel. It reminded me a little of Becket's novels digging deeper and deeper into what it means to be human - the juxtaposition of sex and death.
The "villain" Vaughan is a precursor to the charismatic dodgy guys that populate his later novels. I got a sense of him being the other part of the character of Ballard - a la Fight Club.
The explicit nature of the sex is paralleled with the detail of the crashes - in a sense they are interchangeable.
So a difficult read but worthwhile and another indication of the great loss suffered with the death of JGB this year.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
With all the exaggerated talk of an economic recovery sounding more and more like an alcoholic convincing himself he's kicked the habit and can just have a couple of drinks there are some pretty significant happenings out east, far east which undermine the whole picture.
It should be noted the first foreign leader that Obama chose to meet was the PM of Japan, Aso on February 24th of this year. Even though he was a lame-duck leader who was going to lead the LDP to its worst result in its history a near wipeout for a party that had run the country for nearly 50 constant years. The reason was, of course, economic Japan holds a massive amount of US Bonds -second only to China- thus supporting the massive debt which American capitalism has.
This has lead to a lot of resentment by buying dollars they are adding to their problems by strengthening their own currency. This means that exports - a critical part of their economy - are weakened. Sony made their first loss for 14 years. The economic turmoil largely led to the defeat of the LDP the only other time they have lost power very briefly was in response to the recession of the early 90s which its domestic economy has never fully responded to.
Although the new PM Hatoyama is an establishment figure his financial advisers took a much more strident approach to the US - this was also reflected in some foreign policy pronouncements. For example reviewing the US military bases on the islands. Concretely they want to promote Samurai bonds based on yen - more importantly they want America to buy them so that Japan is not so reliant on the dollar.
The Finance spokesman for the new governing party the DPJ wants to promote other bonds as reserve including IMF and Samurai bonds. Obviously the current situation suits the US as they remain the world's reserve currency everyone has to come and buy them. This in turn finances its debt. So will the new government push US capitalism on this issue? This will have a bigger impact on global recovery than a lot of the superficial stories appearing in the British press. There is speculation that this is just nationalist rhetoric for the election and this wont materialise.
Indeed it seems that the Finance spokesman who promoted this policy :Masaharu Nakagawa may be being sidelined with veteran politician Fujii aged 77 likely to get the job. This shows the issue may not be live for a while but it is definitely one to watch if/when the economy goes down again.
Monday, 7 September 2009
A challenging read. More of a philosophical tract than a novel and though it is only 100 pages long it contains more ideas than most writers deal with in their whole career,
Ostensibly I read this because it followed the same structure as the Reluctant Fundamentalist (which I think is influenced by it) a onesided monologue in a supposed conversation.
Rather than develop a plot though Camus uses this device to discuss different aspects of human existence: sex, death, law, justice, morality, religion.
A few points really stuck with me - the narrator is a French lawyer who uses his calling of helping others as his fulfillment - this is how he feels alive. It builds his arrogance - he likes to be above everyone else physically and feeds his debauchery. Once this is challenged though his spiral (or fall I guess) is pretty sudden. He is found in a sleazy bar in Amsterdam - the atmosphere of which is very well written.
There is an interesting intro in my edition that the book is partially an outline of the dispute between Sartre and Camus - an expression of Camus' disillusionment with theLeft. This is reflected in the tone and barbed asides. Though Sartre did praise the work as the meaningless of the narrator's existence does chime with elements of his philosophy.
You can aso see why Mark E Smith stuck with the name of the Fall- the anti-hero in a bar is a Mark-e archetype.
A wee review like this cannot do this justice - academic careers have probably been built writing about this. I will keep this book handy though and will re-read it.
Sunday, 23 August 2009
Fasting men survive , starving men die.
One of the many memorable phrases in this very enjoyable sprawling Oz family saga. Very well written in its turn of phrase - metaphor and simile (overdoes these a little - bit Blackadder-esque) and narrative structure - using monlogue, letter, journal and more conventional dialogue. It also has very strong characters.
Over 700 pages long - which I note is mentioned in several reviews and it could probably lose about 100 of them - gets a bit diverted in places.
Also very moving in its depiction of father -son relationship - speaking as both!
There is something missing from it though stopping it being a truly modern great. I am not sure what but think it is lacking a bit in context. Set in Australia it does try and make a comment on that society: obsession with sport, crime, Murdoch like characters, the link with Asia and asylum policy. Though there is only a passing reference to the Aboriginal issue - perhaps that is reflective of Oz society.
Yet I dont think it is fully developed - if you compare it with Franzen who explores dysfunctional families within a broader American context then it falls short. Some interesting philosophical arguments to.
So, very readable and a big achievement, Read it over a relative short space of time for book of this length - but think he may have a sharper novel within him.
Monday, 17 August 2009
At weekend spent a couple of days over at Ed Fringe Fest for mish-mash of artistic performances. City very busy and usual chaos at bigger venues with overpriced bevvy - Tattoo was also on this time. But ticketing system worked very well compared to last year. My tip would be to anyone - buy all your tickets online even for wee venues (maybe especially for that).
Anyway breaking it down into artistic form
Theatre: Ended up seeing two double header plays - ie with just two actors: David Mamet's Oleanna and Tennessee William;s Auto -da - Fe. Both in pretty small venues but both sold out.
Never seen Oleanna before although I had heard about it. It centres around accusations of sexual harassment/misogyny(!) against an arrogant University lecturer (!!)from female student. It was very good and quite intense over a continual 90 minutes - same set of his office for 3 Acts. Partially it was about a study of language, power and lack of empathy/understanding for other people. It has a very polarised dynamic as a piece - male lecturer dominates in one part then female student. It asks a lot of the cast - it was probably a wee bit too much for the female lead -who was quite young: not entirely convincing though the guy was very good though both in his smugness and the crumbling of his position and the undercurrent of violence. Another interesting factor was that the production came from Zimbabwe and each actor was a different race- this was not fully developed (wasnt issue in original production) but obviously an undercurrent throughout. They were Pumpkin Pie Productions - an engrossing 90 mins - worth a look.
The Williams piece was a one act play from late in his career. Set in the South, where else, it covers a fairly tense conversation between man and his mother on the porch of their Southern villa. Covers all TW's usual themes: sex, repressed homosexuality, heat, fire and a bit more heat and a little more sex. This was excellent - 30 minutes flew by - both actors here (Americans) delved completely into the piece: showed themselves as very experienced. Although short for the theatre - not slight - a bit like a good poem, he added pompously! Poor flyer for the show though but apart from that highly recommended Location wise, it was just a wee room in the Radisson Hotel - a thing i like about the Fringe is the imagination given to venues - just converted into a studio theatre for the month.
Visual Art: Checked out a free show at the Ingleby Gallery - nice venue never been there before - good lighting. Show of Calum Innes an abstract expressionist was pretty disappointing though.
It was basically a set of large coloured squares halved with different colours in each and sort of blended together in the middle. All "Untitled" - sparked debate about whether u can get away with using untitled in any other artistic media. So not a lot to it - looked like he had developed a new artistic technique and was just experimenting with it over and over: so not really an exhibition at all.
Comedy: I'm always a little selective with the comedy i choose to see in Edinburgh there is so much garbage with identikit posters for identikit boys in suits telling anecdotes about moving in with their girlfriend - desperately searching for a place on a panel show on Men and motors or something. But hit the jackpot twice here - Andrew Maxwell an Irish guy who I had only seen wee bits of on tv - he won a channel 4 reality show couple years ago where comedians had to live together and perform a completely different show a night. Good funny relaxed show - master of his craft. Material is not ground breaking but hits the spot and at least takes time to remark about the specifics of Scottish culture. Ridiculously small bar for venue though - there's a bit of Scottish culture for you :-).
Tim Key was a poet who I had spotted on the Charlie Brooker show though apparently he has a big Cambridge Footlights fringe background. Show really good - combination of comedy, poems (again sparked debate whether they were real poems or not) and short films. Bit different and very engaged with audience in a distant way! Annoying heckling woman though - surprisingly little of that at Andrew Maxwell.
Funnily enough both acts finished with two physical displays (different to the preceding shows)- wont give it away by saying what they were.
Misc: Couldnt get into a couple of shows - neither the one on the Mafia nor Eric Morecombe. Had a cheap cocktail at top of Leith Walk. And watched the Celts first game of the season in Haymarket pub - usually a Jambo haunt.
So to finish this indepth analysis Ill revert to type and place an East coast stereotype at top of blog..
Monday, 3 August 2009
Summer reading kicking in so here are two more reviews posted in some form on Facebook.
Bleak. An examination of the duplicity of an American Nazi who was also a spy.
Very well written and explores why Nazism triumphed amongst people - as we all come from Mother Night - the Darkness. So the spy has no heroism or any belief. Reflected also in America's justification for fighting - personified in the pathetic soldier O'Hare who sees it as his mission to track down Campbell after capturing him originally as a Nazi.
The human exception to this is his relationship where he wants to create a nation of two - "Das Reich der zwei" - an escape from the world.
As the fate of the two show - the work is dictated from Campbell's cell in Israel as he faces a war crimes tribunal this escape is a pipe dream.
It also works well as an expose of the sections of post-war American society that were attracted to the Nazi right - a faint echo of Roth's plot against America.
So a lot to think about in quite a brief piece - it is quick to read. But actually more brutal in its view of humanity than Slaughterhouse 5 so not easy. Made into movie too with Nick Nolte - may try and track that down.
Welcome to the Rooster Coop. An incredibly fast-paced coruscating exposure of the neo-liberal development that India has gone through in the last decade.
Taking the form of a monologue (similar to Reluctant Fundamentalist) but as a series of letters to the Premier of China. It reveals early on that the writer has murdered his master - the work builds on this to show how he did this and ended up a successful "entrepreneur" in Bangalore - the ultimate deregulated capitalist city in India.
The casual way the narrator depicts the relentless poverty is very moving - at one point almost as an aside he mentions that he and his brother have been sleeping in the streets in the city. Equally casual is the brutality of the rich - even its more liberal representatives like his direct master and victim.
The build-up to Balram's rebellion/crime is powerfully done and has its own twisted logic. The extensive use of animal metaphors is also powerful: the Roosters, the gekkos, spiders, water buffalos and of course the eponymous tiger. It underpins the basic humanity of the work epitomised by the line "Animals should be animals and humans should be allowed to be humans."
Definitely justified in winning the Booker - but like DBC pierre perhaps surprising that it did. Think unlike Pierre's work though it will mark a long writing career from Adiga.
Not checked it out but I guess this book will be hated by the Indian establishment as it outlines albeit satirically the corruption of the political system, the landlords and masters and the shallow nature of the capitalist "success" within India so often feted in the Western press.
It shows the aspects of Indian life that the vast majority of that society experience - a bit like Slumdog - but with no spiritual or schmaltzy salvation. Some reviews have drawn parallels with Dickens but I saw a lot of Irvine Welsh in here - a voice to the voice-less.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
Review originally posted on Fbook
An incredible piece of writing. I was intrigued by the author when hearing him on a World Service Radio show saying he took 9 years to write this even though it is quite short. Also the host of the show said it was her favourite work of 2007.
I can see what she meant. Reading it it seems that every word, phrase and image has been thought over and is there for a purpose. Almost like a prose poem. Taking the form of a single character monologue in real time, a young Pakistani addresses a shadowy American (tourist, agent, soldier?) as dusk turns to night.
The format of the monologue is quite Russian but two of my favourite recent Scottish novels also adopt this structure: How late it was how late and Filth.
Ostensibly a narration about disillusionment with the West and human relations in the wake of the 11th September bombings it actually reveals much more. Damaged people, the nature of writing, the instability of finance capital (quite prescient on that one), the nature of hierarchies both past and present are all examined. And in a sense that is just scratching the surface.
The "platypus" (quote from book) form of the novella works to perfection here. The underlying danger, the build up of tension and the ambiguous ending brought to mind other current works of fiction most notably the excellent final episode of the Sopranos.
Only his second work too, impressive
Saturday, 11 July 2009
There is some climax in this book spread over the last two chapters. They put the whole narrative in a real context.
I think context is a central theme here for banks - using the space opera format he can contrast a feudal society functioning on an artificial planet with other civilisations including obviously the Culture. Although the primitive society is aware of the others it simply doesnt care! A bit of a parallel with the arrogance of current societies across the globe.
It's not completely original though the idea of an individual coming from a sleepy society to experience the wider world or universe is a common in sci/fi - fantasy - think of the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings or Luke in Star Wars. Here you have three who make the journey - Holse, Ferbin and Analpin
Other positives are the amount of big ideas looked at - interventionism in other wars/societies, the possibilites of complete destruction, the petty rivalries of different communities the nature of hierarchies, the length of time in space Again Banks always does this well in his sci-fi much better than his mainstream work, although I thought he had covered much of this ground in other works
Also as a Culture novel - people not familiar with it - probably would find this one a wee bit difficult as the first taste; it is again on the fringes of the Culture - the edges where they battle and intervene with other rivals.
So overall good - I liked the ending, some of the other civilisations introduced were good. I thought some of the passages set in feudal Sarl dragged a little though arguably I can see why this was done - makes the ending a little more shocking. But I did get the sense some of it was a bit of a retread - there is actually quite a telling interview with Banks at end of paperback where he admits he did go through a period of doubting whether he had the ideas to maintain writing sci-fi. I am not sure how many more of these epic works he will be able to do.
Saturday, 27 June 2009
A rare trip to the Theatre last night - the Royal no less to see the NTS' excellent adaptation of Ibsen's Peer Gynt.
Sunday, 14 June 2009
So it's a week since the results from the Euros are in. My delay in this response is not because we had a landslide and I had to pack my bag for Strasbourg but rather I had to get back to my day job and finish the marking of the exams.
We, the SSP, got a fairly disappointing if not surprising 0.9% - marginally up on our 2007 Parliamentary vote 0.6% but obviously way down on the last Euros in 2004 when we got 5.2% but that was another world away pre-split.
Other left groups the Socialist Labour Party (Scargill's project) gained the highest with 2% - but probably mainly due to error. They were right above the Labour Party in the ballot - first time that has ever happened. I saw quite a few spoiled papers at the count I was at (South Lanarkshire, if you're wondering) and a lot of them were of that nature eg scrubbed out votes at SLP replaced with Labour etc.
The no2eu group - set up by Bob Crow and basically an alliance of Solidarity (Sheridan's group) the SWs and the CWI got 800 votes less than us in Scotland and were a bit of a damp squib across Britain getting 1%. I think that shows the error of having such a narrow anti-EU focus - not really in touch with the left forces in Britain. Although they did have a point with some of their arguments about the neo-liberal nature of the EU in particular the Lisbon Treaty - though they did exaggerate them- historically there is not the base for left opposition to EU in Britain as there is in say France, Holland or Norway.
As a side issue it shows the continuing decline of Tommy Sheridan as an electoral brand. His name was on the ballot paper as one of their list candidates, yet this could not lift them amongst the marginal left votes. In fact the SSP got a bit more in Glasgow overall compared to 2007 where his party gained 4x more than SSP in the city.
But it's all pretty depressing given that the left were beaten by the Nazis (2.5% - more on them below) and even the fundamentalist Christian group (1.5%).
I suppose on the positives the Tories and the UKIP votes marginally fell (they more or less stayed static on a UK level). The Greens increased their vote to 7.3% and the Nats topped the poll with 29%. Though this was a big improvement on 2004 where they had a bad result in fact ending up with Swinney's resignation as leader it wasn't as high as their vote in the Scottish Parliament elections.
The universal story across Britain was the collapse of New Labour - they got 20.8% in Scotland - their lowest vote since 1918 and 15.7% in the UK as a whole - behind UKIP. It shows the game's basically up for Brown but there is no clear picture as to what the alternative would be - the Tories increased in Britain but not by very much, the Liberals more or less stayed the same. The Greens also did well and kept their 2 seats.
But back to the SSP there were a number of positives from the campaign - we raised all the funds from members and supporters for a fairly shoestring campaign - this didn't allow for a national mailing but did allow us a ppb - so we didn't get into more debt as party. The broadcast was strong and a good length for posting around the internet. I think our online campaign was a positive the first time we have used it so extensively with good website and u-tube/social networking presence. Another positive was an accident in the sense that we could exploit the publicity about the MPs' noses in their trough because of the expenses scandal - fitted in well with make greed history idea. We also gained a bit of coverage in media - though pretty limited and access to some hustings - although there were not a lot of them anyway.
The frustrating thing from all these positives is that they didnt matter to our vote. Objectively with the economic collapse and utter discrediting of the capitalist political elite a unified socialist party should be mopping up. One of the reasons proffered for standing was that the election would be a referendum on the economic collapse of capitalism generally and the British economy in particular - the first time people would have a national chance to have their say on Brown. In a sense this was true - witness the collapsed vote but certainly no anti capitalist force gained from this. With the partial exception of the Greens who I think are perceived like this even though their policies stay within the capitalist framework.
Colin (Fox) I think said at the hustings where we selected our candidates that there would be a much higher turn out at this election in Scotland than before as people would want to have their say against Brown and NuLabour. This wasn't true. In fact Scotland had one of its lowest ever showings at 26.1% I think 1999 was a bit lower. This was well below the UK average of 34% this time and lower than the Scottish vote of 30% in the 2004 election. People were actually less inspired to vote.
In such a context it was difficult for us to make an impact particularly even in the cities as we only had a fairly small number of activists involved - I would guess even less than were involved in the Glasgow East by-election last summer. Though we had a couple of good rallies - I thought the one in Glasgow was very positive.
It is difficult to see how we break out of our electoral irrelevance. Personally I think we should be engaging our branches with campaigns at community level like the anti-schools closure activists and the work being done in Maryhill with the burgh angel. Also working alongside other left groups on the Charter- whose launch I attended earlier this year (See blog post below) and the Social Fora. None of these is a silver bullet to coin a phrase which will relaunch the left electorally but at the moment it's probably the best we can do.
The other British story was the Nazi BNP gaining two seats in the North West of England and Yorkshire. In fact their national vote went up by 1.3% much less than the Greens who went up by 2.4%. Griffin and the other guy actually got less votes than in 2004 but because of Nulab's collapse and the low turnout they sneaked in.
The Nazi vote in Scotland was up by 0.8 - a bit less than England (although in Wales it went up 2.5%!) . Which is worrying particularly given the left's vote but they are still on the margins - given the blanket media coverage they got they probably wanted more.
I hate to think what they'll do with the resources from the Euro parliament though. Good to see Griffin get the reception he deserved at Parliament.
A bit of a messy result then.
Sunday, 31 May 2009
Back to a more traditional hustings on the Thursday organised by the PCS trade union in Edinburgh. Colin was doing the tv debate so I came through for it. There were 10 candidates ! So each of us got 2 mins to speak and the questions came from the floor. Because of responses we only managed to get 4 or 5 questions in the time we had. So a lot less inclusive than the Wednesday one.
And pretty shockingly every candidate was male. The Labour and Green guys were the same ones as the night before. Surprisingly, I thought, UKIP were invited. Their candidate was outrageously right wing but he mumbled quite a lot so I dont think people picked up on what he was saying. He started his speech claiming to be a climate change denier, thought the BNP should have a platform and that Griffin's Nazis were "too left wing"! because they stood for troops out of Iraq, scrapping Council Tax etc. I was sitting quite near him so I heard it all dont think the audience did!
Tommy Sheridan was there for no2eu - he's the second on their list. I thought his opening speech seemed pretty stilted as he was referring to a lot of detailed legislation -European directives from 1989 for example! He got into a bit of flow later on during the questions but only when he moved away from focusing on the EU and went into general propaganda. It shows the limits of the narrowness of the no2eu agenda though. He had quite a few supporters in the audience maybe about a dozen who were looking for some rousing stuff but they didnt really get it. He was referring quite heavily to a CWI journal Socialism Today in front of him for the detail.
Jim McDaid from Scargill's Socialist Labour Party was there he did the withdrawal from EU from a left wing perspective bit much more fluently. Mind you they have been arguing that since they were formed in 1995 and Scargill has been arguing that since 1975!
Again showed the tragedy of having such a splintered left in this election.
Questions focused on privatisation, pensions, public sector pay and the BNP (which doesnt begin with P!). I managed to bring my own experience in working in a new uni and of course the battle against INTO.
New Labour guy got a bit of a hard time though he answered the question on no platform for the BNP quite well. He left at the same time as me and said he couldnt believe the hostility of the left to New Labour! Where had he been for the last 12 years I wondered. Well the answer is not here - he works in Brussels for the EU and lives in Sweden a lot. You can tell he was a bit of an outsider to the battles of Scottish politics. He thought the Tories would win the next election and then people would regret attacking Labour.
Friday morning and did a photo shoot for the STUC against the BNP - most of the parties were there :us, Greens, Liberal, NuLabour, Tories and the SNP. It was the big names that were there for most of the parties apart from the Tories and of course the SSP :-). Rikki R came along and took some photies one of which is on here.
Last week of campaign beckons...
Thursday, 28 May 2009
Wednesday night saw me attend the hustings organised by the Glasgow World Development Movement Hustings in the West End. It was around their trade justice campaign , they want all the MEPs and potential candidate to sign a pledge to stop European institutions tying poorer countries into unfair trade deals.
It was a different format - each candidate spoke for 3 minutes then each one sat at a separate table with tea and cake! and people could move from table to table and quiz the candidates. It allowed people more time for one on one discussions I guess and didnt allow the candidates to confront each other in a top table structure.
The other parties that were there were the 4 establishment ones - Nulabour, Tories, SNP and the Libs. The others represented were us, the Greens and No2EU - the formation called by Bob Crow of the RMT and backed by Solidarity and the Morning Star Communists up in Scotland.
Only ourselves, the Greens, Labour and the Tories sent actual Euro candidates. Most of the introductory speeches were fairly inoccuous. The Labour Candidate was a Euro apparatchik Paul McAleavey who actually works for the European Commission bureaucracy. The Tory was 2nd on their list Belinda Don who was a very "Dave" Cameron candidate: very approachable and posh and believe it or not the first candidate to mention the crisis facing the environment and the only one of the establishment candidates (I hadnt spoken and the Greens hadnt mentioned it at all!) I mention those 2 because they were the only ones that didnt sign the Trade Justice Pledge at the end.
The Liberal was Elspeth Atwooll who is standing down as MEP this year - She taught me at Glasgow Uni and she is very nice sort of Old School Liberal I get on quite well with her. The Nat was Patrick who works for Jamie Hepburn in the Scottish Parliament, the green was Alastair Whitelaw who is on their list been around for ages and was wearing a nice pair of green slacks! The no 2EU rep was Ian McInnes who I know quite well he is a Govanhill community activist and had been dropped into doing the hustings at last minute. They are all pretty good guys so couldnt get much snarling done there :-)
I spoke last was the only one that mentioned expenses in the opening speeches surprisingly said I was disappointed that they had supplied coffee and cake because I wouldnt be able to stick in a claim for high tea at the Grosvenor Hilton!
Then I took my table -see photo at top!
The idea was that people could go from table to table to question the candidates and the WDM guys sort of facilitated it and raised their issues of trade justice between the EU and other countries, lack of democracy in the negotiations and the ignoring of factors like sustainability for poorer countries.
It was good in the sense that people got a fair say and it was more interactive- everyone got to speak that wanted to. I learned a bit at it as well. People raised issues on Africa, economic growth, the lack of democracy within the EU.
One older guy said he was a socialist and enjoyed my speech but what society needed was a "meltdown" before it could happen. Another woman was an ex-journalist who is carrying out a campaign against the building of a new Coalfired power station at Hunterston by Danish company DONG which would put all CO2 targets out the window - I hadnt heard about that. I would say the bigger parties probably had more people going to speak to them - maybe that wanted to have a go at them or maybe because they have a better chance of being elected.
Anyway Steve Rolfe from WDM concluded it and me, the Liberals, SNP, Greens and no 2 eu signed the pledge. Unbelievably or rather believably the two Big business parties didnt sign it. Shows how much New Labour have changed and how little (apart from posh appearances)the Cameron Tories have.
WDM seem quite a campaigning body - will look out for stuff they do.
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
The SSP European Election Rally in Glasgow went well last nite. Around 60 attended. There were speakers from Save Our Schools - the Glasgow campaign - Donna and Jacqui from Wyndford and Billy from Bellahouston. They brought a taste of real community campaigning - outlining the numerous activities they have all taken part in since the January announcement of the school closures by New Labour. Also the unrelenting anger that has been unleashed. They plan to stand at every polling station they can on the day of the Euro elections telling people not to vote Labour!
We also had music interspersed through the evening with acoustic sets(!) from Kevin and Pauline. Good to hear a Beautiful South track from Kevin and Pauline sang a song I'd never heard about the Liverpool Dockers' struggle in 1995 which was excellent.
I addressed the masses with some stuff - think it may be appearing online video somewhere so god help us all - incorporating phrase to condemn neo-liberal capitalism and greedy politicians :"We can do what we want". Also updated on police/BBC/BNP action.
We were lucky to have comrade Joachim over from France and the new Anti-Capitalist Party which is a sort of united left party like the SSP seeks to be. Although it was difficult for him with an interpreter (Johanna another candidate who did brill job) he got some important points across. He's from Mulhouse in Eastern France and part of the movement of workers who have literally locked up their bosses to explain their hardship!This is taking place in the midst of massive strikes and protests against Sarkozy. The party should do well with this background but they are just new and trying to build for the future.
Onto a hustings tonite (note the sacrifice as this is corresponding with the European Cup Final, Go Barca!)Speech now on line in 3 parts! First bit here, and Parts 2 and 3 linked
Thursday, 21 May 2009
Review of BBC Business guy Robert Peston's book: Who Runs Britain?
Very readable and full of jaw dropping statistics on New Labour's obsession with the super wealthy and their lifestyles which is likely to bring them down. Particularly good are the chapters on private equity, pensions and the peerage scandal.
There are problems with work however - it doesnt really feel like a whole book more a collection of writings - which it is not sold as. The chapter on Marks and Spencer for example doesnt even follow the same structure as the rest and repeats points made in other parts of the book. The conclusion is also contradictory which strikes at another flaw - Robert Peston's ambiguity.
Some of his writing condemns the wealthy with also harbouring a large amount of admiration for them. He condemns pension schemes for not following private equity in taking huge risks - surely if they had done this we'd all be in even biggertrouble than we currently are. His support for Post Office privatisation in the current climate is also faintly bizarre.
His political position reminds me a bit of Brian Gould in the 80s Labour Party - remember him! A moderniser at the time calling for popular capitalism in 1987 booed at conference etc but by the time Smith was dragging Labour to its neo-Liberal position Gould ended up on the left of sorts! I think he stood against Smith in 1992. Essentially a lover of the exploitative system of capitalism but not its excesses.
Having said that a good guide to the current crisis - not completely thorough though - it was published in the midst of it and that does come across
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Monday, 11 May 2009
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
Review of Iceberg Slim's semi-biographical work 1967: Pimp
Relentless from the first disturbing page to the jailhouse revelation Slim gets by the end.
Very well written with intelligent use of metaphor - which is just as well because a more direct application of language would make many scenes unreadable with their brutality.
One criticism may be that each chapter seems to be based around one particular brutal episode - normally involving a women. But I guess it was a way for him to structure.
It also has that problematic ambiguity of gangster rap - used a lot by Ice T named after slim. Is the misogynistic violence sexual and actual being exposed or celebrated. There were some parts where I actually didnt know.
However as the afterword from a black female writer puts it -it shows elements of African American male culture which had been ignored or idealised by some in the past.
Read it in very nicely laid out new edition with foreword from Irvie Welsh and you can see the influence with a number of scenes seeming to be lifted directly into his work.
Shocking but readable.
Saturday, 2 May 2009
Review of SFA's new work published in Scottish Socialist voice May 1st 2009.
Although it is 13 years since their debut album, Fuzzy Logic, Super Furry Animals are still something of an overlooked gem on the music scene. They also are the only group to appear in the NME reading the seminal Scottish socialist work Imagine, apart from the Pussycat Dolls. That last part was a joke!
Their current album Dark Days/Light Years was revealed with an online concert playing it in full a few weeks ago. For me, in our climate-ly changing world it is already the sound of the (premature) summer.
The last Super Furries’ work Hey Venus was a concept album about a young girl running away to the big city. Although containing a couple of cracking pop songs it was fairly short and had a slight feel to it. Dark Days, however, is a massive smorgasbord of tunes with literally something for everything: glam rock, heavy metal samples and disco all make an appearance.
One of the skills that SFA have showed over their nine albums is using all of pop music’s heritage but presenting in a way that is relentlessly current and original. Partially this is down to Gruff Rhys’ lyrics – sample song titles “The Very Best of Neil Diamond” and “Moped Eyes”.
The musical diversity is reflected in the album’s dialectical title – although there is a happy upbeat feel to many of the tracks they are placed in the context of the “dark days” that the planet is currently experiencing. For example the jumpy song “Inaugural Trams” salutes the wonders of an integrated public transport system (yes really) whilst recognising currently such a thing is unlikely, utopian even. Rhys has also said it is a salute to technology: “It’s a celebration of living with science rather than religion”. It also has a real Kraftwerk vibe, to the extent that a member of Franz Ferdinand raps in German throughout it.
There is a degree of retrospection to this work too there are two lengthy electronic soundscapes – which have a techno feel to them. They are a bit softer than some of the Super Furries earlier dance material but are quite stunning and in “Cardiff in the Sun” they have created a beautiful piece of music. There is also a nod to their Welsh roots, having once released an album of entirely Welsh tracks, with “Lliwiau Llachar” meaning Bright Colours.
Personally I think the stand out is “Mt” which is an inspirational celebration of human society – if you only seek out one track make it this one.
An excellent soundtrack for life at the moment then and the funny thing is the Super Furries make it seem so effortless .
Monday, 20 April 2009
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
Friday, 10 April 2009
Review of Ballard novel from 1994 - picked up in second hand shop late last year. Not heard of it before - review probably explains why.
A difficult one. A sort of inbetweener for Ballard by his autobiographical work and his last 4 hyper-realist books set in the decaying modern world.
Of course brilliantly written and strong/memorable characters - also a good sense of location in the South Pacific. which at the time of writing in the mid 90s was the centre of dispute with Chirac resuming nuclear testing.
A project to supposedly liberate an island from the French Army and to allow the albatross to return collapses with hellish consequences.
I think it loses its way a bit with its discussion of women taking over society. Arguably sexist particularly with its portrayal of Dr Barbara. Notably in his later works his charismatic bad leading figures are all male. It also has a number of pretty disturbing scenes.
Not sure if it is meant to be an allegory but probably bites off more than he can chew which is quite surprising for JGB, on the whole misfiring
Tuesday, 7 April 2009
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Friday, 13 March 2009
Monday, 9 March 2009
Thursday, 5 March 2009
Yet it is flawed - it is a bit circular in its analysis and offers no real conclusions to MES' modus operandi. It also seems very unwilling to concede on whether he is an alcoholic or not. That wouldnt be so bad in and of itself - the bigger problem is the invasive voice of the writer.
At time he looks like he wants to be writing one of those Andrew Collins/Stewart Maconie type books about his upbringing in the North. This feels bolted on and distracts from the main theme.
The worst bit though is towards the end where he outlines the breakup with his long-term partner. This is self-indulgent tosh - I would love to know what his ex feels about him using a book about the Fall to have a go at her and her new partner! The writer also has throw away line about how he was thrown out of school for bullying as if this were the norm. So good content but pretty unlikeable writer by the end - which ironically could confirm MES' attitudes to artists/musicians.
Monday, 2 March 2009
As well as consolidating the launch of the LRC which has operated at a British level for the last couple of years it was to launch the People's Charter in Scotland. A document that had been drawn up by two lawyers! including Imran Khan following meetings of left groups down south. The idea is to get a million signatures which I guess would be a hundred thousand in Scotland. I say I guess because the meeting fell down a little bit on concrete proposals which Ill come back to.
There was no clear message from the top table - which is the format in which the meeting went. Indeed some of the tensions of the LRC were inherent. Rozanne spoke explicitly of it being a vehicle to reclaim the Labour Party although she did also say that the broader "Labour movement" she was also very positive about the new broad left formation in UNITE which had its founding conference last weekend. Vince however spoke on the Charter and spoke of it being part of a radical coalition for change which would involve other parties and individuals. Indeed he stated the Labour left in Scotland is not strong enough to put the charter into practice. He also stated that the left in Scotland was currently very weak and divided and this could be used to coalesce a movement to reignite that in Scotland. This sort of confirmed Vince's approach that he thinks the Scottish LRC should be not only open to Labour members and parties that dont stand against Labour.
John McDonnell who spoke in quite an open way allowing interruptions and discussions did state the question was not one of representation but resistance. This is a movement I think from when I last saw him speak when he was more open to the idea of left regroupment in a political sense. But at base I would probably agree with him in Scotland (and probably England& Wales) because the left is weaker I dont think any group can claim the hegemony of being the main organisation and thus impose its own programme. If the SSP was at its strength of 2003 then we would clearly be the beacon for this with our programme of building a broad pluralist Scottish socialist party outside the Labour Party, if the left in the SNP were strong they would be the focal point, ditto Left in Labour. But none of this is true so joint activity around these sort of demands I think is positive and may lead in the direction of a new left formation in Scotland - but to be honest that seems a long way away at the moment.
The floor discussion was also reflective of this contradictory position. It was frustrating that 4 of the speakers from the floor were from the SWP but not one of them identified themselves as such Dave Sherry was a trade unionist, Keir McKechnie from Stop the War, Margaret Woods from Campaign to Welcome Refugees and Unite against Racism. Ridiculous really they must have about 80 years of SWP activity between them. Perhaps they think they can get multiple representation on any campaign if they have many different hats. They deflected any serious discussion on strategy and tactics because they just came up with usual bland pronouncements specifically on the British jobs for british workers thing. And they adopted usual patronisng approach - the campaign should call a demo on about a million different things.
Socialist Appeal had a group of 4 there - mostly thru from Edinburgh - they adopted a sectarian approach - it wasn't a transitional programme, didnt mention the need for workers' control or the taking over of the commanding heights of the eceonomy. Very CWI-ish I thought - unsurprising given the political tradition which at one time also included me!
Simon Steel spoke from the CPB and they were positive -seeing it as a plan for action in housing schemes. As did Gregor who echoed these problems.
John Milligan for the RMT spoke quite negatively about the left in Scotland - although he didnt explicitly have a go at the SSP that was implied point I thought and John McD for believing the Labour party could be reclaimed. To be fair though that wasnt really John McD's position at least at this rally. He also spoke about some Socialist Forums that have been taking place in Lanarkshire.
Liam spoke very well about the context of the crisis of capitalism and the environment and how we are running out of time for a socialist solution. This was more frustrating given the weakness of the left across Scotland including the SSP and that campaigns like this were needed to bring these together. A lot of people came up to speak to him at end to say they agreed with it - including Bill Butler!
Solidarity werent there -though Gordon Morgan came to social event after.
So meeting came to quite abrupt end with no clear direction as to what to do next. The format and the dominance of lengthy SW contributions from floor did not allow itself for that. I think a good initiative would be to have a more interactive set up like a Socialist Forum to decide how we campaign on the Charter. Another criticism would be the lack of any real Scottish dimension - the SNP government werent mentioned once for example let alone independence or inviting lefts in the SNP to other. I dont think that should be in charter because it would essentially kill it dead as a broad campaigning tool.
So a mixed bag but on the whole a positive move - it may not progress much under the weight of its own contradictions but I think the SSP should participate in this as much as we can.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
disbelief that the wee building that they were sitting in may no longer be there in 6 months time. They also held their own when the officials started talking over them and countered.
There was a bit of politicking - a new SNP MSP spoke Ann something she got the seat when Bashir Mann died - not bad points but a bit crude in promoting her own party I thought. Danny the local Green councillor spoke very well and got the best reception for non-parent: pointing out this was a Labour Party scheme not some neutral education plan. Denied vociferously of course
The anger kept mounting and the articulate arguments kept coming from the floor so the ex-headie stopped the meeting. Then as people were getting up to leave some old guy got up to say he wanted the last word. It was one of the local labour hack councillors! Not a front ! He got completely shouted down and couldnt get any of his attack out at all. You're too late, too late the parents shouted at him. Brilliant.
Next stages for the campaign will be critical as the facade of consultation is gone through. A city wide response is vital - but I think what happens in Govanhill will be essential for success.
Sunday, 22 February 2009
The historical context is also excellent for the most part although the write seems quite hostile to the left which means that there is a weakness to some of the analysis of the whole number of composers who were influenced in this way.
It takes a long time to get through but is a very fulfilling and worthwhile read. Criticisms would be it tends perhaps inevitably to focus on the States. British classical music which I saw 3 hours of documentary on is only told through the prism of Britten in one chapter.
I think it also gets a little rushed in the last couple of chapters - it means you dont have the luxury of examining the history or appreciating the music just a whistle stop thru a number of composers. But a good project to embark upon.
Thursday, 19 February 2009
Monday, 16 February 2009
This led to some non-football related topics such as the worst film you have ever gone to see on a date. Mine is to the side - the hilarious story of Tom Hanks and his police dog side kick that slavers a lot and um.. that's it.
Bad date in lot of other ways though and I was 19!
Sunday, 15 February 2009
Friday, 13 February 2009
man above pulled some strings.
Possibly it was to do with the flat tax element where everyone would pay the same rate if not the same charge which would have substantially cut council budgets.
Anyway it's a gift for the Unionist parties and I think is going to make the referendum bill even more tricky. Given one of the reasons that they stated they were withdrawing the proposal was that there is no majority in the Parliament for it.
I wrote a piece on the contradictions and problems of the SNP government at the end of last year it's here.