Thursday, October 27, 2005
I'm horridly busy at the moment and something's (well lots of things have) got to give. I have to try to finish my thesis within the next few months and am busily panicking about it. I can't face another year of living in a cramped student room with no money and without all the lovely, shiney things that normal people with salaries have. And I am getting on a bit after all. Problem is, I'm doing a lot of teaching at the moment, (so I can have money for baked beans, stale bread and for Brillo pads to scrape the mould off my bedroom walls)* which, after all the preparation and marking (let alone the contact teaching hours), leaves me little time for anything else. So basically I have to dump any non-essential time consuming activity until after Christmas at least (when my teaching load falls off a bit), to make time for my world-changing** thesis.
So there probably won't be very much posting here for the next few weeks.
You'll get over it.
* Violins play in background.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Oi, Griffin! No!!
As the UAF website says, the demonstration should 'bring together the trade union movement and community and faith groups in an event which will demonstrate our opposition to the BNP and their anti-democratic ideas, and will emphasise the way in which our communities can unite to work together towards a peaceful, integrated future' - and with luck we'll be able to shout some very rude words at freak-boy Griffin and the fash. If you're in the Leeds area you should try to come along.
There's also an anti-fascist rally in Keighley on Saturday to counter a planned nazi demonstration in that town (see top item on UAF website).
As many of you probably spotted and were, no doubt, too polite to say, the protest against Griffin is Weds 2 Nov not today (26 Oct) as I had indicated in the above post. I only worked this out myself at the last minute - last night I was preparing to go to bed especially early so to get up early and off to Leeds this morning when I glanced at an info leaflet and realised that I'd got the week wrong. Could have been quite embarrassing if I'd turned out to protest outside the court today. I need to work on those organisational skills.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Let's face it, these 'people' are selfish, stupid, unimaginative, xenophobic, nationalist, unsympathetic, uncaring, acquisitive, suspicious, racist, joyless, greedy, narrow-minded, overwhelmingly public school educated and they all have that stupid look on their pudgy faces - you know, the unmistakable smarmy look of a Toryboy/Torygirl.
That's just a short list, by the way.
Tories can be divided into two categories in my experience:
First there are the outgoing ones with that braying, over-confident, high-volume way of speaking - like they desperately want everyone within a 2 mile radius to know just what a dickhead they are. They are usually thick as pigshit, but at least possess relatively advanced social skills (in terms of dealing with their own species at least). Usually these are the ones that 'get on' in life and become city traders or management consultants - or take up some other similarly worthless pursuit. They are smug, self-satisfied, disciples of Mammon. They don't like to think (there's little money in it).
Then there are the anti-social, obsessive, hate-fuelled ones - many wear that stupid little pound Sterling symbol badge on their lapels. They are the lowest of the low. They have badly developed social skills. They are driven by a venomous hatred of foreigners, the EU, immigrants, 'scroungers', single mothers, gays, the French, the Germans, 'red tape' etc, etc. These ones are often small businessmen (and the Tories in this category are mostly men), bean-counters or employed in some other line of work in which misanthropy, piggy eyes and sweaty palms aren't too much of a drawback.
Unfortunately, Tories are very much in the news at the moment. On the positive side, however, they appear to be fighting amongst themselves like starving rats in a sack - there is, then, some small pleasure to be had here. Apparently some obese bloke who makes a very comfortable living out of flogging fags to poor people has been chucked out of the contest. A sinister, right-wing fruitloop (who is, frighteningly, a GP) was chucked out today. Which leaves us with a thuggish, uncharismatic thicko (he'll probably get the Tory shires jackboot vote) and a chubby-cheeked, Etonian posho 'charmer' (the uber-Toryboy and darling of the braying Hooray-Henry/Henrietta wing of the party).
I don't know which one I despise the most. It's a genuine dilemma.
I am willing to make two exceptions here - there are, that is, 2 Tories who are not quite as scummy and vermin-like as their peers. They are - Matthew Parris and Michael Portillo.
Monday, October 17, 2005
*ie real punk - not Blink fucking 182.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
I was in Iraq. I was standing on a dusty road with yellowy-brown sand on either side stretching off into the distance. In front of me was a scattering of metalic and mechanical wreckage across the road, blocking my way. Behind the wreckage, the road was cratered and scorched and a spiral of black smoke trailed into the sky. There were a small number of corpses and half-dead men sprawled across the wreckage and on the road. I got closer to the wreckage and found out that in fact these men were alive. They were grotesque. They were stinking, bloated, swollen, green and rotten - and they were still moving around. One of them was horribly burned - his skin was a black, cracked and flaking mess (like the surface of a badly burned piece of toast). Two of them sat on top of a piece of wreckage which was now a burned out car and seemed to be drinking something and talking. Another, with the top of his skull sliced off was walking towards me. I remember thinking (and this was the horror) that none of them deserved this - all had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were the cannon fodder of other people's warfare. They had been turned into stinking corpses for reasons which could never be justified to them. They had all died thinking 'why me?' and they continued to ask the same question endlessly in death. I woke up feeling sick.
I remember that in my dream these men had been the victims of a coalition airstrike. But really that wasn't the point (if we can talk about the point of a nightmare) - they could easily have been the victims of an insurgent bomb.
The images from this dream, together with a real associated feeling of horror, come back to me from time to time. They come back to me when I read about Fallujah, or when I read about recent operations in Tel Afar. They come back to me when I hear that civilians have been murdered in a market place or mosque bombing. They come back to me when I hear that US or British troops have been killed. They come back to me when I read some twisted, gung-ho blog or media person cheerleading for coalition operations. They come back to me when I read some cheering for death from some on the Left.
There is a romanticising of violence at play here. There is also a terrible rejection (even mockery) of ethical considerations in the name of 'realism'. In relation to the former, in some accounts of what's going on in Iraq, the bombings and the shootings are spoken of in terms which obscure the real effects of violence. The excitement, the explosive booms, the flash of fire from machine gun muzzles, the heroics, the rush, the changes in the balance of power between opposing forces, the tactics and the strategy are discussed animatedly and with relish. This is a little boy's version of warfare - it's how we experienced violence as an 8 year old in the school field playing soldiers with our friends. In these games there was no death - not really. If 'shot' you would simply clutch your hands to your chest dramatically, groan and quickly fall to the ground. You would get up again 2 minutes later. There was no blasting off of limbs, no faces sheared off by shrapnel, no evisceration, no guts spilling onto the ground, no screaming, no crying, no begging for your life, no panic, no terror, no bits of another man's brains on your boots, no pissing and shitting yourself, no vomit, no bloated bodies, no putrifaction, no maggots. Cheer for that.
In relation to the latter, I have seen people claim - pro and anti-war - that one can cannot condemn the mass killing of civilians out of hand. You cannot say, it seems, that there is something wrong with the sight of a market place strewn with the twisted corpses of children. indeed to appeal to 'right' and 'wrong' here is regarded as hopelessly naive - to call the deliberate mass murder of civilians 'bad' is, more than that, something to be mocked. We see it in pro-war responses to the death toll indicated by the Lancet report and we see it in the arguments of the most hardline suporters of the insurgency. All ethical or moral considerations in terms of violence and human suffering are jettisoned - or at least relegated to some secondary and pretty insignificant order of understanding. What matters is objective a, or objective b - everyone along the way is just cannon fodder. Pile up the corpses. There's nothing we can say about it.
I have seen it claimed that one cannot understand violent acts (or any other) in terms of human decisions or choice. The sole causal factor here, is history, social and political circumstances. People do not choose to bomb a market place full of civilians (oddly this line of reasoning is seldom applied to Generals or Presidents). Of course people are made by their social circumstances, their history, their political and economic environment. Put anyone in conditions of desperation or sustained oppression and they will act very differently. Beat a good natured dog and eventually it will snarl and bite. People will fight back with the tools and means at their disposal too. But to say that human actions can be wholly understood in these terms is wrong. Put your finger on the detonator to a remote bomb. Do you really have no choice in the matter? Is there no small room for human agency? Would everyone, given the right conditions, push the button? Do you have no choice when you cross the road? Do you have no choice when you don't punch that old lady in the street and nick her handbag? Structures and environments shape and limit our thoughts and actions - but within those limits there is a certain room for manouvre, a certain space for bounded autonomy. Not everyone has the same boundaries, or the same experiences or the opportunities, or the same choices. But nothing is somehow structurally determined. There is no predestination. I am no fatalist.
These approaches are blind to the suffering of real human beings. There is a picture, which you may have seen, of a young Haitian man, dying in the street. He was murdered by UN gangsters for protesting about the UN/US installed government in his country. When you look at the picture it could, at first, be a picture of a sleepy or drunken man lying in the gutter. We see his head and shoulders. He looks groggy, confused. Then you see the blood flowing down his arms. Then you see that the man has no lower jaw - just a bloody gap, where his mouth should be. It is shocking. What gets me, I think, is not the blood and the gore. It's the look in the man's eyes - he looks confused and he looks scared and he looks desperate. 'Why me?' he seems to be thinking. There is a good chance that the man is quite conscious that his jaw has been shot off and it is quite possible that the man knows that he is about to bleed to death. He knows that his life is over, that all he could have been and all he could have done has now been taken from him. He has nothing. He is horribly alone. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and now he is going to die. It is a terrible picture.
There is another picture I saw, recently, which has the same kind of effect. I was watching a programme about gangs in South Africa. There was a brutal gang leader called 'Staggy' I think who was abducted by a vigilante gang, beaten, doused in petrol and set alight. He burned to death surrounded by a cheering crowd. The programme showed a photograph taken by someone in the crowd. He was a horrid man - he was a murdering racketeer and gangster - but even so, this picture is sickening. Again it is not the physical horror of the photo which shocks - it is the look on the man's face. The photo shows the victim on fire, flames lick up from the man's legs, his face is blackened, and he is staring into the camera - his eyes are quite brilliantly white and his pupils bright blue. They shine out at you from the blackening face. There is a look of incomprehension in the man's eyes.
Anytime someone dies, it is a someone. When we forget this, when real individual human beings become cannon fodder for someone's foreign policy or someone's theory, when we sweep the panic and the horror and the fucking waste under the carpet we are de-humanising ourselves.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Who is writing this stuff? I've heard it's Catherine Bennett - but no one seems to be sure. Whoever it is, it has to be a regular (or sometime regular) at HP and, therefore, presumably, someone who also visits, or at least knows of, the Tomb. Could it be that the user of one of the monikers any visitor of HP or the Tomb is familiar with is actually a Guardian columnist? Who could it be?
Here's where the column gets most of its Harry kicking in:
Who was Harry? Politically, I'd put the great blogmeister somewhere around the rightish end of a continuum that starts with dear old Rosa Luxembourg and ends with Charles Clarke. Like many of us, he'd made that arduous journey from the idealistic wing of the CPGB to the place now occupied by liberal humanitarian interventionists, thinking every step of the way. For those of you who'll never have the privilege of sparring with Harry, I'll quote the man himself. "Wake up you sad, naive cretin", he challenged one of the many fascistic stoppers (Harry's Place shorthand for surrender monkeys) who constantly challenged his dialectic. "Why don't you all just fuck off to your own websites", he told another loser, who subsequently had to be banned. "I'm sick of reading your crap on my site now." It was a working democracy.
For me and many fellow internationalists who've had to struggle to be heard, there was inspiration as well as consolation. At Harry's I first debated how many deaths would have to accumulate before it was legitimate to raise doubts about the liberation of the Iraqi people (the population of Iraq, plus one, we decided). But it wasn't all politics. It was there I heard that a biggish note in the church collection box got you into the local primary. At Harry's I found the support to keep on keeping going. Without it, I might not be here. Is it so strange now that Harry had to go?
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
I Still Haven't Seen Land of the Dead
Sunday, October 02, 2005
I found this (rather good) quotation at the start of Brian Barry's newbook - Why Social Justice Matters. The original article from which the passage has been taken, incidentally, can be found here on the Red Pepper site.
I mean to give Barry's book some proper attention as soon as I have time - I have seen nothing but very complimentary reviews of it. Barry is very much an Old Labour kind of socialist and a very robustly universalist and anti-relativist political philosopher. I like him. Rumours on the academic grapevine suggest that he's deliberately given up on 'pure' political philosophy - the academic arena in which Barry has battled against certain types of Rawlsian and multiculturalist wafflings for the past several years - and has suggested that anglophone liberal dominated analytical philosophy is really now a complete waste of time for anyone with the slightest interest in real political engagement (I don't imagine he has very much time for continental postmodernism either, to be honest). I really like him.
I saw him present a paper about a year ago now and I have to say, I wasn't impressed. He seemed to be offering a warmed-over version of radical Keynesianism (1970s Bennism I suppose) as the way forward for the Left. There are all sorts of problems with this approach of course, and I didn't get the sense that he'd grasped them during the discussion (eg - what would a radical Keynesian government do when faced with the inevitable backlash of the markets - look at what happened to Mitterrand, Wilson etc). Still, it's not fair to judge a theory on the basis of one short paper. I look forward to reading the book.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
How are the Mighty Fallen!
But why worry about that guy? Why, especially, when there are other once famous 80's actors out there - ones we might even call great* - who seem to have slipped out of view?
Last night I stayed up late watching what was, to be fair, a balls-achingly awful pile of steaming dog's poo called Class. I'm not proud of it. The film was pretty dreadful, but it was notable, I think, for its cast. Amongst the line-up were Rob Lowe (playing the part he plays best - annoying, entirely charisma-free, waste-of-space rich kid) a young Virginia Madsen and a very young (and exceedingly chubby-cheeked) John Cusack*. It also starred Andrew McCarthy - remember him? He was one of the 80's bratpackers - the fresh faced, naive, innocent abroad looking character - who appeared in such bratpack classics as St Elmo's Fire and Pretty in Pink. He was also, as I remember, in Mannequin with Kim Katrall. "Blimey, whatever happened to 'im?" I thought. He's not a bad actor actually.
Well, I did some research***, and apparently Andrew has ended up in the same straight-to-video and TV movie hell to which Corey was (rightly) banished some time in the early 90's. The best he seems to have managed in the past few years are bit parts in The Twilight Zone and Law and Order and a 'starring' role in an impressively awful looking TV action film alongside Michael York and Bo Derek. There's no justice.
Here's a fansite that's like 'totally dedicated' to the great man.
Now, whatever happened to Molly Ringwald?...
* I don't mean it.
** Cusack being the only one who's gone on to an acting career of any note.
** I say 'research' - I mean I typed 'Andrew McCarthy' into Google.