It simply isn’t good enough for UK Sport to put all the blame for the allegations of sexism, bullying, cheating and general boorish behaviour currently emerging at British Cycling solely onto the shoulders of cycling’s governing body. Certainly, like all national sports administrations, British Cycling has questions to answer when it comes to all round good governance. But it is UK Sport that have the most to answer. Any national sports strategy and associated funding policy that is skewered obsessively towards international medals is guaranteed to create a dysfunctional and socially regressive climate in the upper echelons of British sport. British Cycling, once the golden girl and boy of British sport has inevitably succumbed to the insane pressures piled on them from UK Sport and their political masters in Whitehall and Westminster. Whilst those pressures persist, we can expect many more examples to emerge of bullying and general dysfunction, not just in cycling but across the entire sporting spectrum.
Pick up a bat if you see it
Have a quick game if you feel it
Take on the world if you dare it
If the ball comes your way then just ping it
If you’re feeling anxious and alienated just ping it
If you’re saddened by the state of the world just swing it
If you feel your youth slipping away then just wing it
Because Ping England’s in town so just sing and be in it.
Ping at the park and Ping at the school
Ping in the office – up to 11 as a rule
Ping on your way home with your bat as your tool
Play with your mates or any old fool.
Can we ever really ever know major public figures? Probably not. And in any case, like all humans, they are always complex and contradictory. But we can at least examine the concrete conditions from which such figures emerged and do so with some degree of objectivity. In the case of Martin McGuinness, we can say emphatically that he grew up in a country that had for centuries been socially, economically and militarily occupied by England, and that during his formative years, that occupation continued with great brutality in six counties of his country of birth. Even at the moment of his death, despite some reluctant attempt at power sharing by successive British governments, that occupation continues.
Let us be absolutely clear here; there is and never has been a country called Northern Ireland. There is only Ireland and the six counties in the north of that country are still under British colonial occupation. The occupation has today, due to decades of fierce resistance by the Irish people, become somewhat benign, but if we are to get anywhere near an understanding of what motivated Martin McGuinness, we must start and finish with this central objective historical fact - the ongoing colonial occupation of his homeland.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Corbynistas, I am greatly heartened by the totally unexpected arrival of Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell at the apex of the British Labour Party. After decades of Tory and New Labour governments seeking to manage capitalism in the interests of the corporates, here is a leadership team that threatens to challenge the corporate agenda. The inevitable coups against their leadership began immediately, and they persist, without respite, to this day. Mandelson as good as admitted as much, and Tony Blair and David Miliband are already manoeuvring around the fringes of the party. We should expect nothing less. But moaning about these attempted coups is wasted energy. The point is to formulate an alternative manifesto for governing Britain and to do so with great urgency. This is a rare moment in British political history and the opportunity should not be squandered. Above all, we Corbynistas must be radical not mealy-mouthed and ‘practical’. We have seen all too clearly where middle of the road New Labour practicality leads and there is absolutely no point in going down that road again. Put a radical programme to the British electorate and let them choose. Far, far better to go down with a bang than a whimper. Here is my contribution.
Manifesto for the forthcoming General Election.
WE SAY UNEQUIVICALLY: NO TO FASCISM, NO TO RASCISM.
Above all else, the British Labour Party is an internationalist party. Global problems can only be solved by global cooperation. There are no national solutions to climate change, global pollution, corporate tax evasion, militarisation, fascist resurgence and economic and social inequality. A Corbyn led Labour Government will work tirelessly to uphold and enhance the work of the United Nations and associated global institutions in the interests of global progress. It will work tirelessly to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It will strenuously resist the retreat into narrow xenophobic nationalism and its poisonous politics of racism, sexism and bigotry.
I’ve been reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus- every line
And it’s got me thinking and a fretting about the future of mankind
I’ve been thinking that maybe we humans have truly passed our prime
And that Artificial intelligence is going to leave us humans far behind.
Algorithms clogging up my brain
Algorithms monitoring my pain
Algorithms calculating gain
Algorithms trying to keep me sane.
My computer is a wonder - it is far smarter than you and I
It computes my bio-rhythms at the blinking of an eye
It whips me at the chess board no matter how I try
And it’s even taken to predicting the very day I die.
There is nothing inherently wrong with success. It is, in all probability, hotwired into the human condition. Success in adapting to new circumstances was everything to our ancient ancestors. Success or failure in hunting could mean the difference between survival and an early death. Success in securing a suitable mate could mean the chance to grow the tribe and stay one step ahead. Whichever way you look at it, either in terms of cooperation or competition, or an intricate matrix of both, success has been at the heart of the human journey. The forms and definitions of success continue to vary over the millennia, but it is hard to envisage the history and future survival of we homo-sapiens without the drive to not only compete but to succeed both in collaboration with and at the expense of others. And we have some claim to be the most successful species ever.
Today the drive to succeed can be measured in a dazzling array of human endeavours; technological, financial, political, academic, artistic and of course, sporting. But ask anyone who has been deemed to be ‘successful’ and they are more than likely to admit, in private at least, to a dark and menacing downside to their publicly acclaimed success. Too much fame, too much pressure, too much pain in the pursuit of gain. Success in the modern era invariably comes at a cost which, if left to fester, can easily overwhelm and tarnish all that has been gained. Furthermore, modern day success can all too quickly turn to obsession. In professional sport it invariably leads to doping, match fixing, corruption and outright cheating. Excellence becomes tainted by human frailties and success is turned into its opposite.
What is all this nonsense about fake news? We live in a world of fake news. Always have done and dare I say it, probably always will. Only it used to go by a different name; propaganda. As national elites struggle for supremacy, over both the general populous, and over other competing elites, propaganda has been one of their essential weapons. George Orwell brought this dramatically to our attention in his dystopic novel, 1984. War became peace, hate became love, plenty was the cover word for starvation and the Ministry of Truth was responsible for disseminating an endless stream of lies. This Orwellian world is pretty much the world we have always had since ‘civilisation’ began’.
The clever and cunning elites told us lies about the other tribes. They told us lies about a paradise in the afterlife. They created a fiction about eternal hell. They told us lies about creation itself; complete with fictitious gods, prophets and miracles. They are still up to the same old tricks. The only thing that has changed, in the internet age, is the speed and range in which these lies can be spread. In our modern world, freedom fighters become terrorists, repressive governments become democrats. Free speech becomes communist subversion and global imperialism becomes sanitised as world democracy.
In the year that I was born, African Americans were being lynched with impunity. When I was in my teens, the American military was in the process of dropping more explosives, including lethal cocktails of chemicals, on the peasant farmers of South East Asia than had been used in the entire Second World War. Three million Vietnamese and more than a million Cambodians and Laotians were to be murdered by the US military-industrial complex for the crime of wanting to be free of European and American colonialism. By the time I had reached my mid-twenties, that very same military-industrial complex was in the process of wreaking bloody havoc across Central and South America, repeatedly overthrowing democratic governments and installing in their place vicious dictators propped up by US trained death squads.
That Trump is totally unfit for public office is blindingly obvious. All the opprobrium that has been hurled is way is, without the slightest doubt, justified. He is a demagogue of the worst kind. Playing to the economic insecurities and basest instincts of a largely marginalised American working class, Trump has shown himself to be a bullying misogynist, a crude racist, a vile narcissist and in all probability, a tax evading crook. But his personal characteristics, such as they are, pale into insignificance when we consider his political agenda.
But, it’s not true that everything he has been saying is totally off the planet. Far from it. Like the infinitely more reasoned and socially responsible Bernie Saunders, Trump has accurately highlighted the deteriorating plight of the American working class at the hands of global capital, but, unlike Saunders, Trump’s proposed solutions are socially toxic and economically fanciful, bordering on the fascistic. To ‘make America great again’, will necessitate triggering a global trade war, in which there can be no winners. And trade wars, as we should have learnt from the bitter experience of the mid twentieth century, can all too easily morph into a full-on military war.
This excellent offering from Zadie Smith got me thinking about what makes a really good novel become a classic novel. Of course, there is no definitive answer to that question because the whole thing is so highly subjective, much like in any art form. But for me there are two essential ingredients; one that the particular can effortlessly interchange with the universal, and secondly, that there is something a little magical in the novel. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children comes to mind as does Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Both broke new ground in both the tale and the telling of the tale. Zadie Smith’s latest offering is a great read. No doubt about that. And I will willingly recommend to all and sundry. But is it a classic novel? Probably not.
Swearing allegiance to any set of values is a mighty tricky game. Best to be avoided at all costs. But Tory Minister Sajid Javid has different ideas. He wants the whole nation to swear allegiance to a set of British values. But this seemingly innocuous proposal quickly becomes a philosophical minefield. Who, for starters, will dictate what’s in and what’s out? And who’s to say which interpretation of any given ‘value’ is the correct one. Take for example the right to one’s own religious faith. That seems eminently straightforward and enlightened enough on the surface. Far from it. What if one person’s faith directly contradicts another person’s faith or indeed the law of the land? Take for example the highly contentious medieval practices of ‘honour’ killings, female genital mutilation and forced arranged marriages. Should tolerance of religious cultural diversity trump secular law or should secular law always and everywhere trump deeply held religious custom? This raises the intractably thorny question: where does tolerance of cultural diversity start and where should that tolerance absolutely finish? And what of the myriad grey areas in between?
Our liberal media commentators are lining up to condemn the strike action of the RMT and others. Last month it was Matthew Syed in The Times. This month it is Simon Jenkins writing in the London Evening Standard 9/1/17. Both papers I should add are owned and tightly controlled by billionaire media barons who always and everywhere side with the global corporate interest. And when we look at the actions of these billionaires, we should never, ever forget that behind every great fortune is a great crime.
Common to the whinging all these liberal commentators is the sheer inconvenience that these strikes cause the ‘common citizen’. If only the Union Barons would sit down and reasonably work out their differences with management, we could all get on with our busy lives in this great city of ours. And therein lies the fundamental error of their argument. To Syed, Jenkins and their cohorts, there are four main parties involved; management, government and unions and of course the ‘ordinary’ hard-pressed citizen. This is patently a nonsense and a Tory corporate fiction.
At a time when there is a relentless campaign to equate legitimate criticism of the colonial expansionist policies of the Israeli government with anti-semitism, this text from Shlomo Sand, history professor from Tel Aviv University, is nothing short of explosive. From within the ‘belly of the beast’ so to speak, this Israeli academic has produced a thesis that gets to the very heart of the ‘greater Israel’ project. But it does so much more. In the process of demolishing the ludicrous notion of Israel being ‘God’s promised land to God’s chosen people’, Shlomo’s well documented thesis works to deconstruct the whole notion of ‘pure’ biological races emanating from some misty god inspired times. Even a cursory investigation of history shows that most nations are relatively recent constructs, and even the more ‘ancient’ nations turn out to be little more than an accumulation of successive waves of invasions, migrations and social intermingling, England being the perfect example.
When I saw this one being advertised, I was determined not to touch it with a barge-pole. It was almost certainly going to be a slavish, grovelling tribute to an aristocratic, parasitic family of European in-breeds, better known as Britain’s Royal family. I’ve always despised the very notion of monarchy, religious hierarchy or any form of hereditary power. I certainly was not going to voluntarily buy into this latest chapter of mindless deference to this archaic medieval institution. But I was badgered into giving this latest Netflix offering a go and hey presto – it was quite intoxicating. Not without a few historical errors but intelligently portrayed and anything but deferential. In one of the early episodes Prince Phillip denounced the entire House of Windsor as a bunch of hyenas with ice cold blood in their veins. Now I can go along with that.
Sam Leith (Evening Standard 28th November) and Zoe Williams (The Guardian) were tripping over each other and themselves in their endeavours to brand Fidel Castro a ruthless, bestial dictator. And anyone who dared to think otherwise was guilty of naïve 6th form politics. Both are competent enough journalists, and on their day, damn good ones. A pity then, that on this occasion they, along with dozens of other ‘liberal’ commentators, were guilty of the same bourgeois journalistic failing – that of allowing themselves to become divorced from the material reality of their subject. It’s not that both Leith and Williams do not make some valid points – they do. Arbitrary thuggish state repression is just that, no matter whether it comes from the right or the left – particularly if one is on the receiving end. But criticisms of Castro, like any great historical figure, becomes totally devoid of meaning if divorced from the concrete reality from which they emerged. This is as true for Castro as it is for all the ‘great’ socialist revolutionaries of the 20th
century. When you read the above- mentioned articles it transpires that it is our esteemed ‘liberal’ journalists who are guilty of high school journalism and not those that seek a balanced assessment.
I think it fair to say that capital always and everywhere, if unregulated, moves to the point of highest return. The odd ‘ethical’ exception here than there is soon negated by the relentless tide of self-interest. And in that pursuance of maximum return, capital has long since slipped its national leash. Capital has long since gone global and so too has the manufacture of goods, services and people – both those that are able to profit from the system and those that are desperate to be part of it.
If you were a manufacturer, large or small, why would you manufacture something in the US of A when you could produce the very same thing with the very same quality for a fraction of the cost in the developing world. By the same logic, if you did decide to manufacture either goods or services in the United States, why would you employ a US worker at union agreed rates, when you could employ an ‘illegal’ migrant worker for at a considerably lower cost. This is the morality of capital. In fact, capital has no morality per se. It is gender neutral, colour blind and agonistic in belief. Its only rationale is to reproduce itself at the highest rate possible.