A Gift, From Me To You.

A conversation I was having with a chap on Twitter this evening inspired me to make a list of 5 books that I think you may enjoy.  Books that I love and treasure, and ones that I think everyone should love and treasure.  Call it a wee gift, from me to you.  They are in no particular order, though the first book is the one I recommended on Twitter this evening, and the one that prompted this post.  I hope you enjoy them.  This may, or may not, become a regular feature.

Fup, by Jim Dodge.
Fup, is quite simply a wonderful little book.  It has a duck, a boar, a gentle giant making fences, and an immortal grandfather who spends his days distilling Ole Death Whisper whiskey.  I first read this book on the train between Glasgow Central and Wemyss Bay, and devoured it in less than 45 minutes.  It’s a book I haven’t read in a while due to giving all my copies away – they don’t come back – but it still has me smiling like a loon just thinking about it.

Sombrero Fallout, by Richard Brautigan.
Richard Brautigan is one of my very favourite authors.  I think it is tragic he is seemingly not very well known.  Sombrero Fallout is unlike anything you will have ever read.  It is surreal, absurd, profound, concise, bittersweet, and quite beautiful.  It is the tale of a writer’s lost love, and of an ice cold sombrero that falls to earth bringing chaos to a small town in America.  Brautigan has a style all of his own, short sentences that deserve to be read out loud for the pleasure they bring as they trip off the tongue.   All of his books are fabulous, but this is my personal favourite.

The Good Fairies Of New York, by Martin Millar.
This is a book that took me by surprise.  It was sent to me by a good friend of mine in Scotland, a guy who I would think the last person to recommend fairy stories.  But this is a fairy story with a difference.  It’s a story about two kilted, punk fairies on the run from their clans in the UK, who end up in New York.  There is sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, fighting, and more crazy fairies than you can shake a stick at.   With one of the most memorable opening pages I have ever read, this is another book that made me laugh out loud, a lot.

Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut.
Kurt Vonnegut is quite possibly my favourite writer, and Slaughterhouse 5 is probably his most famous book.  It is a satirical black comedy, with a dash of sci-fi, and personal memoir thrown in.  It is ostensibly about Vonnegut’s experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden at the end of World War Two, but it is also very much more than that.  This is a book both funny and disturbing, horrific and humane, serious and surreal, which should be required reading for armchair generals everywhere.

Hunger, Knut Hamsun.
This is an incredibly intense and powerful book about the travails of a desperately poor writer trying to make enough money from day to day in order to live.  Rarely have I had such an emotional involvement in a character.  Here is man who’s pride leads him to the very edge of starvation, a starvation that is somehow made palpable for the reader.  The test of a good book, for me, is in it’s memorability.  I have only read this book once, about ten years ago, an ex-girlfriend has my copy, and I can still remember the emotional rollercoaster it put me on as if it was yesterday.  And by no means is this an irredeemably bleak book, it has many humorous episodes too.

On the London 2012 McOlympiCola Games.

To those of us who look beyond glittering surfaces and misleading headlines, the London 2012 Olympiad was a spectacular carnival of conspicuous consumption which demonstrated much that is wrong with what we like to call ‘civilisation’.

If aliens had visited Earth during this Olympic Orgy they would have been amazed to see stupendous sums spent on a largely inconsequential jamboree, while all around massive cuts are being made to vital public services that are central to the health, wealth, and happiness of human beings everywhere.  And while millions around the world remain at risk of starvation, thirst, hypothermia, disease, war, poverty or disaster, the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on these Games and the air of supreme importance attached to them, just cannot be justified in any sane universe.  In a time of so-called ‘Austerity’, when people are losing their homes, their livelihoods, and their lives, this extravagant luxury is pretty much offensive to me.  Somebody somewhere is making out like a bandit from these Olympics, and it sure as hell isn’t the taxpayers who subsidised the success of the UK athletes, to the tune of, according to this article, about £4.5 million per medal won.

I do feel a little sorry for the athletes though.  No blame can be attached to them for what the Olympics has become.  All that hard work, dedication, and sacrifice in pursuit of extraordinary feats of physical ability or endurance, only to find their efforts in effect hijacked by corporate and political vultures.  The athletes have become little more than pawns, or lures.  And indeed, in my own case,  I was lured into watching through the sheer brilliance of the athletic displays, despite my initial ambivalence.  In an ideal world sport would be just about sport, but sadly the ideal world is still some way off.

As David Cameron has admitted, the Olympics are about “more than medals”.  There are games being played around The Games, by politicians and businessmen.  For these people, the Olympics is not about the sport, it is about the opportunity to exploit the event for their own ends.  And their efforts in that regard are as single-minded and determined as that of any athlete.  But instead of a constant quest for Personal Bests, this is a  constant quest for power and profit.

And while we know already that Team GB enjoyed a heady yield from London 2012 in terms of medals won, only time will tell about the ‘return’ for the likes of the Coalition Government, and the host of corporate sponsors.  Already the indications are that the Games have served some of their political purposes.  The Sun claims that the Olympics has sparked a “massive feelgood factor”, whose “afterglow” will “help us through these tough times”.   Cameron is quoted in The Scotsman outlining exactly what the message of these games is supposed to be –

We do face a very tough economic situation and I do not belittle that at all.  It is a very tough economic world we are in.  But in a way, what these Games show is that if you work hard enough at something, if you plan something, if you are passionate enough about something, you can turn things around.  I think that is the lesson people can take from these Games.

What we have there is the reinforcement of neoliberal capitalist myths, that anyone can make it if they work hard enough, and that competition is good and healthy.  Never mind that most of elite sport in the UK is subsidised by the State, or from semi-nationalised Lottery funding.

The Independent claimed just before the opening of the Games that –

Mr Cameron will say he intends to devote his energy to drumming up business on the back of the global event, which will give the Government a chance to sell Britain to the world.

On other words to find investors for the public services he is selling off, and increase the profits of his buddies in major corporations.

In the Daily Mail, David Cameron is said to be pleased that the Games provided a “boost to the Union”, which no doubt will be useful to him when it comes to the referendum on Scottish independence.  The jingoistic coverage of the Games by the BBC will have, of course, played a large part in that.  All those lingering, loving shots of the union flag.  And of course, when the Conservative MP Aiden Burley tweeted “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multicultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!“, it allowed Cameron, who had previously claimed “multiculturalism has failed”, to position himself as the soft, liberal and tolerant face of British nationalism.  In the same speech he claimed the UK “needed a stronger national identity”, and undoubtedly he is using the success of the UK Olympians to further that cause.

The sensational success of Mo Farah has already been utilised by David Cameron for propaganda purposes, namely to lend credence to the myth that the UK government is sincerely committed to tackling the problem of world hunger.  Millionaires Against Poverty don’t ya know?  It’s kinda like when in 2005 the Labour Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, claimed the Games would help advance the good health of the nation.  Presumably that is why McDonald’s, and major  environmental polluters like BP and Dow Chemicals ended up as major sponsors of the Games….?

Forgive me if I think it’s all a load of bollocks.  And dangerous bollocks at that.

There’s a lot more that could be said about this, the failure of the Olympic Truce – Syrian delegates were refused visas into the country,(incidentally, this article is a must read for the outrageously biased reporting), UK troops remaining on active service in Afghanistan, surface-to-air missiles on roofs in London, or the kettling, beating, and arrest of nearly two hundred Critical Mass cyclists at the same time as Danny Boyle’s feelgood Opening Ceremony was extolling the virtues of past protest in this country. But at least Boyle reminded us a little of that legacy.   One of solidarity in the struggle for a better tomorrow, won for us by the struggle of our dissenting foremothers and forefathers.  And that is the real legacy we should take from these Games, not some tawdry promises from the likes of  Coe, Cameron, or  Johnson.

We should not be content with bread and circuses.

Don’t Believe The Hype

In 2003 we were told about the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, and that a war was needed to stop it.  About a million people died, with many more injured or displaced, in order to pacify this danger which turned out to be non-existent.  In fact it was based on lies, as the Downing Street Memo  made clear.  To justify the invasion of Iraq  “the intelligence and facts were… fixed around the policy“.

Now, ten years on from this horrific act of international barbarity, are we seeing the same process at work over Syria, and it’s chemical weapons?  The cynic in me says yes, absolutely.  Syria was named by arch-hawk John Bolton as a nation to be added to George Bush’s “axis of evil“.  (As was Libya and Cuba, incidentally)  I think it is also fair to note that the pacification of Syria is pretty much a prerequisite for those who have long been advocating an attack on Iran.  There are many who have argued that ‘the road to Tehran runs through Damascus.’

A striking echo from 2003 is how those of us suspicious of Western motives in Syria are being accused of being ‘pro-Assad’, or some kind of Assad apologists.  This is exactly the same rhetoric that was used by those of us who, rightly, opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Indeed, Tony Blair infamously, and quite incredibly  claimed that the peace movement would have “blood on it’s hands” for it’s opposition to the Iraq war.

Let us also recall that it was not only the politicians that lied to us in 2003, it was also the media.  And it is quite clear they are doing so again.  The spin, lies, and distortion put on the UN report into the massacres at Houla is a good example.  The UN in it’s report outlined different possible explanations for the massacre.  It did so because it could find no definitive evidence to identify the perpetrators.  To my knowledge the only mainstream reporter to acknowledge this was Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News.  Everywhere else it was reported that the UN had found Assad’s forces responsible.  This may or may not be the case, who knows?  I don’t.  The UN claimed not to.  But that is not what the overwhelming majority of our media outlets reported.  Forgive me for smelling a rat, and feeling a distinct sense of deja vu.  I don’t like being lied to.

I will not be joining this cheer-leading for some kind of military intervention in Syria.  Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Has Amnesty UK Lost It’s Mind?

I was absolutely stunned earlier today when I read this ‘Action Alert’ from Amnesty UK.    Just look at some of the language used –

As negotiations for the first ever Arms Trade Treaty draw to a close it has never been more important for the UK to demand human rights are enshrined at its heart.”

Does Amnesty UK actually believe that the UK is in any moral position to ‘demand’ anything from anyone in regards to human rights?   Amnesty UK have either forgotten, or have chosen to forget, that the UK is a serial human rights abuser.  The UK cannot be asked to ‘demand’ something it does not in fact practice.  The UK is arguably a rogue state.

As one of the most influential countries, the UK must make its voice heard.”

If the UK is “influential” it is not because it leads by example.  Far from it.  The UK’s influence comes from it’s military and nuclear power, which provides it a United Nations Security Council seat.  The UK has historically made it’s “voice heard” through ‘speaking softly while carrying a big stick’.

Minister Alistair Burt has made strong statements committing to a bulletproof Treaty but a small, vocal and determined minority of countries are putting the UK under pressure to compromise.”

One could be forgiven after reading this for thinking that the UK is the sole virtuous nation in the world, beset on all sides by those who wish us to “compromise” our noble principles.  Our intentions are purely benign.  Iraq did not happen.  Extraordinary rendition did not happen.  Assaults on civil liberties did not happen.  Arms shipments all over the globe did not, and do not happen.

In this Action Alert, Amnesty encourage us to write to William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, and Alistair Burt MP and ask them to “stand firm on human rights“.  Someone should point out to Amnesty that these are people who are not exactly renowned for their stance on human rights.  They are members of a party that regularly advocate the ripping up of the Human Rights Act for crying out loud.

Either Amnesty UK have lost their minds, or they have lost their souls, and are now nothing but handmaidens for imperialists.