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Three men posing with a tiger skin. India or Burma?

Our Prime Minster's new soundbite 'global Britain' sounds like some utter bollocks generated by one of those humorous online joke slogan generators, but there's more to it than that I fear. 

It is a calculated pandering to the English nationalist myth of oppressed smallness. The subtext is "we are small but brave and clever; just free us from the yoke of the corrupt foreigners and we will show the world just how great we are." Substitute 'foreigner' for 'Jews' or 'immigrants' and see it for what it is.

At the heart of this is the deeply held English nationalist belief that Britain isn't global currently and, more astonishingly, never has been. Yes, history-buffs, you read that correctly. In order to make this seem true the entire British Empire period has been blanked out. This may be difficult for readers outside the UK to believe, but this monumental piece of 19th century world history does not feature at all in our populist nationalist narrative. You have to understand that it never happened. Okay? History started in 1914. Everything before this was merely a series of costumed theme parks. This is precisely how my daughter is taught history at primary school. A bit of the costume stuff, dressing up as Victorians and Tudors, then two whole years studying life in the trenches in WW1, followed by an entire year of WW2. And when I say WW1 and WW2 I mean specifically Britain fighting Germany during those wars, forget Japan or any other participant. The defining feature of our nation's history is that it fought two wars with Germany in western Europe during the 20th century. Nothing else. That's our government-approved state history syllabus for our children, preparing them for the big wide world.

Politicians (and presumably that crucial voting demographic of baby-boomers) in recent decades have been very keen on this 'British history' as they call it. There's no room in it for India or Australia or West and South Africa, let alone colonial America. Ireland isn't in it either. If it didn't happen right here, or nearby, or happen directly to white British passport-holding people, it isn't British history. Possibly the only exception to this in living memory has been the Falklands War, and in order for that to become a national event history had to be re-written, making the Falkland Islanders into British citizens before the conflict (fiction) rather than afterwards (reality). In the same period Britain agreed to hand several million non-white Hong Kong citizens, all holding the same passport as the Falkland Islanders, over to communist China as a kind of human gift. That wasn't British history though, so it didn't matter.

What is at the base of this psychosis? It seems tied to the end of the British empire as a formal entity. Right up until the 1950s (when the baby-boomers were children) British people were fed the most extraordinary fictional racist propaganda concerning the empire. It was the greatest thing that had ever existed. Wonderful, civilised, beloved, and at the core of it was a quintessential English superiority; English exceptionalism. What's painful to the English nationalist is not that the empire ended but that it simply carried on without the English. That it didn't even need the English. The English nationalist cannot tolerate this. The English nationalist does not want to know that hundreds of millions of Indians live in a democracy and speak English. The nationalist does not want to know that vast London-based multinationals are carrying on business as usual in Hong Kong and Singapore. The English nationalist is not even interested that the British government continues to support extractive neo-colonial agendas in the former empire. If he were to know these things then he, personally, would cease to be exceptional and, worse still, the last 200 years of British history would have to be re-written as global and involving billions of non-white non-English overseas British. And that would be too much to bear. 

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 A great new miserable documentary from Adam Curtis here. Bang up-to-date in examining Trump and Putin's strategic abandonment of reality, but it's the historical material about Assad senior and Gaddafi that I found most intriguing. The manner in which US and UK politicians continually spun an imaginary narrative of the intellectually limited narcissist Gaddafi as a global terror super-brain while evidence for the Lockerbie bombing pointed directly at Syria. If you like this then watch 'Bitter Lake' too. 
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Brilliant, solid non-partisan journalism in the current issue of Private Eye magazine. See the full article under the cut.

"The beauty of the revolving door is that it obviates the need for anything so grubby [as corruption]. In place of brown envelopes come quiet, even subconscious, thoughts in a minister's or mandarin's head. The revolving door removes all tension between the state and private sector with which it should deal objectively. Both sectors end up employing the same people and they think in the same way. No part of government now questions the market in public services such as health, for example. Perhaps even more than lobbying and hospitality, the revolving door creates the uniformity of thinking between gamekeeper and poacher, purchaser and provider or even regulator and the regulated, that invariably ends in disasters, up to and including the financial crisis"

I'm afraid this is the sort of complex social structural issue that any real radical left politics in Britain is going to have to address. It's corruption which transcends anything illegal, and which is now so culturally embedded that even its perpetrators often do not understand themselves as morally compromised. To say we want to save the NHS, create cost-efficient public transport, good-value defence procurement and so on is one thing, but to do so simply will not be in the long-term career interests of the very same ambitious and capable individuals (explicitly selected for these qualities) who will be charged with the task of bringing about these changes. If selfless devotion to 'the public good' is not expected or required (e.g. the Hippocratic oath) and, more importantly, not socially rewarded, then it's not going to happen. Raging at a 'parasite elite' may be an understandable left-wing reaction, but it doesn't alter that fact that this is the elite which mainstream society, which largely approves of all legal money-seeking behaviour, has itself created, holds up as a model and aspires to join. 

Full article scanned here..... )
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So I just cast my vote in the EU referendum. I could see my wife's name on the electoral roll neatly crossed out. EU citizens are not allowed to vote in the EU referendum. No, but the bewildered Australian I met on the train the other day, who has a UK passport he inherited from his dad, was telling me that he's only been here three months and they sent him a polling card. He found it embarrassing.


I am sick of this whole thing. The entire Leave campaign is driven by a racist subtext. Half of my family is disenfranchised even though she is a legal resident, UK tax-payer, UK state employee, mother of a UK citizen and married to a UK citizen. Even in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum EU citizens were allowed to vote. 

benicek: (sunset)
Going to see Mark Steel this weekend and Yanis Varoufakis in May :)
benicek: (sunset)
Filipino healthcare workers and supporters protesting against derogatory xenophobic articles published by the Daily mail. Outside the Daily Mail's HQ, Northcliffe House, London.

I joined Filipino healthcare workers yesterday protesting outside the London HQ of the Daily Mail, after that newspaper published a derogatory, xenophobic article about Filipino nurse recruitment to the UK.
Read more... )


8/10/13 10:28
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Camera Roll-264

My 6-year-old daughter's choice from the school library. "it's interesting" she explained, and seemed a bit disappointed that we weren't similarly interested. Actually it is interesting for reasons she doesn't understand. It's a time capsule from the 1980's when Di was still alive and the public still idealised the Royals as one big happily married family. Her school seems to have made her into a monarchist and converted her to Christianity. Maybe she'll marry the two and graduate as a full-blown Papist. 
benicek: (sunset)
I can't do it. I can't bring myself to watch or read anything connected with the 'royal baby'. Even the Guardian had a rolling banner making some excited reference to the royal gynaecologist. It's disgusting. Mercifully, and displaying a sense of humour, their website has installed a 'republican' button to turn it all off. To think that I used to be quite a convinced monarchist! I thought it a very romantic institution, an island of Victorian faux-medieval theatre amid the blandness. An honestly non-meritocratic institution in a society that has twisted the ideal of meritocracy into the worship of material wealth and fame. But the more I read shit like 'Hello' magazine the more I realise that this insane, overwhelmingly dominant, status-worshipping culture has simply absorbed the monarchy. It makes no distinction between millionaire entrepreneurs, politicians, drug-addled pop stars, the children or grandchildren of money (who may never have worked for a living in their entire lives), members of the landed aristocracy or the state-funded royal family. Indeed, these groups are so often inter-related by marriage that it makes no difference. All that matters is that they are wealthy and glamorous beyond our wildest dreams, the subtext being that this confers them with actual moral superiority, and how dare any mean-minded socialist suggest that this might not be the case. We're reduced to the role of moronic medieval peasants; shivering with excitement and fear in the presence of our 'betters'. I work in a hospital which is part of a one million-employee universal healthcare system which was formed after the war as the biggest social-democratic project in our entire history, yet this hospital is named after a member of the royal family, effectively a state employee too, who is considered, without raising a single eyebrow, to possess a status too high for her to ever use this same service in her life. Why is our national self-esteem so low that we allow this? Do we actually hate ourselves? I honestly feel no personal malice towards any member of this clique, many of whom were born into it and hardly had a choice, but we are as manipulated and gormless as we ever were in the previous one and a half thousand years of being shit-upon by feudal kings, popes, and lords. To hell with it. 


8/4/13 23:27
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So, Thatcher is dead. If I was in any doubt that most of my Facebook friend list is on the political left I'm not now. It's like they just heard that Hitler has shot himself in his bunker and it's VE day all over again. They are practically dancing on the tables. Over on the websites of the conservative press the response is equally predictable; sycophantic reverence for a political saint, on a par with Winston Churchill; a fearless crusader against homegrown trade union thuggery and terrorism, a champion of liberty and prosperity, defeater of the grubby Argentines etc. It's a stark illustration of how divisive a political figure Thatcher was, and maybe always will be, in this country. I find myself a little disappointed by this. Can't we look at her rationally?

Twenty years ago I'd have placed myself in the "hate Thatcher" camp. The oddities of our political system meant her party had total control over parliament even with only 42% of the vote, and within which she often exercised the power of total monarch unrestrained by any written constitution. Her style was overtly monarchical, sometimes assuming a manner of speech recognisable as Queen Elizabeth's and, in the manner of a Soviet dictator, taking the salute from a podium as tanks paraded past her to celebrate victory in the Falkland war. This last act had a treasonous quality to it. Most older trade unionists regard her as a figure of total evil who undermined workers' rights and tied unions up in a gimp-suit of legal restrictions which essentially destroyed them. During the infamous coal miners' strike she took an overtly anti-union stance and we saw police violence employed as a political weapon against labour, resulting in actual deaths. To this day many residents of former coal mining towns regard her as a politician who waged direct war against them and their children. This period also saw extensive rioting in several cities as a reaction against poverty and perceived police racism. Thatcher's conservative party, meanwhile, adopted a free-market ideology (the exact opposite of its ideology in the previous century) apparently blended with intense social conservative hatred. Greed and conspicuous consumption were applauded, all public services characterised as wasteful; gays and single mothers were vilified. The comedian Harry Enfield created a character named 'Loadsamoney' to exemplify the spirit of the age; a semi-literate, foul-mouthed drunken yob, perpetually sneering and waving a wad of bank notes in the faces of his audience. Eventually even Enfield himself found his creation too disgusting to bear and killed him off. Ultimately Thatcher herself became so unpopular that her own party unseated her as leader in order to avoid losing the 1992 election. I was so happy on that day. I remember it well. Yea, I hated Thatcher and I hated the revolting culture of which she was apparently the avant garde.

Was I right though? I'm not so sure now. How can one person be given the credit (or blame) for shaping an entire society of 60 million people for over a decade? Richard Dawkins put it well when his producers insisted that the title of his TV programme about religion be 'the root of all evil'. "No one thing is the root of all anything" he protested. Thatcher may have contributed to the political culture of that time but she didn't create it single handedly. Our electoral system may be unfair but the fact remains that Thatcher won elections. The opposition just didn't convince enough people. There was a popular movement in her direction. And was she really such a right wing extremist? As a committed trade unionist I'm supposed to regard her as a the antichrist but in terms of policy she enacted nothing which seems particularly unreasonable. Closed shops were banned (i.e. workplace trade union membership became voluntary) and strike ballots (democracy) made compulsory. If anything these changes just made trade unions more legitimate. The unions were dying anyway, not because of Thatcher, but because heavy industry and coal mining were becoming economically unviable. In industrial relations this is called the 'mountain gorilla' theory of shrinking natural habitat. Our manufacturing base has also declined catastrophically, but can we blame Thatch for that too? In Germany employers cooperate with each other and with unions to drive a high skilled manufacturing base. In the UK they've failed to do this at any time since WW2. As a war-mongerer she wasn't much cop either. She never invaded another country (unlike Blair) and she helped lay the foundations of the peace process in Northern Ireland, a sensible hand over of Hong Kong to China and a better relationship with Gorbachev and the USSR. As for selling off public industries, some of them should have been (British telecom). What else? Did she privatise state schools? No. Did she try and contract out the entire NHS? No. Did she impose tuition fees on university students? No. In policy terms the present government is far more extreme, it just has a softer image. In comparison Thatcher actually looks left-wing. As for the obscene excesses of that 'Loadsamoney' culture, did she really create that? Her founding political ideology was of an older variety, the Victorian ideal of thrift. Entreprenureal individuals were going to use their tax-cut wealth to save and build for themselves. Instead we ended up in a deregulated hell of credit card debt and mortgages, presided over by a finance industry who didn't give a fuck. Was that her intention? Probably not. Did subsequent leaders or the Labour government do anything to stop it? No, they did not.

If, as a nurse, I'd ended up caring for Thatcher in her old age I imagine I'd have found her much like many other educated, colourful elderly patients I've met in my job. I'd probably have disagreed with her on many issues but I bet she would have been interesting. No, I probably don't hate Thatcher any more. Hating is too tiring. 
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Seville's cathedral is one of the largest in Europe. Parts of the 12th century mosque that previously stood on the site were recycled and incorporated, including the large minaret which is now the cathedral's iconic tower (the 'Giralda'), and the mosque's courtyard with its inlaid geometric water channels. Although I knew all this it was still a little surprising to see Islamic and Christian gothic pressed up against each other. It felt like being given a tour of Canterbury cathedral and then being shown the older, Hindu part of the building. Culturally, subconsciously, I am the product of an inward-looking Christian bubble.

The interior is vast. I expected vast but was still surprised by the size of the solid silver altar, a team of men crawling all over it with polishing cloths. Christopher Columbus is there too. He travelled almost as much after his death as he did in life, his bones being transferred from Spain to Dominica, then Cuba, then back to Spain again, spending a while in a convent in Seville and then ending up in this heroic, 20th century pre-Raphaelite-looking monument in the cathedral. I quite fancy something like this for myself, please.

In contrast to Britain's Occupy protesters, who are being evicted by St Paul's cathedral, some young unemployed Spanish school teachers had set up a permanent protest inside their cathedral, seemingly with full consent.
Read more... )


25/10/11 21:35
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I have a guilty secret to confess. I've have been absolutely mesmerised by the whole Libya thing. I've been like a moth to a light bulb, checking the news every day. It's the most entertaining rolling media event I've experienced since communism collapsed in Europe. Yes, entertaining. I'm being entertained by thousands of people getting killed and inhabited cities being pounded with rockets. What sort of sick voyeur am I? But its attraction is undeniable. It's just so damned colourful. Good-looking, utterly sincere young people with balls of steel, swathed in colourful flags, taking part in a huge, real-life Mediterranean action film. As for Gaddafi, fiction couldn't have spawned a more outrageous character than this. A handsome revolutionary turned grotesque, violent, narcissist nut-job who has spent his entire life dodging assassinations and insulting and/or humiliating almost every government on the planet. First the western powers wanted to kill him. Then he changed sides and (because of oil) forced the Yanks, Sarkozy, Berlusconi and our own Prime Minister to kiss his arse in public, multiple times, while attending internationally publicised events dressed in a manner which would have shamed a pimp. Then his own people decided to kill him, forcing all the afore mentioned to change sides (again), thus magnifying the monstrosity of their recent arse-kissing ten-fold. The London School of Economics are still trying to expunge all the pro-Gadaffi family brown-nosing from their publicity literature, rather too late. It is farcical. Gaddafi was a man so shamelessly vain and contemptuous that anybody in authority who ever associated with him is permanently soiled, as if they'd stepped in some sequinned turd, and I think it is for this, in some very bizarre way, that we owe him thanks. He showed us power and realpolitik for what it really is, the lowest and most degrading field of human activity, a circus of greed and manipulation. Goodbye 'Crazy Hair', you made everything so much more obvious.



22/8/11 11:19
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I need to get another electricity meter installed. Not because I need another electricity meter, but because the man they sent round to do it last time was an educated Libyan chap, a Tobruk native, with whom I had a fascinating conversation about the history and politics of that country.

I'd love to know what he thinks of the present situation and near future prospects. He was far more informative than the bloody BBC.
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PCSO Steve

I met Steve, our local police community support officer (PCSO) patrolling, on foot, in the snow. It's his 50th birthday today. When PCSOs where first introduced in Britain many, including the police unions, thought they were a crap idea. Cheaper than police officers and with no police powers. Mitchell and Webb had fun with them (see below). However, Steve, who is softly spoken and probably a bit socially shy, has certainly erased any doubts I might have had. He has made himself universally recognisable and accessible to residents on his patch. Much low-level nuisance behaviour has been dealt with and disappeared entirely. Steve has achieved this through polite diplomacy, avoiding use of the 'real' police where possible. He remembers everyone he meets and can recall any problems they may have spoken to him about, even if it was years ago. He's a good egg. Basically, he's the real life version of the idealised 'bobby on the beat' that the tabloids have been begging for for decades. 'Zero tolerance'? This is how it's supposed to be done.

He has only one complaint, and that is "I should have been born in the summer". Happy birthday, Steve.

See Mitchell & Webb's take on PCSOs..... )
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There's a little election here today because one of our town councillors died, so I went over the road and did what 1.3 billion Chinese people can't. It turned out there were two seats up for election, not one. Maybe two councillors died. I don't know. Was there a car crash I didn't hear about? I'm confused. One seat had a white ballot paper, the other lilac. Jana nearly deprived me of my democratic voice by putting the lilac slip into the white box.
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I've been having a heated email religious debate with a Swedish Lutheran priest. At one point I referred to God as 'imaginary' which, understandably, she found alienating. I later sent her these thoughts, describing some of my arguments with the indomitable [ profile] thudpucker  :

Thinking about my 'imaginary' remark earlier. Doesn't religious debate always run into this problem, that there comes a point at which one is forced to abandon being polite in order to be honest? I mean, at some point I have to describe gods as 'imaginary' because that is my honest belief, but in doing so I have to use a term which could also imply mental illness or an infantile grasp of reality. Of course I use it knowing full well that it is loaded and hope that the sting will be absorbed harmlessly. Likewise, I know that if I have an honest conversation with a fundamentalist they're at some point going to have to tell me that I'm damned to hell, along with my whole family. It stings a bit, but what option do they have if I want their honest viewpoint? None really.

There is a libertarian American that I debate with quite a lot on my and his livejournal sites. I find most of his political views verge on some sort of anarchist, militarist fascism. I actually HATE his political views. But we agreed a while back not to take any of this personally, and that essentially we both believe in general human well-being, just by totally different means. He is better at controlling his emotions than me. Once he told me to stop arguing about state health care because I was getting too angry. We're still friends though. I like him. I even posted a bottle of beer to him once. Tolerance requires effort but it is possible and fruitful, don't you think? :)

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I was enthralled by this series of photos of what I can only describe as a stylised riot in the South Korean parliament. I emailed it to an old Korean classmate of mine who now lives in Texas. This was the dialogue that then commenced:

Her: "This is hilarious!!! Sooo embarrassing, but I must say my favorite picture is #3. It's like a zoo!"

Me: "I think this apparent chaos must be culturally coded in a way I don't understand though. Although high emotion is evident there is no real violence here, more the demonstration of desperation and determination. Everything is being done for the cameras for a particular reason. I'm not saying its staged, but it isn't unreasoned either. Do you know what I mean?"

Her: "I know....! We're a compassionate people, perhaps perfectly emotionally wired for religions and in extreme cases, sects, riots and mass hysteria. Historically, we've loved protesting, arguing and demonstrating, and we're emotionally hot-tempered, impatient and brutally honest, but then as a nation, we like to come together and to help out. During the Asian Economic Crisis, we've donated our gold rings, jewellery, etc. to the government so that we can pay off our snowballing debt. We're willing to pitch in for the common good."

I'm not sure she entirely clarified things for me but I'm left with the impression that the Koreans are somehow awfully impressive in some way.



16/10/08 16:33
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Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

As the father of little pre-school Briton I'm slowly turning my attention to educational issues. I urge anybody with kids in Britain to support this new campaign for an end to religious selection and bias in state-funded schools. I'm not getting on my atheist soap box here. Accord has a broad support base, including Christian, Hindu and Humanist organisations; C of E, Methodist and Jewish clergy; evangelicals, socialists, scientists, gay rights campaigners and teaching unions. 'Nuff said.
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Here's a bit of trivia which surprised me. On the left is Deng Xiaoping, veteran of the Long March and leader of communist China throughout the 1980s. On the right is a cast iron Le Creuset casserole dish; French made and expensive, but much loved by their owners.

What possible link could there be between the two?



12/2/08 11:53
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I found this clip of Charlie Chaplin in his 1940 film 'The Great Dictator'. I do love it.

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