CATEGORY: Literary POLEMICS

The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand

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.

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An interview with Tony Blair – Alex Bilmes

I don’t recall ever having read a copy of Esquire but the name does ring a bell. I’ve always imagined it as some tacky men’s magazine’, that is if I’ve ever actually thought of it at all. Not quite porn, but a bit seedy nevertheless. Certainly, not a serious political journal. But it was being given away as a complimentary copy by my holiday hotel and the front cover did look intriguing.

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Bob Dylan- Nobel Prize Winner at Last

Mr Zimmerman is a moody sort of guy. But I mean that in the best possible way. For fifty years or more this extraordinary poet and musician, and all round song and dance man, has been exploring the many contradictory moods of the human condition and doing so with the fine skill of a master wordsmith. I don’t profess to know much about previous winners of this supposedly prestigious literary award so I am unable to make comparisons, but I can say emphatically that BD has the enduring ability to coin a phrase that stays with you for the rest of your damn life. There can be few men or women of words that can claim that sort of mantle. And still today, an event may present itself in the news, and one of those poignant Dylan lines pops into mind that seems to perfectly sum up the situation no matter how devilishly complex that situation may be. For that alone I would suggest that the award is well deserved. Read More…

Chronicles, Thomas Piketty

It’s refreshing for an economist, and a damn good one at that, to be able to put their arguments in a way that the lay person can grasp. Thomas Piketty has done just that, though I should add that I found his monumental Capital pretty tough going. But the essence of Piketty’s polemic, be it in full academic mode, or the more accessible journalistic mode, is that inequality is increasing across the planet, with the one percent getting an ever larger share of the cake and the ninety-nine percent having to scramble around for the remaining crumbs. Chronicles is a collection of nearly fifty short journalistic style articles dating back to the financial collapse of 2008 and running through to late 2015.

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The Untold History of the United States, Chapter 2, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

So rich in detail and documentation is this unprecedented history of the United States that I promised myself that I would review each and every chapter. Then I got side-tracked and I only managed to deliver on the introduction and chapter one. Well now I’m back with the full intention of delivering on the original pledge. If we want to get a grasp on the current state of play in US political history there is no better place to start than this explosive chapter. It’s got everything; corporate fascism US style, greedy bankers holding the country to ransom, fascist plots a plenty and the revolutionary New Deal as served up by President Roosevelt. It’s as if someone has pressed the replay button. All that history we have witnessed with Reagan and the two Bush’s and the Clintons with Trump in the wings, it all seems to have its roots way back in the inter-war period.

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Being Dead by Jim Crace

I’m still reeling from the wonder that was Harvest, Jim Crace’s most recent novel, and I was very reluctant to try one of his earlier novels for fear it might disappoint. It didn’t. In fact, in many ways it was the equal to Harvest haunting, compelling and unsettling in equal measure. To say that Jim Crace is Britain’s most powerful living novelist is perhaps too wild a claim, but for me he is right up there with the very best that the English speaking language has to offer. I can say with some confidence that Crace has produced a poignant essay on Death, the likes of which I have never come across in any form of literature. And it resonates, every single line of it, like a death sentence.

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All That Man Is by David Szalay

Not so much a novel than a series of short stories, which potentially could have been far less satisfying than a single story. But no need to worry on this score because Szalay has produced a work of fiction that is every bit as absorbing as anything a high quality novel might offer. And here’s the wonderful thing. After each magically produced story the reader is momentarily left frustrated that it’s all come to such a sudden and premature end, but almost immediately Szalay has us totally gripped by the next totally discreet story with its totally new set of characters. That is surely a real skill and for me, Szalay does not put a foot wrong.

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Bad Jews, Joshua Harmon, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Had loads of fun with this one. Cleverly scripted, well acted, and most critically as it turns out, a highly topical polemic. In short, brother and sister are at war with each other. Usual sibling rivalries but with an added ingredient. Jewish brother brings home his blond girlfriend/fiance who just happens not to be Jewish. Sister berates brother for threatening to marry outside of the Jewish faith thereby weakening the purity of Jewish line. Brother retaliates by accusing sister of upholding a fascist ideology more akin to the Nazis. All good fun, but in the light of the anti-Semitism accusations swirling around the Labour Party at the moment, and in particular those aimed at a certain Mr Jeremy Corbyn, this turns out to be deadly serious stuff.

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The Plague by Albert Camus

A mountain of words has been written about this all time post-war classic, so it remains only to ask the question; how goes the plague in 2016? On one level Camus Plague clearly concerns how we humans respond, in our various ways, to fascism, be it military, institutional or cultural. Some of us oppose it outright, others seek to accommodate to it, while others willingly collaborate with it. And of course there are a thousand shades between. But I suspect Camus’ Plague operates at a far deeper level still. For Camus, the Plague is that of human indifference, of a deficit of empathy; of a retreat into ones own selfish needs. As such, the Plague is always with us, lurking in every country, in every community and in the consciousness of every individual.

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Purity by Jonathan Franzen

If you’re looking for purity in this world, and I’m pretty damn sure there is only this world, then don’t bother being born. It’s as simple as that. Because, sure enough, the moment you pop your messy head out of that messy womb, you’re bound to compromise your messy arse until the day you die. Your family will compromise you; your political world will comprise you, your work, or lack of it will compromise you; and for absolute certain, any and all of the relationships you stumble into will bury you up to the neck and beyond in all manner of messy compromises.

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Spotlight, a Review

I watched this one the day before the Oscars, unaware that it had even been nominated. When I discovered the next day it had in fact won best film, it was further confirmation that the entire circus that is the Hollywood Oscars is not worth two beans. This is a mediocre film by any standards. A typical Hollywood, good versus evil, righting injustice type of film that could apply to just about any type of injustice you could care to mention. Totally formulaic in its construction, without a hint of nuance or complexity. The characters are all one-dimensional, as is the script and dialogue.

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Making History by Stephen Fry

This is a witty, clever piece of what if historical sci-fi. In parts, this is Stephen Fry at his very comic best, as good as his General Melchit from Black Adder Goes Forth fame. In other parts it fades away to little more than irritating public school boy humour. But rising above the ebbs and flows of Frys humour is a deadly serious underlying theme, one that deserves much consideration. The plot revolves around a simple sci-fi plot to remove Hitler from the historical landscape. Not just the adult, genocidal Hitler, but any trace of the person.

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Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

The easy part of this review is pointing out what’a great about this collection. It celebrates human diversity; it allows the human spirit to triumph over human adversity, and above all it is always and everywhere life enhancing. Given the current state of play with respect to drones and jihadists, the three photos selected by Stanton of young Muslim women, is a wonderful antidote to all that Islamophobic fear and loathing that is currently swirling around. The subjects seem to just want what we all want, to be allowed to get on and just be. In fact, that is probably a fair summation of the whole collection. Here I am take me or leave me. I’m not bothered about anyone’s preconceived conceptions.

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Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

It would be seriously remiss of Sporting Polemics not to review this one, even though it has been around for nearly twenty five years. The category of classic is heavily overused these days but in its own unique and particular way I think Fever Pitch can rightly claim that epithet. In an age of relentless atomisation and the accompanying alienation, this little tale of football tribalism and personal obsession, is perhaps more apposite than ever. Families, local communities and entire national, class and religious affiliations are crumbling in front of our very eyes. So it is little surprising that fanatical sporting allegiance should step forward to fill the void. Hornby’s Fever Pitch is not only funny and poignant but sociologically spot on.

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Suffragette: Confronting The Patriarchal State

Strange how in every movement for social progress, be it worker’s rights, childrens rights, gay rights, womens rights or the rights of national self-determination, the British State is always on the side of reaction. I’ve tried to think of an exception but I just can’t think of one. Whatever the century, whatever the issue, the image of baton wielding thugs in uniform comes to the fore. And so it was for the Suffragettes who had the temerity to demand something so subversive as the right to vote. And the film, Suffragette, although not a particularly great piece of cinema, is definitely worth seeing, if for no other reason than to be reminded of the essentially reactionary nature of the British State and the special bodies of armed me that are there to protect it.

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London Fields by Martin Amis

This is a black hole of a novel. Dark matter for sure. Even the humour, of which there is aplenty, is of the dark variety. All the basest human instincts are on show here; lies, deceit, betrayal, violence, and ultimately murder. Yet every now and then some light shines through and when it does the whole bleak world that Amis so brilliantly creates comes to vibrant life. He’s a clever fellow is our Mr Amis. Damn clever. Too clever in many ways, or at least too truthful. Who wants to see the human condition revealed in such harsh tones? Even we Marxists have our limits. But Amis just doesn’t care. He lays it all out without the slightest consideration for human sensibilities.

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Jeremy Corbyn The Criminal

Blair and Bush led the West to an illegal war against Iraq
And a quarter of a million Iraqis directly perished in the inferno.
Yet Jeremy Corbyn is deemed to be the criminal
And their attacks on him continue, both direct and subliminal.

Anglo Saxon banks both sides of the pond recklessly speculated with our money
And tens of millions subsequently lost their homes and livelihoods.
Yet Jeremy Corbyn is deemed to be the criminal
And his policies are declared dangerous and abominable.

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A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin

I have just revisited the magnificent TV version and then thought I ought to read the book just in case there were some nuances that the TV series had left out. As it turned out the TV adaption, for my money, does a far superior job in painting the dark picture of a British/US right wing coup than the original text. But both book and TV series are compulsory tools in exploring just how the ruling establishment, on both sides of the Atlantic, seamlessly come together to rid themselves of any threatening left wing upstarts. Written in the wake of both the CIA orchestrated Chilean and Australian coups, A Very British Coup simply imagines the same thing happening in Britain should the British electorate have the audacity to elect anything like a radical social democratic government.

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Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Timing is everything. Released at a different moment and perhaps Watchman might not have created such a ripple. But coming in the wake of the current spate of police violence against America’s Black communities and the subsequent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and suddenly Watchman is the book of the moment. As a piece of literature the best that can be said is that it is patchy. At its high points it invokes all the masterly beauty of To Kill A Mocking Bird, but towards the latter pages it becomes turgid and lecturing.

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Postcapitalism by Paul Mason

When Mr Mason is not busy demonstrating to his readers just how clever he is, he provides us with a highly readable, highly thought-provoking discussion on post-capitalist scenarios. In actual fact Mr Mason is a very clever chap but he could do with adding a touch of humility whilst laying out his theories. Mason just can’t wait to tell us where Marx and Engels and Lenin got it right and where they got it wrong. As an accomplished journalist well-grounded in economics, he has every right to make such criticisms, but such criticisms might profitably be couched in more temperate language.

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Orange is the New Black, Netflix, Series 1-3

It was billed as the new ‘Wire’ but I think it only lived up to that exalted rating in a most patchy and superficial sort of way. The Wire was dark and cutting edge throughout. It tore contemporary America to pieces. It touched on a deep alienation within American society that hitherto had seemed beyond the possibilities of any TV script. It held its audiences spellbound for five series and launched a few acting careers in the process. It became a marker for all future and past TV and had credibility in the claim that it was the greatest TV series of all time. ‘Orange Is The New Black’, despite a number of poignant moments, is most definitely not in that rarefied atmosphere. Too light-hearted, too glib and in places just too crass.

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