CATEGORY: Literary POLEMICS

Dude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore

Michael Moore, bet noir of right wing, Christian fundamentalist, quasi fascist, nutcase America, has a new book coming out. It’s called, ‘Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life’ and make no mistake, Michael Moore has had more than his fair share of troubles over the years. You don’t take on the National Rifle Association, the US Health Insurance Industry, the entire Bush Administration and the associated US military-industrial complex, Fox News and their religious fundamentalist lunatics constituency, to name but a few, without making a few enemies. It is a fair bet to suggest that Michael Moore has received more death threats than Fidel Castro. He must be doing something right.

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Simon Jenkins; Bourgeois Historian

Simon Jenkins has entered the debate about exactly what should be taught in the teaching of history and his contribution is a contradictory one. On the one hand he argues, correctly in my view, against the hotchpotch approach to history teaching, whereby no discernible connection is made between each taught unit, so in the end students have no understanding as to how it all fits together and what actually is the driving motor of history. A dollop of Roman history followed by some marauding Vikings and some nasty Normans and lo and behold its time for the Tudors, who apparently had lots of wives. If that eclectic mish-mash hasn’t got our students sufficiently switched off, a predictable dose of twentieth century wars with jack-booted Nazis stomping around will soon be coming their way, but of course, any possible connections between all this historical blood and thunder is never made.

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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

‘Freedom’, Jonathan Franzens big follow up novel, arriving some ten years after his widely acclaimed ‘Corrections, is trumpeted as a great American novel for our time, and worthy of a Tolstoy. This may be pushing things a bit far, but like Corrections, there is plenty to enthuse about this latest offering. Set against the backdrop of some very contemporary American preoccupations, Franzen delivers a web of moral dilemmas that do serve to challenge some of our more routine assumptions about ourselves. The characters and plot may be a little contrived in places, and our own Zadie Smith seems rather superior in this department, but that doesn’t overly detract from us enjoying all those moral conundrums that Franzen conjures up, conundrums that we all create for ourselves in our daily neurotic lives. Read More…

Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton

Eagleton does his magnificent little text a small disfavour by choosing a rather didactic sounding title. Something a little more open-ended might have been more appropriate, something along the lines of, why we should study Marx or Marx’s critical relevance for today. Maybe the author felt his title would catch the reader’s attention, which it does, but it also plays into the tradition of turning Marx, and the school of thought that followed, into something akin to a religion, the very opposite of what Marx would have wished for. In fact, so concerned was Marx that many of his adherents were treating his ideas dogmatically that he once reputed to have declared, whatever I am, I know I am not a marxist. Read More…

The problem of modern globalised corporations: Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian

I’d not heard of Felicity Lawrence prior to catching her resoundingly sharp article in The Guardian last month. (A mere state can’t restrain a corporation like Murdoch’s). It transpires that she has already written two excellent books outlining the power and corruption of the international food corporations. (Not on the Label and Eat Your Heart Out) Although I have recently blogged on this topic, (see End of Over Eating by David Kessler) I am now tempted to start reading Lawrence’s work, based on her clear headed summation of the unregulated, unelected power of the transnational corporations. Here is a hard hitting example of Lawrence’s well constructed thesis a thesis that is becoming increasingly difficult to refute, even for the most ardent neo-liberal free-marketeers, as each new day passes. Read More…

Everything You Know is Pong: How Mighty Table Tennis Shapes Our World.

I don’t think the book quite lives up to its grandiose title, but aspiring as it does, to be part of the genre of New York satire, I don’t suppose it ever intended to. It does however provide some useful ammunition to my half-baked thesis that it is ping pong and not football that has the real claim to be the peoples sport. By this I mean not simply that some 300 million citizens in the Peoples Republic of China are said to be registered players, a statistic I suspect is somewhat inflated. What I’be been hinting at is that in both East and West, North and South, while football has ingratiated itself, courtesy of News Corporation and other global media conglomerates, into the popular imagination, for countless millions, it is the humble game of ping, far more than football in all its varieties, that is likely to play an actual part in peoples weekly sporting and leisure routines.

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Manchester United: The Biography by Jim White

This brilliantly crafted history of Manchester United contains, in reality, three stories running parallel to each other. The first and obvious story is that of the football club from its humble working class origins through to the billion pound corporate global monolith that it has become today. Even as a life long Chelsea fan, I found this history of the Red Devils compelling reading. A second less obvious, but equally compelling story, emerges concerning how football in Britain has changed its complexion over the decades from its amateur, local community status to its current status as a global corporate brand and play thing for the obscenely rich. Manchester United is now just one of half a dozen such clubs in Britain whose economic turnover is every bit as powerful as that of a medium sized multinational company. Read More…

Fire In Babylon: Film Review

If you want to get a sense of what lies behind the continuing successes of today’s Jamaican sprinters, this documentary is as good a place to start as anywhere. Documentaries on sport may be informative but are invariably dull and a little predictable. Fire in Babylon is anything but dull. In fact, it is wholly uplifting, and must be a candidate for one of the best sporting documentaries ever made. The history of the all-conquering West Indian cricket team of the 70’s and 80’s, set to a mesmerising reggae soundtrack, brings back to life the history of one of the greatest sporting teams in the history of team sport.

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Alex Higgins: My Story – From the Eye of the Hurricane

I Caught the BBC’s biography of Alex Higgins the other week and found it quite hypnotic. Here was a great, great sporting talent, just like his contemporary, George Best, hell bent on personal destruction; of career, of relationships and of his prodigious talent. Yet I found myself glued to the screen, knowing that all was lost yet unable to walk away. Something akin to a Shakespearean tragic character whose fatal flaw all can see, except of course, the leading protagonist himself. You loved him, you loathed him, you despaired of him, yet when he re-emerged at the final scene, withered and broken from cancer, from booze and from gambling, you could not but help fall in love with him all over again.

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Bob Dylan at 70

Aficionados of Bob Dylan like to play a little mind game, either with themselves or other Dylan obsessives, concerning the ten greatest Bob Dylan songs of all time. As someone who proudly falls into this category of fanatical Dylanites, I can tell you it’s no easy game. If you love the Zimmerman then the permutations are endless. The pre-eminent wordsmith has a song for every occasion and every conceivable mood. As our moods change, so does our all time greatest top ten. There are variations to this game that can create for the contestant an even greater challenge place the top ten greatest Dylan hits in ascending order with the greatest of the greatest sitting majestically on the top, like a king on his throne, as Dylan might put it. Read More…

Terror Police Warned Not To Abuse Their Powers During The 2012 Games

Sometimes, quite often in fact, I get the feeling while blogging away, that I have become dangerously paranoid. Most people on the left get this feeling from time to time. We are forever warning of the creeping fascism all around us. Then suddenly, you get the unnerving thought that its all in the mind. There is no incipient police state in Britain, just the perpetual dialectic between personal liberties and legitimate state security. The modern neo-fascist state is nothing but a delusional state; the only fascist jack boots are in the mind. Then a little something happens and suddenly it all comes flooding back.

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Civilisation, The West and the Rest, a Review by Alex Von Tunzelmann

Niall Ferguson is a dangerous man. Victor Vijay is right to lambaste him for being an apologist for imperialism. Alex Von Tunzelmann is no less damning. Why is Ferguson so dangerous? After all there is no shortage of history texts whitewashing the brutalities of the British Empire. No, Ferguson is dangerous because he has the ear of the current Tory government and is advising the government, officially or otherwise, on the history curriculum in schools.

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Time For Outrage by Stephane Hessel

Hessel’s hugely popular, multi- million selling pamphlet, Time For Outrage has found resonance in today’s fraught times due to his own combative past as resistance fighter against the Nazi regime; as a survivor of Nazi torture and their bestial concentration camps; as one of the original authors of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and as a UN diplomat seeking to put substance into those fine sounding words of that Declaration. Hessel must be a huge embarrassment to today’s authorities because while they, the Bush’s, the Blair’s, The Sarkozy’s and the Cameron’s, pretend to stand for the democratic ideals that helped defeat fascist aggression, Hessel indicts them precisely for having abandoned those very ideals. Read More…

Civilisation: The West and the Rest, Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane, London

There is one very important point to which I am in accord with Niall Ferguson, and that is the need for a clear and consistent narrative in the teaching and understanding of history. The current vogue of offering school kids an eclectic patchwork of bite size mouthfuls of history is simply of no value. A few weeks of the Romans followed by a few more weeks of 1066 and the Norman Invasion, closely followed by a month of Tudor history and then, inexplicably, a lurch into the rise of the Nazis, with perhaps a unit of American civil rights thrown in, makes absolutely no sense at all. No, the human story, the most intriguing of all stories, needs to be presented in a coherent, chronological and intelligible manner. On this I agree with Ferguson but then, on much else, we must part company. Read More…

No Logo: (10th Anniversary Edition) by Naomi Klein

I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to revisit Naomi Klein’s updated edition of the rightly celebrated, No Logo, to see what take she has on the past decade, particularly in light of the Great Recession that we, in the West are still limping through. I was not disappointed. Nothing in her groundbreaking exposure of the dehumanising effects of global corporations and their obsessively fiendish attention to global branding has been rendered obsolete over the past ten years. Rather, this calculating corporate strategy has become more intense, more refined, more poisonous than ever. What is new however, is the manner in which the US government, taking its lead from corporate America, has itself outsourced so much of its core activity, and to cover its tracks, has produced perhaps the most ubiquitous brand on the planet, brand Obama. Read More…

Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World by Nicholas Shaxon

This one gets to the very heart of the matter. As they used to say in The Wire, follow the money, and that is exactly what Shaxon has done, painstakingly and relentlessly. Even, I might add, to the possible detriment to his own and his family’s safety. The fact that large corporations and criminally wealthy individuals have been moving their wealth off-shore to avoid the tax man, and in some cases, the serious fraud squad, is nothing new. They’ve been at it for years. What is new in Shaxton’s book is the exposure of the sheer magnitude of, not only the sums involved, but the Byzantine methods employed to cover their criminal tracks. Read More…

Sir Alan Sugar, The Biography by Charlie Burden

Without doubt, quite the most awful book I’ve read for many a year; a totally sycophantic tribute to a man who comes across as a total narcissist. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sugar commissioned Burden to write the thing himself. No self respecting biographer could come up with such a shallow account, so totally devoid of critical comment and reflection unless they had had their pockets stuffed with loot. There is no doubting Sugars entrepreneurial bent, but never forget the old adage; behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Read More…

Full Time – The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino by Paul Kimmage

While perusing the selection of sports books in my local charity shop I was faced with the daunting choice of biographies/autobiographies concerning Dennis Wise, Ruud Gullit, Gianfranco Zola and Tony Cascarino. What didn’t strike me then but is glaringly obvious now is that all four have had a substantial Chelsea link, some illustrious others not quite so. I don’t know what drew me to the Cascarino book over and above the others, all of whom I would imagine have something worthy of reporting from their footballing lives. Perhaps it was the promotional snippets that were provided front and rear of the main text that swung it.

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The Arms Trade, New Internationalist

Christmas time and the usual stampede of mindless consumerism, the majority of stuff we neither need nor want. Spurred on by an advertising industry that starts to badger and bully the senses as early as October, the relentless onslaught builds up into a crazed frenzy by mid and late December. The Government plays it part, all but suggesting that it is our patriotic duty to spend, spend, spend in order to pump prime our sick and wasting economy. The joke is, in order to rescue the dying patient we will likely plunge ourselves even further into personal debt. Help, get me out of here! Read More…

Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections

There are three human institutions that I have long argued are holding back human development; religion, the nation and the family. On the first two it is relatively easy to make a fairly persuasive case and gain a sympathetic hearing, but when it comes to ‘the family’ far fewer people are prepared to entertain its demise. Yes, there are numerous psycho-therapeutic texts outlining the typical neuroses of the family and how best to come to grips with the life long guilt, the buried resentments, the sibling rivalries and the silent Freudian tensions, but very few conclude that the institution of family is fundamentally and irreparably flawed. Psychologists, sociologists and novelists tell us how to comprehend and eventually survive the family, but rarely suggest a model beyond. Read More…

The Three Trillion Dollar War by Joseph Stiglitz

Ever wondered where all the money goes? Ever wondered why even in the richest countries in the world, Americans and the Brits struggle to get their schools funded, their health care sorted and their leisure facilities up-dated? It’s been the same old story over the decades and next week we are told things in the UK are going to get a whole lot worse. Ok, we know that a few billion are regularly siphoned off in city bonuses and quite a few more billion are sloshing around in the off shore bank accounts of a handful of obscenely rich entrepreneurs, industry barons, currency speculators and general city spivs. We will never forget that great little one-liner; behind every great fortune lies a great crime.  Read More…