Category: politics


snpIn a conversation with Indian author Arundhatl Roy at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, it was refreshing to hear Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon presenting herself as a proud bookworm and promoting the general benefits of reading.

She said: “I have a theory that if more political leaders read more literature, the world wouldn’t be in quite the state it’s in right now”. I couldn’t agree more.

Trump is obviously the most extreme example of the catastrophic effects of un-learning. It is depressing to observe how his supporters continue to lap up his incoherent torrent of hate speech and pig ignorance rather than seeing it for what it is: a blatant abuse and misuse of power. Continue reading

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THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead (Fleet books, 2019)

Screen shot 2019-08-12 at 20.39.32“Be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer; and one day we will win our freedom” . The defiant words of Martin Luther King speak to Elwood Curtis.

An album of speeches by the great man at Zion Hill was the only album he possessed; a Christmas gift from his Grandmother in 1962. MLK put ideas in the young coloured boy’s head and fired the determination to study and, if need be, to suffer to make something of himself. A natural curiosity and a thirst for knowledge meant Elwood excelled at school and great things seem to lie ahead. The chilling prologue to this novel gives fair warning that a harsher destiny lies ahead.

After being convicted for the ‘crime’ of being an unwitting passenger in a stolen car he is sent to the Nickel Academy for juvenile offenders.This is a work of fiction but the events of state sponsored child abuse he experiences and witnesses there are inspired by the true story of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. Continue reading

THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton, 2018)

This great society is going to smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.

W.H. Auden – Bucolics Part II – Woods (1953)

51-zvpnlixl._sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_The pitch for this remarkable novel, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction,  is that it follows the converging stories of nine people who are transformed by the emergence of tree consciousness.

In the first section called ‘Roots’ there are separate back stories, more like fables, which introduce the reader to these diverse characters. The following three sections – Trunk, Crown & Seeds – show how these lives interconnect.

Significantly, none of them start out as political activists but each, for different reasons, feel moved to act out of a sense of moral outrage over the way our eco-systems have been, and are still being, destroyed for the sake of economic gain.

The book has 9 humans and over 300 named trees; the latter are in many ways the real protagonists. Powers wants us to appreciate the interdependence between humanity and the inanimate world. In an interview at Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris, he poses the question: “What if the living world sets patterns that we have to accommodate?” Continue reading

m & m

Morrissey and Marr – pre severed alliance

In a recent interview with Krishman Guru-Murthy, Johnny Marr publicly distances himself from Morrissey’s more outspoken statements that have been widely interpreted as endorsements of racism and far right bigotry.

Wisely in my view, Marr has resisted the temptation to go any further by joining in the rising tide of venom towards his ex-Smiths partner.

To understand what he’s opting out of, you only have to read the scurrilous one star review of Morrissey’s latest covers album ‘California Sun’ in The Guardian. This makes it plain that there are now many who are no longer able the separate the man from the music.

The mood of zero tolerance was also evident when a lone complaint by a commuter in Liverpool led to posters for ‘California Sun’ being removed from the entire rail network.

I would be the first to concede that Morrissey has brought much of this unprecedented backlash upon himself. Publicly lending his support to ‘For Britain’ was for many the last straw. Prior to this, his comments against Halal meat and China’s abysmal record on animal rights could at least be defended on the grounds that they reflected his radical veganism. Now he seems to have bitten off more than he can chew.

Morrissey has a history of exaggerating for effect and knows that moderation doesn’t generate the required level of publicity. This is a man who likens animal slaughter to murder and once sang about a dream of Margaret Thatcher being guillotined.

Like all narcissistic populists, Morrissey works on the basis that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But these days, different rule books seem to apply to the worlds of politics and entertainment. The likes of Trump, Farage and Johnson revel in the controversies they provoke and gain support from a public who distrust those who take the moral high ground. Continue reading

THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE by Thomas L.Friedman (Picador, 2016)

9781250141224 The title of one of the chapters in this hefty tome is called ‘Just Too Damned Fast’ which sums up how most people feel about the rapidity of change in the modern age.

The title of the book as a whole refers to a comment the author made to those who turned up late for an appointment.  Instead of being frustrated over the lack of puntuality,  he uses the time to think, reflect and take stock of things.

Thomas L. Friedman is a seasoned, Pulitizer-prize winning New York Times columnist who promises that this book will help us to thrive in the face the challenges that lie ahead.  He calls it an  ‘optimist’s guide’ but parts of it only confirmed my pessimism.

Whatever its flaws, he certainly can’t be accused of tackling this mighty topic in a superficial manner. Those with attention deficit disorder will balk at the idea of wading through 600 pages that make up the 2.0 version of the book which, for good measure, comes with a new afterword written after Trump’s election. Continue reading

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