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Pride – the film of the 1980s Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign opens this month August 31, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 1984/85 Miners Strike (UK), Culture, Economy, LGBT Rights, The Left.
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This looks fantastic. A film on how the Miners were supported by the LGSM campaign. The way both groups interacted and, in a sense, further radicalised is educative, not least in later strong support from Miners groups against Section 28 but also in a sense of shared defiance against the right. As can be seen in this piece in the Observer, this is an history that is important because it proves how supposedly different struggles can be linked in a way that generates a mutual solidarity. The film opens in the UK later in the month.

The Sandbaggers August 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
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Am watching the Sandbaggers, a Yorkshire Television espionage series from the late 1970s about the SIS. I have no memory of it from the time but I’m finding it oddly fascinating, not least because of extended exterior shots of London, but also because of the odd mixture of banality and violence that characterises its take on spying.

So there’s a lot of talk and office life, but also cynicism, betrayal and so on. Wait, that is office life! It’s reminiscent of Len Deighton in a way. Fair to say that its approach is that they’re pretty much all, including the protagonists, bastards, every last one of them.

It’s also, perhaps unknowingly, a real insight into social attitudes at the time. It’s not just the everyday and pervasive sexism, but the lack (initially) of lead women characters, though that does change. In a way it suggests that the attitudes the 1960s were meant to have pushed aside, at least in part, continued to exist in many many areas (not that that’s a surprise, but one would have thought there might be some slight improvement).

II’m also watching the near peerless Sapphire and Steel at much the same time (and for a take on that consider this from An Sionnach Fionn), it’s an interesting compare and contrast.

Here’s an overview from the Guardian from last year, which perhaps slightly exaggerates the violence. Interesting too to read the names of other series from the same era or slightly later – Cold Warrior, The Ratcatchers and Spyship. Got to be honest, never heard of any of them.

Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America – 1969 to 1980. August 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, US Politics.
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Fascinating podcast now available of Alistair Cooke of the BBC’s ‘Letter from America’. It’s remarkable to listen to Cooke explaining the US political system and the events of the time. One wonders if people are better informed today – I suspect they might be a little bit.

They’ve been pulled together from the tapes of two listeners, which is remarkable really. Pretty good quality too, not too much cleaning up in evidence in respect of the sound.

The one’s from 1980 are of particular interest with an insight into domestic and international events during that period, from the Presidential nomination process of the year – and how Ted Kennedy did in the primary – or rather did not, to the invasion of Afghanistan. Cooke was pretty cynical, in a gentle sort of a way. Well worth a listen.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Helen Love – the Radio Hits August 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Long live the UK music scene Long live the UK music scene Long live the UK music scene
Each night I get down on my knees And say, hey God, I can’t believe We’re losing the UK music scene
Hey, all you kids, there’s a fab new sound So put your Nintendos and PlayStations down ‘Cos Chris Evans and Shed Seven will save the UK music scene
Hey, Johnny Cigarettes and Steven Wells Don’t get upset, your paper will still sell
Chris Evans and Shed Seven will save the UK music scene.

Cynical, humorous, clever… yep, that’ll be Helen Love, the almost all woman group from Wales (founder members being Helen, Sheena, Roxy and Mark), formed in the early 1990s, who seamlessly melded Ramones inflected punk and bubblegum pop into indie pop. And it is pop, speeding by in two and three minute increments, with great hook laden arrangements.

Conveniently, their first three albums were essentially compilations of EPs and so on, the Radio Hits Compilations. The title, is, as is the way with such things, a humorous reflection on the small fact that many of these never came near being radio hits, no, not one, though they should have in an ideal world. But that hasn’t stopped them having a long and fruitful and continuing career. Favourites of John Peel, they also played with Joey Ramone – subject of their early song (Sheena’s in Love With) Joey Ramone. He also sang on one of their records and Helen Love sang backing vocals on one track on his solo album.

Radio 1 pulls together their early EPs and singles. Check out Rollercoasting which is a love letter to music. Radio Hits 2 and 3 are no less brilliant, the latter including “Beat Him Up” which is feminist, ironic, deeply serious and utterly to the point about violence against women perpetrated by men. When they sing ‘Girl Power’ as a refrain in the opening bars of “Formula One Racing Girls” … it’s knowing and cynical, but it’s also somehow genuine. And if the instrumentation (and composition) is nowhere near as crude as some reviewers make out, well, that’s all for the good because however much they love the Ramones they aren’t the Ramones, but something different again – those tinny keyboards and choppy guitars notwithstanding.

Did they improve across the albums? Well, the production certainly toughened up, and so did the guitars, and there was an increasing dance/electronic tinge to keyboards (Jump Up and Down, Atomic Bea Boy, Big Pink Candyfloss Haircut and so on), but in essence it wasn’t so much an improvement – or that much of a real change – as a redefinition (and some, like myself, will find the dance remixes entertaining).

You might think that if you have Radio Hits, 1, 2 and 3 you have as much Helen Love as you might ever need. This though would be a mistake for they have released subsequent albums right up to the present day, all of which are well worth a listen. Indeed, I’m always struck by how many tunes they have managed to wrest from what seems like an incredibly constrained format. There’s the intro to Girl About Town, or listen to “Greatest Fan” and there’s a chunk of the Go! Club’s joyous melancholy, the tinny keyboards, the summery vocals, the muted guitars, the… well, it’s all there.

Cool.

Beat Him Up

Punk Boy (with Joey Ramone – natch!)

Formula One Racing Girls

Girl About Town

Diet Coke Girl

Rockaway Beach For Me, Heartbreak Hotel For You

Jump and Down

Shifty Disco Girl

We Love You

Education and elitism… August 29, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Culture, Economy, The Left.
9 comments

Useful research in the UK (headed up by Alan Milburn no less) from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which notes some fairly astounding facts about how embedded elitism is in that state:

Looking at the background of more than 4,000 people filling jobs at the top of government, the civil service, the judiciary, the media, business and the creative industries, the commission investigated where they went to school, on the grounds that going to a private school is reasonably indicative of a wealthy background.

It sure is:

Only 7% of members of the public attended a private school. But 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior officers in the armed forces, 55% of permanent secretaries in Whitehall, 53% of senior diplomats, 50% of members of the House of Lords and 45% of public body chairs did so.

But it’s not just those areas that are overwhelmingly dominated by a certain social group (or class, let’s call them a class). For…

So too did 44% of people on the Sunday Times Rich List, 43% of newspaper columnists, 36% of cabinet ministers, 33% of MPs, 26% of BBC executives and 22% of shadow cabinet ministers.
It gets worse:

Oxbridge graduates also have a stranglehold on top jobs. They comprise less than 1% of the public as a whole, but 75% of senior judges, 59% of cabinet ministers, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 44% of public body chairs, 38% of members of the House of Lords, 33% of BBC executives, 33% of shadow cabinet ministers, 24% of MPs and 12% of those on the Sunday Times Rich List.
The report says the judiciary is the most privileged professional group. About 14% of judges attended one of just five independent schools (Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s Boys).

And what about this?

And senior armed forces officers are the second most exclusive group, the report says. Some 62% of them went to a private school, and only 7% attended a comprehensive.

The report makes the point that this was ‘so embedded in Britain that it could be called ‘social engineering’’. Could be? Only could be?

And before people become complacent on this side of the water it’s important to understand that these are the very outcomes that so many seek through private education, access (or continued access) to high status and high salaried positions as well as the broader support structures that they provide.

Lets also note that this is going to get worse. In a society where a former Taoiseach can lightly talk of removing social supports and provision such as pensions and welfare it is clear that the opportunities to those without recourse to financial supports are going to be much lesser. That’s most of us.

Owen Jones makes an excellent point here:

The flaw with the report is an implicit assumption that inequality is not the problem, but rather that our current inequality is not a fair distribution of talents. “If only a few bright sparks from humble backgrounds could be scraped into the higher echelons,” seems to be the plea.

As ever it requires a genuinely left wing approach to alter this situation. Though where that comes from…

By the way, I’m a little conflicted about the Scottish referendum, not because I’m against independence – because I’m not against it – so much as regards the effects on those left behind by a Scottish exit. But… when one sees, as here, even if we had a good idea it was bad, just how rotten the set-up is in Britain. Well, after so much time and effort and with clearly so little reward in terms of ameliorating this, perhaps it is indeed time for Scotland to go it alone (not that it too doesn’t have its own embedded internal elite. But… still).

An interview with Paul Cleary from issue 2 of the Shamrock Rovers fanzine “And If I Should Falter” August 29, 2014

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Culture.
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An interesting interview with Rovers fan Paul Cleary from issue 2 of the wonderful Shamrock Rovers fanzine “And If I Should Falter”.
The Fanzine is excellent with some very good articles and it is available to buy here
It should also be available in Offside, formerly Casa Rebelde, in Temple Bar.

cleary1

(more…)

Latest edition of An Phoblacht out on Friday August 28, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left, Uncategorized.
9 comments

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• David Cameron and unionist parties reinforcing political logjams, Gerry Adams warns – ‘The political process is in trouble’
• Dawn Purvis, former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, writes in ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’
• Lining out for Gaza – Ireland rugby international Trevor Hogan talks to An Phoblacht about standing up for Palestine
• After the Elections – What Now? Jack O’Connor (SIPTU General President) and Jimmy Kelly (Regional Secretary, Unite the Union)
• Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds RIP – One of the architects of the Peace Process
• Caithfear deireadh a chur leis an gCóireáil Dhíreach
• Unionists surrender to the Tory war on the welfare state – Francie Molloy MP
• Irish teen on hunger strike in Egyptian prison
• Secret files on British Army’s notorious Ulster Defence Regiment revealed in new book
• Géarchéim Tithíocht ag Dul in Olcas sa gCaoi go bhfuil Praghsanna ag Dul i Méad
• Martin Ferris TD asks: ‘Who is standing up for farmers?’
• National Women’s Council of Ireland on ‘Women in politics: Barriers to women block progress’
• The myth of media balance
• Ireland and World War 1: Escalation, opposition and commemoration
• Mitchel McLaughlin – World War 1, the Easter Rising and ‘The Right to Remember’
• Russian sanctions herald push to new world order

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Music from ‘Grease’ August 23, 2014

Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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A few weekends ago there was an Outdoor Cinema put on by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in Marlay Park. I was given a choice …….. “Dirty Dancing” on the Saturday night or “Grease” on the Sunday night. I opted for “Grease”.
I came home from The Limerick Kilkenny match in Croke Park, dried out a bit and off the family plus German exchange student went. The ground was sodden in places but armed with rain gear a groundsheet , an umbrella and some shopping bags , a flask and picnic we found a spot. I was surprised at the amount of equipment some people had brought along, fold up chairs, tents, tents open on one side, big thick plastic sheets to make bivouacs and lots more besides. The best one I saw was a crowd who on arrival each got into a big black bin bag, sat on the ground and then covered themselves in a tarpaulin.
I’d seen ‘Grease’ performed as a school musical before but as the movie came on I realised that I’d never seen the movie before. I would have been too young at the time and my older sister would have seen it in the Cinema or in the school hall where they showed year old films on Friday afternoons. I saw some great films in the school hall over the years …. and “Abba The Movie” !!
The music in ‘Grease’ was good and Travolta could really move. “Summer NIghts” and “You’re the one that I want” (which as 8 and 9 year olds myself and my brother though went ‘you’re the wibbleawong’ ) which was number 1 in the charts for an eternity. It was also one of the first videos on Top of The Pops.
I hadn’t realised either that Stockard Channing was in the movie.

Wage disparities… August 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Culture, Economy, Irish Politics.
5 comments

The link to the Guardian below is no longer live, here’s more on the general topic.

The piece in the Guardian this week on high pay is very disturbing. Note that it makes the point that the bosses of the 100 biggest listed companies in the UK are making not, five, not ten, not twenty, not thirty, not forty, not fifty, not sixty, not seventy, not ninety times more than their workers, but on average 143 times as much. And the figures reveal not just a disparity in the UK but also globally that should be deeply thought-provoking – for example ‘The pay gap is widest at Rangold Resources, where boss Mark Bristow was paid £4.4m last year, nearly 1,500 times that of his average employee, many of whom work in the company’s African mines’.

Even within the UK the figures are stunning in terms of pointing to the disparities…

WPP founder, Sir Martin Sorrell, received nearly £30m last year, 780 times the £38,000 earned by his average worker. At Next, Lord Wolfson received £4.6m, while his staff, most of whom work on the shop floor, typically took home £10,000 – about 459 times less than their boss. The disparity at Next would have been greater had Wolfson not chosen to waive a £3.8m bonus and share the sum among the company’s 20,000 staff.

780 times? 459 times? This is quite insane. And to what purpose? Here is the emergence not of the super rich, but the hyper rich. As always the dangers of untrammelled wealth and power and their distorting effect upon polities are all too evident (and in a sense that Bruton speech in NYC last year pointed that up – how glibly dismissive about the lives of others those there were, both explicitly and implicitly). Though even in the context of reformism something can be done.

…campaigners are demanding more radical measures to tackle the widening gap between the UK’s select group of well rewarded executives and its 30 million-strong labour force.
Wilson called for worker representation on company boards and remuneration committees, a legally binding target for a reduction in inequality, and the introduction of a maximum pay ratio. At the retailer John Lewis, the ratio is capped at 75:1. At TSB bank, it is 65:1.

Even those ratio’s are madness. 75 times the average? 65 times? And worth reading the article for the evasive response from the British government. Though all that said, at least it appears to be an issue in Britain. What about here?

Redmond redux August 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 1913, Culture, Irish History, The Left.
24 comments

So much to think about in relation to this issue. According to the Phoenix there are those within Fine Gael itself who are concerned and not best pleased by the former Taoiseach’s solo run on the issue of a commemoration for Redmond. And why would they because they provide a most unwelcome mood music to this decade of remembrance. And inconvenient too given the government’s attempts to chart a course between the various constituencies it seems to feel it must satisfy.

This weekend we saw the unusual sight of Ronan Fanning taking John Bruton to task over the issue in the pages of the Irish Times, and last week we saw Bruton attempting to explain away why Redmond’s actions post-the Larne gun-running of April 1914 – given that Dr Conor Mulvagh described Redmond as “a gun-runner, a back-room dealer and the leader of a private army” on foot of those actions – were explicable. Explicable because they were, according to Bruton set “against the background of certain activities by our brethren north of what is now the Border”. Very good, but implicit to his argument(s) on this issue is that the same events impacting on those who would later provide the core of the 1916 Rising gave rise to actions that were inexplicable. But if such a staunch parliamentarian as Redmond could be swayed to support political militarisation, which is in effect were what he oversaw to a greater or lesser degree, what would those who weren’t such staunch parliamentarians be swayed to do?

The answer to that is the course of Irish history across that decade or two. Still, one has to wonder whether that question was asked at the summer school these exchanges took place at.

It is all of a piece with the response to the stamp commemorating Redmond here, which – inconveniently for some, shows Redmond as a recruiter for the British Army. I’m genuinely amazed at how Bruton sought to minimise the import of that stamp, and how Stephen Collins could mistake it for a parody put about by Redmond’s political opponents. It was, of course, no such thing. But perhaps I shouldn’t be in light of the comments on the gun-running for this is – surely – a perfect example of that dynamic in politics where everything those one supports can be explained away while everything those one opposes is cast in the worst possible light, and in addition when problematic evidence appears it is simply ignored.

Meanwhile, and on the same topic, we have this fascinating further contribution from Stephen Collins which attempts to provide an explanation of sorts for John Bruton’s thoughts on Redmond, and simultaneously provide another for his comments on social welfare and pensions from a dinner in 2013.

Collins posits this in relation to the first:

Bruton’s core point is that if commemorations are about drawing relevant lessons from the work of past generations, then the remarkable exercise of parliamentary leverage that achieved home rule may have greater relevance to today’s generation of democrats than does the blood sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly

That doesn’t, it has to be said, convince me. At best Redmond was a problematic democrat – one who was deeply opposed to women’s suffrage, and along with many Home Rulers appears to have attempted to ignore the events of 1913. Add to that the small but entirely salient fact that he did not seek Irish independence. There’s simply no getting around the fact that his vision was of an Ireland comfortably positioned within the British Empire. That Bruton and Collins appear unable to engage with this point is telling, is it not? It is as if the goal of the movements, and they were plural, and perhaps multiple, at that time, is completely ignored in regard of the process they supposedly bypassed. The process is democracy? Again, given the nature of the British democracy at that point that raises all manner of contradictions and problems.

If Redmond were committed to independence, if all that he had done was predicated on that, well, that might be a different matter. But he simply did not share the vision of an independent Irish Republic.

Yet this is ignored and we are offered counterfactuals where Irish independence was achieved on foot of Home Rule at some point, who knows when? Even that is arguable. There is a counter argument that the fact of even partial Irish independence in the 1920s had a significant effect on how matters developed subsequently in the Empire. Perhaps Ireland might have been locked in to Britain through Home Rule for many decades, too close to the centre to break free, but always seeking to. Can I make a case for a low level war in a Home Rule state by advanced nationalists who recognise the limits of that state, or worse again the potential for cross border strife – for Bruton himself admits that there would be partition, and perhaps from either side. I sure can. Imagine a sort of 1969 to 1994 played out across the 20s and 30s? Or ethnic cleansing from the North? Or…

That’s the thing with counterfactuals, it’s not difficult to envisage better or worse outcomes than reality. Now it’s one thing to muse on them here on this site, but it’s another entirely to be attempting to direct public policy on foot of them at state level.

And as ever that past is filtered through another segment of the past, that of the late 1960s and onwards…

That is certainly a point worth considering, particularly as dissident republicans plot violence and mayhem in the name of the 32-county republic envisaged by the 1916 leaders, despite the overwhelming endorsement of the Belfast Agreement and its core principle of consent by the majority of people on this island.

But this state exists as the out workings of the struggle for that 32-county republic envisaged by the 1916 leaders, not the struggle for Home Rule which now appears as an effective cul-de-sac. No less an authority than Ronan Fanning points to the fact that Home Rule, even as Redmond envisaged it, was never on offer from the British state as a realistic prospect. And it is worth noting that the GFA/BA dispensation specifically allows for a 32-county republic. That is in no way invalidated by dissident republicans. Not in the slightest.

Still, it’s the latest twist, that dinner in New York (a ‘social function’ as Collins rather delicately puts it) held by legal firm Matheson in his honour that is so revealing.

His critics got more ammunition to attack the former taoiseach with the release of a tape recording contain comments he made at a social function in New York last year. In the course of a discussion he raised the issue of how the European social model, its welfare entitlements and pensions were going to be funded into the future as the continent tried to compete with the rising power of China and other developing countries.
There was certainly something off-putting about a group of very wealthy business people being told the governments of the developed world would ultimately have to default on their commitments to their citizens. That, however, does not invalidate the nub of the argument.

And:

Asking questions about the ability of the developed world to fund its spending commitments over the coming decades is surely relevant and necessary to prod the political system into long-term planning.

Wait a second. That wasn’t a ‘discussion’ where he ‘raised the issue’ or ‘asked questions about the ability to fund…’. To determine what he did say let’s return to Gene Kerrigan’s original piece where he notes that Bruton said:

Mr Bruton predicted, “We’re still going to be well off, but other people are going to get richer, and we’re going to be not getting rich as fast.”
And that, he said, “requires a whole lot of difficult adjustments”. American social insurance schemes, “Medicare and Medicaid and social security”, he said, “are completely unaffordable. And will not be afforded. And will not be deliverable. These promises will be broken here in the US. The same is going to happen in Europe.”
He said, “it’s going to happen — those promises are going to be broken.” He emphasised: “And they have to be broken. Because they can’t be afforded.”

There is no question formulated by Bruton. Anything but. This is no raising of issues – those aren’t ‘may not be’s’ but ‘can’t be’s’. Bruton has self-evidently already determined in his own mind what will occur.

Perhaps aware of this difference between what he suggests Bruton is saying and what Bruton actually says Collins here takes a step towards suggesting that that outcome of a society with social protections stripped away is an inevitability, albeit he still couches it as a ‘question’.

Bruton’s critics have not come up with a coherent response to his basic question and instead highlighted that he is currently very well paid as chairman of the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin and draws a handsome pension as a former taoiseach. That is all true, but has nothing to do with the case he is making.

Well, perhaps in a world where one is a cheerleader for lower taxation and lower state expenditure. But that brutish, short and nasty outcome is one that many of us resile against – and Collins well knows the arguments that can be put against it. I guess I could say that it is a bit disturbing to see someone seemingly argue that the withering of even fairly low level state provision of pensions and welfare to little or nothing – nothing, actually, if one takes Bruton at his word, is regarded with such equanimity. But there you have it.

He finishes with this:

Both in office and out of it, Bruton has made a habit of speaking his mind. The latest bout of venom directed at him shows why so many Irish politicians often keep their true opinions to themselves. Playing the “cute hoor” is still the safest option in Irish public life.

Priceless.

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