Sunday, 27 November 2016

R.I.P. CUBA


FIDEL

Ah, el Commandante, you have gone.
Alien forces sought your death
Yet nature took its course
And now the vitriol pours forth
The stored-up denigration rages
Brutal Dictator, dark shadow over
Cuba’s smouldered pages.

Of course, your enemies were paragons
Of morality, good will.
It was just your un-tamed, mad ideas
They always sought to kill.
With poison and a mined cigar,
They tried to kill you from afar,
Yet you enraged them still.

Wherever fell your beacon’s light
Extinguished by the Dollar’s might
Nicaragua, El Salvador
All hopes and dreams worth fighting for
Destroyed by stealth and drowned in blood
To keep their poverty in full flood.

The hounds snapped at your revolution
Leaving you with one solution
Total control, that iron grip,
Lest Washington might sink your ship
Of education, public health
Torpedoed by the gods of wealth

As Miami dances on your corpse
Exiles strut with renewed hope
That in Havana your death will foster
The return of the Cosa Nostra
Corruption, graft and deprivation
To make Cuba like so many nations
In servitude to Profit’s Hell
Before confronted by Fidel

Sunday, 20 November 2016

TABULA RASA


TABULA RASA

The concept of “Tabula Rasa” -- the Latin term for “Blank Slate” -- proposed that a child's mind was like a blank sheet of paper, void of all reason and knowledge. An idea hugely popular at the height of Victoria’s empire, this seems to be current once again, but now we’re all children, and our ‘betters’ are the corporate rich. Knowledge, and especially reason, is not for ‘the likes of us’; the blue collar oiks, the low incomed, the labouring masses. 2016 can be seen as a milestone in social, economic and political history, as this has been the year when knowledge and reason were finally flushed down the corporate toilet.

What was it, all those decades ago, that made us think we could change the world? Was it inspiration from history? Did we look back to events such as the French and Russian revolutions and imagine something similar, albeit scaled down, might be possible? Nazis and fascists were bitterly fought and defeated. The tyrannical terror of Stalin’s USSR and his perversion of ‘socialism’ crumbled with the Berlin Wall. Did we look at America’s Civil Rights movement or the huge upsurge of indignation over the Vietnam war, and later, Obama’s hopeful slogan ‘Yes we can’ and think ‘yes; humanity can progress …’

Those of us much older in the UK fondly recalled 1945 and the founding of the Welfare State and the NHS. Such achievements were social monuments, forever, we imagined, to remain unchallenged. Ghandi took back India from its imperial masters with non-violence. Even Nelson Mandela was freed in the end, after all those incarcerated years during which we campaigned and protested. Yes, we travelled, bought wine, became familiar with better food and naively imagined that the dark clouds of past oppressive decades had been swept away by our imagined ‘blue sky’ thinking.

But darkness has always been more all-consuming and powerful than our hard-won little shafts of light. The darkness stood back and let us fool ourselves. And oh, how we’ve been fooled. Capitalism is like a big garden, and there, in the far corner beneath the bramble bushes, it has allowed us, like little children, to play, to act out our leftie-liberal-luvvie fantasies whilst it sniggered behind our backs as it quietly dug up the flowerbeds, took away our slide and paddling pool and privatised the greenhouse and the garden shed. Now they’ve burned the bramble bushes, smacked us on the legs and called us indoors, never to be let out again. We’ve been sent to our rooms, locked in, the keys thrown away. We have been very, very naughty and as the saying goes, children must be seen but not heard.

It’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions. Did Sting, singing ‘They Dance Alone’ in Santiago bring back the ‘disappeared’ murdered by Pinochet? Did Elvis Costello singing ‘Shipbuilding’ prevent the Falklands War or raise the Belgrano? Has any line of any song by Billy Bragg ever made a difference? Did any speech by any actor or celebrity with a left-leaning conscience ever make a government listen? Did the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Crass, Gang of Four or any other entertainment act produce anything but a faint glow of satisfaction among a narrow band of demonstrators? The Stop the War Coalition, CND, Rock Against Racism, the Occupy Movement … have any of these projects ever improved the world and moved it forward? What has the left/liberal/luvvie ‘progressive’ Guardian-reading Corbynista alliance produced? Very little. We’re a sideshow, something the corporate elite see as a social safety valve. Let them campaign, let them protest, blow off steam. The Establishment’s position is easy: the worse they act, the more greedy and inhuman they become, the more the plebs can shout and march; it makes the world look as if something’s happening.

Well, now something has happened, and it’s bigger, darker and more dangerous than anything conceived even by Thatcher, Reagan, Bush or Blair. Our corporate rulers have put their foot down, cranked up their media hate mill and gone all out to establish the world they’ve dreamed of, a world they last enjoyed in 1933-45. It began with a steady drip-feed of propaganda. It followed a sinister and cynical plan. First, you take more away from the already dispossessed poor, and blame liberal politicians for the result. Then you blame the poor for their own poverty whilst pointing out that some of them still have the goods you sold them - 40 inch TV sets and I-Phones. You demonise these people by broadcasting 'benefits porn' on TV; look at the listless, scrounging poor! Hate them! You castigate them for not having work. The benefits system and the NHS, which the electorate have paid for through tax and National Insurance, is re-interpreted as scrounging and waste. Health care should be a 'business' like any other. Illness should mean profit. As the ill-informed victims squirm under the yoke of austerity, an austerity inflicted with one purpose - to keep the rich rich, and make them even richer, you point out that all this anguish is the fault of governments, local councils, trade unions, in fact any social body which does not exist to make a profit. Because you own 95% of the celebrity-infused vacuous fascism-flavoured media which these hapless dupes consume every day, your message is powerful enough to work. And there is a grain of truth in it. The corrupt political elite which you elect to ‘advance’ society is made up of the very people who propagate the propaganda. Very few so-called ‘politicians’ are in the game to improve our lot; they are passengers on the same gravy train which benefits from the mess they cause, their disaster which the electorate are blamed for. Anyone educated at Eton knows the definition of a nation’s economy; it’s your new toy box now that your Nanny’s been sent home. And if you didn't make Eton or Harrow, don't worry; there's always a corporate directorship or consultancy to add to your Parliamentary salary.

With the irresistible rise of Donald Trump, a man born with a whole canteen of gold cutlery in his rancid mouth,  and his chosen gang of horror-show senators, it seems likely that the new landscape of bigotry, deliberate ignorance, aggressive irrationality and racism will become the new norm over the next decade. Aided by rapacious, greed-driven and duplicitous pocket-lining UK politicians from the Tory Party to Nigel Farage, the path is being cleared for the destruction of the European Union, which, with all its faults, has at least prevented a European war since 1945. The Dutch, Belgian and French proto Nazis are on the march. Since Britain’s Brexit vote the population have become victims of the classic right wing law of success; divide and rule. Now 52% of the population who voted leave loathe and detest the 48% who voted stay. It’s OK to hate people, and FaceBook and Twitter lets you do it. Before the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938, the Jews may have been disliked, but the arrival of Hitler and Himmler gave the population the green light for absolute hatred, resulting in harmless, educated elderly men and women being forced to scrub the streets and clean toilets; because they were slightly ‘different’.  Let us not kid ourselves; that same dark undercurrent is now reaching boiling point in Britain.   

In 1941 Adolf Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion - the intended invasion of Britain - to concentrate on his biggest error - the invasion of the USSR. Yet let’s sit back in dismay as his foul philosophy rises from the ashes of 1945 with Marine Le Pen. The Third Reich’s troops only got as far as the Channel Islands, but 70 years on, the esprit de corps of the Waffen-SS is already here; its ubermensch spectre has taken root in the working class. Compassion, rationality and dialogue are dead. Lies are truth, truth is lies. It’s official, because The Daily Mail, The Express and The Sun give the people what they want. Hate is a hungry fire, and requires plenty of fuel. The garden has been burned; we shall now live by a new creed, last seen on the barracks walls of Dachau; Sympathy is weakness.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Post Brexit, Post Trump


Image result for Images quotes Leonard Cohen
If politics and economics were a sport,
We would congratulate the winner and shake hands.
But this is not sport. These are the whips of life
Which scar our backs.
So let us draw a line under hatred.
I know how you voted.
You know how I voted.
You won, I lost.
To the victor the spoils.
I hope that everything you wished for
Will be yours. This I accept.
Our mundane lives remain the same.
Before this battle, we may well have been friends.
Let us hope that this can still remain.
We are bound by our traditions,
By whatever happens next,
And I shall live with this, as will you.
The propaganda I believed
Is as faulty as yours,
The promises equally empty on both sides.
But we are not politicians, economists or statesmen.
We’re just the working class;
Bushy tailed, naïve and bright-eyed.
Neither Trump nor Theresa or Mr. Juncker
Know anything real about our lives.
As with all the rich, they see us only as a distant shadow,
A tool to use to maintain their wealth.
Neither you or I have any idea
Or control on what the future holds
We only have one choice;
No matter how we voted,
We must face the consequences together,
With understanding, not hate.
For whilst we squabble, they grow
More powerful and richer by the day.
‘Divide and Rule’ makes them the victors
And us the fools.








Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen - Dance Me to the End Of Love


With Bowie and others leaving us, now the great Mr. Cohen, 2016 seems to be turning out to be the year decency, compassion, creative dialogue and hope have all been trashed. Best then to look back at the decent decades, the times when everything good seemed possible. This is just a reminder.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Walking the dog


Walking the Dog

This was a short story entered for Amnesty International's
annual competition. It did very well in the top ten but of course, it didn't win.
So what else is there to do but put it on line;
someone out there might even enjoy reading it.




It was late September and there was a distinct chill in the air. The last train to St. Petersburg had left. It was midnight and the traveller stood in the dim yellow light on the deserted station platform. He found a rickety bench, placed his rucksack on the ground and sat wearily down. He’d made a mental note to designate this ramshackle, lonely outpost surrounded by forest as ‘Fiddler on the roof’ country. It would make a good yarn in the pub when he got home. Why anyone would alight from a train here was a puzzle, yet he’d had no choice. Tired and deep in thought over the fact that he now had seven long hours to wait until the next train, he was taken aback when an old man wearing an astrakhan hat and a heavy, grubby military greatcoat emerged from the gloom.

The traveller spoke very little Russian, so he was surprised when the old man addressed him in English.

    “I see you are Britishki?” The traveller looked up and smiled.

    “Yes. How did you know?”

    “Oh, the boots. And your backpack. It was a guess. Long time before train, huh?”

    “Yes. Seven’o’clock. It’s very late. What are you doing out here?”

    “I walk my dog. It’s peaceful when everyone is asleep.”

The traveller looked around, but could see no dog.

    “Where is your dog?”

    “He died.” said the old man, seating himself alongside the traveller on the bench.

    “But … you say you’re walking with him?”

    “Ah, yes. Do not be confused. I am walking with his memory. Leo was a lovely golden Labrador, my good friend for many years, and when I think of him it gives me peace.”

The traveller was momentarily lost for words. He took out his cigarettes and offered one to the old man. He accepted and they lit up.

    “What caused you to miss your train?”

    “My visa was out of order. I wanted to go to Tallin but the guard said if I did I would need a new visa to return to St. Petersburg, so I left the train, but now I must wait all this time.”

    “Ah yes, of course, of course. Estonia is now another country. It used to be part of the USSR.”

The traveller peered into the darkness. Above, the sharp, bright stars twinkled through scattered clouds.

    “What place is this?”

The old man blew out smoke and gestured into the night, waving his hand.

    “The town is called Kingisepp. This station was built when the Tsar was on the throne. It could do with a coat of paint. The last time it was decorated was when Stalin passed through.”

    “What was it like?” asked the traveller.

    “What was what like?”

    “Well, do you remember those days, Stalin, Kruschev?”

    “Of course. I am 89 years old. I remember a lot of things. Stalin? Some idolised him. Others feared him. He killed my wife.” The traveller gave a sharp intake of breath.

    “Really? How did -”

    “Oh, you don’t want to know that. It’s a long time ago.”

    “Well, if you’d rather not talk about it …”

    “How old are you, son?”

    “I’m 50. Why?”

    “Ah, you look so much younger. Did you ever fight in a war?”

The traveller shook his head and faintly smiled.

    “Thankfully,  no. And I wouldn’t like to.”

    “Stalin killed my wife, Katya, because she spoke English fluently. It was a dangerous talent; speaking English got you suspected as a spy. Her parents were language teachers.”

    “So who took her from you? The KGB?”

    “No. We still had the Cheka in 1952. I was relieved when she died in prison.”

    Relieved? Weren’t you sad or angry?”

   “Yes, both of those, but relieved, because I knew then she was at peace. She was only nineteen when the siege of Leningrad ended. They gave her the Order of Lenin for outstanding services to the State. She had saved many comrades, and especially children. But that didn’t save her. She risked her life crossing Lake Ladoga bringing supplies over the ice, and at one time she manned the anti-aircraft guns outside St. Isaac’s Cathedral. And do you know what her favourite word was?”

    “Please tell me …”

    “My name. I was in the Red Army bringing the trucks over the lake when I met her. She was sat one night late in ’43 when the convoy stopped. She was cross-legged by a fire. She was meditating; you know, like one of those Tibetan or Indian monks. But I was impatient. It was a cold dark night and I said ‘let’s get a move on, girl!’ and she opened her eyes and said ‘What is your name, comrade?’ And I said ‘Vladimir’. She said ‘I will come now, but you must always set aside time for peace, comrade. War is an interruption, peace, if we choose it, is forever.’”

    “So why was your name her favourite word?”

The old man looked up at the sky.

    “May I have another cigarette?” The traveller lit two up and passed one over. The old man pointed at the stars.

    “You know about our space station up there?” The traveller nodded.

    “Yes … isn’t it called ‘Mir’?”

    “Yes. In the modern Russian language the word 'mir' has two different meanings. It can also mean either 'peace' or 'the world’. But before the Revolution it also meant ‘society’.”

The traveller took a long draw on his cigarette and turning to the old man, smiled.

    “Yes, but didn’t Tolstoy name his great work War and Peace?”

    “Yes,” replied the old man, ‘Voyná i mir’.”

    “But that was … what, decades before the Revolution …”

    “1869. So I think Tolstoy actually meant his book to be called ‘War and Society’.”

The traveller gently laughed. “That’s an intriguing thought. But what about your name?”

    “Ah, there you have it. Vladimir is a popular Russian name and it means ‘The one who owns the world’ It is made up from two Russian words: 'vladet' - which in English means 'to possess' and 'mir' - 'the world.' So when I married my peace-loving Katya, I told her she was my world and that I was proud to possess her.”

    “Why was she arrested?”

    “Oh, some jealous informer in Leningrad said she’d received some illegal literature from the west. Something Stalin’s blockheads couldn’t understand. Religion.”

    “I see, what Marx called the ‘opium of the people’?”

    “Oh, but it wasn’t anything Russian, you see. We married just after the war. She’d become a Buddhist. The Cheka’s illiterate goons had no idea what to do with this. The Orthodox Church was bad enough but this was something else. As far as they were concerned, she’d been using Buddhism as a cover for espionage. I was out of town when they came for her. When I got back to our apartment it had been ransacked. She was in prison for a few weeks then they moved her to a gulag. She died on her 31st birthday in 1956, but a fellow prisoner visited me in 1960 and gave me a letter Katya had written to me.”

The traveller felt as if he had walked into a nocturnal tragedy, an unexpected drama which felt unreal. Somewhere in the dark woods an owl hooted. He glanced up at the sky; the clouds had gone and the stars shone brightly. His curiosity was running riot now.

    “Am I being too inquisitive, but … what did she write?”

Vladimir stubbed out his cigarette on the arm of the bench and delved within his greatcoat, producing a yellowing, scruffy envelope held together with sellotape. From it he took the faded, flimsy pages and began to read aloud in a faltering voice.

    “We must always remember, Vladimir, that war and misunderstanding are like weeds in a cornfield. The corn is peace, and peace is the harvest. It is a gift which we give ourselves, even when the guns are firing. War and conflict comes from without; peace comes from within, and what happens outside cannot touch it. Remember this always; we fought and struggled in the darkness of those nights so that our comrades and their children could enjoy peace in the daylight.”

He folded the letter, replaced in in the envelope and returned it to his coat. The two men sat in silence for a while, then Vladimir stood and shook the traveller’s hand.

“I wish you peace, my British friend. Now I must walk my dog.”  At that, he shuffled off into the surrounding gloom.

The traveller lit another cigarette. He stared across the silent railway track and saw something moving. The weak light from the platform hardly stretched that far. Yet for a brief moment his heart raced as a golden Labrador vanished into the woods.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

WELCOME TO LIE-LIE LAND


WELCOME TO LIE-LIE LAND


Writing something like this seems a waste of time. It is ‘preaching to the converted’. In the current dark and threatening atmosphere with its sinister, uncertain future, it could also be dangerous. Yet when one becomes frustrated with the madness which is sweeping across the world, and your only outlet is the use of words, what is there left to do? I read today that in parts of Syria where ISIS rule, the heads of executed victims are left on walls, lined up so that children can retrieve them and use them to play football. This is the far, outer edge of the madness, yet it is not far removed from the spite, anger and irrational hatred which is being promulgated by Britain’s tabloid press.

Image result for IMAGES DAVID CAMERON

Following David Cameron’s naïve and over-confident decision to offer Britain a referendum on Europe, the fires of simplistic populism continue to be stoked daily by a rabid media (owned mostly by tax-avoiding billionaires domiciled outside the UK) and a cabal of unscrupulous politicians with duplicitous agendas.

Thus, on June 23, the People had their say, and the victorious 52% no doubt expected us to be out of the EU the following day. Now we find ourselves in a new era; it’s called ‘Post Truth’. It’s been created by people like Donald Trump, (whose new supporters include the Ku Klux Klan) Nigel Farage and others, and it means that veracity (albeit never the sharpest knife in a politician’s toolbox) has been replaced by a loud and proud dishonesty. Now you can say what you like, invent bogus ‘facts’ on the hoof, and be as insultingly incorrect in all areas as you wish, providing this keeps your followers enraged. To maintain this carpet-biting indignation, all we need to do is ignore and refuse to read any genuine facts which oppose our vitriolic frame of mind. Image result for IMAGES tRUMP AND fARAGE

Image result for daily mail judges headlineFor example on June 8th, 2 weeks before the referendum, David Cameron’s father in law, Lord Astor, said “The EU referendum is merely advisory; it has no legal standing to force an exit. Parliament is still sovereign.” Perversely, it was that very ‘sovereignty’ which we’d never lost that everyone was voting to ‘restore’. When three Supreme Court judges are consulted on the Parliamentary Law relating to UK sovereignty, and come up with their hapless answer, they are dubbed ‘Enemies of The People’. Meanwhile, Cameron, in the wake of his badly conceived mess, has bitten the bullet and sloped off into a well-heeled country supper oblivion, whilst his austerity ‘slash and burn’ colleague Osborne is doing a well-paid ‘Blair’ on the US lecture circuit. The new and seemingly clueless Westminster cartel have been left to clean up their mess by pandering wherever possible to the bigotry and xenophobia which increases day by day.

So we are indeed at the top of a slippery slope into social and political darkness. Will this threat subside when we thankfully leave the EU and ‘take our country back’? (Which begs the question - where had it been, who took it?) I doubt it. Politics and democracy have been injected with a powerful, deadly poison; hate. It is the same virus which infected Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 30s. There is no longer any room for compassion or alternative opinions. The new, growing breed of trolls who infest social media will not tolerate the sentiments expressed here, for they see their ill-informed anonymous cowardice as some form of strength. However, we should remember the words of the American philosopher Eric Hoffer:  “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.”