Monday, 26 May 2014

Scottish Independence : How much is Ulster an English/Welsh problem ?

No politician or media outlet would dare publicise these issues as the Irish Peace process is still so delicate, but the following is something Scottish voters may wish to consider.

Put simply - Who picks up the bill for Sectarianism in the event of a Scottish vote for independence?

Just reading a history of Northern Ireland, something completely missing from my education at school and via the media. It seems quite shocking that a situation so stable (and yet unfair) in the 1960s should suddenly degenerate into decades of murder and violence. The fact that this was directly driven by issues we are all familiar with, such as gerrymandering, lack of housing and militant popular-ism, should be a cause of concern for us all. It is also quite revealing that some of those more recently lauded for bringing peace to Ulster and Northern Ireland were the sectarian lunatics responsible for stirring up the violence in the first place.

As there are a suspicious number of famous historical quotes* about the English failure to understand Ireland I'll pass on the potted history, but one thing on this subject struck me this year. There have been many debates recently about the possibility of Britain staying out of the First World War. As the British cabinet in 1914 was initially distracted from paying full attention to events in the Balkans by the Home Rule Act and the possibility of full civil war in  Ireland I doubt the alternative to WW1 in this country would have been peace.

What we now know as Northern Ireland began with Scottish settlers in the 17th century. With the Act of Union with England what had been effectively a Scottish colony became part of Great Britain and so the long slide towards 'Brits Out!" began.

This has been successfully masked for decades by the Protestant community in Northern Ireland who have for years cloaked themselves in a 'Unionism' which successfully implicates vast numbers of English and Welsh voters who have little or no sympathy for the their cause. (Ironically this is same Unionism which has supported many of the far right conservative policies that the Scottish nationalists claim to be reacting against in the London Parliament.)

'Unionism' has effectively lifted responsibility for the events in Northern Ireland from Scotland. The sectarian divide has far more in common with Glasgow than it has anywhere south of the border yet IRA bombs in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or the pubs of Aberdeen were conspicuous by their absence.

I love Scotland  and this line of thinking is, frankly, painful. I still find it difficult to consider myself an Englishman (rather than British, one of the quirks of English identity) but the prospect of Scottish Independence forces me to consider this. Since the Act of Union and the identification of England with Britain England has chosen to subsume itself to Britain (seen in the national anthem, Union Jacks waved in 1966 World Cup win) and has consequently accepted all the responsibility for all of Britain's ills. In the embarrassing and shameful aftermath of Empire the minority nations within the UK have (understandably) chose to paint themselves as victims of English Imperialism rather than co-conspirators. This has all been accepted as part of the rough and tumble of British identities.

Should this continue if the Scots vote for independence?  As a society created by, and modeled on, Scotland how much responsibility does England  and Wales have for the running of Northern Ireland?

The running cost of Northern Ireland is £20bn a year of which the residents of Northern Ireland contribute about £9bn in taxes.

Northern Ireland spending exceeds tax by 39.3% of its GDP

Scottish voters might ask themselves - if the funding for Northern Ireland dries up and (god forbid) the Troubles flare up again, how many English/Welsh troops will be prepared to die in a sectarian conflict that is as alien to them as the Sunni/Shia divide?

The English problem with Northern Ireland, as seen from its total lack of presence in our history books, is that it seems a hell of a long way from England.  Scotland should remember that Northern Ireland's deadly and expensive sectarian issues are right on it's doorstep.

Scottish Independence
So I don't have to visit this issue again.. 
If I was a Scot I would seriously consider voting Yes, and not  just because Alex Salmond is the best political operator of his era. Personally I think independence will be bad for Scotland in the short term, good in the medium term and a disaster in the long term. (Actually I suspect 99% of current politics will look very small when climate change takes hold)
I'm hoping for a No vote  but as an Englishman from the North West who has a house in the South West I think an overall improvement South of the border is quiet likely.
I will continue to stand by the Union Jack whatever happens  - but hope we get to hear a lot more 'Jerusalem' and a lot less of the godawful song 'God Save the Queen'

*Quotes - The best of them
"The English are not happy unless they are miserable, the Irish are not at peace unless they are at war, and the Scots are not at home unless they are abroad."
George Orwell (English Novelist and Essayist, 1903-1950)

Friday, 23 May 2014

Was Tom Clancy Fox News Patient Zero?

This is the 2nd of 3 posts on Tom Clancy, this one giving a more personal perspective. The first post covered Clancy's predictions of military and cyber war confrontation in the South China Sea. The 3rd post will be a review of the new Clancy reboot JACK RYAN.

I lost my dad to Fox News: How a generation was captured by thrashing hysteria  eloquently puts the argument that Fox News is a mental illness targeted at senior citizens.

I wonder if that applies to Tom Clancy? A  a typical Reagan conservative turned into a s frothing neo-conservative corporatist? Was Tom Clancy patient zero?

Yes I am a leftie, and yes I reading Tom Clancy books. Or, rather, I did until 2005. This I've recovered from my Glastonbury 2005 diary

I try and escape into a book but Tom Clancy’s The Bear and the Dragon is the most racist piece of crap I’ve ever read and I’ve sworn not only that this will be the last Clancy but I’ll actually burn it so it won’t be passed onto anyone else.

Frankly I am not proud of burning any book ("National Socialist!") and my reaction to Bear and the Dragon was probably amplified by the state I get into at music festivals. It probably says a lot about me that I was reading a bloody Tom Clancy book at Glastonbury (what's the phrase? "always swimming against the tide"?)

Well, as evidenced by my review of Threat Vector it wasn't the last Tom Clancy I'd read - and as the author passed on recently I thought I'd add some personal appreciation here.

My history with Clancy
In the mid-80s a secret college secret fraternity, The Fast Jets and Napalm Society (the less repellent face of college conservatism believe it or not) were chief promoters of Clancy's books at my college. I ignored them until my interest was piqued as we streamed out of the movie for Hunt For Red October and they said
"Oh - that was just edited highlights from the book"

After that I started on Clear and Present Danger and, hooked by Clancy's skill as storyteller, I worked quickly backwards and forwards from his books from there. Clancy was a genius at pacing and writes a thrilling action scene full of believable detail, but I was also surprised, early on, at the nuances in the politics. Clear and Present Danger has almost a civil war break out in the Pentagon, with the FBI seeking to prevent the CIA conducting an "off the books" assassination program in South America.

In Patriot Games Clancy seemed to have a pretty even handed and informed view (for an American) view of Northern Irish politics. In Sum of All Fears Clancy suggests solving the problem of Jerusalem and Palestine is to take it away from Israeli control and have it run as a religious city state like the Vatican. (Something I see John Kerry seems to be considering right now - another example of Clancy being ahead of the curve)

Jack Ryan, Clancy's hero, as we first see him, also seems to be a more even handed, more cerebral version of Bond. He begins as a CIA analyst, not a field agent, and is often reluctantly drawn into situations he is not comfortable with on a danger or morality level.

The intrigue in Clear and Present Danger, as the FBI try and uncover a plot while the CIA is killing US soliders to cover it up is brilliantly gripping conspiratorial drama. Nuclear hotline scenes at the end of Sum of All Fears, as Ryan intrudes on the hotline between US President and Russian Premier to prevent a misunderstanding leading to a full nuclear exchange, are some of the most thrilling and tense scenes I've ever read in a novel.

Quickly the books fit you like a driving glove and become very comforting and addictive reading. I remember reading Red Storm Rising while a Brazil v England World Cup quarter-final* was on in the background! I'd avoided WW3 fantasies while The Day After seemed more likely, but after the fall of the Soviet Union Clancy's epic description of the Cold War going hot suddenly became one of the most gripping alternate history novels ever written. I admit I was using it to avoid England's inevitable collapse (thanks David Seaman) but I honestly can't think of more trouble I've had putting a book down.

Unlike Fleming's Bond Clancy has his character Ryan follow the career path of George Bush Snr and climb the ladder of success to eventually reach the presidency of the United States. At this point his books become quite interesting alt history fiction bordering on fantasy. Depressingly from Rainbow Six, his 1998 novel, onwards  Clancy's politics start to intrude more and more.

Debt of Honour (1994)  has the US involved in a surprisingly believable war with Japan which ends with the (now famous) climax of a 747 crashed onto the Pentagon. As the senior member of US government still surviving Ryan is forced to become President and from that point, Executive Orders (1998) we are firmly in an alternate universe refereed to by by fans as the 'Ryanverse'. By now we have swapped the technical detail for gripping alternate history but in the midst of great deal of wonderful White House plotting we are increasingly assailed by the odor  of Clancy's politicised agenda.

Some person with better political and journalistic skills should compare the great fantasy Presidents of our era, President Jed Bartlet from The West Wing, and President Jack Ryan from Clancy's books. I suspect the chasm between their policies would be breathtaking and quite revealing of US political debate.

Clancy obviously began as a supporter of Reagan era 'trickle down' or supply side economics (that which have blown deficits through the roof and brought the Western societies all the benefits of the late 19thC), but alternative 1998's President Ryan goes farther than any real US Republican ever has and introduces a flat tax rate, literally enshrining in law that the super rich pay the same rate as the poor. In our reality the likes of Mitt Romney can achieve this using tax dodges but a flat tax has never been put before US voters for good reason. Contrary to most opinion the US electorate are are not fools and would vote it out. Even Clancy realises a flat tax pushing reality and eventually it is repealed  by President Ryan's Democratic arch enemy Ed Kealty.

Ed Kealty is a bitter caricature of then real world President Bill Clinton. This version of the President who balanced the US budget after Reagan's deficit would be quite surprising, perhaps shocking to foreigners. But would be very familiar to anyone watching the new cable news phenomena at the time.
Roger Ailes launched Fox News on October 7th, 1996.

Eventually the Ryanverse would (apparently) be jolted back into line with our own by 9/11, which also happens in the Ryanverse, but before we get there we have his Siberian war fantasy The Bear and The Dragon, which is firmly in Cheney neo-con territory. Having ingested a gallon of Ayn Randian politics over the course of Executive Action I really finished with Clancy here. He begins the book with drawing parallels between China's one child policy, abortion, contraception and genocide and the holocaust - and no amount of Glastonbury scrumpy could make that digestible.

Did Clancy's politics really evolve?
Seen with more perspective it might be possible to see Ryan's books as a mirror of the Bush-Clinton era's with Ryan as Bush Snr and Jack Jnr, who inherits the 'action' role from his father from with a boneheaded confidence very reminiscent of Bush Jnr.

When I recently restarted Clancy with his penultimate novel Threat Vector, I found it another thrilling read (covered here) but full of telling detail revealing Clancy's increasingly anachronistic views

One of the first indicators in his penultimate novel that we are firmly in the newly Foxverse world of the Ryans when it transpires Jack Ryan Jnr's girlfriend has been compromised by a foreign intelligence agency. What mighty foreign force could have a CIA analyst working in their pay? This is revealed as the mighty Palestinian Authority.. Which is funny until you recall the frequent and serious history of Israeli spying on the United States, which has to my knowledge never cropped up in Clancy's books, which purport to be realistic on the subject of international espionage.

Later Chinese hackers are found to be using a server on US territory in Florida. Why? Apparently international cyber terrorists (or "Bad Guys") prefer to use server space in the United States because of less government "red tape". Indifferent to the irony alarm Clancy then has his heroes travel to Florida, waxing lyrical about the joys of travelling in a private jet. Travelling in a private jet and enjoying it is in itself is no bad thing, but recalls Lee Child's character Jack Reacher, who has in more austere times replaced Jack Ryan as cult literary action hero of choice. (Reacher is a penniless wanderer far more suited to Greyhound bus travel than private jets)

Perhaps the biggest indicator of Clancy's loss of perspective are the heroes of his later books, The Campus, a private spy agency. The Campus is so right wing and so lacking in irony that if adapted for screen they would look like a Christopher Nolan re-boot of Team America World Police - with the strings controlling the characters only visible to those with an awareness of modern political reality.

From the Clancy wiki

The Campus is an "off the books" intelligence organization and private military company established by President Jack Ryan, Sr .. Backed with one hundred blank presidential pardons, The Campus operates outside of any federal jurisdiction as it is not a formal member of the United States intelligence community.  ....The Campus is situated between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).  This enables The Campus to remain in the loop about intelligence briefings without the cumbersome organizational bureaucracy or political red tape.  The Campus operates under the cover of Hendley Associates, a financial trading institution.  Utilizing the intelligence brieifings from the CIA and NSA, Hendley Associates is able to see currency or market flunctuations ahead of most financial institutions and is able to utilize this information on the financial market.  The profits generated from trading on financial institutions are utilized by Hendley Associates to fund the operations of The Campus.  

After decades of Fox News Clancy's hero has become the villain from one of his own earlier books (Clear and Present Danger).

Jack Ryan Jnr fairly loathsome, with non of the bumbling vulnerability that Snr showed in the beginning of his career an an intelligence analyst in Hunt For Red October. Jnr also works as an analyst - but for the financial industry, surely a sign of the times and perhaps final grim proof of Clancy's talent for prediction. I'm hoping the fact that that Jnr is investigating financial crime in the last book, Command Authority, is a sign Clancy finally woke up to the real threat to his country and the world. As Fox News continues to be a real and present danger to the mental health of those watching it I'm not hopeful.

Pic at the top is apparently the Danish Air Force enjoying themselves (and who can blame them)

* thank you loyal reader

John Olivers HBO version of Daily Show is on Sky Atlantic Tuesdays 10.05pm

Further in my transatlantic fan worship of HBO - do they put subliminals in that opening static?

After his big success sitting in as host on the The Daily Show last year John Oliver's got his own show on HBO,

which is being shown here in UK on Sky Atlantic Tuesdays 10.05pm

US review of Last Week Tonight from New Yorker

"If (Jon) Stewart is evangelical, (John) Oliver is professorial. His bit on the Indian election was akin to the current rush of explainer journalism, in which a smart person more or less reads the newspaper for you, tells you why this or that thing matters, and nudges you toward a final judgment. In the second episode, Oliver began a segment on Sharia law in Brunei by saying, “There was big news out of Brunei this week. Wait, let me back up a second. There is a country called Brunei.” 

Best bits  so far

Botched executions and the death penalty

Explaining Eurovision to America

Daily Show is still being shown on Comedy Central Extra on most weeknights at 10.50pm..

and if you can download of the other Daily Show spin-off,
The Colbert Report (a brutal piss take of Fox News's arch bigot Bill O'Reilly)
- it's hilarious

London's J-Rock Underworld (Bo Ningen, Shonen Knife)

I have been writing for the blog, I've just been too busy to post. Between contracts often escapism takes over anything constructive. Perhaps I've been more stressed than I thought, the trip to Paris never happened!

Below is from the trip to see Bo Ningen the other week, about which I was having too much of a good time to write a review but I'm told the pic is worth sharing.

I'll be honest and say I prefer them on record to live. The new album Bo Ningen - III is their most approachable so far and definitely worth a listen

Below  (and top) are some pics from the walk back along the Grand Union canal post midnight from Shonen Knife in Camden last Sunday, once again enjoying myself too much

Monday, 5 May 2014

NOT wasting your life watching tv (True Detective, Hannibal)

To kill some time while waiting for a good new contract I started watching the US version of House of Cards. Loved it. I loved it so much I immediately started writing something on it for this for this blog.

In the meantime started watching the original BBC version. Liked it a lot. I began including a comparison between the two versions of  House of Cards in the blogpost I was working on. (Completed House of Cards blogpost will go up tomorrow)

Meanwhile, started watching NBCs Hannibal
Got sucked into making notes on that as well  - I've been a fan of Thomas Harris's books since summer of '85 when I was training to run the Book Department at Forbidden Planet Oxford street.

NBCs Hannibal is I think the best Thomas Harris adaptation since Micheal Mann's Manhunter (1986) and is comfortably better than Oscar winning Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Ridley Scott's movie (2001). It seems to be following the spirit of the Thomas Harris books surprisingly closely and is stylised much like Manhunter but trades the 80s garishness for a painfully restrained David Fincher/Lynch menu of moods and colours. It helps that Mads Mikkellson forgets Anthony Hopkins music hall Oscar bait version of the Dr Lector.
Additions to the plot of the books (like Eddie Izzard as a precursor surgeon serial killer and Gillian Anderson as Lecktors own, quite mysterious analyst) seem to be entirely in keeping with Harris's plots and timeline. By the time you reach the end of S1 Hannibal is so good you may well have actually stopped caring about how close it is to the books anyway. Creepiest thing about it? All the food looks delicious

All the unrelenting murder on screen was by now was broken with occasional breaks for The Daily Show and the new Cosmos - both excellent.

While collating notes on all the above I started watching True Detective in the background. Really only because it was recommended by my sister, I have no normal enthusiasm for the average cop show.
I was watching True Detective in the background for maybe about 60 seconds - then did virtually nothing else for the next 48 hours.

For much of its short length True Detective S1 is as good as The Wire. The two principal leads Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson put in career defining performances and create with the writer Nic Pizzolatto, and sole director Cary Joji Fukunaga the two best new characters I've come across for years.
Doomed detectives Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle  kidnap the viewer completely for a holiday in an apocalyptic Louisiana that makes True Blood look like Hollyoaks.

Far from being a set police story, for nearly all it's length this first series (of what will be an anthology show with different characters and plot each season) looks like developing into the most subtle and disturbing Lovecraftian adaptation ever filmed. References to Robert W. Chambers' The King In Yellow suggest the Louisiana 'Old Time' religion the detectives uncover isn't from Louisiana and is way way older than they think.This sets up a climax in the 8th and final episode 'Form and Void' which looks as if it will go Angel Heart by way of the Wicker Man. Perhaps inevitably I found the end disappointing - but I will be astonished if this is the last we see of Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle.

I tried so hard not to keep writing on this show and almost feel like I'm possessed by a cult myself on the subject. I will merely present this - as heard played in Camden Barfly last night before headlining band (Beasts), the stunning opening music (T Bone Burnet) and credits to True Detective, a montage of post hurricane catastrophe and Lovecratian blues.

I am very relieved to say that since this run of fantastic content, House of Cards (review will follow), Hannibal, True Detective everything else I've started watching, including C4's highly rated Utopia, Orphan Black, The Tunnel .. has been pretty crap in comparison. Perhaps whatever hold those shows had on me has run it's course. What I can tell you is that in two or three weeks of selectively watching decent tv - instead of vegetating passively at the mercy of moronic tv schedulers - didn't feel like I was wasting my life at all.

Rediscovering London via the Thames foreshore

A stones throw from some of the most famous tourist attractions in the world.. is a live archaeological site

"At low tide, the Thames foreshore is a slimy bazaar of London history. Objects cast into the Thames have a habit of sticking around, sometimes for centuries. Pay attention, and you can read the story of the city in the shingle and jetsam."
from Secrets Of The Thames Foreshore

While clearing out my phone I found these also from a hike from North London to Carnary Warf along Grand Union Canal

The Cutouts in Camden

Fabulous Bank Holiday weekend that has recharged my enthusiasm for London. Last night was in Camden watching a great band - The Cutouts. can't remember ever been that eager to get on bands mailing list. Great venue, Camden Barfly, also worth noting.

Saturday I'd refused to get sucked into the daily routine, bounced out of bed and marched to the South Bank in the sunshine, listening to a backlog of Stuart Maconies freakzone on my Bowers and Wilkins headphones. Breakfasted in Borough Market and found myself on Thames foreshore, partially inspired by this from the Londonist. Pics will follow.