The Ukrainian presidential election will have given hope to comedians everywhere. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, with no political experience apart from playing an accidental president in a TV series is another example of the electorate giving two fingers to the establishment (whilst probably at the same time letting a different establishment take over behind their new front man). But Zelenskiy sets no precedent. From B-film star Ronald Reagan to TV Apprentice buffoon Trump, from (on a much smaller scale) a Hartlepool football mascot to (quite possibly) Boris Johnson, the perception that a political ‘outsider’ could somehow do a better job running things has gained appeal. The old saying ‘you’re all the same’ has found a new expression, which is to say experience is no longer important because for all that experience politicians still make a hash of it. Why not take a punt on an outsider? This could of course work to Jeremy Corbyn’s advantage, he is the archetypal outsider, almost to the extent of finding himself in a position he’s not sure he really wanted. For those in the right wing media who have so far failed to destroy him, perhaps their best tack now would be to portray him as just another wannabe insider. Perhaps we saw something of that new approach in what has generally been received as a ludicrous book by Tom Bower (which I have no intention of reading) serialised in the fascist press. It is a pity that voters who support ‘outsiders’ rarely seem to spend time looking behind the image. In Corbyn’s case it would be hard not to see what lies behind his ambition, since his 30 years or more as an MP lays bare his politics and who his backers are. It couldn’t be more obvious. But what about Johnson? What about Farage? Both treat politics as a bit of a joke, and like Trump probably don’t feel too encumbered with notions of accountability or transparency. All they care about is their entertainment value, keeping up their name recognition scores on social media.
+To cheer you up, here was the scene in the Hole of Horcum at 11.10 this morning. This I think is the best place to gaze at the famous hole, not from the car park at the top, on the Pickering/Whitby road. Here, Yorkshire is distilled – a derelict cottage amidst daffodils and heather, and not a hint of Brexit in sight. (I am allowing for the possibility that some farmers in the area may be recipients of generous E.U. grants, of course.) Actually, ruminating on my walk I did consider the need to erect a wall after Brexit, after seeing some continental types coming the other way let their dog off the lead despite multiple signs on the gates saying “Keep Your Dog On A Lead,” this being the lambing season.
++ I got a leaflet through the door this morning from our local Tory candidate, who claims ‘Your priorities are my priorities.’ I’m not sure this patronising approach is very wise. He doesn’t mention ending austerity anywhere. He doesn’t mention how many of the problems faced by local government have been caused by Tory government cuts. When will the chickens come home to roost?
I've set finger to keyboard in response to a piece in the Guardian today which reveals that Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary, has apologised for saying that "The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists, and Zionism is the enemy of peace and the enemy of the Palestinian people." Since the political and historical context of Zionism's impact on hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Palestinians is incontrovertible, it is hard to see what is controversial about Burgon's remarks, not least since he specifically says the problem 'is not the Jewish people' per se. The conflation of an attack on Zionism with an attack on Jewish people is par for the course these days.
One trembles at the thought of gainsaying the Board of Deputies or the Jewish Labour Movement, but there are forms of Zionism which deserve criticism. What about Christian Zionism, for example? A quick search on Wikipedia reveals "The Reformed Church in America at its 2004 General Synod found "the ideology of Christian Zionism and the extreme form of dispensationalism that undergirds it to be a distortion of the biblical message noting the impediment it represents to achieving a just peace in Israel/Palestine." One could argue that Zionism is Zionism is Zionism, but cannot argue that all Zionists are Jews, nor that all Jews are Zionists. Everyone should choose their words with care, and that goes for the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement just as much as it does for Richard Burgon or any politician who has the courage to speak on this issue.
After the immediate shock wears off, things don’t necessarily look quite as bad. It seems the stonework has survived more or less intact, the bell towers are more or less untouched, the grandeur of the building, even after the fire will only be marginally compromised. Thinking about what happens now, there will be a rebuilding programme which will boost the Paris region economy significantly, and in a very special way. The demand for stonemasons, gilders, carpenters, joiners, glassworkers, carvers and all the other medieval trades will boost training schemes and a rediscovery of the crafts which come from working with your hands – perhaps there’ll be a localised renaissance of such things. I hope so. Much of it paid for in the good old fashioned way, through the patronage of the rich. Has Notre Dame tweaked the conscience of a few who sit on their billions doing nowt? After a relatively short break, even the new scaffolding that will emerge won’t be a deterrent to tourists. One only has to think of Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, to realise that once something has achieved iconic status, it will attract the tourists regardless of a bit of building work. At some point in the future, Notre Dame will be restored and many visitors will not be the wiser. Some may look for a new beginning, just like the Houses of Parliament today – who’d want the old (1830s) stuff back? (Having said which, I’m not confident that the Palace of Westminster authorities will be up to speed on what lessons need to be learnt from Notre Dame.) I’m just glad I visited Notre Dame in its ‘original’ state whilst I still could.
Having visited Notre Dame only a couple of weeks ago, the sight of it in flames is heartbreaking. It reminds me of the fire at York Minister all those years ago. That time it was a lightning strike (blamed at the time on God’s judgement on the consecration of the new Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins ‘who didn’t believe in the Bible’). The fire at Notre Dame, the early prognosis is, has something to do with the renovations taking place. Such events beg many questions. One might be whether such nationally important buildings should be left in ecclesiastical hands? Do they have rigorous enough standards of care and maintenance? But then, how many such buildings, still in use as religious centres ought to be maintained at the taxpayers’ expense in a nominally secular state? But there’s no escaping the fact that this fire is a tragedy, even if in maybe thirty or forty years’ time, it will have been restored. Thinking again of York Minster, there rarely seems to be a time when some part of it is not enveloped in scaffolding. What you see there today is not what was originally built – it has been practically rebuilt stone by stone over a long period. In that sense, being witness to a tragedy is merely to witness a sudden escalation of the inevitable. Notre Dame’s spire was built in the nineteenth century. Having said which, there will be many irreplaceable treasures inside that are lost forever.
Or maybe – it is just God’s judgement on something. He after all giveth, and He takes away. In the context of faith, this episode is just one test of many. But it’s a loss for humanists too.
Three cheers for Extinction Rebellion even if, as I believe, their impact will be less than they would hope for. Bringing London to a halt when MPs are in Recess won’t inconvenience those whose votes matter when it comes to radicalising our climate change agenda. For most MPs climate change is just another policy matter, to be jumbled in with whatever else is going on. At the moment, the only thing they’re wound up about is Brexit – which compared to climate change is little more than a fleabite (with climate change of course that flea in the future may well deliver something very nasty, beyond the control of the ‘take back control’ mob and their border police). Climate change is still something which will only appear important when it bashes you on the head, by which time it really will be too late. It is already, in my view too late to stop climate change, it has after all, already started. On this subject I am little more than a cracked record. There are some good news stories out there, there is more awareness, the cost of producing renewable energy is falling dramatically and even Trump can’t stop U.S. city mayors and others signing up to the Paris agreement (which sadly, in itself is fairly useless). The trouble – as I see it – is the feedback mechanisms which nature has kindly set in train, which is to say that, e.g. the disappearing Arctic ice cap, with its white reflective surface can no longer prevent the heating of the water below, which absorbs more heat because it is dark. It is to say that the melting permafrost is already (not maybe sometime in the future) releasing huge quantities of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It is to say that the oceans, because of their excessive absorption of CO2 will lead to their acidification, leading to a large scale reduction as a consequence of much of the human species source of protein. It is to say that despite our best (ha!) efforts since Kyoto, global human CO2 emissions rose again last year.
I’ve often thought that hubris is the politician’s worst enemy. But politicians are only human. We’re all guilty. If Extinction Rebellion punctures that protective ring of hubris, good for them. They’re fighting massive, if not insuperable odds. To keep up to speed with what's happening in the climate changing world, keep an eye on the Daily Climate. It's the Book of Revelation.
According to Craig Murray’s blog (here) the trial of Julian Assange for bail jumping (my term) took 12 minutes, where Assange said virtually nothing but where the judge found time to describe Assange as a ‘narcissist’ – widely reported in the media. It may be true that Assange is guilty of being a narcissist, but that, so far as I’m aware is not a crime. And what it has to do with bail jumping seems neither here nor there. Perhaps this will be borne in mind if Assange appeals this particular conviction. The judge, having said what he said could be accused of a premeditated decision, applying criteria not relevant to the case. But perhaps the judge himself is a narcissist who finally landed a case in which he could express his prejudice and at the same time get a bit of limelight in what otherwise is a fairly thankless profession.
There will be, in my opinion, a number of judges who are so narcissistic they are destined from birth to sit in judgement on the rest of us. I would like to believe this assessment is not true of most judges. My very limited experience of appearing in court leads me to believe that evidence and balance still reigns supreme (I won’t recount my experience, it is too insignificant). But if a judge wants to make a name for himself (they are still mainly men), he has ample opportunity. Remember judge Pickles, or indeed the Buddhist judge Christmas Humphries – not known for his leniency. Some judges are the worst narcissists, and there should be some protection against this. Perhaps there is. The judge who let off a drink driver from a custodial sentence this week merely because the offender was a woman has questions to answer and I dare say that case will be reviewed. Judges, if they are chosen for their judgemental abilities (eh?) need to display appropriate talents, not sit like some god-blessed arbiter of law dwelling in an oak-panelled extension of their club.
I have just listened to the Queen of Self-Righteousness, Margaret Hodge on the radio, talking about her secret tape recording of a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn back in February – now the subject of a lead news story. I wonder why she sat on it for two months – could it be timed to coincide with the commencement of voting in this year’s local elections? Nothing shows up her cynical motives more than this. She struggled to justify her action – it was, she said to ensure she had some insurance against being misrepresented. Like the time she was accused of saying to Corbyn ‘you’re a fucking anti-semite.’ No doubt the Guardian will give her her usual half page coverage tomorrow. I will have to write a letter to them if they do, something along the lines of “Is Margaret Hodge a member of the Labour Party – or Likud? Only asking.”
+ For the first time in nearly fifty years I’ve played my LP of Pinkfloyd’s first album Piper at The Gates of Dawn. This is part of what is becoming a project to listen to ‘what was I listening to when I was prepared to spend £1 12s 6d on an LP all those years ago?’ (Since I never dispose of anything, I have all my old albums.) What was then (1967) known as The Pinkfloyd catered for a new class of listener, that is those adventurous types who were discovering the delights of LSD. Taking a tab (or in my first trip, half a tab) required music of an experimental flavour and listening again to The Pinkfloyd’s first album brings back happy memories (if not flashbacks). I am inclined to think that being 17 must be the most exciting time of one’s life. And if the music is good, the exhilaration of youth can’t be beaten. Now of course, what passes for music is usually some form of tedious dance routine rhythm which is helped along by drugs which only develop feelgood symptoms (as opposed to LSD’s transformative vision). Not that I’m into clubbing.
++ Given the current brouhaha about Brexit wouldn’t it be timely to have a biopic blockbuster of the life of Ted Heath? Isn’t he the one who got us into this mess? I’m not sure Gary Oldman, who did an excellent Churchill would fit the role, but I think Timothy Spall could easily do it. Ted Heath is undoubtedly one of our strangest Prime Ministers, a one off aberration. Looking back, and contrasting his record with today’s Tories, you could almost say he was a socialist (I know, I know). I have a soft spot for Ted. In the first 1974 general election, on his campaign visit to Scotland he popped into the Stotfield Hotel in Lossiemouth where we in the local RAF were having a leaving-do. Everyone was well and truly pissed when in walked the Prime Minister, and for a short while he was locked into a series of selfies with the lads. I was too rat-arsed to get up and get one myself, about which I am very sorry. But me and Ted did use the urinals at the same time. One of the things that struck me was that he carried on campaigning regardless of the fact that his yacht Morning Cloud had recently sunk with the loss of a friend.
+++ At the same time, I was taking an interest in politics (in so far as you could in the armed forces) and I went to what was my first experience of a party political conference. The SNP in Elgin in 1974, where anyone could wander in off the street. I was not a supporter you understand, just curious. What a bore. The infighting was evident. I also went to an election hustings where Winnie Ewing was speaking. The meeting was packed and I concluded it would be better to keep my Englishness under wraps, unlike Robert Donat in the famous election meeting scene in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. I’ve never forgotten the revivalist tone of that meeting, something I’ve never witnessed in England. Blair’s early messianic stump performances were always a bit different.
I’ve moved my LP (what we now must call vinyl) collection to a more accessible location, which means I am playing music which I acquired 40+ years ago. What a treat it is. I seem to have had a penchant for American music emanating from the West Coast, like The Flock, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, It’s A Beautiful Day, Zappa (of course) and Captain Beefheart. And more besides. But I wasn’t only interested in the white boys. I have a large blues collection, highlights of which include BB King and Taj Mahal, as well as the older guys like Sunhouse, Memphis Slim, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and many others. And then there’s Clifton Chenier from as deep south as you can get. So I’m playing these albums, and I’m surprised that given how many date from my teenage collecting period how unscratched they are. I did once lend out an LP and it came back like a ploughed field. I vowed I would never lend anyone an LP ever again. I hasten to add that I also collected British and European bands too, and I will return to that. But at the time (60s/early 70s) it seemed to me that the cutting edge was all American. Never mind the Beatles.
Some of this stuff dates back nearly half a century – that does seem incredible – and so it’s interesting to consider who dates and who doesn’t. I think my original first Yardbirds album will probably sound a bit dated (I have not played it again yet) but listening to Beefheart I think he has gained in his contemporaneousness – his lyrics are impossible to pin down to some earlier genre, his sound, his beat if you like has a currency which defiantly rejects period. If there were a tribute band now for Beefheart it could be led by Tom Waits, who defies easy categorisation. Beefheart was a one-off, and like classic one-offs he cannot age. It’s time for a BBC4 documentary (surely Ronnie Wood met him and could say a few words).
A sample of his lyrical wit: (from Spotlight Kid, Blabber’n Smoke)
All you ever do is blabber ‘n smoke
There’s ah big pain in your window
‘N all your waters turn t’ rope
It gonna hang you all
Dangle you all
Dang you all
If you don’t hurry there’ll be no hope
Why don’t you quit actin’ like ah dope
All you ever do is blabber ‘n smoke
Whilst Beefheart’s words may to a degree reference the euphemisms of the Blues, his references rather go further, into a surreal world of fantasy. This particular song seems very blueslike, but surely few could now disagree that Blabber ‘n Smoke could be retitled Brexit Blues. The man was a genius.