Tuesday, 29 September 2015


a far-off country of which we know little. Not. Back in 2011 I advocated air strikes to stop Assad slaughtering his own people, some of whom had risen up in the Arab Spring and were looking for freedom. It didn't happen. Obama too fearful and pusillanimous, Cameron wanted to do it, sort of, but couldn't get it through Parliament because of an outbreak of silly not-in-my-namery (they're only brown-skin Ay-rabs, so it's not our fight, says the Left). France actually did do it, and has continued to do some of it. Whatever Francois Hollande might lack, it is not political courage. And, of course, Russia has got involved. Now why might that be? Ah yes, those pesky Chechens and Dagestanis and Ossetians. Muslims, every man jack of 'em (the women don't count, natch). Putin, and to some extent his predecessors, didn't dick around when it came to dealing with those towel-heads, oh, no. Invade Georgia? Sure, why not? Did that, in 2008. The world said nothing. Crush the Chechens? Yeah, after all you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Chechnya, Dagestan and both Ossetias are corrupt hell-holes where human rights are non-existent. The world said nothing. Putin installed a tame warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, there in 2007. He has red hair, see?
pic Oleg Nikishin/Getty
Kadyrov likes wrestling and Kalashnikovs. So, where was I? Ah yes, Syria. Russia wants to keep Assad in power there, because the savage civil war has allowed that thing sometimes called ISIS to rise up (funded by Saudi Arabia), which is a Bad Thing. So ISIS should be trashed, so that Muslims in Russia remember who's the Daddy and don't get any funny ideas about taking over the country, or bits of it. Oh and Russia has always been mates with Syria and the Assad family, largely because they're not mates with some of the others in the region. Do try and keep up. And ISIS, as I said, has got to be trashed. Well, of course, ISIS would not even be there if there had been proper clinical strikes and Assad had been got rid of four years ago, with a post-Assad regime (done right this time) under international control. But Obama was too pussy, and it didn't happen. So we are where we are. But ISIS have still got to be trashed. And quite frankly I don't see any way other than by (for now) keeping Assad in place until ISIS have been pulverised. And then, well, then, we'll see. Sometimes, you have to  hold your nose and take the side of the odious and the dictatorial, against some who are worse.
Refugees pour out of Syria. Well, you would too, if you could. But of course not everyone seeking asylum in Europe who says they are a refugee from Syria actually is. It's quite a handy way to insert Islamic terrorism into the heart of Europe, where a welcome may be found in the tougher banlieues of Paris and Marseille, and in the Guardian-reading dinner parties of Islington. I write this as JC Superstar is making his keynote speech to Labour Party conference. JC, if another 7/7, or worse, happens on your watch, who will your friends be then?
Make no mistake, there is a war going on. And it is a war against "us". The West. Europe. America. Those of us who think democratic values may not be perfect but are kind of a better thing to have than everything else that is out there. So, what are you doing in the war? 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Hanya Yanagihara, 'A Little Life'

has now been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I am not one of those who reads every book on the shortlist, though I usually read one or two, plus the winner, because I know I will fail, and if reading ceases to be a joy and becomes a chore, then why do it? I do have my reading tasks (we firstborns are goal-oriented, and I am very Type A) - a chapter a day of non-fiction (currently 'The Third Reich, A New History', by Michael Burleigh, lorra laughs, NOT), one of something in French (currently 'Congo, une histoire' by David van Reybrouck, translated from the Dutch by Isabelle Rosselin, interesting) and, when I can, something in Russian, currently an odd little fable called in English 'The Garnet Bracelet', by Alexander Kuprin, seems to be about love. Oh well. Although some writers subvert the "system" by having very long or very short chapters, or no chapters at all. The swine. And then after I've read all that I indulge myself with fiction in English. I have my to-read list, both of print books and on the Kindle, about 30 of them at the moment. It stays fairly static, approximately one in and one out. When I see something reviewed that interests me, or a mention in another book, I write it in a notebook and buy or download two from that list a month. But every now and then I see a book mentioned that catches my interest, and I download it and put it to the front of the queue. One such was 'A Little Life'.

Boy did I not know what I was getting into. For a start it's 700 pages long (you can't tell so immediately on a Kindle) so took a while. It's about four young men starting out in New York, and their lives thereafter. It's deliberately non-specific as to when it takes place, clearly from about 30 years ago until about now, but there are no events, no politics, no 9/11, not even any named artists who are "real" (a lot of it takes place in the art world), so it is kind of affectless. There are four of them, but gradually two of them fade into the background (in one case with a bang), then there is a significant plot development with the third, and this leaves the fourth. The one no one, not even those closest to him, knows anything about. No spoiler to say that he suffered horrific abuse throughout his childhood, and that this is why he cannot form relationships. Three of them are creatives - an artist, an architect and an actor - but not this one. He likes mathematics for its purity, and the law for its rigour.

It's not flawless - two of them are from very modest backgrounds, but somehow end up wealthy and living in fabulous apartments, just what all ambitious young people who go to New York think is going to happen, and it never does, and some of them get taken up by rich benefactors, which also never happens. But hey, maybe that's the can-do of American life. I wouldn't really know. We Europeans know that our background and culture define us. That is our misfortune, perhaps. It's a bit implausible like that. And would someone with the emotional and physical health problems that Jude St Francis (how about THAT for a name?) has really be able to have such a brilliant career in law? Well, perhaps.

It's quite gay, but it's not a "gay novel". I think younger writers are more like that - sexuality as a continuum, not a state. Perhaps. I seem to be saying "perhaps" a lot about this book.

There's a good review here. Its headline says "subversive brilliance", and I think that's right. "Of course", children who have been abused grow up like - what, exactly? What do the first fifteen years of your life say about the rest of it? "Of course" people who have been abused look for love in the arms of an abuser. Except that they don't, not always, and sometimes they may find it in the arms of someone who actually loves them. Oddly for a book with an abused child as its centre, this book is about happiness, and friendship, and love. And here, the greatest of these is friendship.

This book made me think about friendship, and about kindness, and decide that without these two there is not much that is worth while in this life.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

the haters on the left up their game

the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, and thus of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, has had at least one apparently unintended consequence. Not of course the emergence of links to theocratic haters and approving references to the oppression of women and gays in various places - we all knew that parts of the left were happy with that - but personal hate speech directed against those who did and do not support Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Unfairly, often, because most UK Labour Party members are decent people who are prepared to work with and support a party leader they did not themselves vote for. I know I have heard from many who take that view. I do suspect that the haters may not even be long-standing Labour Party members themselves, but may be "three-pounders" (like me) who signed up just to vote in the leadership. But haters there are. Now we know there is plenty of hate on the left. As there is elsewhere. But it interesting how and where it tends to manifest itself.

Back before the 2008 US Presidential election I supported Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, not that I had a vote or the remotest scintilla of influence in that process. I received a flood of messages, over several weeks, containing fairly extreme hate speech, much of it to the effect that I would like to have sex with Barack Obama but that he wouldn't be interested in me (they didn't put it quite so politely as that) which explained my support for the somewhat older and female Hillary Clinton. It was all entirely personal, and as far as I know it was all from people I did not know personally. Most of it didn't appear in the comments on this blog, because I don't want to include hate speech in my publications if I can help it. It didn't bother me (I have had the great freedom for many years now of not giving a stuff what anyone thinks of me), but I found it interesting that a public, perhaps in US terms not dissimilar from those who chanted "Jez we can!" in the UK more recently, would engage in extreme ad hominem language rather than pointing out why and how their preferred candidate was better than mine. Well, we know what happened in that contest, and though I am still hopeful of Hillary for President, we shall see.

In the Labour Party leadership contest, things were a little quieter. But as election day approached, the volume went up. Shouts of "Tory, Tory, Tory!" at anyone who was not supporting Corbyn and who dared to say so publicly. No one seemed to be saying why Jeremy Corbyn was better than the others. Well, I voted, for Liz Kendall as it happens, and I put Yvette Cooper second. No other votes in the leadership contest. I was quite public about that. Then quite suddenly I found myself attacked. Because of Israel. When I hadn't been mentioning Israel. Now why would anyone feel the need to discuss Israel in the context of the Labour leadership election? Your guess is as good as mine, and I imagine our conclusions would be the same. Unfriended, left, right and centre. Though more friends were also gained by me as a result, if you treat Facebook as an index of friendship (which might be unwise).

So, why, when people discover that I did not support Jeremy Corbyn, do they start attacking about Israel? Even some who (self-declared) didn't vote Corbyn either have been doing this. And some I considered intelligent people are quite capable of calling me a "Zionist bitch" - thanks guys! and one said that the "considered view" (he didn't say by whom) was that the Israel-Palestine situation had not been resolved because of Israel's fault - but did not of course say why. The same person, in rather queeny petulant fashion (entirely in character) said "This is goodbye!" and gave as the reason that he had "dared to criticise Israel". Perhaps unwisely he used an email address that included his workplace letterhead, so that an unwary person might think he was writing on their behalf. Not me, don't worry. I won't grass you up.

On the whole, calling me a "Zionist Tory bitch" and sending me a picture of a gun and saying they know where I live is preferable to the above. Because it's honest.