The most important thing an arrogant person can learn

is the fact that always there is someone smarter and therefore more powerful than you. I remember recently ending a lengthy and complex relationship I had with Facebook mainly because of the overwhelmingly unreal atmosphere that pervades that medium of social interaction. It was addictive, exhausting, a realm for self promotion and bragging and ego driven arguments that lead nowhere, a place for product advertisement and sales and keeping in touch (a great strength of Facebook BTW), a vast fruitful data harvesting source for advertising, a system extensively monitored not only by Facebook employees, but also by the NSA, police and security services.  According to act.watchdog.net, a service I occasionally get emails from:

Facebook has been monitoring, tracking and interpreting our unposted notes, comments and statuses this entire time, using even what we don’t say as metadata to pass on to spy agencies like the NSA or advertisers from Groupon to Mastercard.

Choosing not to share is supposed to be what little still protects us from governments and corporations that can hack our emails, bug our phones and turn on our webcams without our knowledge”

 

The fact that billions of people use it really isn’t an argument for it being a good idea. What was once an excellent place for keeping in touch and exchanging information and discussion is now more a place to analyse statistics, study markets, develop social media plans and strategize – all masquerading as a place to meet people meaningfully. I have no idea why email is suddenly unfashionable or regarded as a tad passé.

Speaking of power and its uses, I have been reading a lot about Leon Trotsky lately – Robert Service’s biography is wooden at times but still a compelling read. Another guy much smarter than me.  A brilliant mind and a brilliant writer, also a ruthless character. Someone who could destroy one in an argument (he referred to Stalin once as a ‘dull grey nonentity’) – a Chris Hitchens without all the the alcohol and smoking and extreme rightward drift.

Generally speaking most literary artists, be they poets or writers of fiction or playwrights, tend towards having, for various reasons that are well established, enormous egos and diva-esque complexes. on the positive side they also are sincere people with passionately held beliefs about how things might be changed for the better for humanity, the incredible suffering of humanity or animals or poverty or the endless injustices that we call ordinary life, (which is really not so ordinary at all). Most of them wisely channel their passions and their beliefs into their work without making the disastrous choice of turning superb writing into propaganda for one political viewpoint. It’s interesting to reflect that of those who do turn to politics, few if any of them have made any real change by involving themselves in any form of party politics, by writing political tracts, or indeed, involving themselves directly in door to door political activity, attending meeting, working on campaigns, writing policy and speeches. Writers are too idealistic; it’s why they tend towards cynicism. They are also too cerebral by and large to have good political instincts, especially regarding people, and finally, if they do give their minds and hearts to politics, they aren’t really writers any more. They are political activists or politicians. My aforementioned Trotsky is more known as a political activist and thinker than a literary artist, gifts he had in abundance. It’s an inescapable fact that while remaining deeply and passionately attuned to the world as it actually is; artists need to keep a distance from politics to do art. When they do turn to politics, their work in these parties, or campaigns tends to embitter them, mostly due to the fact that whatever campaign they are involved in are usually corrupt or corrupting, involves the inevitable betrayal of core beliefs, or worse, involves the ruthless use of the talents of those working for the good of the cause in order that an elite few can actually get into power. Embitterment, disillusionment usually follows these people afterwards. I can remember my own bitter experiences of being deeply involved in the Catholic Church (a very political institution), how young men (in my case) were deluded into thinking they were sacrificing for the good, that the ludicrous belief systems and doctrines of the church were really and actually divine revelations, and that one will get ones just reward in the afterlife. This is not so different to the poets and writers down through history, from Wordsworth’s unhappy experiences in France, to Coleridge’s experiments in alternate lifestyles to Shelley’s bizarre political communal living, all striving to find an outlet for their deeply held passionate idealisms for a better world. But it never works. Whatever the poetic style or literary inclination, particularly when younger, a writer tends to be used by politicians, abused and when no longer useful, thrown away by those wiser and older than them to give their campaign a certain credibility and honour even. It’s a mark of distinction if you have a gifted poet or writer on your ticket as a staffer or as a speech writer or as an editor. Your speeches are better for it, your publicity excellent, and there is an endless pool of creativity for you to draw from, so long as the artist you have working for you continues to believe in your particular credos. The trouble starts when the writer begins to see through the bullshit. Then the political party is in real trouble. Writers tend not to forget, and history is replete with top notch novels and plays and poems and stories by writers who were lied to and had their ideals betrayed. Politicians beware: If you are lucky enough to have an artist on your staff, do not betray your writers. You may live to regret it.

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Here’s something I have been working on…hope its okay

The gathering together of poets, writers and songwriters for the purposes of sharing their latest work has a long and distinguished tradition worldwide. In Ireland poets wandered from one kingdom to another for a living, reciting long poems for the entertainment of Courts and Chieftains. Along with this, the tradition of bothanaìocht or visiting neighbours houses and sharing stories, conversation and song is equally a means whereby all kinds of knowledge, tradition and culture was transmitted, as well as a large helping of tall tales and gross exaggerations that only added to the entertainment and memorable quality of any evening spent in the company of talented storytellers and artists. This tradition has evolved in Ireland to soirees, evening gatherings, and the tradition of the open mic, whereby every artist and writer has a limited time to recite their work to their peers.

Ireland is replete with open mics of various flavours and styles. Some are bizarrely supported by government funding (completely unnecessary as writers/artists are natrually drawn together to share their work). some are incredibly elitist and self congratulatory (dangerous and delusional as invariably such exclusivity will kill off the open mic). Some are literally open – mics, in other words welcome all types – the good, the brilliant, the bad, the new and the seasoned. This is the optimum arrangement for an open mic, and if they are run by a firm and kindly Master or Mistress of ceremonies, then it stands a good chance of surviving. One final thing – its not a good idea to involve money in open mics, unless its for renting a room. Even then better to find a pub somewhere or someone’s house rather than involve money. There are lots of places delighted to give out rooms for free in exchange for having customers for their cafes or bars. Money and open mics really dont mix. I tried it once. It doesnt work.

Tips for running an open mic.
*if you are the MC – be in charge.
*Allow regular breaks for discussion and socializing.
*No heckling allowed.
*Ensure a relaxed open atmosphere.
*Ensure beverages and wine are available.

*Enjoy!

If you lie to me, I will hurt you

 

I have real difficulty seeing what the reason for the furore around the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow’s latest movie. Martin Sheen has come out in opposition to it. Naomi Woolf had come out in the Guardian calling Bigelow the latest Leni Riefenstahl, and the torture scenes themselves are rather tame in real terms compared to what really went on. There is no justification for torture expressed in this film. On the other hand there is no pornographic lingering on the inhuman brutality meted out to the prisoners. Over and over again the torture victims are told that if they lie to their torturers, their torturers will hurt them, a horrifying thought, and even more horrifying to endure. Rest assured also this is not a film that will leave you riveted to your seat in unspeakable horror – its not a horror movie. It is clever,  extremely entertaining, well paced, and the writing is top notch. The acting too, is simply wonderful. Bigelow deserves a best director Oscar, and it is a big snub she didn’t get it. What is depicted in the movie is what the CIA was ordered to do, that being to get the information by any means necessary. When watching the movie itself we only get snippets of the unspeakable physical and psychological horror endured by the prisoners, before they were disappeared or executed or in some cases returned to their families to tell stories about how they were tortured by persons unknown in locations unknown for time periods unknown with no evidence whatever to support their claims. It’s not without significance that the various conventions, Geneva or otherwise, expressly forbid torture. Aside from the enormous stupidity of using torture, an unreliable means of getting hard evidence, the information one does get is legally useless and therefore has what one might call a questionable actionable status to it. One needs to amass a sheaf of corroborations before it emerges into the light of any degree of credibility. Torture is about power. It’s about the torturer, in this case – the state, telling its enemy- in this case the prisoners, we have absolute power. You will give us everything, the contents of your mind, your emotions, and when you have given us everything, then we will allow you to die, maybe. Torture is an act of terrorism. In a war on terrorism this surely is the greatest of ironies. Torture creates a hatred that will last from one generation to the next. It is never forgotten and never forgiven. Bigelow does not come down in favour of torture. To think that from this film is to hugely underestimate an enormously skilled and intelligent artist who is telling a story, not recreating history, or trying to make a kind of propaganda movie. Basically it is a revenge story, and the ruthlessness by which revenge is exacted in the mafia style hit on the Bin Laden compound at the end is truly appalling. Before you make up your own mind, go see it. Bigelow’s interest in powers structures and the military goes a long way back. Let’s hope her next movie is even better than this one.

Feminism and Woody Allen and the accusations meted out against him

 

I recently finished putting together a book with a good friend of mine, the incomparably cool Ajit Kumar, on the equally incomparably cool Doris Lessing. We collected a series of essays on the Author from experts from round the globe and contributed an essay each ourselves. Its due out this year from Seven Towers. Personally I loved writing the piece on Lessing. Previously I had worked on another piece on Virginia Woolf for another volume, and what engaged me more than anything during these writing projects was the absence that hung behind both of these authors, the matrix of patriarchy that they struggled against and wrote against that was everywhere around them and yet at the same time was the most intangible and pernicious of foes. Basically I hold this to be something of a self evident truth when it comes to feminism: 

The notion of any fundamental feminist theory rests not only on the struggle for female reproductive rights but on the idea of every woman’s legal and moral right to control of her own body. Similarly the notion of any fundamental feminist theory does not extend to female political rights but to the primordial recognition of women as co legislator with their male counterpart in any political and legislative dialogue. By extension the notion of any fundamental feminist theory rests not only on the struggle for equal pay between man and woman, but on the parity of productive potential between the sexes and the elimination of all discrimination on gender grounds, especially on the grounds of the necessity of maternity/paternity leave and childcare time. Finally a notion of any fundamental feminist theory postulates women’s full possession of their minds and bodies and thereby the radical elimination of all forms of sexual oppression, of any culture of rape of women, including rape within marriage.

 

I said something not unlike that in the introduction to the Lessing volume, and I unashamedly say I hope this book sells by the truckload. I only wish my essay were half as good as some of the other contributors.

 

I suppose I mentioned the Lessing book to partly announce my feminist credentials, partly because of late I have become obsessed with the life and career of Woody Allen, and why he is being tried and of found guilty in the new incredibly powerful arena of justice – the media – for raping Dylan when she was a child. No evidence of any substance exists to either try or convict Allen of this despite the fact the judge in the case told Allen his behaviour was grossly inappropriate and despite the fact the prosecutor in the case said he had probable cause to prosecute a case against Allen but wouldn’t because of the vulnerability of Dylan as a child and despite the fact that Allen changed his story about being in the Attic that day. If there were actual evidence, rest assured he would be convicted, and should be. What astonished me most is the amount of unclear dubious opinion based conjecture about a Allen’s guilt, especially in the artistic community, and much of it based on the opinion of those whose job it was to prosecute the case, and the presumption of guilt many of the most fair minded people carry about him. This is the hub of it all: Presumption of guilt based on public opinion is extremely dangerous. It involves the handing over of our critical faculties to authorities or to the court of public opinion – not a wise move ever. I personally dislike Allen, and always have, though I love many of his movies. I have no agenda in keeping him out of reach of the law if he committed such a horrific crime. My point is this: the trial by media of Allen does nothing to advance the cause of encouraging victims of abuse to come forward. It is tawdry and vicious and involves the dredging up of events that are two decades old and were already dealt with at length. Further more if there exists evidence he has committed a crime – why not prosecute the case? Furthermore again, how come no other potential victim has ever come forward? The presumption here underlying what I am writing is that the assumption is Dylan is lying or is somehow suffering false memory syndrome. Not at all. I cannot make such an assumption, nor can anyone else.  Nor do I evenly remotely hold such an opinion. If anything the Allen- Mia Farrow – Dylan saga has all the elements of a Greek tragedy where a couple who have long parted ways are still engaged in a terrible almost inevitable struggle thorough the next generation, where each is forced to take sides against the other. It is something we have seen far too often. It can not end well.

 

On a personal note,  I expect my obsession with Allen never to go away. I will be gathering biographies of him, and re reading his books, and maybe even watching a few of his movies. The other good news, having had what is probably my last ultimately pointless debate on Facebook, I finally decided to close my account. I have spent far too much valuable reading time on Facebook, and everything you say and do is harvested in data centres and monitored. There’s real evidence out there to actually support that theory. My friends know how to contact me. That’s all that matters.   

Fucking Chickentown

The story begins with the collapse of the banking system in Ireland in 2008 due largely to corruption and over investment and lack of fiscal restraint of the building market. Instead of allowing the commercial Banking system, to collapse, the Irish Government sought monies from the European Central Bank to stabilize the economy. To date the debt is 180 billion, whereas 130 billion has been borrowed. The debt is over a hundred per cent of gross domestic product with Ireland’s overall debt exposure of around 800 billion. The debt is also over one hundred and twenty per cent of gross national product. Gross national product is estimated at around three per cent, which is good, but the debt ratio is crippling. This is a debt which will continue for generations. We are mired in debt and economically, and as a consequence, politically dependent on our creditors.

Previous Governments, seen as corrupt and hopelessly in thrall to establishment bankers, a new centre right coalition were voted in on a bill of reform and proceeded to great fanfare to straighten out the appalling state of the nations finances. Social spending was cut by two billion, taxes increased by one and a half billion, as well as emptying the nations coffers. This had the consequence of decreasing our potential for expenditure – our money for daily spending dropped. people began re-negotiating loans, cancelling credit cards, going on fewer holidays consolidating debts, not buying new cars, houses, electrical items. Unemployment increased, businesses closed, and as credit became increasingly difficult to acquire, new businesses starting up became fewer and further between.

That is, its not all bad. As credit is expensive, as inflation is moderately high, as there still remains a good economic growth of over three per cent, a weak economy in other words with a highly skilled economy with a ‘first world’ education mostly out of work, the stage is set for the arrival of huge multinational corporations on tax breaks – service industries, shopping malls, chemical suppliers, research and development technologies allying themselves to cash strapped universities, technology hubs – all with little or no union representation, low wages, short contracts, with little or no permanent relationship with the surrounding communities they arrive in. Larger corporations are more immune to the highs and lows of local economies. They can control local pricing, dictate terms, and move out quickly if they dont get the terms they want. Thus some jobs replace the ones lost.

At the same time taxation rises for the individual and the homeowner. Water tax, property tax, wage cuts, reduction or removal of medical and social benefits, – all these serve to further population’s state of dependency – economic or otherwise. A rapidly shrinking job market and a social benefit system that has become both parsimonious in its benefits and labyrinthine in its complexity. Its extraordinarily easy to pay a parking fine or the deeply immoral television licence. Its almost Kafkaesque to try to apply for a medical card or unemployment benefit.

The Senate is moved to be abolished. The minister for justice controls the army and the police. Gangland violence is on the rise. Law and order is constantly discussed in the media. More police are hired and trained and put on the street, despite the economy being in deep trouble. There is a marked increase in stop and search procedures.  Fines are imposed for the most trivial transgressions.

The number of murders increases, as does the abuse of alcohol and drugs. The family is under considerable strain. Emigration increases. Things are, well, bad. There seems to be an absence of hope and order, an order the government seeks to re impose with an increasingly, dare I say it, fascistic stance. And all this because we bailed out the commercial banks. Welcome to fucking chicken town.

John Cooper Clarke’s brilliant performance piece “Evidently Chicken Town”

O Superman – the Man of Steel Reboot

 ‘Man of Steel’ (2013) is the reboot, as they like to call it in these computer literate times, of the endlessly fascinating myth of Superman. Zack Snyder directs, with Christopher Nolan producing, and Henry Cavill starring as Kal El .

Amy Adams co-stars as Lois Lane. Michael Shannon as General Zod. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

The planet Krypton is dying, mostly due to poor environmental maintenance. Jor-El decides on a radical move to save his people, the people of Krypton. All the other species on the planet seem to have been forgotten, which seems a tad strange for a scientist with environmental concerns.

He steals an artefact which contains the genetic heritage of the Kryptonian race, and without taking a backup gives it to his son Kal-El, the first non-genetically programmed naturally born child in centuries, a risky undertaking which seems to have worked out well.

Imbued with the genetic heritage of his race, Kal El is put on a tiny life pod and journeys to earth to be raised as a farm boy in Kansas by good people and grows up to save the world. Jor-El has already decided that it really is not best option for his boy’s future stability to have the love and support of his birth family on his son’s journey to Earth, or indeed his new life on Earth. He ignores his wife’s pleas about not wanting to leave the boy, does little or nothing in the line of seriously arming himself or having some type of preparatory escape pod for the family ready when being attacked by the angry rather one dimensional General Zod and his cohorts, and finally in a moment of the most ludicrous self immolation, allows himself to be killed by Zod, whom he must know, being a super smart very limber scientist, he hasn’t a hope against in battle. Furthermore I wonder if Jor-El had thought through the consequences of his son being brought up by psychopath or someone hell bent on world domination on Earth. Imagine if some imperialistically minded politician had found him and saw Kal-El’s powers and sheer potential . Kal- El was a lucky baby to be found by the Kents. It’s also quite amazing Jor El, an extraordinary person with an extraordinary mind by any standards, manages to fuse his people’s genetic heritage in seconds into the baby’s DNA, with no side effects whatever, plot a course for earth, and yet leaves the boy’s fate literally to the vicissitudes of space, with a genetically trained army gunning for the child that is the key to Krypton’s future. Kal El calls Earth a planet with intelligent life, a planet where his boy, so Jor El says, will be a god to the earthlings. This is not what one would call optimal parenting thinking on Jor El’s part. Being a god comes with serious problems, sometimes of the insoluble kind. Its a life sentence of misery and Atlas like obligation.

At this stage the movie is hardly ten minutes running, and I have this sinking feeling that the producers, directors and screenwriters have opted for a movie that looks great but is devoid of even the merest simulacrum  of a coherent plot. The worst part of this movie storytelling disaster is the fact that the Superman myth is probably the most high concept one can work on.  If there is any myth (more than that of the myth of Jesus – which I agree with only to an extent) the myth of the Golem is the myth of the golem. The word means ‘formless mass’, literally matter – something not yet imbued with form, the golem is designed by man and imbued with the power of god and designed for a purpose. Kal-El is imbued with the powers of godlike strength, immense beauty, and has within him the future of his race, literally the genetic code of life, truly a gift of God. Interestingly Kal-el, despite his father’s brilliance (his mother seems to serve the purpose only of bearing him in her womb in this rather phallocentric movie) does not have a divine intellect, has no interest in art, science, music, politics, or thinking about the meaning of life.  One doesn’t see him out with an easel and paints drawing the beauties of Kansas, mind you he does like Plato, which is probably the only moment of contemplation one gets in this hyper violent movie. Zod inevitably tacks Kal-El to Earth and threatens genocide to get back the key to Krypton’s future.This is an entirely Americano centric movie, despite the plot being about the fate of the Earth. A horrific battle ensues and in scenes that made my stomach turn Zod is defeated. In imagery that reminded me rather too closely of the twin towers, thousands lose their lives as Zod and Kal-El fight it out till the inevitable predictable end arrives. An awful movie, and the kind of movie that makes one wonder how so much money and so much talent can be wasted so wantonly