Category Archives: Current Affairs

Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants

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Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants
Letters from a doctor abroad
By Saqib Noor
Kings X Press – £8.99

The term institutionalised corruption suggests that corruption has slowly crept into the psyche of the Pakistani people and into its government institutions like a plague of insects, thoroughly rotting the once noble foundations before taking over the system like money sucking leeches. However this term seems rather mild in describing the current affairs in the country.

                    ‘The Ministry Of Corruption (And Its Associated Buffoonery)’

That Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, recently resigned due to ‘dishonesty’ and corruption charges, would suggest said plague of insects have taken hold over the asylum. Or, in this instance, Pakistan, as if it were simply meant to happen.

I remember visiting the country on a couple of occasions (either side of 9/11) and in both instances, I was told by my host, that should we ever become separated, that under no circumstances was I to approach a policeman for help. Makes you think.

No wonder the country has an ”entire dedicated governmental Ministry of Corruption […] a specialised, well-formed institution with policymakers specifically producing disorganised and illogical thinking.”

Yey, now that’s what ye world needs: yet more policymakers specifically producing disorganised and illogical thinking.

But hey, wait; it’s already happening amid the epicentre of one of the most powerful countries on the planet. That’s right, Trump (who else?) and his co-conspirational cohorts from hell, subscribe to the very sort of illogical chutzpah – each and every one of us endeavour to avoid like cancer – on an almost daily basis. Hourly basis.

Makes the powers that be in Pakistan appear as if Noam Chomsky’s out on ethical manoeuvres, while this absolutely terrific book – the consummate template in what absolutely needs to be told. Right here. Right now.

Indeed, Surgery On The Shoulders of Giants – Letters from a doctor abroad, is, if nothing else, a mighty large humane inspiration.

Other than regaling the most varied and candid of ”human life lessons” from numerous front-line, health crisis constitutions in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Haiti, Cambodia, Pakistan, South Africa; its 197 pages (excluding many pages of black and white photographs) reveal sadness, truth, emotion, hypocrisy and of course, beauty.

Rather like that complex thing we oft refer to as life itself.
Powerful. Poignant. Persuasive.

David Marx

Polarized

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Polarized –
Making Sense Of A Divided America
By James E. Campbell
Princeton University Press – £22.95

You can compromise between good, better, and best, and you can compromise between bad and worse and terrible. But you can’t compromise between good and evil.

                    Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) – ‘One-Sided Party Polarization’

And so say all of us; well, most of us anyway.
At the moment however, there’s surely far more disparity within the realm of American politics, than, erm, well, perhaps anytime in it’s history.
At least within living memory, put it that way – which is where this stark and rather bold book ought to stand loud’n’roud within the current, quasi-blasphemous institution that both tellingly and rather laughingly, refers to the American Constitution, as if it were its own.

As if it were a standing joke – which clearly, Donald Trump, and his vile inner-circle are; although countless gullible innocents the (predominantly western) world over, will continue to believe the United States to be a nation of political moderates.

It absolutely isn’t.

The US is so utterly divided, it’s nigh impossible to distinguish between good, better and best, bad and worse; let alone good and evil. Although within the context of mainstream American ideology, it isn’t long before James E. Campbell writes: ”As rough as our political debates can be, and they can get quite vicious, happily we are not on the precipice of another civil war.”

Oh really?
Seems to me the US is most definitely on the precipice of something.
It might not be out and out civil war, but there’s absolutely no question that one of the most powerful countries one earth, is almost on the verge of self-imploding.
If not falling apart.
If not, along with (the former Great) Britain, very fast becoming the laughing stock of the world. A conundrum, which, in the big scheme of things – primarily that of Trump’s colossal ego – isn’t a particularly good thing.

The nine chapters of Polarized – Making Sense Of A Divided America pretty much contends as much throughout.

Hence my earlier description of these 246 pages (excluding Acknowledgments, Appendix, Notes, References and Index) being somewhat stark and outwardly bold: ”Some contend that party polarization has grown particularly severe in recent years as political leaders and activists sought ideological purity within their parties, particularly within the Republican Party. The ultra-polarization of American politics, as the claim goes, has been largely a one-sided or asymmetric affair. Republicans became a far-right ideological party while Democrats remained a fairly moderate and pragmatic centre-left party. This claim of one-sided party polarization was made most strongly by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their provocatively titled It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. Mann boldly claimed that ”Republicans have become a radical insurgency – ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition” (‘One-Sided Party Polarization – Republicans Gone Wild’).

You can say that again (and again).
One need only refer to the Trump’s out and out, inflammatory dismissal of The Paris Agreement, to wholeheartedly agree, if not endeavour to come to terms with the above.
And a whole lot more.

Polarized – Making Sense Of A Divided America goes some way in deciphering the current shambles that is American politics; but I’m sure even Campbell must be somewhat surprised at the dire depths to which American politics has unfortunately sunk.

David Marx

The Politics of English Nationhood

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The Politics of English Nationhood
By Michael Kenny
Oxford University Press – £18.99

What counts as culture in England now […] is the detritus left behind by the disappearance of the stolid independence and self-reliance of it’s working class. In its place has emerged a loud, rude, and self-interested individualism which occasionally erupts in the form of chauvinistic nationalism.

At the vanguard of Britain’s deplorable chauvinistic nationalism, stands the overtly vile, dangerous and detrimental excuse of a human being, Nigel Farage; for whom the words intelligence and understanding clearly count for very little.

If anything at all.

As one of the prime, fundamental architects of Brexit, he and his most myopic ilk have a hell of a lot to answer for. First and perhaps foremost, for having promoted Engerland unto the nigh high-octane stakes of it, along with the US, being the laughing stock of much of the western world. Not to mention the ever increasing upsurge in all round general nastiness and hate-crime – wholeheartedly substantiated by the above opening quote.

To be sure, The Politics of English Nationhood absolutely isn’t coy in what it says; and luckily, for those with a conscience at least, nor does it cower beneath the power of the right-wing media and (surely unsustainable) abundance of fake news. A social cancer of sorts, currently doing the elongated and inexorable rounds of ill-advised persuasion.

But herein, Michael Kenny, who is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University in London, offers more than a mere ”powerful challenge” to current day thinking.

These 243 pages (excluding a Preface to the paperback edition, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index) do much to traverse the staid, negative, political behaviour, that is by far, far too prevalent amid Britain’s current political ideology: ”Throughout the EU Referendum campaign, the dual focus of the ‘Leave’ campaign upon the elitist and metropolitan interests served by arguments for ‘Remain,’ and a continual focus upon immigration, were combined with the language of popular sovereignty and national recognition. This rhetoric spoke particularly to English voters for whom worries over migration have served as a proxy for fears about the perceived indifference of the political establishment to their economic position and cultural traditions. The ‘Leave’ slogan ‘Take back control’ proved highly effective in this context, and allowed figures like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to speak simultaneously to concerns about sovereignty, belonging, and nationhood.

Refreshingly and rightly so, Kenny brings in all the relative parties here, and tells it with all the fine nuance of how it really ought to be told.

He also addresses all the terrible, smokescreen bullshit head-on, as he continues: ” Its vernacular companion was the phrase ”I want my country back,” and was repeatedly used by UKIP leader Nigel Farage. This spoke to nativist fantasies of an England unmarked by ethno-cultural diversity and of a socio-economic order that had long disappeared. The Referendum afforded the opening for an outpouring of some of the nationally focused frustration, and the inchoate desire for greater self-determination, which had been building in many different parts of England for the last quarter of a century.”

Equally well researched and illuminating, The Politics of English Nationhood, will in future years, be undoubtedly held in high-regard; not to mention referred to as the book that divulged how, where and why, England got it so horribly and undeniably wrong.

David Marx

Ethics for a Full World

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Ethics for a Full World
Or, Can Animal-Lovers Change the World?
By Tormod V. Burkey
Clairview Books – £12.99

The ”control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.

                                                                                        (Rachel Carson) 1962

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

                                                                                        St Augustine

As with the above quotes, this most thought provoking of publications is liberally peppered throughout with enough ”stop you in your tracks” type quotes, to hopefully hush even the the most buffoon induced likes of Boris ‘I Really Do Need To Start All Over Again’ Johnson (‘Especially In The Ethics Department’).

But hey, long-lost principals aside, Ethics for a Full World – Or, Can Animal-Lovers Change the World?, really is the sort of book that is not only paved with tumultuous good intentions, but needs to be read (and then re-read) by everyone in Texas and the deplorable likes of perhaps Theresa May’s entire government – over and over and over again.

Sadly though, Tormod V. Burkey has herein written the sort of book that will no doubt be wholly embraced by the likes of Brighton’s Caroline Lucas and perhaps Jeremy Corbyn, yet probably – or should I say absolutely – no-one within the Conservative Party (not to mention Texas).

The mere fact that the word ‘Ethics” appears on the cover, will undoubtedly substantiate as much.

Indeed, these 150 pages (excluding Notes) are, as the author of Environmental Politics for the 21st Century, Lloyd Timberlake has said: ”one of the shortest, sharpest, clearest and most compelling descriptions of the causes and cures of our environmental bankruptcy that I have ever read.” To which one can only comply and wholeheartedly agree, for if, as Thomas Pynchon is quoted as saying (in chapter three’s ‘Why Are We Not Acting To Save The World?’) ”they can get you asking the wrong question, they don’t have worry about the answers.”

Brexit?

One of the most vital, vivid and translucent of books in a very long time.

David Marx

Europe Since 1989

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Europe Since 1989 – A History
By Philipp Ther
Princeton University Press – £27.95

The Brexit campaign succeeded because it insisted there is an alternative, even if it is detrimental to large parts of the population and might in fact lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

Who’d have thought that back in 1989 – when Germany was still (just about) divided into two parts and the dreadful Margaret Thatcher was still at the helm of British politics – that less than thirty years later, Westminster would bestow the entire country’s future upon the neanderthalic shoulders of rabid nationalism?

Whether it’s the inexorable bumbling oaf that is actual Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson (who, along with the vile Nigel Farrage, the more than accommodating playwright, Alan Bennett, has since described as ”not having a moral bone in his body”), or the tumultuous hordes of racist empty heads from Newquay to Newcastle – the United Kingdom is indeed on a dissolutory slope to unspeakable disaster.

As one reads through the ten chapters of this altogether compelling book, one very much comes to realise as much. Especially as Phillip Ther, who is Professor of Central European History at the University of Vienna, hurls a menagerie of political punches – almost all of which land right upon the wide-open face of current-day, populist posturing.

To be sure, since the initial inception of Europe Since 1989 – A History, Britain has a new Prime Minister in Theresa May, while both the US and France have new Presidents; but the all round general essence of what is written amid these 337 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgments, Notes to Chapters, Selected Bibliography and Index), makes for more than robust reading.

Not to mention, profound common sense.

In the final chapter (‘The Roads Not Taken’) for instance, Ther refers to the liberal, Oxford-based sociologist, Ralf Dahrendorf, who, in relation to ”Japan, South Korea and Taiwan […] having generated wealth before introducing democracy,” he quotes as having rejected ”the use of the term ”revolution” in the context of 1989. In his view of history, revolution always caused more harm than good, especially on an economic level. To him, 1989 was, instead, a ”transition” to a liberal democracy and market economy, which he hoped the West would assist, as actively and sympathetically as possible.”

In response to this, one can only agree that most of the West has assisted, although the UK, it has to be said, has major problems with said assistance. Furthermore, due to the utterly absurd and long-forgotten ideology of Cool Brittania, the powers that be do not even want to reach out to Europe – let alone Asia.

Again, as the author makes clear in the Preface to this English edition: ”As Brexit shows, the old specter of nationalism is back again, and has greater popular appeal than the EU, which as been made the scapegoat for all sorts of social and economic problems. The populists promise to safeguard their ethnically defined nation from the ills of global competition, labour competition at home, rising criminality, foreign terrorists, and the decay of traditional national values.”

Hmm., ‘traditional national values,’ at the acute and detrimental expense of everything it supposedly holds dear, and dare I actually say it: values.

For further substantiation and background, read this exceedingly well-researched book.

David Marx

Why The UK Voted For Brexit

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Why The UK Voted For Brexit –
David Cameron’s Great Miscalculation
By Andrew Glencross
Palgrave Pivot – £37.99

I’m still exceedingly hard pressed to think of at least ONE iota of a good thing to have emerged as a result of the referendum on Brexit. But am alas, inexorably stumped beyond profound shock, disbelief and tumultuous frustration.

The cacophonous hordes, who from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, continue to reside amid the myopic charge of far too many immigrants (supposedly coming over here, nicking our jobs and changing our way life) is so astonishingly adolescent; were it not so utterly detrimental for all concerned – in the extreme might I add – it would be nigh laughable.

The (laughter and) latter of which, the most concise Why The UK Voted For Brexit – David Cameron’s Great Miscalculation both touches on and reflects upon without any undue flim-flam nor skimming around the immense political disaster that Brexit invariably is.

And will continue to be for many, many years to come.

As Andrew Glencross, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations and author of these six chapters writes: ”The over arching purpose of this book is […] twofold. It seeks, firstly, to shed light on how the UK came to vote for Brexit; secondly, it evaluates the implications that this decision has for the country’s international relations as well as for its domestic politics.

What the referendum outcome probably demonstrated most clearly was how far public opinion was out of step with the government’s cost-benefit argument for EU membership. Confident of winning the referendum on the basis of a pragmatic, bean-counting evaluation, David Cameron’s gamble proved a great miscalculation.”

If nothing else, such words are a great understatement.

Economically alone, Brexit will prove devastating for the country, as Glencross continues: ”It ranks amongst the major political blunders of British Prime Ministers and has sent shock waves across Europe and the North Atlantic.”

Very readable and very to the point, Why The UK Voted For Brexit is a brave and altogether timely book, which absolutely needs to be read by anyone and everyone who actually cares about Britain and it’s future.

David Marx

The End Of British Politics

9783319499642

The End Of British Politics
By Michael Moran
Palgrave Macmillan/Pivot – £37.99

The film director Alfred Hitchcock once summarised his aim in film making as ‘to scare the wits out of the audience.’ This is a fine formula for a great film director but not a credible strategy of statecraft.

                                                                                                      (‘The End Of State’)

Can’t argue with that.
Indeed, who would even want to?
Especially given the fact that what’s left of Westminster’s ‘strategy of statecraft,’ is itself, being flushed down the toilet (of all misbegotten hope), faster that a jack-booted-skinhead can decide whether or not to Sieg Heil outside a mosque or a synagogue.

That Britain’s politics are no longer a joke, but rather, an international cataclysm of the most profound disdain, ought come as no surprise.

Doesn’t the mere (succinct) title of this rather tough and gritty book, wholeheartedly illustrate as much?

What accounts for The End Of British Politics being such a resolute and rather spot-on read, is it’s no nonsense account of current day Britain, by way of a vituperative, yet well analysed consideration of condemnation.

Take the military for instance, upon which Michael Moran (who is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of Manchester and Professor of Government in the Alliance Business School, University of Manchester) writes: ”In perhaps no European country bar Russia is militarism so powerfully ingrained as in Britain. Britain is the only member of the European Union which allows the military to enter schools for the purpose of recruiting schoolchildren. Military spending, and the economy’s military production, is uniquely high for a state the size of the United Kingdom […]. There has only been one year (1968) since the Second World War when a British Service person has not been killed on active service. Some of the greatest military engagements, such as the defiance of Hitler in 1940, have fed into the belief in providence: that the British are a chosen people with global military responsibilities.”

That just one recent aspect of said ‘responsibility’ manifested in the terrible Iraq War – upon which Moran also writes: ”In Chilcot we see this pragmatic face of the special relationship: no sooner was the invasion over than the two parties began, like gangsters dividing the loot, to argue over the division of the spoils, notably Iraq oil and the lucrative market in defence services” – is, like Brexit and the ever widening cleavage between the country’s haves and have nots, just one example (of many), of where the country is going so horribly, horribly wrong.

But at the end of the day, who really (really) cares?
The government? Nigel Farage? Theresa May?

This blunt and altogether forthright publication is one book the Prime Minister won’t be wanting to read; which is why everyone else in their right mind at least, absolutely should.

David Marx