Barack Obama, Brexit, Brexit Negotiations, Digital Economy Bill 2016–17, Donald Trump, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Fringe, Feminism, Grenfell Tower, Happy New Year, Jeremy Corbyn, Quote, Review of the Year, Russian Revolution Centenary, Theresa May, TRAPPIST-1, Twin Peaks: The Return, Universal Credit
Yet the mainstream media and academia failed to highlight these painful truths linked to Obama. Instead, most well-paid pundits on TV and radio celebrated the Obama brand. And most black spokespeople shamelessly defended Obama’s silences and crimes in the name of racial symbolism and their own careerism. How hypocritical to see them now speak truth to white power when most went mute in the face of black power. Their moral authority is weak and their newfound militancy is shallow…
Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.
Cornel West, “Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama” (January).
Trump is certainly inexplicable without the precedent set by Barack Obama. For eight years, there was this aloof, gentle headmaster in the White House. When he was frustrated by Congress, he was oh so disappointed and this absence of urgency must have struck many in the Rust Belt as being bitterly offensive. Workers were then asked to vote for a woman who had been the next-best after Obama in the 2008 primaries. They have instead recruited somebody who, whenever he encounters political opposition, is prone to respond with threats, tantrums, abuse, and three-in-the-morning tweets. Trump surely just looks as crazy as many people feel. He was also the only fiery politician who was remotely available. It would have been wonderful to have a trade unionist stand there at the inauguration and read out the line, “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.” Wonderful, but entirely fantastical within current American politics.
“A President For All Americans?” (January).
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.
The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.
Despite her brandishing of “young” children, Bradley actually wants to prevent under-eighteens from accessing pornography. Most of the criticisms of the bill in the media are (rightly) concerned with abuses to the rights of those over eighteen, to users of pornography whose verification details might be inadvertently exposed to partners and colleagues. Rarely is Bradley called out on her stupidest and most surreal assumption: that somebody who may have completed puberty for over a year and who may have legally married and sired children of their own is still defined by her law as a “child”…
For Bradley, at least from the evidence of the extract above, this is not the desired sort of education. Her department outlines how pornography can “distress” young people and she quotes research from the NSPCC that “one in five 11-17 year olds said they had seen pornographic images that shocked or upset them.” But early sexual experiences are inevitably shocking and distressing for some people. They might involve embarrassment, bleeding, shoddy treatment, or a failure to achieve climax. The aspirant lovemaker should surely talk about sex more and maybe even research it, rather than try to keep their brain weirdly unpolluted from pornographic images until they can sign on to the government’s age-verification system (now how can you read that without shuddering?) once the birthday candles are blown out.
“The Right to Pornography” (February).
In the results, gathered in the months after the Brexit vote, 2 in 3 Scottish voters either wanted to leave the EU (25%) or for the EU’s powers to be reduced (42%). Only 21% of respondents said they want arrangements with the EU to stay as they currently are. That means 67% of Scottish voters could be currently be considered as Eurosceptic, which is a large increase on the 53% of Eurosceptic Scots in 2014’s survey, and the 20% of the same in 1999.
Jamie Ross, “New Research Shows Support For Scottish Independence At Its Highest Ever Level” (March).
67%… This statistic is spectacular and it shows as much unexpected cojones as the Brexit vote itself. Since the Brexit vote, the ruling class in Scotland, along with its smug media and even smugger “alternative” media, has been trading on the idea that the English hordes are darkly racist and self-destructive, whilst Scotland is altogether daintier – altogether finer in its sensibilities – altogether wiser and more tolerant. This existential dichotomy – of Scottish classiness and English working-class meanness – has been the land upon which the foundations of Scottish independence have been laid out. And it has been now shown to be treacherous, crumbling apart, and all fake news. It is a fantasy that its intended beneficiaries have stretched to breaking point.
“Brexit and My Favourite New Statistic” (March).
Previous research at The University of Manchester found that if immersed in water, graphene-oxide membranes become slightly swollen and smaller salts flow through the membrane along with water, but larger ions or molecules are blocked.
The Manchester-based group have now further developed these graphene membranes and found a strategy to avoid the swelling of the membrane when exposed to water. The pore size in the membrane can be precisely controlled which can sieve common salts out of salty water and make it safe to drink.
The University of Manchester, “Graphene sieve turns seawater into drinking water” (April).
What is this world? Inevitably, the PR experts have come up with the backdrop people as a way of manipulating us. When you switch on the television and you see Donald Trump speaking at a rally, with rows of people sitting emotionlessly behind him, you are struck with the primal instinct to conform and to copy the depicted obedience. The backdrop people are not meant to be listening to the speech – they are put there to show how you are meant to listen to the speech.
Or rather, this is how the backdrop is intended to work. I don’t know how alone I am in rebelling against it. Throughout the whole of Ed Miliband’s career, he never uttered any definitive statement that I can now remember. At best, there is a blur of hard-working families striving to get on the property ladder to make capitalism work for all. Everything that I can recall him saying is undermined by the possibility that David Cameron might have actually said it. The only thing to stand out for certain is my annoyance that Miliband was always speaking with his back to his audiences. Was he brought up in the wilderness by wild animals? It is the most elementary good manners that you look at the people who you are speaking to! How is it possible to even function in a social situation when you have turned your back on your listeners?
“The Day That Jeremy Corbyn Lost My Vote” (April).
“Nothing has changed,” the Supreme Leader again insisted, looking increasingly deranged and unstable. Everyone had completely misunderstood her. The manifesto she had written hadn’t been the one that was published. When she had said she was going to make everyone pay all but their last £100,000 on their own care, what she had clearly meant was that she was going to cap the amount they would spend on care. And no, she wasn’t going to say at what level the cap would be set because the fake news media would be bound to misrepresent her again and besides her manifesto was completely costed apart from the bits that weren’t.
By now the Maybot was shaking so badly that one of her arms fell off. Roadie Nick Timothy rushed on stage with a screwdriver to reattach it. “Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.” Except that, in the general confusion, her arm had been put on back to front and was now gesturing obscenely to a sign saying “Strong and Stable, Forward Togetheræ on the wall behind her.
John Crace, “Maybot policy reboot ends in an embarrassing interview meltdown” (May).
I nonetheless agree very strongly with Gwynne, Labour’s co elections coordinator, that we should “have some ambition in politics.” Indeed, we have had enough meekness from the Left since 1983 to atone for the Russian Revolution several times over. The manifesto heaves into view as a gigantic starting-point. It is a luxury to be contemplating transformational spending decisions rather than trying to reduce the vast feast of politics to one tiny, suckable, strong-and-stable soundbite.
This manifesto should be (as the 1983 one was) sold as a gambit or a leap-into-the-dark. It should commit to borrowing in the calculation that taxing the subsequent economic growth will fill the black hole back in again. Such a document can never be “fully costed” because it is founded upon speculation.
Leaving aside the fact that May used an argument with an adult medical professional that my parents made to me as an eight-year-old, I think it’s high time we explored the point the prime minister was making – not least because the magic money tree is something the Tories just love to whip out when anyone even vaguely hints at the redistribution of wealth. In fact, even the Labour right likes to invoke the “magic money tree” to distinguish themselves from the left of their own party. So what is this “magic money tree” and does it exist?
In the context of May’s statement, a “magic money tree” seems to be a euphemism for “the means to pay nurses properly”. Well, in that case, of course there is a magic money tree. And we all know it, if we’re honest with ourselves.
Ellie Mae O’Hagan, “Is there a magic money tree? Yes children, there is. But that’s the wrong question” (June).
Parliament is currently like a nightmarish chess game in which the board is so gridlocked that neither side can make a move without taking one of their own pieces. The cabinet propose that they can act as a government without a prime minister or a parliamentary majority. They think that May will be a mute figurehead and that politics can be suspended, without any laws being passed, until they have obtained a suitable leader from somewhere. The upcoming EU negotiations are going to scotch this daydream.
The UK cannot seriously commence negotiations with the EU until we have a new prime minister. Our “partners” are hardly going to engage with a powerless one whose word has no value. Yet a Tory leadership contest will unleash the chaos that Theresa May’s coronation was originally intended to avoid, with Brexiteers and Remainers both trying to gain a greater sway over the party. May thus has to remain and, with this logic, her personal power is superficially back to where it was. Her government will still not be able to pass any laws, at the very point when it is repatriating sovereignty, because its parliamentary majority is so slender. Hence there will have to be another election. The Tories are not going to call another election, however, until the coalition of disparate interests that has gathered around Jeremy Corbyn has lost its cohesion. This might not occur immanently.
“GE2017 or GE2017s?” (June)
If I’d encountered “The Return, Part 8” as a discrete hour-long experimental film, I’m not sure I’d be as impressed with it. (I also try to avoid the first-person in reviews. That’s proven almost impossible with Twin Peaks, in large part because even more than the original series —but very much in keeping with Lynch’s cinematic work—the return hinges on the emotional and visceral reactions it evokes.) But both as a piece of Twin Peaks backstory and as an episode of television, “The Return, Part 8” is as unexpected, as shocking, as thrilling as anything I’ve ever seen.
Emily L. Stephens, “Twin Peaks swerves into uncharted territory” (June).
Narratively, however, episode eight is not incoherent or even difficult to follow. Looking around at the mainstream today, there are far more surreal things in South Park (remember that episode from 2006 when Oprah Winfrey’s vagina and anus could talk to each other?) or the annoyingly whimsical new Amazon series American Gods. Episode eight also wears various televisual or cinematic clichés on its sleeve. The flashbacks are filmed in black and white, one of the rustiest devices from the soap opera toolbox. Whether or not Lynch’s charcoal-tinted woodsmen are zombies, the incomparable bores of popular culture, they walk like zombies and stare ahead with the fixity of zombies. And crucial to the plot is a creature that has genetically mutated due to nuclear radiation, an idea that is currently as original as Godzilla and his twenty-nine consecutive movies.
The atmosphere of this episode is not even original to Twin Peaks – it has been trialled extensively in the first three episodes – but what is new is the spaciousness of the surrealism. Everything proceeds with a dragging underwater weightlessness. To get a handle on this episode you need to see that its power lies not necessarily in the weird content of the story, but in Lynch’s loving rendering of it…
“TV Review: Twin Peaks The Return (Eight)” (June).
One of the words most commonly used in relation to the Grenfell inferno is ‘voiceless’. This calamity proves, observers say, that the poor of Britain are voiceless. No one takes their concerns seriously. It shows that ‘the weak’ – the Dickensian phrase used by one magazine – are too often ‘silenced, ignored or discounted’. It shows that too many people in this nation are ‘vulnerable and voiceless’, says Labour MP David Lammy. The poor are ‘trapped and voiceless’, says a writer for the Financial Times. But of course, the poor, for all their troubles and lack of everyday clout, do have a voice. And it’s a voice equal in strength to the voice of the richest people in the nation. It’s called the vote. And last June, during the first of the June disturbances, when vast numbers of the poor used that voice to say ‘We want to leave the EU’, they were demonised, ridiculed, referred to as ‘low-information’. By the same people now crying over their voicelessness.
Brendan O’Neill, “From Brexit to Grenfell” (June).
The Austrian drag queen had been due to perform at the Friday night showing of New European Songbook alongside her Syrian ensemble, Basalt, who are based in Vienna. But despite a supporting statement from the festival, each of the three Basalt members were unsuccessful with their visa applications. As a result, Wurst pulled out of the concert entirely, though it will still go ahead with the remaining acts.
A statement from the festival said: “We are very disappointed to announce that the Syrian artists were unsuccessful in their application for visas to perform live at the concert. The concert will go ahead with a specially recorded introduction by Conchita and Basalt and a film of their performance.”
The Guardian, “Conchita Wurst cancels Edinburgh festival show after band denied visas” (August).
The Home Office claims that this is not a policy that is in any way coordinated with Trump’s ban on immigration from Arab countries, but merely the result of honest incompetence. At least when Adolf Hitler was orchestrating the 1936 Olympics, he didn’t insult the world’s intelligence by pretending it was all an accident that athletes from certain races and cultures had not been invited.
Why isn’t this a major political scandal? The situation is now such a fiasco that the Home Secretary Amber Rudd should be considering her position. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe simply cannot be an international arts festival if performers from one of the world’s great cultures are prevented from travelling here. Our city has been humiliated and the arts in this country are now undergoing a significant loss of international status.
“Tychy@ the Fringe: Your Love is Fire” (August).
Phew, what a relief! At last, I have located it – that play – that one stunning, standout play – the name that I will hear myself uttering automatically whenever people ask me, as they do a lot at the moment, “what do you recommend?” Now I can reply instantly and with a ring of certainty: “Mine” by Georgia Taylforth at the Space Triplex. This is that play – it has a charisma or a freshness that gives it the clear edge.
“Tychy@ the Fringe: Mine” (August).
Southwark’s trialling of universal credit has been fraught with problems. Almost weekly, I have seen the direct effect of the scheme’s inbuilt delays. From asking for help to getting any takes at least six weeks, but the average has consistently been higher – and many people wait up to 12 weeks. This pushes many into foodbank use, debt, rent arrears and even evictions. It is also unnecessary, as advanced payment agreements could be made to help people with learning disabilities, previous money troubles or at risk of homelessness, which cut the delays considerably. DWP has, to date, refused to advertise or use them properly.
Neil Coyle, “Universal credit is a mean, flawed scheme. Its rollout must be blocked” (September).
Twin Peaks has been always about how you interpret Twin Peaks. Do you delve into the evidence, discovering the clues and cracking the codes? The series appears to encourage this interpretation by priming itself with multiple hidden messages, such as, say, the code that flashes across the windows of the FBI’s aeroplane in episode seven. Cryptanalysts and their ilk are nonetheless the ultimate butts of this series’ humour. Twin Peaks cannot be cracked like a code. There is a neat ending to the story – an ending that has been richly and meticulously plotted for over twenty-five years since the first appearance of Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) in Fire Walk With Me – but unfortunately this ending is the scrappy bust-up in Sheriff Truman’s office. Imagine mapping out every intricate detail of the story for years on end and then being handed a celebratory sandwich by Candie!
“TV Review: Twin Peaks The Return (Seventeen and Eighteen)” (September).
Looking at the world and all social phenomena strictly through a racial prism engenders, I think, a certain kind of myopia. I’m a Puerto Rican guy from the Bronx raised in a single-parent household. But what does that mean? Should I think a certain way because of that? I don’t. You know, people like ‘diversity’ – as a thing we all speak of, as a value. How many people care about idea diversity? How many protesters here have read Thomas Sowell or John McWhorter or Jason Riley – and read them openly, to receive? It’s just something I wonder about. Why would you want to build an ideological prison around yourself? I’ve heard people say they can’t disconnect from identity. I fear they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Jason” quoted in J. Oliver Conroy, “Get On the Bus or Get Under It: Shouting Down Free Speech at Rutgers” (October).
Catalan independence is still, despite everything, inconceivable. It is still all but a political impossibility. For a start, there is the effrontery of railroading Catalonia into independence without anything that resembles a democratic mandate. The “referendum” last Sunday was in truth not a referendum but a petition. Petitions have a vital place in democratic politics – indeed, the UK’s People’s Charter was originally a petition – but they are little more than prefatory to any legally democratic decision.
In a bitter irony, Sunday’s referendum cannot be considered fair because armed goons had used terror and intimidation to prevent people from voting. This will have distorted the vote in all sorts of undesirable ways. I am implacably opposed to separatism but I think that I would have probably voted for it had I witnessed grandmothers being beaten up outside the polling station. And here is the thing: for any referendum to be valid, a context needs to be entrenched in which people can think calmly and seriously about the question on the ballot paper. There was no incentive for Sunday’s voters to take this question seriously because there was never any guarantee that their decision would be respected and implemented. This obviously undermined the sincerity of the result.
“Catalan Nationalism versus City Statehood for Barcelona” (October).
… too many of these women, okay, are putting career, okay, and career success, okay, over their own dignity as human beings, okay, I take the Amazon position, okay, alright, that my self-respect and dignity as a human being is more important than any career advantage, okay, that has always been my position, okay, I was rude about it, okay, as an Amazon feminist early on, at the very start of feminism, okay, any man did anything that I regarded as condescending to me, okay, put an arm around me as I was going through a door, I mean I created a scene at the Stretford [sic] Shakespeare Festival… ‘get your arm off me!,’ okay, like that, that’s my attitude – women have got to take it to the men!… Too many women are trained in the bourgeois style now, the middle-class style, okay, which is to smile, okay, and try to please, okay. Someone does something that makes you uncomfortable, okay, alright, SPEAK UP THEN! EMBARRASS THE MAN, okay, don’t be afraid, okay, to create a scene, okay, the Italian thing is creating scenes and being confrontational, okay, alright ‘how dare you!’… Stand up for yourself, this is what I say… [etc]
In 1917, peasants’ committees and workers’ soviets had seized control of the means of production; ordinary Russians had fallen over each other to grab power and property for themselves. In 2017, politics is reduced to a faraway, largely incomprehensible bickering about nonentities’ personal wrongdoings. Headlines about ministerial sex nuisances are not so much a sign of decadence as a confirmation of our own political passivity. Politics can be all about them – about their careers and tax arrangements – because it is no longer about us. In 1917, however, millions of ordinary people had rudely barged right into the middle of their politics. The world was shaken as it had never been before and hasn’t been since.
“Book Review: Ten Days That Shook the World” (November).
The situation is all made worse by the fact that the final deal on Brexit is a topic so explosive that Mrs May has, even now, still not dared hold a conversation about it with her cabinet — which cabinet members find extraordinary. It’s not just the DUP: everyone feels left in the dark. This lack of trust will make the debate even more contentious. ‘Hugging the EU close is more difficult now. Everyone is hypersensitive,’ says one of those who has been conveying No. 10’s message to Tory Brexiteers. One well-placed Conservative warns that ‘everyone is more suspicious than before’. In a sign of how bad the mood is among some Brexiteers, one of the leading figures in Vote Leave tells me there is a ‘week to fight back’ against what they view as an attempt to bounce the cabinet into accepting a soft Brexit, which would see the UK follow EU rules and regulations.
James Forsyth, “Carry On Brexit” (December).
Social Bite has announced that it has raised more than £4 million from its Sleep in the Park event held in Edinburgh as well as its annual ITISON Christmas fundraiser. The social projected said it was “absolutely thrilled” to have reached such a figure. More than 8,000 people descended on Edinburgh’s Princes Street gardens to take part in the “world’s biggest sleepout” even in the icy temperatures. Spirits were roused as they were joined by celebrities and witnessed performances from Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy Macdonald and Frightened Rabbit, as well as John Cleese reading a bedtime story.
The Scotsman, “Edinburgh Sleep in the park events raises over £4m” (December).
Tychy wishes all readers a Happy New Year.