Anti-Semitism, Boris Johnson, Brexit, Censorship, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Fringe, Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital., Extinction Rebellion, Happy New Year, Harold Bloom, Homelessness, Hong Kong, Housing Crisis, Luciana Berger, Notre Dame Cathedral, Robots, Skengdo and AM, Theresa May
A fortnight ago, the Metropolitan police announced they had secured a sentence of nine months in prison for the two 21-year-old drill rappers, suspended for two years, for breaching a gang injunction issued in August last year. The nature of the breach? Performing their song Attempted 1.0 at a London concert in early December. The suppression of black music in the UK stretches back 100 years, but, according to Index on Censorship, this is the first time in British legal history that a prison sentence has been issued for performing a song.
“Skengdo and AM: the drill rappers sentenced for playing their song,” Dan Hancox, The Guardian (January).
If I was walking down a suburban street in Edinburgh, with plenty of people within earshot, and I met a cat, I would address the animal naturally e.g. “hello there, aren’t you a pretty cat?” Why is it, then, that I feel self-conscious and foolish in speaking to these robots when there are other people around me? The cat and the robot are surely synonymous, in that neither of them possesses consciousness. The answer is that, yes, the cat is a machine, but it interacts with us in a far more spontaneous way and, hence, for the anthropomorphist, it is better at presenting a human front. Robots cannot yet override the advantage of being tailored from flesh and blood.
“Museum Review: Robots, at the National Museum of Scotland” (January).
“When Luciana Berger left the Labour Party, I thought it was the worst day of shame in the Labour Party’s 120-year history – a pregnant young MP bullied out of her own party by racist thugs. The one thing I say to my colleagues and half a million Labour Party members is that I am not going to allow them to be tainted by racism, so I am going to speak out on anti-Semitism for as long as it takes to root it out and deal with it.”
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader (February).
“The fourteenth” she replied evenly.
“Goodness? The fourteenth?”
“The fourteenth this morning,” she added, with a kind of chiding emphasis. “We’ve actually had to wheel her into your office.”
“Gracious, wheel her?” The Vice-Chancellor was immediately hurrying off to see and she had to hurry after him. This current trouble amongst the students was rather like ivy, she reflected. You kept on saying that you would prune it until one day you realised that your entire house had disappeared.
“The Students Who Were Made of Glass” (February).
Tory grandee Michael Heseltine – who received a rapturous reception at the march – also let the cat out of the bag. After explaining why Thatcher and Churchill would have backed Remain, he thundered: ‘One way or another, you, the people, must decide. You, the people, must be free to vote to remain.’
“The reactionaries are on the march,” Tom Slater, Spiked Online (March).
“So you want to leave the EU? Looking at my notes, it seems that only 0.000000000000001% of the EU’s trade is accomplished with the Moon. And this is all cheese?”
I was scandalised to hear my craftsmanship described as “cheese,” which is a word that I have not uttered for years. “Fondue, sir,” I piped up. “I engineer an artisanal premium fondue experience…”
“Cheese!” Mr Tusk growled. “My valuable international time is being expended on cheese. Well, how would the Moon like it if a 30% tariff was slapped on its artisanal gunk?”
This was outrageous – how could he? I could feel myself blinking back tears but I was determined to put on a show of negotiating strength.
“Letter from the Man in the Moon (4)” (April).
When a place is no more—or, as we’ve seen, chunks of that physical site have been destroyed—it becomes a kind of anthropomorphic feeling, as though we lost that part of ourselves: a loss of body parts, to put it bluntly. It’s almost as though we’re losing part of who we are…
Professor Shelley Hornstein on the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral (April).
On the other side of Addis, opposite the lion zoo, where it is said, you can see the descendants of the early Ethiopian emperors’ Abyssinian lions, is the office of the President of the Supreme Court. Meaza Ashenafi is the first woman to hold this office. Appointed in November 2018 by the new Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abbiy Ahmed, she is now facing the task of reforming Ethiopia’s justice system…
“Judge,” filmlifestorywakawaka (April).
“Vaguely S Luca” (April.)
It turned out that unbeknownst to herself until now, the Prime Minister had the psychic ability to see ghosts of pirates.
Mrs. May went weak at the knees and fainted.
As she lay on the floor she dreamed of a Harlequin historical romance novel book cover in which she appeared held in the arms of a pirate with an open shirt and a muscular hairless chest.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen Mrs. May look happy all day,” 10 Downing Street’s head butler remarked.
“Theresa May Announces Her Resignation On Queen Victoria’s 200th Birthday,” Dracul Van Helsing (May).
This monitoring often involves the diabetic having to impersonate a well person. In whatever situation they are in they have to just keep going, not doing or saying anything that will alarm those around them, until they can administer the next insulin injection or discreetly wolf down the next plate of carbs. As the sufferer edges nearer to the chaotic dizziness of hypoglycaemia (a “no-deal” Brexit) or the stultifying droopiness of hyperglycaemia (staying in the EU), they get by, minute by minute, through simply pretending that everything is normal. May’s government had in all practical respects collapsed last November, when it had lost its majority in the House of Commons on every significant economic question. But it continued to impersonate a functioning government, woodenly acting out its charade of cabinet unity and legislative purposefulness.
I am tempted to explain how populism represents the insulin in this analogy, but it might be wiser to move on. I nonetheless genuinely hold that a lot of May’s secrecy and paranoia is, in the context of her diabetes, a skillset and one that is necessary to managing her condition competently.
The protesters who broke into the Legislative Council complex were NOT rioters. They were NOT violent. Their objective was never to harm any individuals. They wanted to make the regime hear Hong Kongers’ voice, and they had no other option. WE ALREADY TRIED EVERYTHING ELSE.
Joshua Wong (June).
“Tower Power” (June).
The basic plot is that a colony of extraterrestrials has established itself on Earth. Rather than stalking over the land in tripods or kidnapping earthlings in flying saucers, they have decided to take over by using YouTube. One of their number is safely camouflaged as that most familiar and reliable of cultural phenomena, the all-American Dad, with his corporate job, suburban family, and trusty DIY knowhow. The aliens duly proceed to upload some suitably all-American, suburban videos. These clips must be (a) inconspicuous, without any tell-tale flashes of tentacles or ray-guns, and (b) hugely popular, so as to recruit ever more subscribers. Eventually, all of Dad’s unsuspecting viewers will be presumably harvested in some way.
“YouTube Review: Dad” (June).
The original Michael Joseph cover by Welsh artist John Griffiths imagines the triffid as a sort of giraffe-shaped artichoke on tuberous legs. Since ‘gigantic artichokes’ rather undersells how tense and scary Wyndham’s novel actually is, Griffiths has superimposed spiraling green lines to convey alarm…
“A Trove of Triffids,” Morphosis (July).
Still, this beauty and joie de vivre have no connection with his libido. His buoyancy as a dancer is being always juxtaposed with the coldness and the dead weight of his sexuality. I can see how his female clients would have an uncontrollable desire to make love to him and yet remain absolutely terrified throughout the entire experience. Moreover, I can see how they could hold these two things in their minds equally and simultaneously… I had come to this play looking to learn more about India (which I do), but its ultimate gift is to realistically demonstrate, unsentimentally but still empathetically, how a human being can slip into becoming a monster.
When my name was called and I was guided out on stage, the audience gave a massive supportive cheer and I instantly felt more confident than I had all day. I also had the banging blind man bonus of not being able to see the audience at all, which I imagine is one of the most daunting parts of performing in front of a crowd that size. Anyway, everything went to plan! The set went well, people laughed, nobody threw fruit. I was absolutely buzzing and couldn’t have been happier with how things had gone.
“My Edinburgh Fringe Experience,” Reece Finnegan (August).
In many cases nominees were refused a home because of the likelihood they would accrue major rent arrears after moving on to universal credit, because of the probability they would be hit by the bedroom tax or because the benefit cap had made them a financial risk. Others were rejected after social landlords identified they had unmet mental health or addiction problems, often because of cuts to local NHS and housing support services. Individuals with unmet support needs were regarded as “too high a risk to tenancy sustainment”, the CIH said.
“Homeless denied social housing for being too poor, study says,” Patrick Butler, The Guardian (September).
“Sick Buildings Syndrome” is a category that I have invented to encompass various major news stories that have resulted from a steep degradation of architectural skills and competence. These stories are seldom viewed as being connected. They instead tend to be portrayed as isolated events and as ultimately the consequences of negligence or of recklessly greedy cost-cutting. Prominent examples include the fire at Grenfell Tower (cause: incompetent use of flammable materials coupled with inadequate fire prevention and evacuation) and the collapse of the gigantic public limited company Carillion (cause: expensive engineering and construction faults during its building of two hospitals). But the latest instance of Sick Buildings Syndrome, the Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital, is a marvel and a beauty of its kind….
“Sick Kids Meet Sick Buildings Syndrome” (September).
And, because I am a part of what Bloom called a “School of Resentment,” because I believe that texts remain forever enmeshed in their reading publics through and across time, because I maintain that texts arise from particular material conditions, I am enraged. Enraged that those with outsized influence over what we collectively decide is worth reading are often themselves abusers with patently closed sympathy faculties. Enraged against those who imagine that we can suck the identity, the politics, the history from a work by treating it with our formaldehyde of New Critical close reading, as though language isn’t always stuck in the craw of a particular cultural moment. Enraged by those who fashion their taste as neutral, as bland, as self-evident, those opposed to any self-critical recognition that taste-making is endlessly taught and arbitrarily refined—in the classrooms, sure enough, but outside as well and from the very earliest ages as we come to consciousness in a culture which forever prioritizes and celebrates the work of mediocre writers hailing from positions of power. Enraged by those who can imagine nothing better than curling up in a dry hole with the same twenty poets, who just happen [accidentally] [coincidentally] [happenstantially] to be overwhelmingly white and consistently male—for whom… [cont.]
Nuclear fusion could potentially do for the “climate emergency” what the tank had done to break the deadlock and end the slaughter of WW1. As with early attitudes towards the tank, there is a widespread disinterest in understanding nuclear fusion and a tendency to patly dismiss it as an irrelevance. I am not sure that people should have been on the streets during WW1 campaigning for the speedier invention of the tank. But since they are on the streets now, they might as well be campaigning for investment on a humungous scale into nuclear fusion.
“Beach Buddies” (October).
Where lovers of the EU speak of reversing the last three years and returning to political normality, “It’s Time For Real Change” tells them that they are never going home again. Where Remainers squeak about the terrors of no deal and its disruption to the flow of trade, “It’s Time For Real Change” rejoices in a stupendous disruption to every region of the economy. Where those opposing no deal fervently chant the warnings and assessments of the IFS, the IFS has been first in the queue to condemn “It’s Time For Real Change.” Where Remainers want to double down on the status quo, Labour’s manifesto is called, “It’s Time For Real Change.”
It is as plain as day: the target of Boris’s words was not African people — it was Blair, and the Blairite brand of moralistic interventionism and Blair’s view of himself as a big white chief saving the tragic peoples of the Third World from themselves. You don’t have to have a degree in critical analysis to see that Boris’s use of the words piccaninny and watermelon smiles was an attack on Blair and his imperial delusions, not on people in the Congo or anywhere else.
“Boris Johnson and the ‘piccaninny’ smear,” Brendan O’Neill, The Spectator (November).
Sorely should we heed the Aesop’s Fable of Jo Swinson, the erstwhile Lib-Dem leader. She had said that she wanted to cancel Brexit. She had refused to respect the result of this gigantic democratic event. She had even entertained the prospect that she would refuse to respect the outcome of a second referendum if her side lost it. When saying these things, she frequently implied that democracy doesn’t work and that ordinary people shouldn’t be left unsupervised to take democratic decisions by themselves. If one is a fascist, then they can logically hold these beliefs, but the trouble was that, in having abused the voters and tried to devalue their votes, Swinson then found herself standing for re-election. It would be her community who would cancel her.
“Where You Belong (a review of GE2019)” (December).
Many of them were to do with the Prime Minister himself: briefly pocketing a reporter’s phone to avoid an embarrassing picture; declining to be interviewed by my colleague Andrew Neil; and apparently hiding in a fridge. In each case, addicted Twitterati thought them emblematic, even turning-point truths, and assumed that the nation was transfixed. But millions of voters probably found them trivial, or smiled briefly — if they noticed them at all. They were thinking about the simpler messages Twitter passed over. One of the common qualities among journalists is a short attention span. During this election, it became for us a crippling disability.
“This election made me fall in love with democracy again,” Andrew Marr, The Spectator (December).
Tychy wishes all readers a Happy New Year.