2021 Scottish Parliament election, Afghan War, Afghanistan, Books, Boris Johnson, Cancel Culture, China, Coronavirus, COVID Vaccines, COVID-19, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Fringe, Ewan Morrison, India, Lockdown, Migrant Crisis, Opinion, Politics, Professor Chris Whitty, Review of the Year, Social Distancing, Taliban
Whitty: Thank you. Next slide please. I’d like to commence my update today by singing a song to you. I’d like for you to all follow along to the actions at home. [He begins to pat his head and swivel his hips.] Heads, shoulders, knees and toes knees and toes, Heads, shoulders, knees and toes knees and toes…
Johnson: I say Chris, this isn’t the message we’d agreed earlier…
Whitty: Next slide please. I’ve realised that even though I am chronically lacking in the charisma that is necessary to pull my job off, and most of the public by now have zero confidence in my fatalistic leadership, you’ve been stuck with me for so long that we’ve reached the point where there is literally nothing that I can do to get fired. To dispense with me would be to admit that you have been hitched up with the wrong guy all throughout this pandemic. Next slide please. And so I’m just going to issue nonsensical advice, because I can’t be bothered anymore. Repeat after me: Heads, shoulders, knees and toes knees and toes…
[Johnson begins to perform the dance as well, dutifully copying the actions.]
“The Noctes Ambrosianae (No 25)” (January).
They break into the heart of power. They have no idea what to do next. Just like Trump. They wander around, steal a podium, pose for selfies. This isn’t a coup, or “fascism”. It’s cosplay.
Lee Jones, Twitter (January).
But the government remains noncommittal about easing social distancing whilst the public is apparently content to wait for whenever the government is ready. In an era when government policy frequently makes no logical sense, the only thing to have “opened up” recently is this new abyss of inexplicability. The ultimate long COVID seems to be our societal reluctance to move on from the disease. In addition, the continuation of the lockdown is increasingly flickering with telltale signs of dream-logic. It is rather as if the inhabitants of the heavenly citadel had agreed to scrupulously follow health-and-safety procedures, even though they live in a world where nobody can ever die or get injured.
Can this balking at “opening up” be in fact explained? Is the slowness to return to normal life a perfectly sensible policy, or is it instead fundamentally morbid and crazy? Is it a political phenomenon, a cultural one, or a far broader product of the particular historical circumstances in which we are living?
“More Lockdown, More Thanatos” (February).
“This work reflects that I am a father of two wonderful healthy kids,” says Andrew. “I could not have created the work without the experience of being a dad. The scroll narrative and related work reflects the trials, joys and complexities that I discovered while helping to bring up my two kids. It is these experiences that is the light to the shadow of my miscarriages. My experiences helped me celebrate this double-edged sword. I do not see this work as sentimental or depressing but an artwork that has an authenticity, integrity and a tenderness that breaks down the perception of who experiences miscarriage.”
“A Male Expression of Miscarriage—and the Preciousness of the Family—by Andrew Foster,” On Art and Aesthetics (February).
This leads to the question of what the hobgoblin is exactly. It is here that poltergeists have been very carefully named. It is true that a poltergeist is a “noisy spirit,” which is what the name means in German, but what is so eerie about them is that they are always loquacious without being ever communicative. If Donald really is a human being who has returned from a future state, why does he never refer to what it is like to die or to be dead, in any way that is psychologically convincing? Why is there no “take me to your leader” moment, in which Donald demands to speak to the Prime Minister, to spill all of the secrets of human life and death?
“Podcast Review: The Battersea Poltergeist” (March).
I took to that road at the last minute. Sensing lockdown was about to hit like a rake to the face, I threw everything I didn’t need into the back of my 22 year old import. Along with a cantankerous cockatiel and a half ounce of very strong weed called Stardawg. Once I was out there my carefully planned smuggler’s route over the high ground seemed silly in hindsight.
The motorways were just a big series of empty lanes, HGV’s and low level paranoia. The spectre of police patrols sweeping up drivers in between road blocks, checking and fining every car traveling beyond a certain distance on the ANPR cameras was just that: a spectre. A big bellowing paper tiger roaring from all forms of mass media. ‘Stay home! Save lives!’
Lenny Hawksmoor, “The Midnight Gospel” (March).
So sweeping has this irrationality become that it has even managed to incorporate a “Little Englander” mindset that has been until recently enormously unfashionable throughout the UK. It is now widely viewed as being morally normal that healthy people in the UK should be prioritised to receive the vaccine over people in foreign countries who are far more likely to be killed by COVID-19. The UK’s bourgeois Left, which is usually so vociferous in bidding each other to “check your privilege!,” has shown itself to be disconcertingly blind when it comes to this indisputable example of real unfairness. But to prioritise the slums of Nairobi over the UK’s spacious suburbia would suddenly mean that those dazzling electronic passports could never be launched, that the testing regime would need to be scaled back, that the infection rate could be no longer treated as a national emergency akin to a terrorist bombing campaign, and that the worst conceivable outcome would befall this managerial class that has grown so empowered of late: it would have to relax.
“Keeping ‘Keeping Safe’ Safe” (April).
Six people were reported to have been killed in lawless scenes last night following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. Buildings were torched and businesses and shops in Edinburgh city centre were looted as a mob consisting of people of all ages ran amok less than an hour after the ninety-nine-year-old Duke was pronounced dead. A Scottish Police spokesman told reporters: “Prince Philip’s death has left a power vacuum that these lawless folk are exploiting. “We are hoping that a new Duke will be appointed soon so that law and order can be restored”
The Whitechapel Whelk, “Six die in fires and looting as leaderless Edinburgh descends into chaos” (April).
In the more general fight for liberty, these people, with their paranoia and their obstinate distrust, might prove to be a valuable raw material. Their paranoia is often laughable and it can be dismissed as simply the result of uneducated people going mad in their houses during the pandemic. Even so, one stumbles at the question of whether or not this paranoia might be more responsible than a passive acceptance of the lockdown. There is always the niggling worry that these silly people are actually saner than I am.
Covit-19 killed most non-TV hustings and meetings during the Election — doom by Zoom — but the chief disaster was the Scottish Socialist Party’s decision in not to field candidates, despite their 6-MSPs 2003-06 The SSP’s Colin Fox seems always to have proved the best speaker at hustings in any election. No doubt Stalin would have called him a Trotskyite, and he is certainly ferociously anti-Stalinist, but his main achievement is his constant proof that he understands debate and oratory, and as such vindicates not only Socialism, Marxism and (in a necessarily broad sense) Trotskyism, but a blazing passion for democracy itself. On the stump he might be John the Baptist confronting clutches of Pharisees and Sadducees. For anyone interested in the art of oratory and debate Mr Fox is a sublime aesthetic delight. This is how it should be done, and nowadays hardly ever is. He uses history with genuine range, vivid imagination, and an idealism that shames most rivals.
Owen Dudley Edwards, “Election 2021 and its Legacy,” The Drouth (May).
The story behind CHF-4 has lately granted this novel a genial prophetic buzz. CHF-4 is a manmade pathogen that has escaped from a laboratory for blueprinting vaccines. With a strange mixture of aplomb and inelegance, the speculative scenario that Morrison had chosen for this novel, when he was writing it last year, might have turned out to accurately predict the past. There is today a suspicion amongst some scientists that COVID-19 is as manmade as Quorn.
What is most telling, I think, is how easily the Scottish Government could have settled this is they wanted to. Outdoor performances have been considered a non-starter in Edinburgh for lack of financial viability – but the Scottish Government coukd easily have make this viable with a subsidy that’s tiny compared to things like furlough. Whatever concerns they have about public safety, they could have covered by setting whatever conditions they like, and the venues would have bitten their hand off to sign up. I’d stated last year there’s no way the Scottish Government would allow the Edinbrugh Fringe to collapse on their watch. Now, I’m beginning to wonder.
Chris Neville-Smith, “7 possible futures for the Edinburgh Fringe” (June).
“You surely cannot be insured against being ‘cancelled’? How could such an insurance scheme ever work?”
“It is more of a sweepstake. Each restaurant or pub puts in one hundred pounds per month and at the end of the month, the business that has offended the greatest number of people wins the kitty.”
“I see. I’m beginning to understand why everybody is so offended all the time these days. You are saying that businesses go out of their way to deliberately offend people, so that they can win the prize?”
The old man shook his head firmly. “No my man, this is a gentlemanly game, a game of honour. Every week now there is some controversy in the media that sets all of the heather aflame. It has become an almost mechanical feature of capitalism. Sure, some businesses might try to deliberately engineer an offensive situation but these are lost in the sea of honest mistakes. Last month, we had won outright though. No other competitor had been arrested by the police and condemned by Nicola Sturgeon and savaged in an emotional viral video, all in one manoeuvre. Our victory was undisputed.”
I felt happy for him. “My congratulations.”
“The Story of the Old Man in the Tux” (July).
Just think the cold, hard logic of that through. Say you had a family member who lives abroad, or an old partner say, or colleague, or a university friend. Imagine they get in touch with you. Imagine they’re a democratic dissident in an undemocratic country, going in fear of a knock at the door in the night and being disappeared. Imagine they tell you they’ve been outed as gay in a homophobic country and are now exposed to persecution and reprisals. Imagine your friend is the wrong religion – or the wrong flavour of religion – and they find themselves at risk of persecution if they don’t get out and stay out.
If you put your hand in your pocket and paid for a train or plane ticket to pull them out of the jeopardy they find themselves in, Global Britain thinks you belong in court. Even if your brother, or lover, or former colleague or friend is truly in danger and entitled to recognition as a refugee under UK and international law – the Tories think you should be treated as a criminal for helping them to reach these shores.
Andrew Tickell, “Jailing Winton’s Ghost” (July).
Yet Kabul might have fallen (insofar as it is possible to tell what is happening in that country when the people who have been governing it for the last twenty years do not have the first clue) for reasons that confound any attempt to identify the Taliban as an expression of proletarian might. This is where comparisons with the Fall of Saigon go especially awry. For during the Cold War, the USA was supposedly fighting for freedom and free-market capitalism. In Afghanistan, however, it is the USA that is on the side of devastating corruption and the economic mediocrity that was once associated with the Soviet Union. By contrast, the Taliban are less tolerant of corruption and I suspect that many Afghans quietly support them as a shock means of unlocking the economy. The Taliban are likely to secure increased Chinese investment as well.
Genetically created satyr serial killer Pan Goatee was walking towards one of his favourite Vietnamese restaurants to buy one of their delicious Vietnamese submarine sandwiches.
Suddenly a thin ugly looking white stoat (one of three varieties of ugly looking white women who live in the City of Calgary) came walking down the sidewalk accompanied by her moronic looking son (who no doubt inherited his IQ from his father for marrying such an uglo).
Pan Goatee then beheaded both uglo mother and moronic looking son cutting them up into 999 trillion pieces each.
Goatee then entered the restaurant and ordered the Satay Beef Sub.
Dracul Van Helsing, “Pan Goatee Beheads More Uglos As Renfield Takes Action Against Neo-Bolshevik Communists“ (August).
“I have only been tipped once,” I reflected. “And that person did not appear to be all there. He was wearing furs and some kind of replica gold crown.”
“If they tip us they can wear what they fagging want,” Pablo snarled.
Although Pablo is bitterly contemptuous of the UK’s welfare state, he still thinks that a law should be introduced in which every driver who delivers a pizza pie automatically receives a complimentary slice of it. A tithe for the twenty-first century, one might say.
“And these people are never naked,” Pablo continued. “In Barcelona, the – how you say? – the old wifey, she answer the door with her breasts jigging and her legs open. In Berlin, everyone in the flat answer the door in this way, all laughing and waving. But in this fagging country they still don’t have the basic sexual sense of the farm animals to try it with the new male who comes to the door.”
“Some Nuts and Bolts of Edinburgh’s Economy” (September).
As Xi said in his speech: “China is now the world’s second largest economy, the largest industrial nation, the largest trader of goods, and the largest holder of foreign exchange reserves. China’s GDP has exceeded RMB100 trillion yuan and stands at over US$10,000 in per capita terms. Permanent urban residents account for over 60% of the population, and the middle-income group has grown to over 400 million. Particularly noteworthy are our historic achievements of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and eliminating absolute poverty—a problem which has plagued our nation for thousands of years.”
In contrast, the lessons of the global financial crash and the Great Recession of 2009, the ensuing long depression to 2019 and the economic impact of the pandemic slump are that introducing more capitalist production for profit will not sustain economic growth and certainly not deliver ‘common prosperity’.
Michael Roberts, “China and Common Prosperity” (September).
After he had left his seat in the restaurant, Roman went straight to St Giles’ Cathedral. For a long time he lay face-down and spread-eagled in the dust in front of the altar. After he was finished with this, he rolled over and he lay very still and faraway, gazing up across the bowl of the ceiling. None of the people who passed him disturbed him or gave any suggestion that what he was doing was in any way remarkable. In a Catholic cathedral, a priest would have appeared and moved straightaway to attend to Roman with a load of tricks up his sleeves. It is the wisdom of the Presbyterians, however, that we are entirely and absolutely alone.
“The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe” (October).
The reason why Korean films like Parasite and shows like Squid Game are so popular is that American cinema and television have become boring, predictable hyper-political garbage. Hollywood is cookie cutter visual bowel movement like the Fast and Furious Series, Mindless Superhero Marvel garbage, senseless Rom-Com, Hit men, spies, super-soldiers, political trash. At any rate, sometimes a great idea can get corny like the Spanish Film: “Juan in a Million” which started out great and then had a predictable ending. Hopefully Squid won’t end up the same way.
The Botendaddy, “The Squid Game” (October).
If you are adventurous enough and dare to venture into the bowels of the mountain forests in the neighbouring region, who knows you may find a beautiful thousand-meter waterfall coming down from an unreachable hamlet in the clouds. At the bottom of which you will find a beautiful village and a peculiar installation of an antique wooden door with a crossed hammer and chisel, and an ancient key in the middle, erected on a stone pedestal on the bank of the stream. Below the installation, you will find a stone plaque with an inscription in the local language saying, “In Memory Of The Man Who Brought The River… you, we shall never forget.”
Trishikh Dasgupta, “The Man Who Brought The River” (November).
Anybody who takes their eye off this escalating nightmare for a second and allows it to settle on other areas of recent news coverage might grow quickly bewildered or even vertiginous. For the situation at the Belarusian border is a news story about Europe being too full, of there being a human surplus and of complications arising when nobody knows what to do with these excess individuals. This, after the newspaper that I read, the Guardian, has spent months issuing a daily figure of deaths from COVID-19. Not many days will skip by before the tally of the UK’s COVID dead has quickly dwarfed the tiny numbers of people who are distressed at the Belarusian border. And this, after months of news stories about the UK being too empty, of there being a human scarcity, of there being not enough people to work in the NHS and drive the goods lorries and pick fields of decomposing vegetables.
“Just Let Them In” (November).
The fact is, for many people, Britain is very much a “papers please” society. “Papers please” is what the “hostile environment” for immigrants is built on – the demand that people who might be immigrants must show their papers before they can receive hospital treatment, rent a flat or find a job. It’s what lies at the heart of the Windrush scandal – the insistence that those who did not have the right papers could not be British, even if they had been born here, and had lived and worked here all their lives… The failure to recognise this is not an unfortunate oversight. Rightwing libertarians often have a selective view of who should be able to avail themselves of liberty…
Kenan Malik, “Strange beasts, these ‘libertarians’ who love to curb the freedom of others,” The Guardian (December).
Indeed, I don’t think that libertarians have been ever more demoralised than they are today. They probably know at the bottom of their hearts that they are being punished for their naivety. Would the Spectator have sent Boris to Westminster, or would Guido have launched a PR campaign on his behalf, if they could have heard him flirting with the prospect of compulsory vaccinations last week? With Boris, a single defenceless personality has been gobbled up by the managerial ruling class and so maybe so much should have never rested on this calamitous individual in the first place.
“Podcast Review: Coffee House Shots” (December).
Tychy wishes all readers a Happy New Year.