Sunday, 21 February 2010

Brilliant Headlines, vol 20

The online version is:
Children shipped to Australia to get formal apology

But I think I prefer the dead tree version:
'Children sent to Australia to get Brown apology'

Either way, it seems to be taking detention a bit far. Couldn't he have just grounded them or something?

Cheap Gag

Following on from my, "Gah, will everyone just stop factionalising and egging them on!" post from t'other day, Penny Red's post just had me itching to say something.

Not the content so much, but the title:
Resignations, rivalry and the future of the left
This just struck me as being in very bad taste, I mean doesn't she know that they were inexplicably dropped by their label recently? So insensitive, Laurie! Besides, we all know: FOTL have no rivals.*

I'll get me coat.

Still, at least it's an excuse to put this in my blog...

* And for the record, when I saw them at the Cluny a few weeks ago, they packed the crowds in and, like, totally rocked. Plus they only had one bloke shouting out for old Mclusky numbers this time.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Upcoming Events

Been meaning to put this up for a couple of days as well - I should probably have added 'absent-minded' to 'semi-active' in the last post...

Internal Party Bobbins

So, in the last few weeks I've been too busy to go to branch meetings, and I've missed a couple of paper sales. There's no political reason for this, I've just had a lot of work on and it hasn't left much time for anything else.

So I was quite surprised to read, via Laurie Penny*, that Lindsey German had left the party, and that it was events up here in the toon that sparked it.

So, as a local, semi-active, rank-and-file party member, here's my ha'pennorth on the whole thing: it's internal party bobbins. I love the SWP and am proud of what it stands for, but I just can't be having with the 'internal squabbling' spectator sport where other members of the disunited left gather round to tell us all how rubbish we are.**

There's two reasons for this: firstly, I actually think it's pretty sad when comrades can no longer work together as they used to, not least because it takes us further away from our shared political goals. There's never a shortage of people who want to put the boot in, especially on the magical insult-generating troll that is teh intertubes, but in all seriousness it fills me with more despair than a thousand speeches by George Osborne. Second, it's just a particularly yawn-inducing piece of political theatre, he-says-she-says, not the bread and butter of the party work.

This weekend we'll be on the streets, selling the paper and organising for a public meeting in the wake of the Corus mothballing announcement. That's the bread and butter stuff. Why Lindsey left will have two mutually incompatible narratives and in the end I'm not going to choose either of them. The party is still here, the work still needs to be done, and who-said-what-to-who-when is just an excuse not to do it. This isn't to say I don't have opinions on the things that happen in the local and national scene, it would be brazenly disingenuous to say such a thing. All I'm saying is, what's the point of getting involved in a squabble? That's why we have meetings and delegation and decisions, so that we are active, not wasting our time in a vicious circle of discussion. All it does is turn left-wing activism into a talking shop, and there's plenty of that around already.

If I do a blog post on Plato, or apple crumble, well that's trivial but hopefully not unamusing or dull. This stuff, it's both.

* I'm not going to bother with Laurie's 'The SWP is sooo sectarian' stuff, I've heard it all before, am yet to be impressed, and Lenin's done a better response than I'd do anyway, except to say that in my experience the SWP is sectarian to the extent that we are a distinct political party, that we've never made any secret of our principles or agenda, and that if we get involved in broad front work - which we do, often - we do so in so far as it is compatible with our politics. If that's sectarian then we are all sectarians. We don't, for example, demand that Labour amend its other horrendous policies before we'll work in a broad front anti-fascist movement with them, but we will insist that the UAF is combative in its approach to the fascist problem. I'm afraid that all seems perfectly reasonable to me.

**Yes, I'm aware that this amounts to a blog post in which I tell anyone reading that I'm not going to do a blog post, but at least it's not a meeting of the Tautology Club, OK?

Praise for t'Beeb

I love the World Service, but usually hate the Business Daily* programme, where all too often the main item is a bloke flogging his 'How to be a multi-millionaire' self-help book based on faecal patterns of great business leaders and suchlike. But today's had a piece on union density in call centres and an item on the decline in value of Tiger Woods' brand in which the journo finished with a quote from the Communist Manifesto.

I suspect this will be the highlight of my day.

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind
seems quite apposite actually, especially if prefaced with a sentence incluing the phrases 'extra-marital affairs' and 'dropped from Accenture quicker than Billy Whizz on crack.' Which would have been perfect.

*Not on iPlayer but due to be repeated @ 19.40 GMT if that helps.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Day Today

Certain national festivals are designed to remind you of your flaws as a human being, like May Day would be for Tories if they had consciences or basic empathy skills; or Testicular Cancer Awareness Week is a prod with a sharp stick for men young enough to still be convinced of their immortality.

February the 14th has been my TCAW for the last few years now, but I have at last found a way of dealing with it. I offer this solution to the rest of you who have also failed at the most defining task of a human being, that of sustaining a loving relationship. I can't make your worthless, hollow lives any better, but I can tell you this: don't just sit there scoffing chocolates. Get off your arse and do something valuable.

I made an apple crumble. Everything looks better after an apple crumble, I'm sure you agree. In fact, I think I might take up comfort eating as a solution to more of the thorns that life throws in my path. If life gives you lemons, chuck them in the cupboard until Shrove Tuesday, and get out the custard powder, that's what I say.

Who's with me?

How a more professionally executed
apple crumble may have looked.

P.S. I appreciate that my own particular brand of self-deprecating humour doesn't always come over as well as I'd like in print, so I would just like to stress that most of this post was for comic effect. And the crumble was really delicious.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Great Street Conversations

The weekly paper sale is often good for a laugh, as you can bump into pretty much any kind of person that humanity in its many splendour'd glory has managed to produce. Although, as a fringe political organisation there's always one or two representatives of the Jungian archetype that I like to call 'confused nutters with an axe to grind.'

The petition on our stall today was about defending pensions and increasing the Winter Fuel Allowance. An old lady stopped and came up to me.
"I agree with that, but before I sign it, can I ask you one question?"
"Do you agree with letting all them immigrants into the country?
"Yes. Yes we do."
"Right. Bye then." and off she bustled in a state of righteousness, having prevented the blight of multiculturalism spreading further down Northumberland St.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

380 BCE and All That

So, I was looking through Plato again for the first time in a very long while. And there's this bit in Meno where Socrates says:

As the soul is immortal, has been born often and has seen all things here and in the underworld, there is nothing which it has not learned; so it is in no way surprising that it can recollect the things it knew before, both about virtue and other things. As the whole of nature is akin, and the soul has learned everything, nothing prevents a man, after recalling one thing only - a process men call learning - discovering everything else for himself, if he is brave and does not tire of the search, for searching and learning are as a whole, recollection.
(Plato, Meno 81, c-d)

and this reminded me of something I used to know well as a teenager...

Of course, this is based on Umberto Eco's work, himself a philosopher critical of religious dogma. So is it a realistic depiction of Medieval attitudes to knowledge? Certainly some thought so, as late as 1542. In the preface to Copernicus' book On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres Osiander addresses the Pope:
as soon as certain people learn that in these books of mine which I written about the revolution of the spheres of the world I attribute certain motions of the terrestrial globe, they will immediately shout to have me and my opinion hooted off the stage.
(Copernicus, 1995:4)
New ideas, in religious circles, had their price. Copernicus' conflicted with literal readings of Scripture as well, which was a problem:
He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
Of course, Christian philosophy these days is more generally associated with Aristotle than Plato, but in this respect, the idea of received knowledge fits closely with the Platonic notion of Forms. In the Theory of Forms, knowledge of such things is iluminated by the Form of the Good - later identified with the one God of Abrahamic religions - and Forms are the real world, of which the physical objects around us are but pale shadows. In addition, Plato had developed a doctrine of an immortal (albeit reincarnated) soul. Much of this fits with Christian understandings of God.

The idea that Platonism is associated with Christianity is not of course new. St Justin, a 2nd century Palestinian Christian, 'was convinced that in the highminded Stoic ethics of human brotherhood, and especially in the other-worldly Platonic metaphysics, there was much for a Christian to welcome.' (Chadwick 1992:46) and certainly Dante (roughly contempraneous with the setting of Eco's novel) thought him worthy enough to live in the Noble Castle of the underworld, a place for virtuous people who had the misfortune to live before Christ to live out eternity in comfort.*

But why am I telling you all this? Well, mainly because I find the history of ideas interesting, and assume other people might too. Also, because it is an incident which shows the extent to which Christian theology was inspired by ideas that came before it. Finally, because it is a pleasingly exact reflection of the political order of the late medieval age, the very definition of reactionary thinking, a Tolkien-esque desire for a perfect history that makes up for the deficiencies of an imperfect present. It is the polar opposite of the left, and the way in which Eco and Annaud (the film's director) play with it wittily underscores the philosophy's deficiencies. The central deficiency being the unexamined assumption at the heart of the 'recapitulation' idea, that the ability to learn must be due to the knowledge being already present**. The search for a phenomenological explanation is not begun, let alone completed. As with Plato, so with Christianity. It is a poor piece of philosophy that starts from its conclusion, as a rule.

We came then to the foot of a great castle,
Encircled seven times by lofty walls,
And around which there flowed a pleasant stream;


I saw the master of knowledge, Aristotle,
Sitting there with a company of philosophers.

All looked to him, and they all did him honour;
I saw there Socrates, as well as Plato,
The two who stood out and were nearest to him
(Inferno, Canto IV:106-135)

** Melling, in his study of Plato, notes 'he is adding religious emphasis to doctrine seriously propounded, but unsupported ... by adequate argument to substantiate it' (Melling 1987: 62)

Alighieri, D. 1998. The Divine Comedy OUP.
Chadwick, H. 1992. The Early Christian Community in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, J. McManners (Ed.), OUP.
Copernicus, N. 1995. On The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Prometheus Books.
Eco, Umberto 1998. The Name of the Rose, Vintage.
Melling, D. 1987. Understanding Plato, OUP.
Plato, 1981. Five Dialogues. GMA Grube (trans.) Hackett.