Sunday, September 13, 2015


TLS (The Times Literary Supplement.)
April 1, 2015

The Menzies Era by John Howard [reviewer: Clive James]

Menzies, long before he was invested with the sumptuous robes of a Knight of the Thistle, was wedded to the concept that what is not necessary to change should not be changed: a conservative attitude which is always the baseline for true progress, however radical.

Until recently, in Australia, every ethnic group that came in was assimilated if it wanted to be: the Muslim extremists are the first consignment of immigrants to hate Western civilization almost as much a resident intellectuals do.

How Good We Can Be; Ending mercenary society and building a great country by Will Hutton (Guy Standing)

We have entered an age of rentier capitalism, in which capital increasingly gains income from rent not production. Plutocrats and plutocratic corporations, and investment companies led by BlackRock with its trillions of dollars, are gaining vastly more global income through ownership of resources, property (including intellectual property) and subsidies.

As Hutton does not place subsidies in this context he misses some ironies. British politicians claiming to be waging a campaign against welfare dependency and a “something –for nothing” culture should start by rolling back the estimated L85 billion a year the government gives in grants, tax credits and tax reliefs to firms that have done nothing to justify them, and for which they have to satisfy no conditions. Subsidies are a form of welfare, and are regressive, distortionary and inefficient.

Hutton wants a revival of contributory social insurance, as proposed by Labor. In today’s flexible labor market, this would not provide the economic security he imagines. Social insurance was a social democratic answer to an industrial labor market when most men (and women) were in stable full-time jobs. Now, a growing “precariat” are in and out of unstable low-paid or part-time jobs, with patchy or non-existent contribution records. A contributory system would be regressive and inadequate. The “we” has changed.

Hutton also wants universities to form partnerships with corporations, which would increase their commercial orientation. If “we” really want to end the mercenary society, decommodification of tertiary education is essential. And additional training is not the answer to poverty and education. In fact, this is the first time in history when millions are doing labor beneath their qualification.

Life After Faith; The case for secular humanism by Philip Kitcher (Philip Goff)

Kitcher bravely tries to “vindicate value” in the absence of God. One move he makes is too suggest thinking of ethics not in terms of an ideal goal we are trying to move towards, but rather in terms of social problems and difficulties we are trying to move away from:

“It would be absurd to envisage some ideal system of transportation, and to suppose that progress in this domain is constituted by realizing its features ever more closely, or to think of doctors as trying to help their patients approximate some ideal state of perfect health. Better to think of “progress from” rather than “progress to”  - and to make the same switch in perspective in the ethical case as well.”

‘Scientism’ is often accompanied by the assumption that there is a self-evident epistemological starting point, at which every rational person begins their quest for knowledge of reality. In fact there is no such place. Even science itself cannot get going without taking seriously a whole series of intuitions which cannot be justified empirically or rationally: that our senses and memories can be trusted, that the future will resemble the past, that all things being equal, simpler and more elegant theories are better, that there is no contradictory state of affairs. There is no self-evident principle which tells us that all these intuitions can be taken for granted, while ethical intuitions – which may seem just as evident – cannot.

TLS April 24, 2015

Wasted; How misunderstanding young Britain threatens our future by Georgia Gould (Ron Dineen)

The attitude of Georgia Gould sets to correct in Wasted is perhaps best exemplified by the former newspaper editor and military historian Max Hastings, here writing in the Daily Mail in the wake of the riots of August 2011:

Years of liberal dogma have spawned a generation of a moral, uneducated, welfare-dependent, brutalized youngsters .  .  .  They respond only to instinctive animal impulses – to eat and drink, have sex, seize or destroy the accessible property of others.

Gould, a Labour Party Councillor in London, who was first elected when she was twenty-four, has spent the last two years travelling round the country, researching the attitudes of Generation Y, those born between 1980 and 2000, also known (mostly to marketing departments) as Millenials. What she has found, for the most part is a generation of individuals who will blame themselves, rather than the state, for their (sometimes inevitable) failures. “Many are far harsher than previous generations on those who claim from the state.” One young man claiming Jobseekers Allowance says, “We’re just above smack heads, just below the working class.”

TLS June 5, 2015

Aiseal Agus  Dill 1947- 1981 by Cian O hEigeartaigh and Aoileann  Nic Gearailt

The Dirty Dust by Mairtin O Cadain translated by Alan Titley

(Declan Kiberd)

Not the least of the achievements described here is the way in which the O hEigeartaighs held a precarious balance above grossness and below refinement, recognizing that there must always be a tension between the language of literature and the demotic of the streets.

O’Cadhain set Cre’ na Cille in a Gaeltacht cemetery. In each of its ten “interludes”, a new body from the village above is interred, bearing news and gossip to the truculent corpses below. In Ireland, as W. B. Yeats once mischievously observed, the dead may not even know they are dead, but go on talking anyway. So the central character Caittriona Phaidin, bemoans her cheapskate burial and dreams of re-interment in a better-class grave; and all the corpses discuss the sex lives of those below and above.  .  . Or, as Samuel Becket was writing in Paris during the winter of 1948/9 about the dead voices: “to have lived is not enough for them. They have to talk about it.” [. . .]

The setting may have a further meaning. The author was looking to the future when his book, like certain Latin classics, would live on after its own language had fallen out of daily use. He may even have imagined a time when literature itself would be erased as a cultural institution, if not those voiced which enabled it. Yet he must also have sensed, from the any near-death experiences in Irish culture, that a tradition often lives potently in the lament for its passing. The very energy with which each death is announced in Cre na Cille seems to deny the possibility that the native language could finally die.

Flann O’Brien and Modernism by Julian Murphet, Ronan McDonald and Sascha Morrell, editors.
(John Day

In “Mythomaniac Modernism: Lying and bullshit in Flann O’Brien”, John Attridge has great fun with O’Brien’s “bullshit”, which, he argues, forms part of a broader) suspicion of “cant, fancy and other forms of phoniness” to which many modernist literary movements were “morbidly sensitive”. At war with cliché, O’Brien emerges here as both a dealer in, and satirizer of  “pseudo-statements, quasi-phatic utterances” which “serve to pass the time of day rather than communicate information”.

Organs Underground; Notes from Hiroshima- Keloid Girls and Panic Grass in the uncatalogued archive of John Hershey by Jeremy Treglown

A letter to his wife, written en route to the Mediterranean but which somehow escaped censorship, says that the troops he was with

Are never told where they are going, much less anything at all about the nature of the people they will come up against in the theater where they are going. They go to the cities of Europe deaf, dumb and blind, intent only on spending the dough they’ve saved.
   We had a movie tonight which insulted the intelligence of morons and ten-year olds. It was called Adventure in Iraq, and it concerned an oriental potentate, an ex-flying tiger, a drunken but sporting Englishman, two priestesses in a trance, etc. etc . . . It certainly affords our fighting men a sad brand of stimulation before going into battle to keep the world free – or whatever they go into battle for.
   Excuse the homily. It makes me sore.

Hard Times; Inequality, recession, aftermath by Tom Clark
(Tristan Quinn)”

Central to Clark’s new argument that “the return of growth was never, on its own, going to undo all the damage is the notion that even economic statistics, like those coming in recently, do not capture the whole story of what is happening, “Reassuring averages conceal frightening variations”, he warns. Using recent data he examines how inequality persists even as the economy bounces back, citing the rise of zero hours contracts as evidence of increasing insecurity in work, even as the number of jobless falls.

In a characteristically sharp example, Clark shows how the “standard crude assumption that a single inflation rate affects the whole population equally” masks differences in the real cost of living for different people. Because the costs of essentials such as heating (“that weigh especially heavily in the budgets of poorer families”) have risen sharply, while mortgage interest payments (‘That greatest of middle-class costs”) have fallen, inflation has been between one third or a half higher for the poor since the crash.

Pauline Perspectives; Essays on Paul, 1978-2013 by N.T. Wright
(Henry Wansbrough)

In the Judaism of his day, obedience to the Law was not considered a legalistic means to earning salvation, but an expression of gratitude for God’s choice of Israel and as a badge of fidelity to Judaism. Paul’s core contention was that God’s promises to Abraham were intended not solely for Jews, but for the whole human race. This leaves a major problem for Paul to be understanding the position of Israel in such a universal dispensation. The heart of the Epistle to the Romans is therefore chapters 9-11, to which the earlier chapters are only a preliminary.

[e.g. “ That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”]

LRB (London Review of Books) 23 April, 2015

Why are you still Here? James Meek reports from Grimsby

 When Vicky Dunn (Green) and Ayling (UKIP) went head to head it was Ayling who came across as the oddball’

DUNN (to Ayling): People in Grimsby remember that the fishing industry was stabbed in the back by politician . I’m very concerned that you’re a politician that is lining up to walk down the docks and stab our new industry (Wind) in the back (UKIP wants to end ‘green tax’ subsidies).

Ayling: Certainly not. Because these renewables will not last forever. The subsidies will dry up and when the subsidies .  .  .

Dunn: That’s kind the point (Audience laughter)

Although Aying didn’t use those exact words, the Twitterverse has made sure she will always be remembered as saying: “what happens when the renewables run out?”

When you watch the Ayling-Dunn exchange on YouTube, it has a lexicon of disagreement about economics and science, but the expressive mood of clashing belief systems and a shared disgust with the political status quo that blocks the triumph of passion over cost-benefit analysis. Dunn’s belief in the all-consuming primacy of climate change and Ayling’s belief that climate change is a lie divides them. But they are united by the desire for the kind of disruptive change that makes Wagyu sirloin turn bitter in the mouths of fund managers.

 Rising high above the docks is the one great monument in Grimsby to the old power of local capital, the Grimsby Dock Tower. It was but in 1852 for strictly utilitarian purpose, as the container for a hydraulic system that opened dock gates and operated cranes. The ingenuity of its design was necessary to its function. The beauty of its appearance was not. It was built as a copy of the Torre del Mangia in Siena, but it has a ruddy Hanseatic simplicity quite in keeping with the north. It was a boastful flourish added by businessmen who were around on the local scene, who cared what local people thought of them, who wanted to impress and awe. The tower remains. No such route to public magnificence exists today. ABP (Association of British Ports) has no reason to perform that kind of boast because Canadian Pensioners have no reason to boast to the people of Grimsby. Toronto and Singapore want neither to help East Marsh, nor to have the mighty Grimsby look on their works and despair. They just want their five per cent return on equity, as smoothly as possible, thank you. . .  Their focus is not on cutting a swagger on the Humber and leaving a legacy but on rate of return on investment, global markets and the advancement of Continental European technology – there’s no British technology in the field. It also true that subsidies, guaranteeing Round 3 wind farms three times the regular wholesale price of electricity for fifteen years, are high, and vulnerable to political attack…and the harder thing is to land something less transient than jobs, that leaves Grimsby more than memories of a life at sea.

Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty By Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack

Inequality And The 1 Per Cent by Danny Dorling

“However rich a society,” as John Moore, secretary of state for social security under Thatcher, once put it, “it will drag the incubus of relative poverty with it up the income scale. Te poverty lobby would in their definition find poverty in Paradise.” As national income rises, the poor have no right to claim a larger share in it, since they’re obviously much better than they were in the 19th century . .  (apart  from actual starvation) the lived experience of the poor is irrelevant.

Every step taken against the excesses of capitalism was the result of conflict (not just class conflict: mobilization for war also tended to have a powerful leveling effect), not technocrats and politicians gradually discovering and implementing the right policies.

By the end of the 16th century, the codpiece - once a sign of great prestige – had come to be seen as absurd and embarrassing. As soon as it went out of style, it all but disappeared. This is the way the rich should be made to feel about their wealth, Dorling writes: that it is less a mark of distinction than a mark of shame. What’s needed is a ‘slow revolution in attitudes towards greed’ and a ‘gradual, almost imperceptible’ transformation in public attitudes towards money and the collective good. To help to bring this about,. Dorling calls for a Kulturkampf   against the rich – a non-violent war of attrition against concentrated wealth. Since inequality is primarily a problem of avarice, the fight against it must be waged at the level of values. The rich lack ‘self-restraint, Dorling writes, and it is up to the rest of us to control these people – for their own good as well as ours.’

‘It is high time, in the light of decades of declining growth, rising inequality and increasing indebtedness,’ the German sociologists Wolfgang Streeck wrote last summer, ‘to think again about capitalism as a historical phenomena, one that has not just a beginning but also and end.’ Inequality has jointed climate change on a list of apocalyptic problems we know how to fix but may not be able to.


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