Back to the future with Brexit

lighthouseRecent events have brought to mind an old joke that goes something like this. It involves two vessels approaching each other on a collision course:

“Please make way! You are obstructing our passage through the open seas.”

“Regretfully we are unable to comply. I’m afraid it is you that must make way.”

“We are a battleship of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy! We represent the glorious British Empire and all who sail in her! Brexit means Brexit! You must make way immediately!!”

“We are a lighthouse.”

I understand that Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier have at last cobbled together a trade deal that has proved, after a somewhat fraught five-hour meeting, acceptable to the cabinet. There will inevitably be some hiccups on the way (such as the resignation of said Raab, announced as I write) but it seems to me that its future course can be mapped out with some confidence. Continue reading

Was Albert Einstein antisemitic?

albert-einstein-1144965_640In 1948, the renowned scientist Albert Einstein co-authored an open letter to the New York Times expressing his concerns about the visit to America of Menachem Begin, leader of the Freedom Party in the newly-formed state of Israel. Earlier that year, Begin had been involved in the massacre of an Arab village which had shocked the world, including most in the Jewish community. In the letter, Einstein describes the Freedom Party as “a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.” Begin went on to become Prime Minister of Israel in 1977 and remained in power until 1981.

Things are different now, which is perhaps why the 10th example given in the Working Definition of Antisemitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) sites “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” Einstein was not only a Jew but also a Zionist, although he resisted “the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power.” Nevertheless, if such a statement was to be made now, then the IHRA suggests it be branded antisemitic. Continue reading

Labour must refute charges of anti-Semitism

Misuse of anti-Semitism 2Is it anti-Semitic to accuse rich bankers of living off the backs of the poor? Or to condemn the Israeli government for its treatment of the Palestinians, or indeed the Lebanese? I don’t think so, and one reason I support the Labour Party is for its robust condemnation of these things. However it is anti-Semitic to suggest those bankers are necessarily Jewish, or that the activities of the Israeli government are necessarily endorsed by all Jews, and I find it disturbing that the Labour party seems unable to distance itself from such views.

There is a long history of anti-Semitism in British politics, both on the left and on the right, but it has no place in the modern world, and no relevance to the central message of Jeremy Corbyn’s new Labour Party. And yet, for some reason, Corbyn seems unwilling to shrug it off with any real conviction. Continue reading

Brexit madness (2)

You can learn an awful lot about Brexit from chlorinated chicken.

The term itself refers to the process of dipping fresh chicken carcasses into water containing chlorine dioxide just prior to packaging in an effort to kill off any potentially dangerous organisms such as E. coli or Salmonella that might be present. It is a process that is legal in the United States, but not permitted within the European Union where farmers are allowed to wash raw meat in precious little other than fresh water. For this reason it is not permissible to import fresh chicken from the US into the EU. Continue reading

Dealing with prostitution

Massage_Parlor_at_Night_Spa_La_Sirene

I have just read Catherine Bennett’s piece in the Guardian (If paying for sex is wrong in Haiti, why do we still tolerate it in the UK?) in which she uses the recent Oxfam scandal to berate those who call for the legalisation of prostitution in the UK, and in particular Amnesty International for what she calls its “pimps’ charter”. Catherine certainly has a way with words, but I do think that in the process she is simplifying and misrepresenting a range of carefully considered views on a highly complex subject.

Of course I agree with Catherine that coercion, extortion, drug addiction, rape and slavery are wrong, and that we should do what we can to prevent such crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice. However from that point on I suspect our views would differ in two important respects. Continue reading

Hiveword Novel Organizer

hivewordSome writers seem able to bash out a novel unaided, holding all the pieces in their head as they write their way through every plot twist to a satisfying and consistent climax. For the rest of us there are a plenty of tools that can offer a helping hand, ranging from hastily scribbled notes stuck on a convenient wall to more sophisticated solutions such as Power Structure, StoryWeaver or Scrivener. Having tried a number of these, I find myself increasingly drawn to Hiveword.

Hiveword Novel Organizer, to give its full title, is an on-line database for recording and displaying the structural elements of your story, namely its Characters, Settings, Items (such as magic rings or significant documents), Plotlines and Scene progression. The details of these elements are recorded on forms and can be displayed in Lists. Continue reading

The Fabula and the Syuzhet

Fabula versus Sujet in Memento

The distinction between the ‘fabula’ and the ‘syuzhet’ as it applies to storytelling was first made by members of the Russian Formalism school of literary criticism, popular during the 1910s and 1920s. The ‘fabula’ refers to the chronological order in which the events of a story take place: the timeline, in other words. The ‘syuzhet’ refers to the sequence in which the author chooses to relate those events, which we could describe as the storyline or the plot. In the film Citizen Kane, for example, the fabula is the story of Kane’s life, from birth to death. The syuzhet, on the other hand, starts with Kane’s death and continues as the story of a journalist investigating Kane’s life, interspersed with a series of flashbacks. By using this device the screenplay introduces a degree of mystery and tension that would otherwise be absent. Continue reading

Mourning the dead

What happened in Manchester on 22 May is of course a tragedy and an atrocity. However, as I take in the images of the dead children and their grieving relatives, the memorials, the news items, the interviews, the debate and the double-page spreads, I can’t help but think of those countless other children who have been killed in their schools and hospitals and homes by the bombs of the West and its allies in countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine. They too had hopes and dreams; they too have parents, friends, neighbours and relatives who grieve and feel anger and despair. I did not see their pictures, and I do not know their hopes and dreams, but are their lives worth any less than ours? Is their grief or their anger and despair any less valid than ours? Of course not, and if that is the appearance we give, then we should be ashamed.

Brexit madness (1)

BrexitWe should by now be well accustomed to the capacity of our politicians to spout endless bullshit, and of our news services to take such bullshit seriously. However seldom has that bullshit seemed more endless and pointless than in the current Brexit ‘debate’.

For example, as I write, so-called Brexiteers are crowing over the fact that the British economy seems to be booming, despite the woeful predictions of the Remoaners. This is to ignore the fact that we have a least two years to go before we do actually Brexit, and no idea of what that will actually involve, rendering any judgement at this stage utterly meaningless. Instead, what our economy is currently experiencing is the reaction of the world to the inevitable uncertainty that surrounds our decision to do so. Continue reading

Flash fiction

Just published: a couple of flash fiction pieces that I wrote back in 2014 while member of a writing group. To read them click on the ‘Writing’ menu option above, or on one of the links below:

Pretty straightforward, in which a mobile phone conversation is overheard.

Sam’s story, in which a young man describes his world.