Archives for category: UK

Now into the third novel of the Battle Ground series, Churcher takes a different tack on the key players of the first two books.

The story of Bex Ellman, the middle-class heroine of the first book who also leads a band of conscripts into the rebellion and into hiding, alternates with that of Ketty Smith, the lead recruit who brutalizes the conscripts with ‘iron fists and steel toe caps’.  This raises the reader’s anxiety quotient even though the two are only in the same room once in the book (not a spoiler – that’s on the opening page).

They represent two different kinds of self-discipline – Bex’s is borne of a sincere desire to help others. Ketty derisively calls her Mummy Ellman, her own mother having abandoned her to an abusive and alcoholic father. And that’s the source of Ketty’s own discipline – keeping out of her father’s way until the day she could enlist in the military and be away from him for good. The fact that Ketty finds herself dependent on Colonel Bracken, another alcoholic, to whom she’s essentially an ADC adds some extra drama to the story.

As Ketty makes it to London to learn prisoner interrogation and to try to track down Bex and those who escaped with her, Bex and her friends try to keep hidden and make their way to the Opposition in Exile in Scotland. Both are trapped in similar ways. Ketty is bound to Colonel Bracken, must keep him out of trouble, and advance her own career at the same time. It’s a weird juxtaposition and with each chapter, we find ourselves deeper in their respective plights.

Darkest Hour

At the same time, Bex finds herself, oddly, at the mercy of those trying to help her. The Opposition In Exile (OIE) are keen to use her as the Face of the Resistance – a different kind of Front Line Doll. They also want to use her as the symbol of the war they’re conducting.

While I really don’t want to like Ketty, and I find her lack of pity problematic (something her colleague Conrad also notes, even though they’re ostensibly on the same side) to say the least, played against Bex’s increasing self-pity, she starts to take on a certain honor. I really like how the two women become doppelgängers for one another. Bex lacks Ketty’s self mastery whereas Ketty lacks most aspects of human compassion – or submerges them so effectively she may not actually have any at all

No, it’s not that she lacks compassion – she channels her compassion for Jackson (the comatose colleague from Camp Bishop who was shot in the chest by Bex’s friend Dan at the crux of the previous books) into revenge – and this is why in the grand scheme she’s unsuccessful. She needs to be able to see through Bex’s eyes but she can’t because it was Bex’s crew that incapacitated her only friend. Every bit of love she can muster is for Jackson, and her tragedy is that she can’t get out of that trap.

If you enjoyed the first two, you’re in for a different kind of treat with this one. It has more of the feel of a cinematic thriller with the hero and antihero fighting their own battles as they close in on each other.

Go over to Taller Books to get all three.

Note: I received a free advance copy of the book for this review.

 

In William Gibson’s novel The Peripheral, we meet a class of people, the klept, who have more money than they could ever use and play games with large swaths of humanity, often to the death. Gibson didn’t have to reach far for models; examples of the kleptocracy are all around us. The damage they do is not quite at the scale of Gibson’s klept only because Gibson imagines hundreds or thousands of timelines they can use for their playgrounds. (The chapter entitled Parliament of Birds (pdf) gives a good idea of what the klept are about.)
I’ve been considering writing about our modern klept for several weeks now and just when I think there’s nothing worse that could happen, I only have to consider the headlines for a moment. The most public members of the Klept, or maybe just their public representatives, are (not surprisingly) Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and (new member!) Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. When I thought I might be able to let this idea go, go on to writing something else, I saw this BBC headline: US and Brazil agree to Amazon development.
The world is quite literally on fire from Alaska to Siberia to Australia to, indeed, the Amazon. Instead of finding ways to protect these places for future generations, these so-called leaders are letting them burn so that the land can be exploited for oil and agribusiness. Bolsonaro’s very clever – if he doesn’t do anything about the fires, he solves one issue that he’s publicly declared a problem: the native populations of the Amazon basin. If they no longer have a forest in which to live, they’re no longer in need of any kind of protection. The other advantage I’ve read about is that he can then allow monoculture farming of in-demand commodities such as soybeans. (This becomes attractive given how Trump has buggered up the Chinese market for American soybeans. Trump’s trade war with China is one that probably could use some delving but it makes little sense to me as yet.)
And if neighboring Venezuela is anything to go by, there’s probably oil to be drilled as well. (Note that the vast majority of Brazil’s untapped oil holding is found in a region off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, rather far from Venezuela.
Man looking right forking dollars into his mouth while much smaller man has pennies to eat. Caption: When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it. Frederic Bastiat, French economist.

I know that equating fat and eating with greed is problematic, but we’re dealing with the oversized share of wealth consumed by the few at the expense of the many. I think this illustration addresses that pretty well.

And if we let Alaska burn, it may be easier for the oil companies to get into ANWAR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – a protected area that contains some desirable oil reserves). At the moment there are fires throughout central Alaska, but not in the northeast corner where ANWAR is located. Difficult to access Siberian reserves are also going to be easier to get at once the place burns. (Yes, I’m being terribly reductive. The fact that these fires are starting because of record high temperatures caused is not lost on anyone concerned, though.)
This isn’t exactly the klept in a nutshell. But the high-stakes games being played with the lives of large numbers of inconveniently located people form the heart of what the ultra-rich and the world leaders who front for them are about (and have always been about).
The thing with Johnson and the mess that Parliament is trying to clean up is that Johnson’s a really minor member of the klept. Cursory web searches suggest that his net worth is about two million pounds. More than I’ll ever see in a personal bank account (unless things go really tits up, Zimbabwe style), but in the grand scheme of the very wealthy, not very much. So why is he pushing for no-deal Brexit so hard? The short answer is that the klept in the UK stand to lose a lot of money when the new EU Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive goes into effect next year. Pretty much all of the large-scale folks who have pushed Brexit stand to lose a lot of money. Johnson, it seems, is mostly just a front for those folks.
There’s more to address regarding the American klept, including folks like Mitch McConnell, but it’s going to have to wait.

The Guardian’s Northern Ireland page has nearly a dozen articles right now related to Lyra McKee, the journalist shot dead by the so-called New IRA on Holy Thursday. (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) I’ve got several different kinds of grief over this murder that I’m not sure what to do with.

I think credit goes to Belfast TelegraphMany are expressing hope that in the wake of her death, some collaboration might occur between the various groups in NI and that perhaps the political parties will see through their differences and get something done. Talks between the DUP (the party that’s also propping up Mrs May in Westminster) and Sinn Fein broke down almost two and a half years ago and the province has been without a government ever since. (Though it seems talks may yet happen. Link at the bottom.)

I’ve been jabbering in support of Irish unity for decades, generally without enough of a grasp of the history or of human nature to make more than an emotional dent in the matter. Today, however, I say that the New IRA, the Provisional IRA, the straight-up old-fashioned IRA and any other group using terrorist measures to achieve their goals have got to go.

First: These measures don’t work. All through the Troubles and even in the 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement, these organizations (with the help of Unionist groups, don’t get me wrong – ain’t no love lost between me and the folks who foist Marching Season on us every year) have only succeeded in keeping much of NI from seeing any kind of dividend from all the years of fighting. (Note my earlier comment about my grasp of all the history surrounding this being weak. I can analyze the bejesus out of James Joyce, but I’m honestly buggered if I can makes sense of the last 200 years in Ireland.)

Second: I know that the immediate (hypothetical) disappearance of these groups will do nothing to heal literally hundreds of years of pain associated with the occupation of Ireland. Occupation. Complicated word, that. Civil War? Police Action? This is too short a rant to address what the situation should be called. I’m pretty sure that dissertations have been written on just that.

What has to go is mealy-mouthed bull like that coming from New IRA. The statement quoted by the Guardian reads:

“On Thursday night, following an incursion on the Creggan by heavily armed British crown forces which provoked rioting, the IRA deployed our volunteers to engage. We have instructed our volunteers to take the utmost care in future when engaging the enemy, and put in place measures to help ensure this.

“In the course of attacking the enemy Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces. The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”

This won’t do. It simply won’t do. ‘Our volunteers’ killed indiscriminately. ‘Our volunteers’ went heavily armed into a riot zone and started firing, but couldn’t figure out how to hit the ones wearing the uniform of their enemy. And fired enough rounds that recordings show someone picking up shell casings.

This won’t do. Peace at this late date doesn’t come through the cowardice evidenced by this statement.

And what else won’t do? In the event the goals of the various IRAs are actually met, I’d like to believe that the government of Dublin would do its own utmost to make sure these folks hold no position and that the ones who lead these volunteers will see justice.

I probably hope beyond hope.

I composed the text above a few hours ago and now see (also in the Guardian – honest, I do read other news sources) that a deal has been reached for further power-sharing talks. As I say, hope springs eternal.

I know that everything I write about below is much more complicated than I present. Please keep this in mind.

ETA: The population of Northern Ireland is complicated. I use the phrase ‘majority English’ below, but the colonisation of NI includes a lot of Scots (known as Ulster Scots) who were granted lands confiscated from fleeing Gaelic nobility in the early 17th Century. My English brother-in-law indicates that refusal to grant the Ulster Scots language equal footing with Irish Gaelic is a sticking point in the peace process.

The situation in Ireland with regards to the backstop and one part of the island belonging to the UK while the rest of the island is its own republic exists because of history, that nightmare from which it is increasingly difficult for any of us to awake. At the time of Irish independence, earned by a full-on uprising before and after WW1 (and put on hold so the Great War could actually be won) , the six counties in the north (two thirds of the province of Ulster) voted to stay in the UK based on the fact that they had majority English population. This is a remnant of 250-plus years of English colonization of the island.

Oliver Cromwell went over in the 1600s to subdue the Catholics. Cromwell wasn’t just a protestant of the high church Henry VIII C of E variety – Catholic in all but name, but a Puritan. He’d shown his animus towards Catholics by engineering the beheading of England’s Catholic monarch, Charles I. (Dante might have placed Cromwell in the ninth circle of Hell, reserved for traitors.) So from sometime in the 17th century through the 19th, Charles Stewart Parnell notwithstanding, the English had been subduing a different nation – the same as they’d done with Scotland. (The Acts of Union with Scotland were enacted in 1707 and are also a really complicated matter. The Acts of Union with Ireland were enacted in 1800.)

All of that said, there was apparently enough fear or some such witlessness in what became Northern Ireland, that the peace deal included leaving six of Ireland’s 32 counties in the UK. The engineered Irish Famine of the 1840s and 50s also had something to do with the population imbalance. Engineered? Yes. The majority Catholic population were barred for two centuries from owning or leasing land and only in 1829 could they sit in their own parliament. The landowners exported the food that could have fed the native population during Black ’47 and the years that followed. You can read up yourselves on the mass evictions of Irish tenants by English landowners at the time. Is it any wonder a million emigrated and another million died?

So after the partition and the independence of what became the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland in 1921, there are still factions wanting to unify the entire Island as the Republic of Ireland. The IRA is part of that. Sinn Fein is another (and often referred to as the civilian arm of the IRA). Yes, terrorists, we know. We’ve seen the movies. Friends and family of mine lived through some of the attacks on English soil in the 1980s. It’s not as though the Irish didn’t/don’t have a grievance though. I always point to the beastliness of Marching Season – that period of each year when when the Orange orders – protestants – in Scotland and Northern Ireland march through Catholic neighbourhoods to commemorate William of Orange’s victory in the Battle of the Boyne in 16 effing 90.

This is an obvious extension of the cry one hears these days that “we” won World War II, we can survive Brexit. ‘”We” were victorious over the Catholics 330 years ago, so we get to shove it down their throats now.’

If some merry band of undereducated nationalist shits did that in my back yard each year, I’d feel like terrorising them back as well. So now we have this situation where 20 years after an agreement was worked out to bring some measure of peace to the island, there’s a very good chance of it all falling apart. Just as America has the very small Mitch McConnell blocking legislative progress, this situation has the very small Arlene Foster, whose Northern Ireland DUP is propping up Mrs. May’s government, blocking the possibility of moving forward with a relatively peaceful solution. (She has help, of course, from May, and Corbyn, and a large number of people who will get very rich once the UK is out from under the EU’s regulatory heel.)

Yeah. The Democratic Unionist Party. Founded by Ian Paisley, a man who made his name by opposing Catholic civil rights in Northern Ireland, and in fact opposing any kind of peace process (including the Good Friday accords) and who refused to share power with the Catholics for nine years after the accords were signed. The DUP is also involved in the creation of two paramilitary units to oppose the peace process. Not really folks who have the best interests of the peace-loving members of the Northern Irish populace at heart.

The peace established by the Good Friday Agreement was earned in part by softening the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Possible because the sides are (for a few more weeks at least) both members of the European Union. The border, which as a few have pointed out, runs down the middle of streets and in some cases through people’s houses, is porous enough that people from each side go to work on the other – without border checks, which of course were common in the years before due to there being terrorist factions.

Make some kind of peace with the group at war, and many of those problems go away. Take the peace away – by exiting without actual plans from the organization that brokered and helped to maintain it – and the problems come back, especially when nothing has been done to redirect the energy of all that Marching Season implies.

Do I need to mention the idiocy of the BBC’s John Humpreys asking Ireland’s Europe Minister Helen McEntee why the Republic doesn’t rejoin the UK?

I met a woman from Dublin last week who is of the opinion that she *might* see a unified Ireland in her lifetime. That’s been my hope, as an amateur Celtophile, for decades. There are those for whom the hope of a united Ireland has been the hope of centuries.

England’s colonies, of which Ireland was obviously one, are former for several good reasons. None of those reasons include England leaving because staying was wrong. England has always outstayed her welcome and with the betrayal that is Brexit, she has outstayed her welcome on the last bit of the Emerald Isle she yet holds.

Links:

Donald Tusk: ‘special place in hell’ for those who backed Brexit without plan
Brexit: May’s pledge on Irish border threatens to reopen Tory rift
Ireland dismisses suggestion it should quit EU and join UK
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Boyne
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Union_1707
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Union_1800

MP Ben Bradley wants to ‘fix Tory image problem’ according to a massively disingenuous BBC Newsbeat article. According to the young conservative MP for Mansfield, the Tories’ problem is that they’re perceived by the young as being old, grey, and boring. He wants to appeal to ‘Young people, people from ethnic minorities who just don’t vote for us’. He’s pushing for conservatives from popular culture to get the message out. The article goes on to say that ‘any improvement in image would have to be backed up by policy.’income_inequality

You can see the problem here, right? Tory policies that appeal to young voters are pretty thin on the ground. The article cites ‘The Conservatives cut housing benefits for 18 to 21-year-olds, introduced a lower minimum wage for under-25s and is the only major party against lowering the voting age to 16.’ Well, there’s a start. What else?

How about hard Brexit? Voters under 50 voted overwhelming to remain in the EU. (18-24s did so by a 3-1 margin; 56% of 25-49s voted remain.) All current evidence points to the Tories staying on that very unpopular highway despite all the signs advising them to turn off.

Brexit, like the recent US tax plan, is a boondoggle for the already very wealthy. The reason the government is pushing it so hard, despite the referendum having been clearly an advisory measure (see the first paragraph here, is because there’s so much money to be made getting Britain out from under EU regulatory regimes. It’s not as though the boot is onerous, just that it’s portrayed as such by whiny-ass bitches like Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s media empire was massively pro-Brexit. Why? When Anthony Hilton of the Evening Standard asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union, he replied, ‘That’s easy. When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.’

That’s several other articles that have already been written by folks better at this than I am. Laurie Penny, for example.

What does this have to do with what young people want? Young people want a government that acts in the interests of all citizens and does so with transparency. Simple.

What else do young people want? They want for the parties in power to act with resolve against keeping them in poverty. A fully functioning and fully funded NHS and reasonable/zero tuition fees are absolutely at the heart of this.

Reasonable secondary education tuition fees. You know, the ability to leave college not ass-deep in debt. Anywhere in the Tory manifesto? Of course not. If every second 23 year old already owes one of the banks nearly 30,000 pounds, the banks are happy. (Personal history: Tuition fees were introduced in the California public college/university system by Ronald Reagan when he was governor. Once the fee was introduced, it only went up. The CSU system’s tuition increased about 300% in the four years I attended (1985-1989) and is now almost USD 6000 per year. The UC system is over USD 12000 per year.

However, when the banks are happy, Tory campaigns are funded. One can’t expect the current government to rescind that.

And the NHS? Chronically underfunded under the Tories for almost seven years. Setting the NHS up for failure seems to be the Conservative party’s national sport. And they’re winning. They set up metrics like getting some percentage of A&E patients seen in under four hours that they then don’t fund the service to meet. And the papers all bemoan how poorly the NHS is doing. The rest of the world sees in this an obvious ploy. Set the NHS up to fail and then sell it off to the lowest bidder. Worked out beautifully for the Royal Mail as well, but the Royal Mail is only tangentially related to the real world health of its users.

What else? Safe housing estates. Because young people don’t just think only about themselves (all the stupid cracks about Millennials aside), they want for the people amongst us with the least to at least be safe in their own flats. You’d think that’d be a no-brainer, especially after the Grenfell tragedy. Nope, we’re not going to do anything to require property owners to make sure they’re buildings aren’t twenty-story fire traps. Thanks for asking.

Other things? How about a rail system that doesn’t gouge the young commuter (who may no longer be able afford to live near the city they work in) out of a large chunk of their pay packet. Well, nationalization isn’t going to happen, but rail networks that work for commuters and not shareholders? Too much to ask. I suppose the manifesto’s commitment to putting 40 billion pounds into improving Britain’s transport over the next decade is nothing to sneeze at, though it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the rail companies’ revenue. In 2016 alone, one parent of Govia Thameslink (operator of Gatwick Express, amongst other services) saw revenues of 3.4 billion. And because of privatization, Govia Thameslink is only one of about 20 different rail operators in the UK.

So, to recap: The way to appeal to the young is to champion and implement policies that affect them and the people they see around them positively rather than negatively. It’s quite simple, but the Tories know who butters their crumpets, and it’s not the youth of Britain.