Friday, May 31, 2013

Socialist Reviews free on 1st June


I write reviews of books and films for The Socialist and Socialism Today. The book will be free on 1st June and very reasonably priced thereafter (99 cents in America and the equivalent in the UK and elsewhere) Click here


During the banking crisis, the BBC broadcaster, Sarah Kennedy, joked that “The TUC have a demonstration against capitalism this weekend. They are bringing it forward because capitalism may not last that long.” Yet capitalism did survive the banking crisis and every family in the land knows how it survived. It survived at our expense. Bankers still get million pound bonuses (I always think six months in prison would do them more good) and we get cuts in wages, pensions and social services.

Perhaps it is those who believe in capitalism who are living in cloud cuckoo land. They assert that Socialism is impractical but what could be more impractical then a society which robs the poor to give to the rich?

I have collected some of my reviews here. The most recent is a review of Parliamentary Socialism entitled Miliband on Miliband. The earliest is a review of Life on the Screen by Sherry Turkle which is simply the most fascinating insight into the strange world of cyberspace that I have ever come across.

I review things which move or interest me.That is the advantage of freelance writing.


Table of Contents

Miliband on Miliband
Les Miserables 2012
The Apprentice final
Fahrenheit 9/11
Remember me Rescue me
The Exception to the Rulers
The Media in Question
A Child called 'It'
The Root of All Evil
Battleship Potemkin
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
The Chatterley Affair
V for Vendetta
Forget you had a daughter
Two lives
Life on the Screen
Borgen
Ideological dimensions of Taxi Driver
The Iron Lady in meltdown
Various Pets Alive and Dead
Why I became a Socialist


My Amazon profiles


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

You've heard of Oxfam. Well this is Oxcred

Oxcred is a scheme in Oxford (hence the name) for a mutual credit scheme. I googled it and they thought I wanted OFSTED! Does any teacher really want OFSTED?

•    The idea is to create a social economy, one freed from the control of the banks, the speculators and the megacorporations.
•    Oxcred will seek to encourage community, co-operation and mutualism.
•    It will seek to encourage local trade, production and consumption of locally produced goods.
•    This social economy will be aided by the creation of a new currency in Oxford called the oxcred.
•    This currency will be issued by and under under the democratic control of its members.

It is an indication of the extent to which people distrust the banks that a scheme like Oxcred is being proposed. In the absence of a mass party representing working people it makes sense to take measures of self-defence like mutual credit even if the banks will do all in their power to subvert it if it becomes a threat to them. Remember how the building societies were hijacked by profiteers with only Nationwide surviving the onslaught.

Click here to find out more

War profiteer 1919 could be 2013


Requires no comment really 


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thatcherism is alive

This happened to me today. It has probably happened to you so many times it seems commonplace. It was a hot day and I tried to buy some water. There was no price on the water displayed outside the shop but I soon found out it was five Euros for 3 litres!

I declined. To be exact I told the shopkeeper what I thought of him and declined.

I then bought 3 litres of water for 50 cents at another shop.

If I were to try to steal 4 euros 50 from somebody I would wind up in prison. Lock up the profiteers!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Word game resource

If you like word games you will find this useful. It was created while playing "Bookworm" but the information is also useful for Scrabble, bananas, Lexicon and other wordgames.

Click here and see what you think

 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Left Challenge in NUT VP election

Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies will be standing for Vice President of the NUT. He has already received the backing of the Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC) and is now seeking nominations from NUT branches.


There is more information here

http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/martin-powell-davies-to-stand-for-nut.html



Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gmail account hacked

My gmail account has been hacked. I apologise to anyone who has received dodgy emails ostensibly from my account. I have had a go at tightening up security on the account and keeping my fingers crossed.

I had this problem some time ago with yahoo and deleted all my yahoo contacts. This was a bit drastic so I hope I don't have to do the same for gmail.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The concept of evil

The concept of evil in Tolkien's novel "The Lord of the Rings". 


 
This book examines the concept and presentation of evil in Tolkien's novel, "The Lord of the Rings". Although I have concentrated on the "Lord of the Rings", I have also made use of the Silmarillion which provides a 'background' and to some extent a dictionary which has aided my exploration of Middle Earth. In particular, the music of the Ainur proved a useful source of "themes" in the novel.

I have taken account of Tolkien's warning in his introduction to the novel -"As to any inner meaning or message, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical ... I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."

The Lord of the Rings was published at a time when great events such as the Second World War, the growing threat of the atom bomb and a "Dark Lord in the East" called not Sauron but Stalin, were fresh in the minds of its readers. In some ways I think it has a greater appeal to readers of that generation than it would have had for earlier generations. For example, I think that the terror of the flying Nazgul and the aerial bombardment of Minas Tirith would have had a. special meaning for those who had experienced the Blitz in London and the flying shadow of the VI. To say this is in no way to suggest that the novel is about Fascism or Stalinism, but where I feel that a particular application of Tolkien's ideas illuminates those ideas I have indicated the fact.

Evil performs an aesthetic function in the novel by providing a background of contrast against which the good characters shine more brightly. The machinations of Mordor put the good characters to the test, in particular bringing out the bravery of the least "heroic" figures - the hobbits. Tolkien has managed, by his combination of a Quest and a Crusade in the plot, to make good appear more attractive and interesting than evil. Whereas Milton's Satan is in the forefront in the first two books of Paradise Lost, Tolkien's Sauron is never actually seen but remains "remote and yet a present threat". He is a purely negative figure and his narrowed vision is emphasised. The novel is so designed that the reader never gets close enough to Sauron to sympathise with him.

In the novel, the negative, uncreative nature of evil (which I deal with more fully in Chapter l) is ultimately self-defeating., as can be seen from Illuvatar's words to Melkor - “And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite, for he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.” Thus, to use Theoden's aphorism “Oft evil will shall evil mar.” (Chapter 4)

Although Tolkien's myth is not overtly Christian, I think that it can be shown to deal with the fundamental problem of evil in a Christian way. In Christian terms the problem is: how can evil exist among creatures created by, and in a world created by, a God who is wholly good? The aesthetic function of evil and its ultimately self-defeating nature are part of the answer, but they do not resolve the problem of the source of evil. St Augustine saw the origin of evil in Man's God-given free will: “For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil - not because that is evil to which it turns but because the turning itself is wicked." (City of God XII 6) Thus Melkor, forgetting that his powers originated from Illuvatar , sought to create something which was entirely his own. Significantly the first things he created were "bitter cold immoderate" and “heats and fire without restraint" (Silmarillion p9) (see Chapter 2) which only served to enhance Illuvatar's original design.

Jung's theory of archetypes in the collective unconscious helps to clarify this issue. Jung saw "the old man" as an undifferentiated archetype - "beyond good and evil, the superior master and teacher, a pointer of the ways, the pre-existent meaning concealed in chaotic life which Western man tends to differentiate into "black and white magicians" (Integration of the Personality p86) This points to the importance of good and evil as man-made concepts (see Chapter 5) and casts light on the functions of Gandalf and Saruman.

Gandalf s adoption of Saruman's abandoned colour, his dramatic statement: "I am Saruman, Saruman as he should have been." (p5l6) and Gimli's "Like and yet unlike." (p60l ) emphasise the similarity of the two. However, Saruman's pride has led him to turn from the path of true wisdom (see Chapters 3 and 6 for a fuller treatment of the consequences) In turning from a higher good to a lower, Saruman is ultimately brought very low indeed and is only capable of “a little mischief in a mean way.” His refusal to leave the ruin of Isengard echoes Satan's idea that it is “better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven" but Tolkien emphasises how squalid such a resolve really is.

We often refer to a desire to dominate others as a desire to “play God” but for Tolkien that is exactly what God does not do. Gandalf, who is a steward of the secret flame which is identified with Illuvatar in the Silmarillion, unlike Saruman or Sauron, rejects the domination of the wills of others which the ring would give him (see Chapter 7) (incidentally, it should be noted that desire for the Ring is fundamentally no less evil than actually using it - as the corruption of Boromir, Saruman and Denethor indicate)

The terms in which Tolkien sees the relationship between free will and determinism are clearly outlined in the Silmarillion where "the Valar perceived that the world had been but foreshadowed and foresung, and they must achieve it." (Silmarillion p20) Likewise Frodo, for example, was "meant to receive the Ring" but has to exercise his free will in renouncing it (why he does not finally do so is dealt with in Chapter 2) Gildor's unwillingness to give advice and Galadriel's warning about the visions in her mirror, Elrond's refusal to lay any burden on the Ringbearer, all emphasise the importance of personal choice.

I would not suggest that, Tolkien has actually achieved a resolution of the philosophical issue of free will and determinism (or divine providence in this instance). For example he does not explain why a creature created by divine goodness should turn from a higher good to a lower good. In fairness this was not his purpose and even those who have set themselves the task have never yet succeeded.

Mythology differs from legend in that it contains nothing which is “true” in the Gradgrind factual sense of the word. However, as I have attempted to show, Tolkien's myth contains a good deal of “truth” of another kind. For want of a better term I have tended to call this “poetic truth”. (see Chapter 3)
In a sense these truths are not new but, on the contrary, eternal:

Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear: nor are they one thing among elves and another among men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.” (p459)

It is no accident that the last two chapters show the hobbit heroes rooting out the evil in the fields that they know. The transfer of the battle between good and evil from the romantic heights and depths of Gondor and Mordor to the “ordinary” world of the Shire brings home to the reader the idea that these high ideals of poetic truth (which are often expressed in simple aphorisms – see 'Conclusion') are relevant to everyday life.

It is significant that Tolkien rarely if ever draws any distinction between 'beautiful' and 'good' or 'evil' and 'ugly'. Although the distinction between appearance and reality is drawn in the presentation of Aragorn who 'looks foul and feels fair' (pl88) but is later transformed. Also Saruman undergoes a reverse transformation. However it is not a major theme. There is an almost symmetrical organisation of completely evil and completely good characters.

Compare, for example, the elves and the orcs. Elves have beautiful names, are fair to look upon, have a musical language, love living things such as trees and are slender and graceful. The orcs have names like 'Ugluk', ugly looks, a harsh guttural language, delight in destroying living things and are squat and bow-legged. The food of elves is delightful, that of the orcs would disgrace McDonald's! The attempts of Sauron (and later of Saruman) to produce a Master Race was the cause of these ghastly creatures and is a function of the inability of The Shadow to create. 

Contents:
  1. Introduction
  2. The power of darkness
  3. The flame of Anor and the flame of Udun
  4. The persuasive voice of evil
  5. Oft evil will shall evil mar
  6. The role of nature
  7. Dark Satanic Mills
  8. The Ring of Power
  9. Conclusion


I am still publishing with Kindle. I do not know if other publishers are more or less creative with their tax returns. The daughter of a friend is trying to boycott all the tax dodging corporations. I can see how this could come unstuck because there really are so many of them. It has come out that more and more of them are dodging tax while exhorting the rest of us to be patriotic and accept the pain of austerity.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

British Heart Foundation gaffe

I have a lot of time for the British Heart Foundation for the obvious reason that I have heart disease. I was concerned that the latest Heart Matters magazine features Vinnie Jones. I threw it away.

Jones was the presenter of the infamous Soccer's Hard Men video, which featured archived footage of himself and many other "hard men" of the game, and included advice for budding "hard men". After the release of the video, Jones was fined £20,000 and given a six-month ban (suspended for three years) for "bringing the game into disrepute". Jones boasted that " I've taken violence off the terraces and onto the pitch".
He has subsequently had a career as a thug in films.

One wonders whether this is the best possible image for the British Heart Foundation.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A verbal contract? Is it worth the paper it's written on?

A nasty piece of work this morning. I am still running the West Sussex NUT Helpline pro tem. A member has agreed to work two days a week as this fits in with childcare arrangments. The head insists that the member agreed to three days a week. Three days a week would be impossible for them. Head charmingly hinted they seek work elsewhere.

The head is taking advantage of the Goldwyn adage that "a verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on" (It should of course have been an oral contract but Goldwyn was Goldwyn)

I suggested the member should set out their objections in writing and request a meeting with the head.
Members are entitled to be accompanied at meetings:
Ideally by the NUT rep
Failing that an NUT member
Failing that another member of staff.
They should certainly take a record of the discussion since this seems to be a shortcoming of previous negotiations.
It is most important to have clear objectives for the meeting. It is most often the person with a clear agenda who gets their own way.





Monday, May 06, 2013

The Prisoner's Dilemma

“I had an idea. It was here in my head and now it's gone. We've got to find it.” Xavier looked around the room as if he thought the idea had vanished under the sofa.
Xavier's foster mother looked affectionately at Xavier and just smiled in response.
“But mum it was important!”
“And the more you try to remember it the more the idea will hide in the corridors of your brain, Zee. It is hiding there now. You just cannot find it. So what can you do?”
“You're not helping.”
“I am helping. What can you do if you cannot search for it?”
“Well stop searching for it I assume.”
“And”
“Stop thinking about how important it is?”
“And”
It was Xavier's turn to smile. They said almost in unison “Sleep on it!”
There was nothing. Xavier's eyes were open. He felt his face and opened his eyes with his fingers but the whole world was grey. It was uniformly grey. Xavier was blind. There were no shapes or shadows. Nothing for his mind to get a grip on. He could only hear. And what could he hear? The voice! And he was only just aware that a voice had been talking and had now stopped. He had not listened to a word but the words “carrot powder” came into his mind and for some reason they were terrifying words. Something about the way they were said told him the words were not for his ears and the man – it was a man's voice all right – was out to deceive him.
There was no transition. Suddenly he was lying in the back of a lorry and he could see the sun through the leaves as the lorry bumped along the road. There was a man sitting on the edge of the lorry looking down on him It would be fair to say Xavier did not like the look of the man or the way he was... Well what was he doing? Leering? Staring? Something like that anyhow.
He smiled at Xavier. It was not a pretty sight.
“Oh you don't mind me getting excited Xavier. It is just that I am thinking about what is going to happen to you later.” Without much surprise, Xavier realised it was the same voice he had overheard before. Then the man laughed and it was as if the laughter were already hurting him as he lay there helpless in the bottom of the lorry.
The man had a shotgun and in any case Xavier was bound cruelly with tight ropes. Whatever was going to happen to him was going to happen and he had no choice about that. He decided the look was neither a stare nor a leer but a gloat.
The name tag on the man's uniform was Mike Grove. The man saw him looking. He put his boot on Xavier's leg and pressed down hard. “Yes. I am Mike Grove,” he increased the pressure on the leg, “and I am your worst nightmare.”
The word “nightmare” set off a train of thought. Xavier often realised when he was dreaming and could try to manipulate his dreams. He could certainly zone out the pain in his leg. He remembered where he had come across the grey vision before. It was many years ago after the car crash that had left him an orphan. He had been unconscious and had come round to the grey blindness and voices which indicated something dreadful had happened and wondered out loud what to do with “the brat”.
They arrived at the castle. Xavier was dragged from the truck and witnessed a scene straight out of Solzhenitsyn.
A truck was being unloaded. Prisoners in grey uniform came out one by one.
“What is your number?”
“24601.”
“24601, Sir.”
“How long is your sentence?”
“Ten years.”
“What for?”
“Nothing”
The guard hit the prisoner almost casually, but hard enough. “Liar! The sentence for nothing is five years!” Then he gave a laugh that sounded of cigarettes, whisky and cruelty.
The next prisoner disembarked and the scene was repeated word for word except the number. Xavier witnessed this three times as two guards took him over to the castle and locked him in his cell. The cell had neither light nor heat. He heard an altercation in which he recognised the voice of Mike Grove. The guards unlocked the door and took Xavier out. Then they threw him into the cell to Mike Grove's grudging approval and Xavier heard them walk down the corridor.
In the cell he must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew was he was being tucked up in bed by his foster-mother. She was cuddling and – as is the way of dreams – suddenly their clothes disappeared. Xavier was precocious enough to know what this was about.
“Oedipus schmoedipus” she muttered and Xavier joined in,
“Who cares if he is a good boy and loves his mother!”
She dissolved in laughter. Literally dissolved and Xavier found himself holding on to nothing as he found himself back in his cell.
He can remember vaguely a number of dreams within dreams. In one a woman was about to be deported but just needed a form from the post office. Every time Xavier tried to write it down she gave the form a different name and he had the impression she was deported anyway. In another a CIA instructor was telling him that although people can recover from physical torture, they never recover from psychological torture so it is important to tell them this often during the torture. In another his brother – he didn't have a brother – was about to be executed while Xavier was trying to fix an old thermal printer.
Every time he was brought back to the pitch black cell and carted off to the bright lights of the interrogation.
“Xavier? Xavier Hollands?” The interrogator looked as if he smoked a pipe and enjoyed the bonhomie of the local pub. In the background was the sinister figure of Mike Grove, cracking his knuckles from time to time to remind Xavier that he was still there.
The interrogator offered Xavier a cigarette. Xavier didn't smoke. “Oh that's a pity. You will have to get addicted to something in here so we can manipulate you.”
The interrogator gave a comfortable laugh to indicate that Xavier was to think of this as a joke. Not that it was one. It made Xavier bold enough to ask “Are you the good cop?” and to look across at the glowering Mike Grove.
“No no no. Grove here is a good cop. He gets much better results than I do. I am a bad cop but you might want to have a nice chat with me before we hand you over to Mike.” He looked genuinely frightened at what Grove might do. Grove grinned wolfishly.
There followed a lot of questions and answers. Xavier remembered that a number of them involved long division and this built up his confidence.
“Right young Xavier, back to your cold dark cell for now matey but we will chat again soon.”
Groves had a job summoning two guards to throw Xavier into the cell so he just slammed the door on him and snarled “carrot powder.”
The questioning went on and on and didn't seem to be getting anywhere. They wanted to know Xavier's opinion on everything from shampoo to Zanzibar and the old fashioned tapes whirred quietly as Grove picked his teeth and occasionally shot Xavier an unpleasant grin.
Then there came the time that Xavier was dragged very efficiently by two guards to a different interrogation room where he sat in very bright lights opposite both Grove and the interrogator.

There was genuine pity in the interrogator's eyes, or a clever facsimile.
“Today is the day I hand you over to Grove here.”
“I will take good care of you, little boy.” Grove interjected and received a look of distaste from the interrogator.
The interrogator placed two photos in front of Xavier. One showed him wearing clothes he could not remember wearing against a background he couldn't remember either. The other showed what seemed to be two Xaviers.
“Your brother.” the interrogator explained. “Your identical twin brother. And yes, he is called Xavier too. The last thing I want is for you to stay in prison for a long time but you have this one chance to walk free today.”
The look on Grove's face said it was not the last thing he wanted.
“The situation is this. We have Xavier in custody. If you sign a statement, we have it already typed for you and you can read it.” He put his hand over some typed sheets on the desk.
“If, as I say, you sign it then Xavier will go down for a long time. If he signs a similar statement then you will. I may as well say that if neither of you signs you will both get a lesser sentence but are you willing to take the risk?”
“I don't have...” Xavier began
“...a twin brother? Hm but what if he is a get-out-of-jail free card for you? He's probably not your brother but just somebody who looks like you. You've even less reason to care what happens to you, I mean him.”
Grove leant across the table, “It's a dilemma that's what it is. And you have sixty seconds to decide.” Xavier took the pen as if to sign the paper. As he did so he watched Grove closely. Grove tried to look disappointed but underneath he was as pleased as a boy about to get a train set. Xavier dropped the pen and shook his head.
The interrogator just sat at the table while Grove called in the guards. In short order they had Xavier stripped naked and Grove was toying with some electrodes while observing Xavier's personal equipment. To his consternation Xavier started giggling.
“There's nothing fun...”
And Xavier was back in his own room giggling as the cat licked his foot. The sunlight was streaming through the window and Xavier had a vivid recollection of his dream.
His foster mother appeared in the doorway attracted by the noise.
“So Zee, you found your idea, non?”
Xavier looked nonplussed and was surprised to hear himself say, “I am my own twin brother” then his giggles turned to laughter.
She smiled and frowned at the same time “Les rêves sont drôles. Now come down to breakfast I have a new cereal for you. Carrot Powder.”

Postscript

We were enjoying a glass of mineral water in Ye Olde Boar. Xavier had decided that he needed to have an alcohol-free day. It was the first of May that year.
“People” he said, “often wonder what the devil I am going on about. So I will explain my lost idea to you. It has nothing at all to do with that Oedipus schmoedipus rubbish. In any case, Freud used the Oedipus myth to cover up the child abuse of the Viennese middle class, didn't he Tilly?”
The barmaid who was just passing leaned over and kissed his neck which was answer enough. She bore a passing resemblance to his mother. I noticed Xavier's frown and decided not to pursue that.
“There are various versions of this problem but the basic idea is this. You are a prisoner with the opportunity to betray another prisoner. Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene devotes a chapter to it.
“If Prisoner A betrays Prisoner B then Prisoner A goes free or gets a lesser sentence and Prisoner B goes down for a long time.
“If they both betray each other they both go down.
“If neither betrays the other then they both go free or get a lesser sentence.
“Dawkins has taken a lot of time to look at possible “strategies” by which you can “win” this game, but is that the right way to look at it?”
Xavier took my silence as assent and continued. I noticed Tilly was hovering around our table. Perhaps it was the novelty of Xavier drinking water that attracted her.
“The people in power are playing this game with you. If you aim to “win” you are accepting their rules. What Dawkins does not explain is why 'love your neighbour as yourself' is not a complete answer to this dilemma. The idea that you should treat other people as you would have them treat you flies in the face of what we call “Thatcherism” in the UK. It is old fashioned 'selfishness' in the rest of the world.
“So my response to the game was predictable. I was not 'playing the game' at all. Those who want to manipulate the prisoner have suddenly lost all power.
“I do not know in advance whether I have the courage to go through with this strategy in real life. I don't rule it out in advance either. We know that Oscar Romero...”
I looked a query.
“The saint who was thought of as bookish and safe but ended up a martyr in El Salvador. He is so hated by Republicans they removed him from the history books in Texax...That Oscar Romero. He did not have the courage to be a martyr. 'Somewhere' - and Catholics have no problem telling you where! - he found that courage.


“My solution to the dilemma was in any case of course not a “red martyrdom” like his. I would not have paid for it with my life. It is just a demonstration of how life ought to be lived.”
“And the carrot powder.”
“Ah that was made up entirely of hareng rouge.”
“Red herring?”
“Yep.”

The Xavier Books - try before you buy!








Saturday, May 04, 2013

Levellers

Levellers' Day is a fortnight away on 18 May.


The Levellers were predecessors of today's socialists. Their demands were not socialist but they went far beyond anything Cromwell was likely to countenance.

One summary of their demands is here

Link to Levellers' Day





Friday, May 03, 2013

Blog update

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Ark update

Ark is a local charity in Horsham helping people who are homeless or addicted or just plain poor. It also helps people like me. There isn't really a client/volunteer atmosphere at Ark. We are all in the same boat so to speak. 

On of the things I do is provide advice on ICT, numeracy and literacy. As part of the literacy work of Ark, one of our members has been writing a story. It is available here Over 400 people have looked at it so far. You could be the next :)

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Site for short fiction Mayday update



There is no money in this but it is probably good publicity The site is http://www.short-fiction.co.uk

The story as of Mayday 2013 is as follows:

 

Bad Romance 628 readers

What's on the Television 192 readers

When I think about you 4187 readers - that is a lot of readers!






Mayday Socialist Reviews Thanks

Thanks to everyone who downloaded on Mayday. If you liked Socialist Reviews of Xavier's Recipe Book please feel free to make a comment on Amazon - doubly so if your surname is not McMillan! If you didn't like it, never mind :)

Socialist Reviews

Xavier's Cookbook