Saturday, October 31, 2009

Twenty-two days or half a lifetime by Franz Fuhmann

Have just finished reading Twenty-two days or half a lifetime by Franz Fuhmann. This edition was published in 1980 and cost at the time £1.50 (so obviously subsidised by the East German state). I have had it a long time and have finally got round to reading it.

Everyone who has seen me with this book has picked it up and said "This looks boring". And I have to admit that it does look boring. But on the whole it is not boring at all.

Fuhmann is obviously writing in code, and the account of his trip to Hungary (also a communist state at the time) is filled with obliquity.

He talks about his role as a Writer (capital W - writers were honoured in the communist states): "...that particle of literature which he and he alone can write - in this sense he is indispensible..."

He talks about the Marxist way of writing: "It was my first experience of the Other in intellectual terms, my first encounter with Marxism, with dialectics, with materialism... that someone (or rather a method) should see relationships, lines, processes, inherent laws, where we were accustomed only to barren dates..."

He talks about society: "...we have no real cities anymore, we only have large small-towns..."

An interesting view of the world. And doubly interesting since hardly anyone takes communism seriously anymore (for instance, the Milibands came from a communist household and now represent the last vestiges of Blair's corruption of the Labour party). I also liked the way Fuhmann wrote about Kafka, obviously (but obliquely) comparing Kafka's nightmare with 1970s communist social structures.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

High Anglicanism

Pope Benedict XVI has created an "Anglican Rite" within the Roman Catholic church for High Anglicans who wish to leave the Church of England.

Two things strike me about this announcement.

First that the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church seems to have abandoned the idea that Anglicans are heretics and has, logically, conceeded High Anglican clergy equal status with Roman Catholic clergy.

Secondly, that inviting High Anglicans to enter the Church of Rome rather misses the point about High Anglicanism.

The Oxford Movement which developed High Anglicanism emerged from antiquarian research and philosophical enquiry in the 19th century that reached the conclusion that the Church of England WAS the true Catholic and Apostolic Church - purged of error, with the Apostolic Succession maintained, representing the purest form of the Christian religion (insofar as any Church can claim to have "the truth").

It's very gracious of the Pope to invite High Anglicans to join the Roman church, and no doubt we should return the compliment by inviting Roman Catholics to join ours.

The newspapers have generally written up this announcement as another episode in the "tottering" Church of England at war with itself over gay clergy and women bishops.

At the parish level this commentary has no meaning and is unrecognisable.

Tomorrow, across the land:

Above: the brass will be burnished.

Above: the flowers will be arranged (not normally in such a jokey fashion).

Above: the bells will ring.

Above: the candles on the altars will be lit (six candles for High Anglicans).

Above: the choirs will sing (this is actually choir practice - they will wear robes on Sunday).

Above: and the congregations will take their places as they have done for hundreds of years (these hassocks are stuffed with wool and date from the 18th century - they are very hard to kneel on, but the height of the hassock means you do not have to crouch on the edge of the pew).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Question Time

Posted by e-mail:
Normally on Thursday evenings I watch Newsnight, then the last twenty minutes of Question Time, then This Week.
Yesterday, in common with most of the population it seems, I watched Question Time in its entirety (I checked the first five minutes of Newsnight, but I was always going to switch over).
It was a bear garden of a show.  In a provocative move the BBC had invited onto the panel the leader of the United Kingdom's most extreme political party.  The result was reminiscent of the moment in William Dieterle's 1939 feature film The Hunchback of Notre Dame where the freak-monster Quasimodo is baited by the mob.
This is not to show any sympathy for the political extremist.  He knows that the things he says are going to upset people and persumably he is prepared to cope with the response.  But I was disappointed that nothing intelligent was said (by anybody - it was just an hour of incoherent shouting).
I also find it inexplicable that one million adults voted at the European elections for an outmoded ideology that is culturally located in 1930s Germany.  Of all the solutions to the social problems we face, this seems to be the most implausable.  And yet no attempt was made on Question Time to explore this area.
Like most people I tend to steer clear of the subject of immigration.  Mostly because it's a controversial topic, and in the rural fastness of the county it does not touch me in a personal way.  The tide of immigration would have to rise very high before it lapped at my feet.
However, I cannot be unaware of the fact that social cohesion is breaking down and that the low-skilled sections of society have been largely abandoned.
One of the most interesting interventions in last night's programme was from a member of the audience who said that an overseas doctor was happy to work in the United Kingdom as a cleaner.  Instead of exploring this point David Dimbleby just went on to the next ranter.  But it illustrates the fact that for many people globalisation has meant the import to the West of third world standards of pay and conditions (instead of the export of first world pay and conditions).
As the minimum wage is still vastly greater than the average salary in most of the developing world, the pressure to reduce wages and conditions still further (via agencies, temporary contracts and other scams) is going to intensify.  It is against that background that socio-economic groups D and E are going to feel they have nothing to lose by voting for a revolution (and a national-socialist revolution would be a disaster for the rest of us).  Logically either socio-economic groups D and E must be disenfranchised, or globalisation of wages and salaries halted, or extemist parties must be accepted as a permanent and growing component of British elections.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Prime Minister's Questions, 22nd October 2009

Sent by e-mail:

Working so much recently that there wasn't time to watch PMQs live, but I caught the repeat after midnight on the Parliament channel (followed by Andrew Neil's Daily Politics which showed PMQs again).

I was stunned by the coolness with which Jacqui Smith stood up and called for Surestart centres to be protected from public spending cuts. This is a woman who has looted hundreds of thousands of pounds from the public finances. Instead of facing prosecution she has been "pardoned" by her parliamentary colleagues in get-out-gaol-free scam that would have embarrased General Pinochet.

The money she has siphoned from the public purse into her own pockets would surely be enough to fund a whole Surestart centre for the term of the next parliament.

As Redditch is a slender marginal there is no point (argue the Commons establishment) in asking her to pay the money back.

On the "awkward bench" next to Dennis Skinner a large gentleman got to his feet and blustered about socialism, but not a word did he say about Jacquie Smith's kleptomania (what does she want all that money for? - surely there is a limit to what you can spend in Redditch shops?).

Several times the newspapers have said that there is no point in asking many of the MPs to give back the immoral amounts of "expenses" they have awarded themselves - these MPs are standing down at the next election and thus there is no sanction the party leaders can apply to force them to reimburse the public.

Perhaps "Dave" should threaten to pass legislation so that where there is clear evidence of wrongdoing identified by the relevant scrutiny authorities the money should either be deducted from the MP's parliamentary pension fund or his/her parliamentary pension should be suspended until the money is paid back (they were happy to raid our pension funds when it suited them).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dave (I’m just an ordinary bloke) Cameron

Sent by e-mail:


Thursday, three days ago, I took my work up to the Boardroom so I could watch Dave (I'm just an ordinary bloke) Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party Conference – the last of the three party conferences before the general election.


Leaving political issues to one side, in marketing terms "Dave" is a fascinating character.  He has, single-handedly, taken a dying brand and revived it so that it is being sought after by millions.  I keep trying to work out how he has done this, since the process is not obvious.


In an analysis that should be required teaching on all marketing courses Goethe drew a distinction between the object which creates an image and the image which creates an object.  Dave (I'm just an ordinary bloke) Cameron is an example of the image which creates an object.  And the object has become concrete and come alive and is organising itself to run the country (probably).


In part he has "become the change he wants to see" but it must be more than that.  "Dave" is obviously not an ordinary bloke, but the jibes about wealth and privilege and the Bullingdon Club just bounce off him.  It seems that the public, who like an ironic joke, are ignoring the Old Etonian connection as a way of winding up the Labour government (whom they have come to despise). 


Also ordinary people seem to genuinely like him.  Is it possible that Mr and Mrs Cameron, in their current manifestation as "ordinary people" represent a lifestyle ideal many households aspire to?  The house, the clothes, the loving family, the bicycling to work, the relaxed holidays, the tough-love talking – it's a flawless performance (if you packaged this lifestyle and dropped it into the Ideal Home Exhibition the queues for the showhome would be enormous).


And there is an additional quality I struggle to define.  It is more than just charisma.  Whenever "Dave" appears it is as if The Temper Trap are playing Sweet Disposition just below the human audible frequency range.