Showing posts from September, 2008

poem: rush hour

Blowing laughter down his nose discreetly,
the Chinese kid sitting next to me
looks at something funny on his laptop screen.
I have put down a book of poetry
to watch a long-limbed Polish girl
do nothing several seats ahead.

Ronald Baatz

I read a beautiful poetry cycle this morning. "Cemetery Country" by Ronald Baatz. It's part of a split chapbook co-authored by the fabulous Mark Weber just out on Zerx Press. The story of Ronald's relationship with his dad and the latter's final months battling (if that isn't completely the wrong word) Alzheimer's Disease. Poetry is poetry, you might think--pleasant, diverting, chuckle-inducing, but essentially a slight experience in this world of fast and cheap thrills. But "Cemetery Country" is brilliantly written and profoundly beautiful. After I'd read the last poem on the morning bus I had three waves of the shivers (you know, the kind you get when you're really moved) and a knot in my chest the size of a baseball glove. Read more about it, if you're interested, at and investigate Baatz's whole body of work, as a matter of urgency. You'll kick yourself when he's not around anymore and you…

Blocking the Bail-Out

It's not often I find myself in agreement with George Bush, but lordy lord, the dogmatism of those "fiscal conservatives" in Congress and elsewhere who don't seem to want Bush's Government to do anything to stop the economies of the West collapsing astonishes me. Sometimes, fellers, even when you hold a principle dear, you just have to admit that the game is up (even if it's only temporarily up); that people are more important than abstract ideologies. The American Communist Party did it in the 1940s when they threw their support behind the American Government in the war against Hitler. If the American economy goes down, half the economies of the world go down like a line of electricity pylons being dragged down by the fall of one in a lightning storm. And then there's darkness everywhere.

Of course, fiscal conservatives may be known for plenty of things, but compassion isn't one of them. What do they care about your suffering, as long as they keep th…

Paul Newman

There may be quite a lot of this on blogs written by what the media call "men of a certain age", but I'd just like to note my sadness at the death of Paul Newman last week. He stars in one of my favourite films ever, the little-known "Pocket Money", and plenty of other great movies besides. I hardly need mention "The Hustler" or "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" or "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid".There's also "Hud", "Hombre", "Absence of Malice"...The man was prolific and approached his job with a seriousness that was never self-conscious or pretentious, but resulted in a body of work that no other American actor can match in terms of quality.

The Gory Tory

Yes, David "Call me Dave" Cameron may think we are stupid enough to be taken in by a cosmetic exercise in rebranding the same old product, but a Tory is a Tory is a Tory, end of (s)tory. This apparently affable, apparently liberal fellow, with his apparent distaste for what went before in recent Conservative (his)tory, is a supporter of blood sports, however much he tries to disguise his prejudice in the rhetoric of non-interference. The anti-hunting bill Labour brought in was a fudge, and a ludicrous one at that, but at least it was a step in the right direction. Now Cameron is committed to undoing it.

Most people left politics around the time Blair was elected. He made it seem a distasteful, cynical, manipulative art that men and women of principle should have no truck with, precisely because he emphasised style over substance, treatment over truth, in the way Cameron (his best disciple) is doing now. But with a Tory landslide now on the cards, and the repeal of the anti-hu…

Wake Up And Smell The Tory

Newspapers today are reporting that the Tories will win with a majority of (I think) 146 seats at the next election, if present poll ratings don't change.
Terrific. We are sleepwalking back into the 80s. And anyone who thinks the Tories have changed would obviously believe he had moved house if you crept in and put up different wallpaper in his living room. Show the Conservative Party you're not as stupid as they think you are, I urge you.
They are still opposed to strong unions. And David Cameron himself is a supporter of blood sports. He has referred to fox hunting as a traditional country pursuit he doesn't think it's appropriate to legislate against. Never mind the cruelty. Never mind the death.
Those are just two examples of how the Tory Party of today is no different from the Tory Party of Margaret Thatcher. If they aren't enough for you I will gather more in the days and weeks to come.

The World Looks Nice Today

Third day off work today and I woke up this morning after a good long sleep feeling quite wonderful. Read a little, listened to Willie Nelson's old "Shotgun Willie" album as I dressed, walked outside into a beautiful cool bright autumn day to catch the bus, easy in myself and happy with other people...I am a human being again rather than a bundle of stress and anguish lashing out in all directions and wondering which disaster is going to befall me next. Tomorrow I go back to work.

Who Winds Up Bleeding

You'd think I was two different people. Here I offend without meaning to, just by speaking by mind. At work I am often condemned for being "too nice". I am "soft", apparently, "afraid of confrontation". Which is total shit, of course. I am just more cautious at work because I know that truth is one commodity that isn't valued in the workplace, unless your truth happens to coincide with the boss' truth. So many managers in the world of work--and it's not a new thing--are like Shakespeare's King Lear: they want to hear what is convenient and makes them feel good about themselves, and will genuinely believe (because they identify, egotistically, their own cause with the common cause), that somebody who opposes them is making trouble and trying to dismantle the whole apparatus. (Perhaps you aren't drawn to the idea of leading people unless you are vain, insecure and capable of huge, fatuous, self-deceiving rationalisations.)

So, I flatt…

Free, And Cared For

Whenever I oppose the idea of an unrestrained free market I am called a Communist and reminded that Karl Marx's theories foundered in the vicious, repressive, One-Party behemoth of Soviet Russia.

That is the argument of another century now.Soviet Russia is gone. Even China has become a quasi-capitalist state within the boundaries of its totalitarian rule; and in case anybody hadn't noticed, my vituperation is equally fierce when I'm talking about China.

The key to my opposition to an unrestrained free market lies, if it's really necessary to spell it out, in the word "unrestrained".

I am an individual, perhaps even an individualist (though I'm not so sure about that). I would probably live less successfully under a totalitarian regime than most, given that even in an atmosphere of supposedly complete freedom I'm still out of step. (I say "supposedly" because the pervasive influence of mass media in modern capitalist societies makes every third…

I'm Afraid It's The Clap, Mr Greedy

The people who work in the City and on Wall Street, facing the threat of economic collapse, remind me of a man who has slept with a prostitute and now sits anxiously awaiting the results of a test for venereal disease.

An Acceptable Price To Pay

The prophesies of economic chaos being bandied about at present--by the few who seem to have noticed it's happening--remind me eerily (and wearily) of the early 1980s. Do we really have to go through that, or worse, again?

When the economy goes tits up the media reports fulsomely on bankers and executives losing their jobs. Today the newspapers are full of it. By they will be okay. Most of them will have put enough money away during the good times to see them through the bad times in a comfort comparable to what they've already enjoyed.

It's the lives of ordinary people that are wrecked. Their dreams taken away from them. Their one chance of living the storybook life they wanted stolen by circumstances they have no control over. The privation and degradation they are set to experience in the next couple of years will mark them forever.

Ask anybody who lived through the 80s at the rough end of Thatcher's economic miracle why they hate the Conservatives so passionately and …

You Don't Sound Like You Think You Sound, Boss Man

Save me--please!--from workplace managers who say "shit" and "fuck" and "face like a smacked arse" because they think they are relating to the troops.

Or worse, because they think they are Keeping It Real. Since when was it inherently truthful to use the language of Shakespeare as if you were in the school playground?

Is this 2008? or 1888?

The elegant people are all on the shop floor now, since Thatcher and unrestrained capitalism put power in the hands of so many vicious little barrow boys.

White Flags And Snowballs

The radio was full of talk about a challenge to Gordon Brown's leadership this morning. Nomination papers have been requested by a small number of Labour MPs. Not enough to force a challenge by the terms of Labour's Constitution, but enough, the disgruntled MPs are said to hope, to embarrass Brown into a contest.

Unless the anti-Gordon brigade have a Tony Blair or a new Nye Bevan in waiting, of course, a leadership contest right now will hand the election to the Tories tied with a nice white flag. And I suspect there is no young lion waiting to galvanise the party and the British public with a new idea or a bold restatement of Labour's traditional values. The name of David Milliband is often bandied about, but he'll be associated too closely to the present administration in the public's mind (and the public loathe Brown)to take Labour into the next election with a snowball's chance in Hell of winning. To me, anyway, he just looks and sounds like a bank manager. …

One Minute Poem

No short hair.
No shaven face.
No designer shirts,
trousers, shoes.
No useless widescreen
or sound system
to play
Jack Elliott on.
No fast car.
No shiney car.
No car with
aerodynamic features.
Yes sir?
No sir!
I won't accept
every last thing
my bosses tell me.
Ambition? No,
not one drop,
I only want
to sit out in the fog
at breakfast.
Sleep all

Trying To Be Brilliant, Not Pleading To Be Known

I move, intellectually, in a triangle between politics, religion and poetry. In the past one has always been in the ascendant at a particular time of the year. I'm obsessing on the iniquities of the Tories, or thinking about nothing except my zazen cushion, or I'm writing reams and reams of haiku and whatever. Lately I've been trying to find a balance between them all so that I can find time to indulge each without neglecting the others. Abandon this habit of phases for this or that. And I've been doing all right, though poetry still suffers a little bit.

I have seriously fallen out of love with publishing poetry. I have done it--not as often as some, but I've done it. So it's not the rationalisation of a defeated man. I'm just struggling to believe there's any merit in it anymore. Does publishing mean you are any good? You'd think so, but so much of what is published (I include mine) is mediocre, or average, or uninteresting. So much of it does noth…

Labour And The Unions

The appearances of Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown at the TUC conference have illustrated clearly what we already knew: the Labour Government is not a friend of the Trade Union movement, even if many Labour MPs are. Maybe a Labour Government can't be. Maybe it shouldn't be. Maybe a government of any colour, functioning properly, should be a kind of Solomon-esque father arbitrating between the vested interests of the nation, siding neither with the working man and woman nor business.

The problem we have here, though, is that the Labour Government doesn't stand apart from the fray like a wise and indulgent father. It tends to side with business, just like Tory governments do. And yet Labour are partly funded by massive investment from the unions.

I think the time has come to ask whether this benefits the unions anymore, if it ever did. Perhaps we should now consider removing funding from Labour and putting it into building our own cause independently through promotion, educ…

Palin: The Books She Tried To Ban

I know I said I was quitting American politics, but you can't expect me to break the habit overnight. Here, just in case you haven't seen it, is a (believe me) massively edited list of books Sarah Palin attempted to ban when she was a Mayor in Alaska.The truth, perhaps, behind the Mr Smith Goes to Washington act Palin put on so successfully at the Republican Convention. Prepare to be appalled.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Christine by Stephen King
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cujo by Stephen King
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Decameron by Boccaccio
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Poor Gordon

Every time he smiles he looks like his lips are being parted from his teeth by invisible wires operated by tiny electrodes planted in his hair. The electrodes activated by brain impulses whenever a faint memory of how Tony Blair used to meet the press or the public arises in his mind.

A Sort Of Prayer For Ramadan

Good luck to all the Muslims I know and their brothers and sisters across the world in Ramadan. I hope you come through it purified and with clear vision so that you can liberate yourself from the suffering put upon you by oppressors from within the Muslim faith as well as those who oppress you from without.
Peace, love, tolerance of opposing views and forgiveness of transgressions against you are the key to spiritual advancement, in my humble Zen Buddhist opinion. And maybe I've been lucky, but every Muslim I've ever spoken to has had all of those qualities in abundance.
Let's not curse the many because of the iniquities of the few, eh? Bruce.

Mourning In America: Why Suffolk Punch Is Quitting American Politics

he who knows does not speak. he who speaks does not know ~ zen proverb

I resolved this morning to stay away from the American presidential elections. I heard Sarah Palin's speech to the Republican Party Convention last night and I was quite depressed by how snide and negative it was, how cheap and obvious it was, how one-dimensional and cliched her characterisation of herself and her opponents was--and worse, how much her audience and the media seemed to relish it, all of it. Every carefully-worded sentence of mean-spirited, transparently fake, folksy bullshit that she uttered. This woman is Ronald Reagan dressed up as Loni Anderson in a "Barbie Goes to College" B-Movie from 1983, but if that's what people want, who am I to argue?
I don't understand them or their world. If anybody thinks that speech was anything other than an exercise in skilled manipulation of the electorate by invisible men dedicated to anything other than getting the party that serves their inte…

Why Vocational Education Is Harmful To The Man

Children staying on at school for longer I applaud. But the discussions today about the wondrousness of the new vocational courses they will be able to opt into, I condemn (like a lone, small dog barking in the wind five miles from a busy street). The Director of Schools (I think that's his title) says children will have to have reached a certain level of literacy and numeracy before they can opt out of traditional subjects and into vocational ones. But you can bet the bar won't be set very high for that. And a human being is about more than the job he does. He is going to face more in life than he can deal with only having learned how to work in a particular area of trade or business. His spirit will yearn for things he can't even put a name to. And the disjunct between what he needs on a spiritual and existential level, and what he has been given the emotional and intellectual vocabulary to identify and tackle, will likely leave him a dissatisfied, depressed or even an a…

The Secret Millionaire

I caught a bit of that show "Secret Millionaire" at work yesterday. You know, the one where the millionaire goes incognito into situations where people are working for no reward just to help others and then gives a wad of cash to the most deserving of them. It's a really moving programme, if you can ignore the Victorian political subtext. The millionaires (it's a different one each week) turn out to be surprisingly warm, deep human beings--though as Sheldon said, they'd have to be anyway to be attracted to the idea of doing such a show.
The real heroes, however, are the volunteer/ charity workers. The last time I saw the show, a few weeks ago, the millionaire was volunteering to work with children in a desperately deprived area of (I think it was) Manchester. This time it was with homeless people in London. And the workers he found immersed in the struggles of these poor sods were giving their time, mostly for nothing, in circumstances that must be pretty dangero…


I applaud Barack Obama's statement about keeping Sarah Palin's daughter and her pregnancy out of the presidential campaign. It's about time someone brought the class back into politics (especially at a time when the Republican Party are using every means at their disposal, including bogus insinuations and outright lies, to derail Obama). What I think should be investigated assiduously is why anybody would have the unmitigatedly dreadful taste to call their children BRISTOL and TRIG. The first time I saw her I thought Palin imagined herself a character in an Eighties tv mini-series based on a Judith Krantz novel. Now I know the names she has inflicted on her offspring I'm certain.