Thursday, December 20, 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Suffolk Punch Person of the Year 2018

It's been hard to feel hopeful about American politics for a long time. Well, two years at least. But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with a handful of others who emerged during the mid-term elections, makes hope possible again.

Who is she? I didn't have a clue until just after her Democratic primary victory in June. Then I saw this engaging young woman on Stephen Colbert's show, I think it was, who according to the interview had caused the biggest electoral upset in decades. She was 29, or actually 28 then, and she called herself a socialist.

I knew that two years of septuagenarian Republican misrule in the White House had got America in the mood for a change. I also knew that Bernie Sanders had almost won the 2016 nomination, and stirred young American voters into a genuine semi-radical fervour, while campaigning under the socialist banner. But I wasn't expecting anybody else to get away with it.

Ocasio-Cortez was the real socialist deal as well. Joe Crowley, who she challenged in the primary, spent $3.4 on his campaign. Ocasio-Cortez spent $194,000 and nearly 75% of her donations were small contributions from individual voters. Less than 1% of Crowley's were. She won.

This approach to the funding of political campaigns, of course, dramatically reduces the opportunity for corruption by denying lobby groups access to the people in power. How different would America have been, I wonder, in the last two years if the NRA hadn't given hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of the Republican Party?

I knew that if we were going to win, the way that progressives win on an unapologetic message is by expanding the electorate. That's the only way that we can win strategically. It's not by rushing to the center. It's not by trying to win spending all of our energy winning over those who have other opinions. It's by expanding the electorate, speaking to those that feel disenchanted, dejected, cynical about our politics, and letting them know that we're fighting for them - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In the November mid-terms Ocasio-Cortez faced Republican nominee Anthony Pappas, an economics professor at St. John's University, and won a seat in Congress with 78% of the vote. Pappas didn't vigorously contest the seat because Democrats outnumber Republicans by six to one in the district. But her win was still resounding.

Since her election Ocasio-Cortez' already-high media profile has gone stratospheric, partly because of her brave, principled, intelligent campaigning on a number of progressive issues (healthcare and the environment in particular); her visibility, for a politician still very new to the game, also trumps (if you'll pardon the word) everybody else's because of her skilled use of Twitter and Instagram. If recent Washington committees are anything to go by, Ocasio-Cortez may be one of the few people holding political office who knows what to do with a mobile phone. It's a shame she joins the President in that woefully exclusive club.

Predictably when an unapologetically clever young woman with good ideas emerges there is tremendous hostility. The conservative media and the more vituperative element of the Republican Party hate Ocasio-Cortez. They heap so much abuse on her you'd think she had declared herself a candidate for 2020. And that fear may be lurking in the back of their fetid minds: 2020 might be too early, but what about 2024? All the Democrats really need is a star to drive a truck through the discredited policies and personalities of their Republican rivals.

It comes down to misogyny, though, basically, doesn't it? Isn't that why commentators who defend a president with no rhetorical ability at all and a desperate need for a proof reader mock her intelligence? A woman isn't supposed to be as smart as she is. And if she is smart she's supposed to put her smarts in the service of maintaining the patriarchal system that views smart women with hostility and suspicion. She's meant to help prop up the unjust oppressive capitalism that still pays women less than men and doesn't want people like her in the boardroom. Which, if you think about it, wouldn't be very smart of Ocasio-Cortez at all.

Long may she put a chill up their spines, I say.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Suffolk Punch Person of the Year 2018.

Monday, December 17, 2018


Uncomfortable birthdays...Little Harrowden Primary School...the tin-legged farmer and the willy incident 

Tomorrow I will be 54 years old. Sixty in six years, if I make it that far. Fuck, where did it go? I can still remember the school playground at Little Harrowden Primary, and most of the kids running around in it. I remember how we used to be able to see the flame burning in one of the high silver towers of Corby steelworks tiny in the distance if we stood in the right place. Ten years later steel in Corby would be dead because of Margaret Thatcher's march of progress.

I remember standing with the rest of the school in the playground watching an eclipse of the sun. The admonition of the teacher that looking directly at the sun would blind us never left me; I am still, even today, awestruck by the terrible power of a star that can blind you from 93 million miles away. And when I picture that playground I still see the farmer who owned the adjoining fields, Mr. Belgrove, chasing Robert Tilley back through the gate aiming a kick of his tin leg at the boy's backside because he'd ventured into the fields, calling him a dozen names none of us had ever heard before as he tried to catch him.

And before those memorable scenes from a childhood that still seems within touching distance came the willy incident. That was in the older part of the school, near the bottom of School Lane, where there were buildings that were easily 100 years old, if not more, with girls and boys toilets of similar antiquity across a tiny playground used only, I believe, by the first years. So when the willy incident happened I was probably 5 or 6.

I had been to the toilet. When I came out I was met by three girls in my class who asked me to show them my willy. Never one to turn down a reasonable request, and as keen to make people happy then as I am now, I did as they asked and took my little pre-pubescent willy out. And wouldn't you know, all three girls ran off screaming and crying and reported me to the headmaster. I can't remember how much trouble I got in, but I probably had a serious talking-to at least.

It's so weird, with my 54th birthday coming fast over the hill, to think that that happened half a century ago. It's weird, and a little sad, although the memory is a warm and funny one. What's even weirder is that my mother died when she was 54. So I will be as old as Mum. I'm sure that happens all the time, but it shouldn't when the child is still young enough to recognise most of the current pop stars.

Friday, December 14, 2018


This week I've been learning about Blaze Foley. There's a movie about him directed by Ethan Hawke, a name I usually take to be a fair indicator of quality when it's attached to a product; it's out in America now, I think, the film, but when and if it will get to the UK I couldn't tell you. Maybe we'll see it on Netflix. They have a lot of Ethan's stuff.

But back to Blaze. I'd never heard of him until I read about the movie, and I've been listening to country music for forty years. In fact, one of the first albums I ever bought was Guy Clark's 'Old No. 1'. I also realized, early, mainly thru cover versions of his songs by other artists, that Townes Van Zandt was a genius, and a better poet than any of the boring versifiers they foisted on us at school, except maybe Shakespeare, although then I didn't realize how great Shakey was.

Townes' albums, for some reason, were hard to get in Wellingborough, where I grew up. He didn't get played much on Radio 2's Country Club programme either. It was the cooler Bob Stewart show on Radio Luxembourg that gave Townes at least one full concert that I can remember. Unfortunately the reception on those old pre-digital radios was terrible at night when you listened to faraway stations. Townes might have been singing on Mars.

I don't remember Blaze Foley ever being played on the radio stations I listened to, and he definitely didn't get onto British tv. His music, when you listen to it now, makes that seem like a grave historical injustice.

He's fucking great, don't you think? And while he was working his ass off in the US we were being forced to listen to Crystal Gayle and Billie Joe Spears. But when you read just a little about his life, his obscurity becomes less surprising.

According to Wikipedia, the masters of his first album were confiscated by the DEA. The masters of another album were stolen from a station wagon Blaze was living in. A third album was lost until years after Blaze died.

How could anybody with so much talent, you wonder, have so much bad luck? when artists with so little talent become global superstars and make vast fortunes writing terrible songs? It seems with Blaze -- and I never knew the guy so I'm drawing conclusions from what I read -- that his obscurity, while living, was partly at least the result of a chaotic lifestyle and a self-destructive streak. Bad luck has to be a factor too. Some people just don't make it.

But as Blaze (played by Ben Dickey) says in the movie, 'I don't want to be a star, I want to be a legend.'

Congratulations, man. You have people in other countries digging through your archives and telling each other stories about a crazy genius who lived in a tree house and covered himself in duct tape. I think you made it.