Fighting Power

Like a wretched and merciless earthquake doling out continued aftershocks, that most unsavory and inappropriate of candidates, Brett Kavanaugh, was hastily confirmed over the weekend to join the highest legal office of the world’s “super power.” On these pages recently I could only write whimsically about a new order of political leader. Each time I’ve refreshed my news feed since then fills me with dread.

When will the next tremor strike? When will it all just stop?

That Kavanaugh’s appointment should come as any surprise is to belie the previous eighteen months of regular seismic shocks, and moments of social destruction, caused by Donald Trump and his self-serving administration of obnoxious dullards.

I am sure many people, like me, who take umbrage at Trump’s oxygen stealing existence on our planet, wake up each morning and feel that nervous anticipation of news of his demise as leader of the free world. But, here we are again, the Monday after another phase of utterly grim and depleting political subterfuge, with Trump at the helm, and we read and watch in despair.

Social media is lit up and, for all the brilliant satire that this administration has concurrently inspired, every news update, bar none, from the world according to Trump, casts an ever mushrooming, morose cloud of poisonous bigotry across our screens. Clogging fumes of festering carcinogenic elitism. And, like a cancerous foe in the system, Trump and his degenerate followers have so infected the world, in such a short space of time, that modern science stands even less a chance of making a diagnosis than if this were, indeed, some new super strain of cancer itself.

That so many other actors in this depressing play are complicit, too, only enables the effectiveness of the condition to spread. The power-brokers who granted this zealot a second audience on a UN stage, for example. Those who entertain the man on any level at any event, pandering to his “power”. Hoards of multi-national corporations making deals that will bolster the profits of their shareholders and benefit Trump’s own businesses, whilst squeezing the life and soul out of those who matter least in their eyes: the workers.

And, now, Kavanaugh. Another grimacing, shouty, right-wing arsehole granted special privileges and set up for life to preside over the fates of others.

When does this nightmare end?

The only consistency that this current steaming turd of a Government has followed is to ensure an increase in the vulnerability and marginalization of pretty much everyone else in the world that doesn’t look or think like them.

This is a President who was elected a week after tapes of him boasting about how being rich and famous enables him to grab “women by the pussy” were released, and who has continued to openly discriminate against women every day since. Just read that sentence again.

So, go figure, this same man lambasts Dr Christina Ford last week during a rally, just days after attempting to win kudos for authorizing an FBI investigation into Kavanaugh’s attempted rape of her. At the time, many commentators predicted this would be a sham of an investigation, yet we somehow crossed our fingers last week and hoped that, for the first time since he took office, something ever so slightly positive might come from having Trump in power. If you haven’t watched his public drubbing of her, do it now and click on the link above. Take it in. This is the President of the United States of America.

So here we are again. We now know definitively that the FBI investigation was yet another piece of theatre. Sick, depraved, unjust theatre. As is the case with the long list of roll backs already underway since Trump took office. Roll backs on topics such as reproductive freedoms, labour, the environment as well as the financial services industry. Take your pick. Each roll back dishes out harrowing implications for millions of people the world over.

Not a single piece of regulation on which Trump has smeared his sticky fingerprints could be said to have been made more socially or environmentally enhanced as a result. In terms of leaving a legacy, Trump is amassing a portfolio of such wretchedness that even Lord Voldemort would find the ramifications of them a little “on the nose”.

This is a man who has admitted to physically abusing women.

A man who tried to ban all Muslims from entering the United States (which ended in a diluted version).

A man whose Party is so at odds with the Democrats, and so addicted to fueling an era of modern day “hate,” that the eruption of a civil war is now more or less what many commentators are forewarning. David Neiwert’s thread on twitter this morning is just one of these worth reading (in my opinion).

Sat in Saigon like a lemon I write these words and I have no idea why and to what end they will do anything, save letting the fizz out of my anger for today. However, writing words, speaking out, and supporting the work of those fighting this current battle, we must.

Trump is the epitome of putting his mouth where his money is. The opposite must prevail – fund campaigns, fund organisations, fund journalists, mobilise within your community, talk to your peers, volunteer, rally, sign petitions. And don’t stop.

It is the only way to fight power.

Advertisements

NOLA

img_0371

Fancy dress time. Labour Day weekend in New Orleans.

It feels like today – Friday 28th September 2018 – could go down as historic, as the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court of the United States will be voted on, after Christine Ford testified against him yesterday for his attempted rape of her 36 years ago.

1 in 3 women in their lifetimes will experience sexual or physical violence at the hands of men. That this statistic is not “industry specific” has been proven to be palpably clear time and again. Sports, politics, education, religion, and international development – choose your sector, the facts are clear cut.

However, although it feels this week (and, let’s face it, for a while now) that American political leaders sit at the top of the guilty pile, this post is not 100% dedicated to that. Instead, this post is about New Orleans. This post is about celebrating what can be curated when human beings channel their ‘decency genes’.

When I visited “NOLA” recently, it was Labour Day weekend and, for added spice, it was also the annual Southern Decadence celebrations and festivities – a 48 year old tradition now known as the world’s largest “Gay Mardi Gras”. This year attendance broke records with over 250,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender participants, and (according to the event’s website) an economic impact estimated to be in excess of $275 millon.

img_0375

Celebrating the city’s “Second Line” phenomenon.

The main event of the weekend took place on the Sunday, with a series of parades through the city’s French Quarter. There was no violence. In full tourist mode, with my colleagues nursing hangovers, I spent half of the day soaking up an atmosphere that could be described as the polar opposite to that which has been witnessed over the past days leading up to, and during, the Kavanaugh trial.

The continued hate-filled polarizing of the Democrat-Republican dynamic has reached fever pitch. The lying, the fakery, the anger, the seismic, self-centered vacuity of it all. An arena full of flawed power-holders, bigots, misogynists, and cold, calculating egos. A constant narrative of allowing wrong-doers a free passage, based on their rank and file. An inevitable and incensing circling-the-drain tempo of decision making, back-stabbing and profiteering.

And we know all this. It is allowed to play out, thus, today and tomorrow, on and on.

It’s not that the content of the quarter of a million characters who visited New Orleans, and with whom I paraded on that Sunday, is perfect. I can’t, equally, claim that the remainder of the city’s citizens are flawless human beings (I would certainly hope that not to be the case, in fact).

What I can be assured of, however, was that a more enriching, uplifting and contented time would be hard to come by, than the one I experienced in New Orleans.

Of course, the life of the entitled political elites is no doubt stressful. There is no live jazz music soothing the ear-drums everywhere you go, no “second line” spontaneity, no special NOLA cocktails, or the puttering of boats along the Mississippi River.

It’s a one-sided battle of environments, no doubt. The exquisite recipe and blueprint for sharing in “good times” for which New Orleans is renowned, cannot be topped. And I’ve not even mentioned the cuisine.

However, and here is the thing, in addition to all of those ‘enablers’ that New Orleans has in its armoury, the people living there are just so decent minded, and so, human.

From the Lyft drivers whose rapport and genuineness made you feel like you were in a car with your closest of relatives, to the clarinet player who mesmerized us all in the street, reducing one man to tears with her solos, and who then told us with a smile not to worry about our tip money getting wet in the rain, because “we all of us going to get wet.”

img_0372

French balustrades and palm trees.

Over brunch one morning, we met an old college friend to one of my team, Matt “Slushy”, now a journalist for The Advocate, covering stories about inmates on Death Row. Matt explained to us, over pots of brewed coffee, about the challenges of the penal system in Louisiana. To be honest, it felt like being in a John Grisham novel and I was hooked on his every word.

His anecdotes set up what then unfolded as a quite life changing immersion the following week, in Alabama, which I wrote about here recently. And, without re-visiting some of the heavy issues which sit at the heart of why so many young black men continue to face injustices in America, I’ve reflected that part of the compelling nature of talking to Matt that weekend was not only down to his commitment to pursue justice, plying his trade as a writer, but in how he authentically and calmly went about understanding the different perspectives and forming his arguments in a way that, again, contrasts so radically to the way in which the country’s politicians appear to be going about their work.

Taken up as I was by the sensory overload that New Orleans simply is, I cannot recall feeling so at ease and in step anywhere else I’ve travelled to in America. Shaped over generations by a cultural DNA of sharing, of resilience – in the face of events such as Hurricane Katrina – and a genetically rich and spiritual love for music, it was (and I am sure it is not this simplistic, but I don’t care) it was a window into a form of social utopia.

Granted, there are other places in the world where these characteristics, this ‘state’, is no doubt mirrored. My whimsical memories will remain just that. What is so tragic to me is how many worlds apart from even just a diluted down slice of what I’m describing are so many other versions of the country’s society right now.

This post won’t help any of that. All I know is that if anyone is waiting for the evolutional arc of men to somehow take hold in a way that redefines, in a way that recognizes equity, power, compassion and humanity – if that is what we want to see, then the true changemakers amongst us are not anytime soon going to be the country’s political leaders.

No doubt that sweeping generalization does a dis-service to many in politics. Again, I don’t really care. And, I am absolutely sure that, as an alternative, placing hordes of Southern Decadence-parading men, dressed in tight-fitting shorts and draped in rainbow livery, into political positions of power, would also result in a fair share of issues and challenging times.

But I know who I’d vote for.

img_0364

Time for a drink? A NOLA special – a “White Negroni” with Suze and Lillet Blanc.

It’s hard to be brought down when you have a balloon

s-l1000

Original drawing by Ernest H.Shepard

A.A. Milne’s timeless quote and story of a young boy’s escape into the fantasy world of One Hundred Acre Wood, re-launched its endearing characters back onto the world’s cinema screens recently. My daughters were hooked from the opening scenes when we went to watch the new Christopher Robin last Thursday night – as was I.

Winnie the Pooh, and his delirious gaggle of enchanting friends, have a rousing message for their viewers, in director Marc Forster’s languid adaptation, which is this: don’t take life too seriously.

Now. Throw-away statements like these are relatively passé. This is not a new phenomenon and no doubt wikipedia can help us with affirming who, in fact, was the world’s first free thinking philosopher, conjuring up similar Pooh-esque invocations.

Feel-good monikers are all around us. Emblazoned on the front of T-shirts, and the sides of coffee mugs, today’s life-affirming messages come in all forms of delivery: podcasts, seeping directly through the ears of the day-dreaming commuter; celebrity endorsed morsels of wisdom saturating social media feeds; hell, these days, you can believe in the power of five suitably inspiring words so much that, for twenty quid, you simply tattoo their message under your skin. The heady combination of a few letters being powerful enough, for some people, that they are prepared to literally embody the sentiment for life.

The podcasts and the public statements, the inky reminders, the free speech blog-festing – each medium echoes the other, when it comes to framing these small momentary slices of wisdom, attempting to impart – as they do – a large, lifetime worthy cake-sized portion of advice.

Some days, as consumers, we detest these saccharine nuggets, with their overwhelming and irritatingly smug placements, in the middle of our Wednesday mornings. We detest their presumption and elitist codification, their lineation, their naivety.

On other occasions, and in other moods, we’ll share the love. Retweet the hashtag, apply the shoulder shrugging GIF, as the closing salutation to an inane whatsapp exchange, instigated by a work colleague asking us “how our week was going?” or if we were “enjoying hump day” – “At least Monday is over” – “Don’t take life too seriously, it’s Friday!”

This sodden landscape of social media – with its squelching footprints of metaphor and philosophized jingle – conspires to cover us in what Monty from Withnail and I might have described as “beastly mud and oomska”: and it is relentless. And why? Because it’s impossible to always take life less seriously.

Even Winnie the Pooh has moments of despair.

Perhaps a despairing moment comes for us within 60 seconds of waking up in the morning? Just the thought of the day ahead. The chairing of a meeting. The reading of a news headline. A sky-less view out of a window. Burnt toast. Joint pain. Angst about the future. Guilt about the past.

The truth is that we rely on these constant reminders to punctuate our routine, and help us side-step the rabbit warren of contemplation. Temporarily, we press pause and we pivot our imagination.

The novelist Iris Murdock once said thatone of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats“. I like that a lot, because there is no denying it: everyone is guilty as charged when it comes to small treats.

Murdock also wrote that “A deep motive for making literature or art of any sort is the desire to defeat the formlessness of the world and cheer oneself up by constructing forms out of what might otherwise seem a mass of senseless rubble.” 

Isn’t that compelling, too?

Murdoch is one of many writers who have looked to make sense of an ever changing world in a way that, without ego, offers up, as she puts it, a ‘construction of forms’. An alternative pattern of ideas and ideals, a perspective that has authenticity and charm.

Much of her writing, and that which other writers and artists and story-tellers have laid down, reflect a similar fascination with this very subject. Questioning what we know about life and, time and again, unpacking what it means not only to feel weighed down by life, but also what it means to counter that.

Winnie the Pooh could be one embodiment of that ‘counter’ weighting that we all need and from which we can all learn. A fleeting throw back to a more innocent time of our lives – as children – when it was not a requirement to be seeking outlets to ‘pivot’.

As softly spoken and whimsical as Milne’s affectionate lead character appears, his is a frighteningly effective call to action: for playing pooh-sticks, for going on “adventures”, for curating the comradery of an impromptu tea-party. Flying that balloon.

Just as the adult Christopher Robin inevitably realizes, everyone needs these small treats, these heart-warming, guilt-free, post-it note reminders that reach down deep and remind us of what we all ostensibly know – which is that we will never truly “grow up” in the way we think we are supposed to.

We will try, but we will forever fall short. And that is the beauty of our story.

“Yn cofio”

Myra

Myra was awarded a degree from the University College of Swansea in 1943

W.O.M.

In worshipful duty,
Some four score years ‘n’ ten
(And five still more)
Devoted to a doctrine of
Deep unwavering love;
Committed values, truthfully pure,
For better or for worse:
One lady, Myra.

In charitable duty,
Some four score years ‘n’ ten
(And five still more)
Bestowing civic pledges
Unto all, with tempered calm,
A curing tonic past,
So future selves will certain thrive:
One lady, Myra.

In familial duty,
Some four score years ‘n’ ten
(And five still more)
Etched on generations now,
Festive beams of straight-laced talk,
Seven lettered praise.
In earnest, gentle kindness:
One Auntie, Myra.

Myra

myra2

Winifred Olive Myra Copleston
(28 January 1923 – 4 June 2018)

Bubble Reputation

img_8576

Ma and Pa’s Wedding Day

Happy Birthday to my late Grandpa – Stanley Bishop. Son of Syd Bishop, a butcher from Ruislip, Greater London, Stanley Bishop (aka “Pa”) was born during the First World War, on a Thursday, exactly 103 years ago today. He went on to serve in the Second World War, by which time he had met and fallen in love with my Grandma, Edna.

One anecdote my brother and I grew up on, around the significance of the 27th day of the month, was that our own father, Peter, was born to Stan and Edna on 27th November 1949, followed by my arrival on 27th April 1975, and then my brother, Matt, was due to be born on 27th January 1978. Matt was late though (a February 1st vintage, in the end) although by all accounts he arrived quickly and full of gusto.

Dates often produce serendipity. Writing this from our home in Saigon (a city liberated by the Viet Cong a mere 72 hours after I arrived in the world, on 30th April 1975, a date which continues to commemorate the end of the various wars of that era) I was, this morning, musing on the fact that it was during this particular last week of May, a quarter of a century ago, in 1993, that I put down my pen in what was my last “A” level exam, and stepped out of the school’s Great Hall and into a new chapter of my life.

That I was born 3 days before the end of the American-Vietnam War, and that 25 years ago this week I finished high school, are not, I grant you, the most precise and brilliantly serendipitous coincidences. In any case, that last exam paper was on Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. A play I enjoyed watching again earlier this year, whilst Issy and I were back in Melbourne.

“As You Like It” is a witty and insightful tale, its cross-dressing protagonists fumbling about in the Forest of Arden, getting into various romantic scrapes. The twist of having the traditional all male actors taking on the female roles of Rosalind and Celia – who then spend the majority of the storyline pretending to be men – is one of those great examples that defines Shakespeare’s lasting appeal: that of an ‘alternative framing’ which has continued to be utilized in various art and literature ever since.

Another timeless page from the play is Jacques’ famous speech about the ‘Seven Ages of Man.’ Jacques’ descriptions of each Age (the full prose is pasted below) and his overall conclusion about the circle of life – from “mewling and puking” to “a second childishness and mere oblivion” – are packed full with observations and philosophies. Indeed, the numeric “7” itself is a number much quoted across cultures. Days of the week. Deadly Sins. Years of bad luck (for mirror damage). “Lucky number” seven.

Even my seventh paragraph, containing seven words.

**********

Anyway, as I enjoyed this Jacques passage again, it was the soldier “seeking the bubble reputation” on which I alighted.

In the context of war, bubble reputation could be a reference to the fleeting nature of the honour or the fame that a solider experiences in battle. Essentially, a temporary thing, bursting like a bubble.

Another explanation I’ve seen is that Shakespeare meant for the word bubble to infer “a person deceived by an empty project”. In other words, a soldier signing up to a war that had been ill conceived.

You’d need a lifetime to collect everything that has been written about ill conceived wars or about the sheer hopelessness of war: from the various canons of WW1 poetry, penned whilst my Grandpa was a child; to those crafted about WW2, a conflict in which both my grandparents served, and from which my father was then an infamous “baby-boomer”; to the angry outpouring of the millions of people who took to the streets (during the time of my parent’s own courtship and wedding) to protest against western interventions in Vietnam; right up to the viral nature of how online communications, in the 2018 arena, connect a far greater number of us than ever before, in a collective disdain for war and for conflict.

Others might counter this by persuading that meaningful change, without some form conflict, is simply not possible.

The debate here will no doubt run on, and on.

What is not up for debate, is the reality of the scale of the current ongoing conflicts around the world: from countries where enlisting in the armed forces is compulsory for its citizens (a “necessary way of life”); to those where young children are stolen from their homes to serve in anti-government splinter cells, or are fleeing for their lives, away from conflict, and without their parents; to those countries whose reputations for initiating conflicts, over centuries past, has granted them a place in the world pecking order to make decisions about when and where to repeat the process again; or, still, to countries whose political agendas continue to cause slow, protracted crises, so much so that living in a ‘state of conflict’ has simply become the definition of ‘normal living’.

Whatsoever the context, I find this definition of Jacques’ “bubble reputation” (ie that of an “empty project” causing “deception”) striking.

Just how many of the world’s current conflicts could be said to epitomize this notion?

In spite of all the institutional structures and global governance systems, established after WW2 to prevent such a thing happening again, the United Nations (one of the main institutions created as part of this process) recently claimed that the world is in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945.

In the four countries of South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, the UN estimates that as many as 20 million people are facing starvation and famine.

For the (approximately) 6 million Syrian refugees – a fifth country to add to these statistics – who no longer live in their home country, it is estimated it will be 25 years until they might safely return.

So, on this 7.5 billion person world stage of ours, what part, what action, are we each prepared to follow through on, in the face of humanitarian crisis and the nature of its conflicted genesis?

The truth is that there are many ways to act and to bring about action (some mentioned on here recently) and to play a “part.” From writing to marching to joining movements to the honest discourse exchanged with those young people yet to embark on their second ‘Age.’

And, I believe it is the union of these acts, their voice, their grit, and their steely coalescence, which can provide – as a military operation itself would – all that is necessary.

7-ages-of-man.png

Get Up, Stand Up

Stand-up-for-your-rights_web

Image credit: http://www.cesie.org

This time last week I was waking up in Tbilisi, a tad dusty from an extended evening’s drinking with a colleague of mine, a Dutchman named Gerard, who has been living there for a while, and who naturally felt it appropriate to show me a variety of places, for the short time I’d be staying in “his town”.

We begun the night hosted by CARE’s local team, at a Georgian restaurant, where each new plate of food was brought out under a fanfare of live music and dancing, along with rounds of increasingly hearty toasting.

Post-dinner, and several watering holes later, I found myself sampling the country’s famous “cha cha” – a sweeter version of the grappa I’ve had in Italy – which came as a welcome tonic, given my stomach walls were still adequately fortressed with cheese and carbs, enough to keep out the most stubborn of digestifs.

We decided, bleary-eyed at this stage, to hit up one more venue close by – a favourite “low-key” bar of Gerard’s. Upon arrival we found it morphed into a darkly lit techno den, complete with strobe effects and a whole new type of Georgian dancing, quite distinct to what we’d witnessed over dinner. Nonetheless, we indulged in a nightcap, and then left for home, our ears ringing.      Continue reading

The Wizard

sabbath1.jpg

One of the wonders of memory recall (for me, at least) are those flashbacks of a incident or a feeling from years gone by, that momentarily render all other things you are doing or thinking mute, for just a fleeting couple of seconds.

When this happens, I tend to drop out of the present moment and gawp pathetically out of a window, allowing the sensation to take hold. The kind words of a teacher, rain on tarmac, the excitement of passing your driving test, scoring a goal, watching live music…

I’m in Dubai airport – again – and all abuzz at Costa Coffee having just watched the last ever live show of Black Sabbath on the plane. Musical memory recall of the sharpest and sweetest kind.

The Sabbath were not quite on the plane. That would have been too spectacular, even for the stuff of dreams – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, bobbing in the aisles, whilst deftly plucking out the chords to Paranoid, and dividing the collective musical tastes of the passengers in a bizarre, stratospheric instant.     Continue reading

One day

8A55CEF9-0DF7-44EA-863E-0C998369D4CF

One day,

The wind beneath the wings of a soaring bird
will be felt on his face.

The scent of a crashing wave
will touch his soul.

The freedom of a child at play
will melt his eyes.

And the choices made by a woman living a life free from inequalities
will stir inside of him such unequivocal calm that

he, too,

will soar in the skies,
move with the ocean,
embrace freedom,
and choose to be all these things,

Every day.