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Capitalism vs. Socialism: Gough vs. Mason

Monday, 31 August, 2015 0 Comments

“When women protest against misogyny in India, Mason interprets this as an anti-capitalist protest. This is ahistorical nonsense; the status of women in India has been terrible since at least the Islamic invasions of the 5th century. Women were burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyres until the arrival of the (capitalist) East India Company, which banned the practice.”

That’s a snippet is from Julian Gough’s scathing review of PostCapitalism: A Guide To Our Future, by Paul Mason, the economics editor at the UK’s Channel 4 News. The Irish Times does little justice to Gough’s dismemberment of Mason’s work, however, by linking to it from its homepage via an image adorned with the text: “Paul Mason: Capitalism is at the heart of the world’s woes“. A more fitting caption would have been: “Julian Gough: Socialism is at the heart of the world’s woes”.

Paul Mason review

Here’s Gough poking fun at Mason’s grim world view: “From page one, everything bad is capitalism’s fault. Russian invasion of the Ukraine? The rise of Islamic State? ‘These are the signs that the neoliberal order has failed.’ Not signs that, say, totalitarian Russian rule might be in crisis; or that 1,000 years of brutal Sunni/Shia sectarian conflict might have caused some longterm problems in the region.”

Gough notes that Mason became a teenage member of Workers’ Power, “one of the more charming and earnest English Trotskyist outfits. (Current membership, after the last split, about 35.)… And, like all Marxists ever — including Marx — he is bitterly disappointed in the actual, non-theoretical working class. (Though, fair play to Mason, he does say Lenin was wrong to call them a labour aristocracy and try to kill them.) Mason despairs: ‘It has become impossible to imagine this working class — disorganised, in thrall to consumerism and individualism — overthrowing capitalism.'”

So what’s the solution? Simple, really. All we need is to return to the 20th century and the visions that led to millions of murdered innocents. Mason says “We need to be unashamed utopians.” Gough counters, “No, we don’t. Utopianism has never led to anything other than catastrophe, because it isn’t anchored in reality. The trouble with Paul Mason’s prescription is not that it requires a new kind of financial system; it is that it requires a new kind of human being. As ever, we, the actual workers, are not good enough for the revolution.”

Julian Gough deserves praise for swimming against the luvvy tide here. Paul Mason is a media darling and an unashamed admirer of the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. In fact, he provided the foreword for Varoufakis’s book, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe, and the Future of the Global Economy. Greater love hath no Utopian.

Late August, heavy rain and sun

Sunday, 30 August, 2015 1 Comment

On this day in 2013, Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, died. “I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world,” he once said, “but what they do is they change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world.” As the month of August ebbs away, Blackberry-Picking sums up the summer that was, with its mix of “heavy rain and sun.” Heaney is in playful mood here and he even allows himself a bit of rhyming fun at the end: “all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot / Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.”


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney (13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013)


Balinese chapters

Saturday, 29 August, 2015 0 Comments

“This is their world through my eyes,” says self-described “global nomad” Brandon Li of his six “chapters” about the people of Bali. The Tooth Filing Ceremony is followed by the Rice Fields and Beyond, then we have Outlanders Libertad, Passing Storm, Quiet Night, Cremation and Exorcism.

Trump is Jay Gatsby

Friday, 28 August, 2015 1 Comment

The average working American has seen her standard of living stagnate during the Obama years and despite having a job and despite reports of impressive growth doesn’t feel confident about the economy. The presidential candidate who appeals most to this disaffected worker/voter is the spectacularly wealthy Donald Trump. He is leveraging the blue-collar anxiety, which used to be Bruce Springsteen’s songbook, into a campaign that terrifies the chattering class.

On 14 August, Conor Friedersdorf, a writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs, wrote a letter to Donald Trump supporters with One Big Question: “If you elect the billionaire, what makes you think that he will use whatever talents that he possesses to address your grievances rather than to benefit himself?” On 17 August, Friedersdorf published 30 of the responses. Given that this is Gatsby week at Rainy Day, here’s one that caught our eye:

Gatsby“Donald Trump personifies a modern-day, extremely brash Jay Gatsby, clawing feverishly for that elusive ‘green light’ at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s beckoning dock. Is it not better to place your chips on hopes and dreams rather than certain nightmares? Those of us who buy into Trump’s vision, nearly to the point of blind trust, are loudly professing our disgust with the current immoral situations that taint and threaten our blueprint of the American dream:

  • A world in which police are reluctant to protect citizens (and themselves) for fear of reprimands and indictments
  • An atmosphere in which politicians are ridiculed for uttering the simple truth
  • A media more concerned with those nauseating, idiotic Kardashians than with the welfare of its heroic war veterans

Carraway further states: “…Gatsby turned out all right in the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams, that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and the short-winded elations of men.” The ‘foul dust’ floating in the wake of Trump’s dreams consists of a biased, unfair, unimaginative media and his fellow dull, donor-driven candidates. But Mr. Trump, as Nick said to Jay Gatsby: ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together!'”

Thanks for your attention this week. More Gatsby next August.

Gay Gatsby, patriarchal Gatsby

Thursday, 27 August, 2015 1 Comment

All’s fair in love and (gender) war. Back in 2013, Greg Olear argued in Salon that Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, is gay and in love with the novel’s eponymous hero. In the absence of any concrete evidence, Olear bases his case on the fact that Nick is aged 25/26 and still single. This is “exactly the profile of a (closeted) gay young man in a prominent Middle Western family in 1922,” he claims, triumphantly. When Nick meets Gatsby for the first time we get, according to Olear, a scene from a potential Fifty Shades of Gay:

“He smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you might come across four or five times in your life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

Gatsby Olear could be right, or a brilliant smile might just be that, a brilliant smile made all the more radiant by Fitzgerald’s poetic prose. Meanwhile, Soheila Pirhadi Tavandashti offers A Feminist Reading of the Great Gatsby. The problem with Fitzgerald’s book seems to be that it is narrated by a man and is lacking in clever, liberated women voicing their own experiences. Snippet:

“The novel abounds in minor female characters whose dress and activities identify them as incarnations of the New Woman, and they are portrayed as clones of a single, negative character type: shallow, exhibitionist, revolting, and deceitful. For example, at Gatsby’s parties we see insincere, ‘enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names,’ as well as numerous narcissistic attention-seekers in various stages of drunken hysteria. We meet, for example, a young woman who ‘dumps’ down a cocktail ‘for courage’ and ‘dances out alone on the canvass to perform’; ‘a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter’; …a drunken young girl who has her ‘head stuck in the pool’ to stop her from screaming; and two drunken young wives who refuse to leave the party until their husbands, tired of the women’s verbal abuse, ‘lifted [them] kicking into the night.'”

Tomorrow, here, Gatsby and Donald Trump.

Gatsby and the robots

Wednesday, 26 August, 2015 0 Comments

“Belief in ‘the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us,’ as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, is a characteristic American trait.” So writes the seasoned pundit as he prepares his readers for a think pieces on… robots. Watch now how he deploys Gatsby:

“Is a yet more orgiastic future beckoning? Today’s Gatsbys have no doubt that the answer is yes: humanity stands on the verge of breakthroughs in information technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence that will dwarf what has been achieved in the past two centuries. Human beings will be able to live still more like gods because they are about to create machines like gods: not just strong and swift but also supremely intelligent and even self-creating.”

Gatsby But just in case the tech-optimism gets out of hand, our pundit reaches for Mary Shelley, creator of “the cautionary tale of Frankenstein”. Intelligent machines have a scary side and this could herald “great dangers,” such as “soaring unemployment and inequality.” Is this, then, our destiny? “The answer is no.” Hawking, Musk and Gates may be sounding the alarm bells but, “What we know for the moment is that there is nothing extraordinary in the changes we are now experiencing. We have been here before and on a much larger scale.”

Bottom line: “The future does not have to be a disappointment. But as Gatsby learned, it can all too easily be just that.” All this, and more, can be found in “Same as It Ever Was: Why the Techno-optimists Are Wrong” by Martin Wolf in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs. The article shows how useful Gatsby can be as an inspiration for, well, anything, including robots. The novel never gets tired.

Tomorrow, here, Jay Gatsby is sent to the front lines of the gender wars. Gays and feminists battle it out as they seek deeper meaning between the sheets, er, pages.

The black Gatsby

Tuesday, 25 August, 2015 1 Comment

The gay editor Aaron Hicklin asked a group of people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and national correspondent for the Atlantic, began his list with The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. “Basically the finest essay I’ve ever read,” he says of it. Next is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “I’m a sucker for efficiency. This book gets so much out of what is, ultimately, a rather slim story. I adore it,” writes Coates.

A rather slim story? Is he talking about length or bulk? At 180 pages, Gatsby is compact, but it’s still bigger than Between the World and Me, the latest Coates book, which weighs in at a slender 152 pages. Although Coates is no Fitzgerald (his writing is too unwieldy), he does offer an occasional flash of Fitzgerald-like sparkle: “The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in moments. It is the last bottle of wine you have just uncorked but have not time to drink.”

Gatsby And now, the real thing: “As we crossed Blackwell’s Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.” Does this passage suggest that Fitzgerald was an early advocate of #BlackLivesMatter or just another shill for white privilege? According to The Uppity Negro, aka Joshua L. Lazard, the Gatsby masterpiece is an embodiment of American Blackness and Baz Luhrmann’s recent film of the novel, thanks to “hip hop music set in a story from the 1920s”, brings to the surface what had been hidden. The story of Jay Gatsby — “a man who didn’t fit in the society that he claimed and so desperately wanted to join” — is the story of black America. Snippet:

“Even when he had entrée, and actually created his own entrée, he was a lonely man surrounded by hundreds; he was alone at his own party. The blackness of it was that he was in and of himself a ‘second America’ created because of the forces of the society that dictated what success was and his struggle to obtain it. He was met with the existential question that Black America faces today: now that I have it, what do I do with it? Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but as the parties ended, Gatsby fired his waitstaff, New York was plunged into a post Gatsby era, and for many as Obama has ascended to the presidency, twice now, the phrase post racial constantly gets thrown around careless like a champagne bottle at a mansion party in West Egg.”

Yes, it is a bit of a stretch, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, as Robert Browning said. Thursday, here, in keeping with our times, the gay Gatsby and the feminist Gatsby. Tomorrow, Gatsby and robotics. Honestly.

Gatsby: Sam Guo as James Gatz

Monday, 24 August, 2015 1 Comment

With his vast wealth, James Gatz purchased a lavish mansion on Long Island and proceeded to throw elaborate parties. Those who swam in the rivers of booze during those wild nights at West Egg didn’t know he was born James Gatz, however. To them, he was Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire. Likewise with Kui Zhang Guo, a Chinese businessman who bought a manor for $11.45 million in the upscale Hunters Hill area of Sydney last year. Gatsby He prefers to go by his anglicized name, Sam Guo, writes the Sydney Morning Herald, which begins its story about his fabulous parties thus: “His neighbours have already dubbed him the ‘Chinese Gatsby’, which judging by the largesse in the form of rivers of French champagne and no expense spared parties inside his lavish Hunters Hill mansion, would seem like a fitting nom de plume for Kui Zhang Guo.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved it. The Guo-Gatz symbolism is uncanny and with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting another awful day at the exchanges “as tanking Chinese sharemarkets wipe out the past two years of gains on the local bourse”, the scene is set, perfectly, for our annual reading of The Great Gatsby. Let’s kick off with a passage that reflects the thrill of the party on the edge of the abyss:

“The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word.”

Tomorrow, here, a hot young writer on the enduring greatness of Gatsby.

The poetic game

Sunday, 23 August, 2015 0 Comments

The Scottish Lowland League football club Selkirk FC has hired a poet in residence. Thomas Clark, 35, will be the team’s wordsmith for the season, with his verse appearing in match day programmes and an end-of-season anthology. His published works include Intae the Snaw, a collection of Chinese poetry rendered into Scots, and a Glaswegian retelling of Alice in Wonderland. This is the business.

Take Shelter

It’s Scottish Cup day in Selkirk
An aw things are richt;
The redness on the leaves like yon,
The shinin on the watter like yon.
Och, it is a perfect day,
A joke for the guyin o the cynic an the pessimist
Wha woke up sure it would be comin doon;
An no a clood in the sky, nor a drap on the breeze,
Hints at the troubles aheid.

Thomas Clark

Facts: The people of Selkirk are known as Souters, which means cobblers (shoe makers and menders). Selkirk is twinned with Plattling, a town in Bavaria that was the home of SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. On 1 May 2011, Plattling hosted veterans of the US 65th Infantry Division, who joined local people for the dedication of a memorial to the Division’s role in liberating the Plattling concentration camp in April 1945.

Droning For Good above LA

Saturday, 22 August, 2015 0 Comments

“I continue to be awe struck by how much of this vast city I have partially or completely overlooked before undertaking this video,” says videographer Ian Wood about his aerial exploration of downtown Los Angeles. Explaining the “Droning For Good” philosophy, he says: “With all the controversy about drones, it’s important to remember that they can be (and often are) used responsibly. As with many emerging technologies, the laws struggle to keep up and we must employ a common sense approach to their use that is respectful to community, safety and the law.”

By the way, here’s a map of the locations seen in the clip and the music is If You Ain’t Never Had The Blues by Boo Boo Davis.

Current reading: I Am Pilgrim

Friday, 21 August, 2015 1 Comment

With Mad Max 2, Payback, Cliffhanger and Dead Calm among his credits, the Australian screenwriter Terry Hayes could rest on his laurels, but he’s not content with being put out to grass. I am Pilgrim I Am Pilgrim is his debut novel and it is an exceptionally fine thriller. The moving parts include a flawed hero in the form of a US intelligence agent codenamed The Pilgrim, working for a shadowy outfit called The Division, and a jihadi Saudi doctor codenamed The Saracen, who has created a smallpox variant with which he hopes to destroy the “far enemy”, namely the USA.

The action races from Manhattan to Moscow to London, the Hindu Kush, Bodrum and a Nazi death camp in Alsace. And that’s just a half dozen of the global settings. In between, Hayes peppers the story with wry observations about humanity, its habitats and its foibles. In an attempt to extract confidential customer records from an especially reptilian Swiss banker, the Pilgrim takes the man’s daughter hostage and threatens the worst. The banker is forced to choose between finance and family. This prompts the following observation:

“People say love is weak, but they’re wrong: love is strong. In nearly everyone it trumps all other things — patriotism and ambition, religion and upbringing. And of every kind of love — the epic and the small, the noble and the base — the one that a parent has for their child is the greatest of them all. That was the lesson I learned that day, and I’ll be forever grateful I did.”

I Am Pilgrim is a cut above the ordinary so it’s not surprising that MGM bought the rights and are said to be plotting a series of films, similar to the Bourne franchise.