This time of year when we think of time passing.
Enter CHRONOS, with a scythe in his hand, and a great globe on his back, which he sets down at his entrance
Weary, weary of my weight,
Let me, let me drop my freight,
And leave the world behind.
I could not bear
The load of human-kind.
From Dryden’s The Secular Masque
Written for the seventeenth century rolling over to the eighteenth. It has the New Year resolution flavour about it at the end:-
All, all of a piece throughout;
Thy chase had a beast in view;
Thy wars brought nothing about;
Thy lovers were all untrue.
‘Tis well an old age is out,
And time to begin a new.
The Three Ages of Man by Titian in the National Gallery of Scotland
A poem which fits the weather as well as the time of year and one of my favourites by Thomas Hardy, who wrote beautifully about time passing and opportunities missed:-
They sing their dearest songs—
He, she, all of them—yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face. . . .
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!
And brightest things that are theirs. . . .
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.
Time, time, time
See what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please
But look around Leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter..
Look around, leaves are brown,
There’s a patch of snow on the ground
(Simon & Garfunkel – they were young things when that came out)
Who knows where the time goes? Sandy Denny, who died far too young.
And from he who was born middle-aged:-
Chard Whitlow by ”T S Eliot”
As we get older we do not get any younger.
Seasons return, and today I am fifty-five,
And this time last year I was fifty-four,
And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.
And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)
To see my time over again— if you can call it time:
Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,
Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded Tube.
From The Hobbit – one of the riddles
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
And a picture from the 1976 Soviet edition of The Hobbit.
Have a good time while we mark time passing.
“Patriotic and Tribal feelings belong to the squalling childhood of the human race, and become no more charming in their senescence. They are particularly unattractive when evinced by a superpower. But ironies of history may yet save us. English language and literature, oft-celebrated as one of the glories of “Western” civilisation, turn out to have even higher faculties than used to be claimed for them. In my country of birth the great new fictional practitioners have in their front rank names like Rushdie, Kureishi, Mo. This attainment on their part makes me oddly proud to be whatever I am, and convinces me that internationalism is the highest form of patriotism” – C Hitchens, ‘What Is Patriotism?’, The Nation, July 15/22, 1991.
Someone who for reasons best known to themselves, appears to love me very much, brought me ‘And Yet …’ for Christmas. This was, undoubtedly, the most welcome present I could have hoped for, containing as it does, the full panoply of Christopher Hitchens’ wit and wisdom on subjects as varied as Hillary Clinton, Hezbollah, Orwell’s “list” and … male body-waxing (hilarious, of course).
The publishers’ blurb is slightly misleading in describing this collection as being made up of “previously unpublished” material: in fact all these essays were first published the various publications (Slate, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, etc) to which Hitchens was a regular and prolific contributor. But it’s excellent to have them brought together and readily available in book form.
Inevitably, we start speculating on what the man would have to say about contemporary political developments, like the West’s betrayal of Afghanistan, the resurgence of neo-Stalinism and Putin-worship on sections of the “left”, or the rise of that piece of sub-human excrement calling itself Donald Trump; Hitch’s 2007 thoughts on the subject of Jerry Falwell give us a pretty good clue as to the latter:
The editorial in today’s Independent:
Free Schools should not be able to recruit on faith alone
A working definition of the phrase “the worst of all worlds” in education would be a faith-based free school, which, whatever its merits, is “free” to divide children and communities on fairly broad grounds. Such institutions do already exist, but their governing bodies are prevented from recruiting more than half of the intake on the grounds of religious affiliation, itself a notion that sends a shiver down the liberal spine. Now, there is agitation for that quota restriction to be lifted.
The reality of many faith schools, free or not, is that they are an exercise in parental deception. Previously Godless parents suddenly develop an interest in the Pope’s moral guidance or turn up to hear the vicar’s homilies on a Sunday morning.
For those parents unwilling to go through such charades, or who cannot afford to move to a prime catchment area, their children have to take whatever the local authority gives them.
With our continued subsidies to private schools with only a flimsy claim to “charitable” status, we have now created a patchwork of schooling in Britain in which money and religious belief (real or feigned) are the main determinants of educational success, which is itself linked to success in later life. None should be very surprised that social mobility is becoming a concept we will have to teach in history lessons. This situation is unfair and profoundly inefficient for the economy, and there is no cause to make matters worse by distorting education even further.
Even without the help of the odd religious extremist, if children of all faiths think it natural to go to schools separately, we should not be surprised if they feel they have less in common with their fellow citizens as they grow older. Faith schools, even with a 50 per cent quota for diversity, and even with some excellent teaching, have their drawbacks.
Excellent comment, except for the words “have their drawbacks” substitute “should be abolished”.
Greece late on Tuesday enacted a human-rights’ bill which allows civil partnership agreements between same-sex couples despite protests and opposition from political parties and the powerful Orthodox Church.
A growing number of European countries have established legislation allowing registered partnership rights for same-sex couples, including Britain, Spain and Cyprus, but the issue remains contentious in many other EU states.
Although Greece allowed such agreements for heterosexual couples in 2008 it excluded homosexual couples, a move which the European Court of Human Rights ruled discriminatory in 2013.
On Tuesday, 193 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament voted in favour of similar rights for gay and lesbian couples.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has promised social reforms to mitigate the negative impact of an EU/IMF bailout, said the bill closed “a circle of embarrassment for the state”.
“This is a great moment, not only for the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community, but also for legal equality in Greece”, Vasiliki Katrivanou, a lawmaker with Tsipras’ leftist Syriza party, told parliament.
“But what is worth discussing is … that it took us so long, that it took all these struggles”, she said adding the bill should pave the way for same-sex couples’ civil union, which has been Syriza’s pre-election promise.
As for who opposed it…
A quite intense and heated debate has been taking place over at Left Futures, concerning the political basis of the Stop the War Coalition, and the motives of those who criticise it from the left. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that the StWC has been subjected to sustained criticism from the left – and they do not like it, or come of it well, having tried and failed with their usual line that all criticism is a matter of right-wing conspiracies/”smears”/ and “quotations from articles taken out of context”, etc, etc.
The relevant articles and btl comments at Left Futures can be found here, here and (most recently) here. I would urge anyone interested in the question of western intervention and “imperialism” to take the trouble to read all three articles, and the btl debates that have followed, the most recent of which is still continuing.
I have been particularly impressed by the btl contributions of one John Penney: I do not know Comrade Penney and do not have his permission to republish his most recent contribution (below) in response to a StW apologist (“James”) who’d tried to defend StW’s unprincipled alliances with supporters of Assad, Gaddafi, Milosevic, Putin and other totalitarians, dictators and genociders by claiming StW “is not an international group, it is a single issue national organisation against UK military action, end of.”
The cynicism and sophistry of Stop the War and its apologists
By John Penney
This is the purest, cynical, sophistry, James, as I’m sure you are very well aware. (though I may be wrong – you could just be a naïve dupe). CND can indeed be a “single issue campaign” , and not be implicated in turning a blind eye to mass murder .
Unfortunately in the complex multi-sided cauldron of the Middle East it is not morally or politically possible to blithely claim that StWC is “only concerned with opposing UK military action” , and claim that this leaves it’s organisational hands clean of the consequences of this cod pacifist position. The Kurds in particular, but also sundry other minorities facing enslavement and mass murder by the Daesh barbarians (and proxies of Turkish and Saudi regional imperialism) do require arms and close air support to fight off the better armed , death-loving fanatics of Daesh. It is purely a tactical issue as to where the Kurds and others get this military support. Simply having a blanket “no to any UK involvement” position is actually directly campaigning to leave the Kurds and other minorities to be slaughtered by Daesh. That is the direct consequence of the current unconditional StW campaigning demand.
Of course we’ve been here repeatedly before – in the case of sections of the Left blindly campaigning to stop NATO intervening in both Bosnia and Kosovo – to end the huge scale genocide being perpetrated by the ( supposedly “socialist” ?) Serbian regime. Again sections of the Left, 25 years ago, campaigned against the setting up, of a No Fly Zone in Northern Iraq to protect the Kurds from the then murderous campaign being waged by Saddam Hussein. In all three cases NATO intervention simply did quite evidently save hundreds of thousands of lives. Simply opposing all Western intervention as a matter of unconditional principle is schoolboy-level political posturing. This doesn’t for a moment alter the fact that NATO is the military arm of Western Imperialism – of course it is. However the Left needs to be more tactically flexible, and willing to prioritise and balance the real needs of masses of people in real peril, against the holding of inflexible political postures. For someone obviously as lost in the political maze of Stalinist political models as you evidently are , James, a concept which I don’t expect you are even able to imagine.
But then you probably actually know this quite well and are simply playing semantic games – to cover up your, and StWC’s leadership’s actual , undeclared, underlying, support for the Assad regime and its Russian imperialist backers. That is certainly the CPB member , and now new Chairman of StWC’s [Andrew Murray – JD] obvious personal political position.
Your blanket “opposition to NATO” is simply another cover for the ludicrously simplistic soviet-era politics which views ONLY US/Western imperialism as a barrier to socialist progress – with a range of bestial tyrannies like Iran, Assad’s Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, and Gaddafi’s Libya getting a “free pass” as members of some bogus “axis of Resistance”.
Your cynical sophistry is truly stomach churning. StW today is a cynically manipulative movement, playing on naïve general pacifist anti war sentiments , to promote the narrow sectarian interests of a StW leadership coalition of Islamic fundamentalist appeasers and supporters of the Assad regime and Russian imperialism – not by any means a “single issue campaign”.
There are plenty of good reasons to oppose the current , purely symbolic, tiny air intervention of the UK in Syria. Its total ineffectiveness and total failure to recognise and tackle the vital huge support for Daesh coming from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for one. But to object purely on a cod pacifist basis – and ignoring the murderous role of Assad and the Russians, is to be a stooge of these regimes – not proud evidence of being a clean hands “single issue” campaign.
Watch this before your next theoretical discussion about whether or not Daesh are fascists, whether or not any form of military action should be taken against them … and whether or not we’re doing enough for refugees fleeing them:
(UN Security Council, December 16 20015)
Christmas is the season for potted histories of the festival. Bolted on to the pagan solistice, celebrated for twelve feasting days in the middle ages, half stamped out by the Puritans under Cromwell, which caused pro Christmas riots. Christmas was fading from the scene under the Georges and then revived by the Victorians. Prince Albert brought the Germanic Christmas with him, the emphasis being on a family celebration. Charles Dickens turned it into the season of “hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness” via A Christmas Carol and the country Christmas among snow in The Pickwick Papers. The commercialising civilisation of the Victorians invented crackers and Christmas cards and left us with the mish-mash of goodwill and purchasing, feasting and family we enjoy today.
The 12 days of Christmas have been extended to 30 or so of less concentrated celebrations with pantomimes, Nativity plays, concerts, work dos and Christmas jerseys. I took part in all of these this December and thoroughly enjoyed them.
The awful family Christmas, bleakly comical or merely bleak – the antithesis of Slade’s cheeriness in Merry Christmas Everybody – has become a tradition in its own right (a very recent example of the genre is Tom Wrigglesworth’s A Christmas Not Special).
It turns up in literature a good deal, Christmas being a time when characters get together and do their worst.
As well as exalting the ideal Christmas, Dickens could show an unhappy one at the Gargeries with the bully Mrs Gargery, and her victims, her husband Joe and her orphaned brother Pip.
We were to have a superb dinner, consisting of a leg of pickled pork and greens, and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome mince-pie had been made yesterday morning … and the pudding was already on the boil.
It is a ceremonious occasion. Guests come through the front door – locked for the rest of the year– and sit in the parlour – in wraps for the rest of the year.
Pip is kept very much in his place as an orphaned dependent, nagged and lectured by the rest. He is also sick with anxiety because he has stolen food for Magwitch the convict:-
Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn’t robbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezed in at an acute angle of the tablecloth, with the table in my chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was not allowed to speak (I didn’t want to speak), nor because I was regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain…..
Joe, his ally, does his best:-
he always aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were any. There being plenty of gravy to-day, Joe spooned into my plate, at this point, about half a pint.
Pip’s misery is interrupted by soldiers who visit the house when searching for Magwitch, and this chance of a hunt enlivens the company:-
As I watched them while they all stood clustering about the forge, enjoying themselves so much, I thought what terrible good sauce for a dinner my fugitive friend on the marshes was. They had not enjoyed themselves a quarter so much, before the entertainment was brightened with the excitement he furnished.
It is one of the most powerful scenes in the English novel, that Christmas dinner at the Dedaluses. Present:- Mr and Mrs Dedalus, Dante the aunt, young Stephen Dedalus, Uncle Charles and Mr Casey. Mr Dedalus carves, of course (always the man’s job).
the warm heavy smell of turkey and ham and celery rose from the plates and dishes and the great fire was banked high and red in the grate and the green ivy and red holly made you feel so happy and when dinner was ended the big plum pudding would be carried in, studded with peeled almonds and sprigs of holly, with bluish fire running around it and a little green flag flying from the top.
The green flag is for Irish nationalism. Tension starts rising between the devoted followers of Parnell and the devout Catholic Dante:-
Mrs Dedalus laid down her knife and fork, saying:
—For pity sake and for pity sake let us have no political discussion on this day of all days in the year.
(As the host carves, the hostess tries to keep the peace).
He heaped up the food on Stephen’s plate and served uncle Charles and Mr Casey to large pieces of turkey and splashes of sauce. Mrs Dedalus was eating little and Dante sat with her hands in her lap. She was red in the face. Mr Dedalus rooted with the carvers at the end of the dish and said:
—There’s a tasty bit here we call the pope’s nose. If any lady or gentleman…
He held a piece of fowl up on the prong of the carving fork. Nobody spoke.
It ends with Dante angrily leaving the table and the two Parnellites, Mr Casey and Mr Dedalus, weeping over the disgraced Parnell.
An atheist, Elizabeth Taylor had no time for Christmas at all, regarding it as something Christianity forced on the rest of society.
Richard, the young businessman, trapped with his wife and mother-in-law wishes despondently Christmas might be over. On Christmas Day he walks through the dull village “Lighted trees in the little houses, holly wreaths on front doors already looked old stuff. Christmas was petering out.”
He has a glum time while his wife has a childish enjoyment for Christmas including a stocking by her bed. Meanwhile their friends are depressed in London. Patrick waits in for his capricious boyfriend, “it should be possible.. to ignore the dismal Christmas scene outside, groups of people homing fast, back to Mother and Father, until they were all cooped up in their families, leaving the streets deserted. . . the deadly silence of the day.”
The boyfriend turns up, with a present of a tie that his uncle had given him, and he has his own memory of deadly family Christmases .. “It was a true sacrifice to this spirit his mother tried to foster when he, year after year, offered his cracker to his cousin. Taking one end, she would turn her head away and screw up her eyes, ready to give a little cry of alarm at the bang. Playing her part too he guessed. Wearily, but wearing his fixed, Christmas grin, he would read out the motto, put the paper hat on his head.”
1976 Ending Up by Kingsley Amis
It was adapted for television in 1989 and the Christmas scene starts at 31:00. (H/t JD)
The five main characters would in an allegory be called Malevolent; Boring; Affected; Put-upon; and Drunk. They live together in a cold cottage. Their accumulated years are strangling their bowels and hearts and brains. The grand-children and great-grand-children of Affected have turned up for a much begrudged duty visit. They sing carols and then:-
.. they had the presents. Those from the guests to the hosts were chiefly a disguised dole: tins or pots of more or less luxurious food, bottles of hard liquor, wide-spectrum gift tokens. Hosts showered guests with diversely unwearable articles of clothing: to Keith from Adela, a striped necktie useful for garrotting underbred rivals in his trade; to Tracey from George, a liberation-front lesbian’s plastic apron…
Christmas dinner was something of a success; it passed off, at any rate, without bloodshed.
Then there are parlour games which bring out the vicious hostility or bewildered stupidity of Malevolent and the rest. This grinding celebration is seen mostly from the point of view of the young relations who experience it as “boredom – a poor word, for the consuming, majestic sensation that engulfed him, comparable in intensity to a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience”. The young are full of repulsion and fear of the sight of “age, and then the only end of age.”
2001 Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is structured around whether the mother Enid will manage to gather her grown up children to enact the rituals of Christmas. I haven’t got the book to hand, but here’s a summing up:-
The fetish she makes of Christmas has uncomfortably recognisable comedy and pathos. (Her seasonal round-robins – laboriously written out on hundreds of cards, doing their best to spin the family’s numerous disasters into sunny good news and looking forward to a “heavenly” family celebration – are a classic example of the transparent denial so common in these missives.) When she finally wheedles her reluctant brood into attending, the event is hobbled by the accelerating decline of her husband and the cross-currents of resentment and misunderstanding between the family members. Mistletoe and wine this is not.
Any other examples of the bleak Christmas in literature?
Is that you all organised then? Have a nice Christmas!
My favourite Christmas record:
Fats and the boys recorded this in Chicago on November 29 1936: they’d obviously begun celebrating a wee bit early.
Best wishes to all readers.
Normal service here at Shiraz will be resumed shortly.
As it’s the Season of Goodwill and the Alan Thomas in question (under his nom de guerre ‘Voltair’s Priest’) founded Shiraz Socialist, we are happy to republish the following appeal:
From The Gerasites:–
Dear Eustonites, Gerasites, Red Tories, associated scum and villainy,
As you know, Norman Geras died of cancer on October 18 2013, and as such we feel strongly about doing our part to provide support to those looking to improve treatment and find a cure.
It has come to our attention that a Corbynite by the name of Alan Thomas is raising money for Cancer Research UK. Unfortunately, it turns out that he’s not having much luck raising funds from his comrades. Well, this is an important cause and we’d like to help.
So, in the spirit of Christmas, let’s band together and raise some money in honour of Norman Geras, and the work that has inspired us all. Sure, it might annoy Alan a little, but what a small price to pay to help to cure cancer?
Remember to sign your names as A Eustonite/A Gerasite/A Zionist, so he can be sure to know where the money is coming from. Give generously.
Let’s bring a smile to his face. Bottoms up, Alan.
JD adds: be sure to sign yourself as A Shachtmanite/ A Matgamnaite / A Shirazer, or whatever … just so the Eustonite scum don’t get the credit.
Pete Radcliff (Observations from a Third Camp Perspective) writes:
The premise on which the British Parliament agreed to join bombings in Syria was that there would be little risk of a military escalation. Clearly bombings can drive the army and the administration of the ‘Islamic State’ into bunkers or into temporary physical dispersion. But a physical territory can only be captured if taken over by military forces on the ground. Cameron and others supporting the war made out that such a force was in existence.
Rarely has it been possible to get a snapshot of the Syrian military forces supported by US, UK and France. Cameron played with illusions and words in the British parliament but illusions are insufficient for the US. They need to strengthen their bargaining power in the continuation of the earlier Vienna talks on Syria that may resume in New York next week.
For that reason they authorised Saudi Arabia to co-ordinate the Syrian “opposition” at a meeting in Riyadh on 8th and 9th December. The very fact that they passed on such an important task to the regime at the centre of world Wahabbism and Sunni Islamist sectarianism revealed a lot about both the likely outcome of the West’s bombing campaign in Syria but it also revealed much about the majority of the Syrian militias.
There is little doubt that the Saudi regime is enjoying these times. The royal family have been very active in strengthening their relationship with many politicians across the western world, particularly the US, UK and France. Several US spin doctors have been employed by Saudis to cultivate these relationships. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the King’s son, has come out with a manifesto for rapid business growth in conjunction with their US and European allies.
But the key issue that currently has western politicians fluttering around the Saudi regime is their claim that they can unify a powerful section of the opposition in Syria – where the West, i.e. US, France and UK, are now embroiled in a war without explicit objectives.
After the huge popular opposition in the US/UK to the earlier Iraq War, the western governments are reluctant to repeat the error they made then by sending in troops to Syria. When the Saudis claim that they can unify a powerful opposition to Daesh and Assad in Syria, that has obvious attractions to western governments. In the continuation of the Vienna negotiations in New York that they hope to call next week they will enter them along with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in a far stronger position.
The war of that West is currently claimed to be against Daesh. But the Saudi coordinated allies are not so much bothered by Daesh. So a war of the West against Daesh with these allies on the ground will continue to be intertwined with one also against Assad.
If Turkey has its way, the war may even develop into one also against the Syrian/ Rojovan Kurds. Already the Kurds are claiming that the two Al Qaeda backed militias, Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are preparing an offensive against them.
The Saudis are less parochial than Erdogan with his obsession with the pummelling of the Rojovan Kurds. The war Saudi wants, along with the array of Islamist forces they are pulling together in Syria, is hugely different to the avowed war aims of the West. Daesh is not their concern. In fact there will be probably continuing covert approaches to elements of Daesh to join with them in a jihad on the increasingly Shia forces around Assad.
But the strains within the wider alliance will not only be between Saudi Arabia and the West but also between Saudi Arabia and the militias in Syria pulled together this week in Riyadh.
There is a shared objective between those militias with their two main sponsors, President Erdogan of Turkey and the Saudi regime. All of them want an authoritarian and sectarian Sunni state. Saudi Arabia is the dominant one of the two state sponsors of these Syrian militias both in their ideology as well as their financing. So the eventual objective will more likely be a satellite state to the Saudi Wahabbist homeland.
However the statement that came out of the Riyadh conference was clearly couched for western consumption. US Secretary of State Kerry was in regular and frequent phone contact with both the Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir and the powerful Prince Mohammed Bin Salman throughout the Riyadh talks.
The statement that emerged from the conference called for a “democratic mechanism through a pluralistic regime that represents all sectors of the Syrian people”.
The statement is not truthful. An openly avowed statement for a sectarian Sunni state, never mind a Wahabbist one, would blow away the unprincipled alliance between Saudi Arabia and Turkey with the West. Opposition to Saudi Wahabbism in all western countries is growing and their governments would be subjected to fierce criticism if the real aim of the alliance that the Saudis are building was known.
So the statement is little more than what the Saudi tyrants excel in: two-faced double dealing. One might speculate that the conference was probably more of an educational in diplomacy by the Saudis to their Islamist co-thinkers on how you pretend to the West to do one thing whilst you really intend to do the exact opposite.
The coalition declared in Riyadh will be closely controlled by the Saudi regime. Its office will be in Saudi Arabia not in Syria. But central control by Saudi along with their money, arms and ‘volunteer’ fighters will be unlikely to keep the alliance together.
Many of the Islamist militias in Syria will say that they accept the objectives declared at the Riyadh conference and Saudi leadership – after all they want Saudi arms and money.
Despite the spectacular growth of Sunni Islamism in Syria there has also been ever increasing divisions. Possibility of Islamist unity is attractive to many of them but in the ideologies of those movements are strong memories of of what they consider to be past Saudi ‘betrayals’. The fact is that the Saudi regime, the Turkish-sponsored Islamists, the Al Qaeda offshoots and other sectarian forces that attended the Riyadh conference consider each other as treacherous. Read the rest of this entry »