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Taking My Poster Down (Brexit Rant)

I’ve had this poster up since May 2016, and on June 24th of last year, I decided to leave it up until the day that Article 50 was triggered.

Frankly, being completely honest, I never thought I’d have to take the poster down.

I thought that somewhere between the callous, disingenuous demagoguery of pre-referendum Leave campaign and the certifiable theatre of chaos and bull-headed nationalism that has since crescendoed exponentially to a deafening cacophony of stupidity, the façade of Brexit would slip, and its supporters would see the true terror behind the Red, White, and Blue exterior.

‘The people have spoken!’, people keep telling me, ‘this is democracy!’, ‘it would be undemocratic to challenge any part of Brexit!’ Really? 52% voted to leave back in June, that’s a majority, sure, but since then there has been no subsequent consultation of anyone; the people and parliament have either been denied a voice or actively abandoned their right to one.

The Government and the Brexit supporters have held onto this most tenuous and anaemic of mandates as justification for every subsequent action, all in the name of Brexit, and all of which have been hindered by perpetual secrecy and clandestine politics off-limits to us, the people. They behave as though the 51.9% was a unanimous decision by the British electorate to run head-long into the most destructive and disastrous scenario possible.

The Leave campaign’s misrepresentations and contortions started unravelling the day the referendum results were announced, but much like the scandal-laden President of our partners across the pond, the dogma has emerged unscathed. The fears and concerns of the working classes were, and continue to be, warped and abused; telling them to blame immigrants for their ills rather than greedy free marketeers, Tory ideologues, and other architects of their poverty, and that unhindered international cooperation is too steep a price to pay for social and economic security. It won’t be the rich who suffer after Brexit, it will be the bottom 80% – the people who were convinced incredibly to vote for their own destitution in the name of ‘patriotism’.

In victory, the Leave campaign and its disciples have broken out the Union Flags and the bulldogs in abundance and used them to paper over the cracks in their own arguments. The promises that were made, and the sheer falsehoods told to convince the working classes that the ultra-right and rich only have their best interests at heart have been thrown under the Brexit bus and we are now forced into this painful panoply of banal, moronic, flag-waggling ‘patriotism’ designed to make us feel okay about cutting off our face to spite our head.

Brexit itself is, in my opinion, and I believe the evidence confirms, a disaster in slow-motion, but it’s the catalyst for something that is equally terrible, something that gives me just as much concern. Something ugly has reared its head in the shadows of this demagogic-populist uprising. The Brexit referendum seems to have granted moral license to the very worst among our society to begin undoing all the progressive good works done over the last few decades. Incidence of hate crimes has increased since June ’16, bizarrely anti-semitism is on the rise, and support for minority rights is slipping. People who would once have been ashamed or unwilling to voice sexist, racist, and homophobic views have now become empowered by Brexit and found the guts to speak out loud and clear, as though the Brexit referendum was also a referendum on the equality, social cohesion, and human cooperation that is so often arrogantly and cheaply written off as ‘political correctness.’ To paraphrase Owen Jones’ article last night, ‘it’s like being told: “you’ve had your fun, you lefty liberal snowflakes, and now you’re going to pay for it.”‘

We have two years to strike a deal with the EU, an organisation who we routinely taunt and bemoan, and who have almost no interest in bowing to our benighted blight on its western flank, much less handing us a golden deal on a silver platter. There is no chance at all that the UK will get anywhere near as good a deal outside of the EU as it had inside. It utterly defies logic to assume that this will happen, but this is what May is peddling.

Trump will be impeached before the end of his first term; his cabinet will be dissolved, or the Republican party will grow a pair and mutiny against him; in less than four years, the USA will be able to undo and rollback the pigheaded demagogic exploitation of populism for the gain of the upper classes that we are seeing under Trump. Britain will have no such luxury. In two years, we yank the cable out and hope for the best.

Re-admission to the EU is a long, long, way off, and May’s comments today mirror her past recklessness in promising that Brexit is a one-way street. To me, it seems more like a runaway train thundering towards a chasm over which there is no bridge. Half the passengers want to get off but can’t, the other half are convinced that there might a bridge that people don’t want to admit is there; the conductor doesn’t know what she’s doing but is winging it and trying to placate the passengers on both sides, and the drivers hammer the throttle home with spittle-flying apocalyptic relish.

Maybe I’m wrong, and Brexit will be a success – a Red, White, and Blue success – which benefits the UK in some way currently unforeseeable by experts, academics, and people whose careers are dedicated to international politics and economics (who needs them, right?) but after all this time, even during my brief period before the referendum actively considering a Leave vote, I have yet to be convinced that there is some prosperous utopia waiting for us as soon as we leave the world’s largest borderless trading bloc.

Master Mixtape

I’ve been working on something for the last two years or so: a playlist, but not just your common or garden ‘predrinks’ or ‘house’ playlist. This one is something else, this is a big one.

The Master Mixtape is a project of mine to create a playlist comprising a track by every artist I come across, with few exceptions. It’s now passed the 500 tracks mark, weighing in at 39 hours and 9 minutes in length, so I’m unleashing it upon the world, in what will no doubt go down as one of the great meritorious epochs in music history, here on my anaemic and all-but-silent blog.

If you just want to hear what I’m talking about without reading all this waffle, then go ahead, I don’t blame you at all.

At this point, 500 songs in, it’s become more eccentric and esoteric than I could have ever hoped: from Björk to Blind Guardian; Bon Iver to blink-182, and Beastie Boys to Biffy Clyro, not even leaving the Bs, I’ve stumbled across more artists than I can comprehend and, more importantly, discovered some great music buried in the obscurities of Spotify.

What can you expect? The short answer is ‘a bit of everything’. I think there are examples of music from almost all of the broad genres, many subgenres too, and plenty of stuff that falls in the overlap. To move from B to C, I’ve included songs by CHVRCHES, Coldplay, Chairlift, Céline Dion, Cradle of Filth, Current Value, and The Colourist; all disparate and diverse in more ways than simply their genre.

I haven’t set rigid criteria for inclusion, as such; although I try to add a song by every artist I encounter, I’ve had a few flexible rules that exist only as long as I need them to. Please appreciate how I try hard to make out that there are actual rules, and that I’ve not just arbitrarily excluded or included tracks because I want to.

Firstly, I have to actually like or at least appreciate the artist. This is sort of subjective, of course; I have music in this list by artists I haven’t really listened to in 10 years, but I would still consider to be music I like. Similarly, I haven’t gone out of my way to include artists I know exist but would never listen to. Country music fans, feel free to hurl abuse at me right now.

Secondly, cultural awareness. I wanted this playlist to be actually enjoyable, or at least interesting; something which people could enjoy working away at listening to. Let’s say you’ve just finished a four-track tour de force of Danger, Danny Byrd, Darkside, and Daughter, then Darude’s Sandstorm blasts crassly into your earholes. I’d forgive you for thinking that I’d constructed the most labour-intensive internet joke ever, but the reality is that its presence just wouldn’t feel right to me. The song’s a joke now; nothing more. Go to literally any YouTube video and enter the comment ‘what song is that?’ and you’ll find out why. That said, I’ve included Bag Raiders’ Shooting Stars which, if you’ve been on certain corners of Reddit recently, you will recognise as the centerpiece of a current trend in the ever-changing repertoire of memes on that site.

Thirdly, no comedy or nostalgia tracks. Eifel 65 is out, straight away, along with 2 Unlimited, Ace of Base, and all that other garbage 90s dance music which is now so culturally steeped in its own foetid juices that it belongs only to 90s-themed parties, the soundtracks of tongue-in-cheek TV documentaries about the 90s, and absolutely nowhere else.

Fourthly, go easy on the Dancehall, and other genres of wildly prodigious and barely distinguishable music. I’ve got some Jamaican music on my Spotify, not going to lie; contemporary Dancehall is the bastard offspring of reggae, trap, and hip-hop and I hate to love to hate to love it, but what else are you going to listen to when there’s rum on the table? The problem is that there are thousands of Dancehall ‘artists’ of varying degrees of recognition and professionalism, and the riddim remix releases of every popular track are monstrous in number and quality. The same goes for Garage and Grime, among others.

Fifthly, and maybe following on from the latter, I’ve made a few decisions regarding the extremes of certain genres. I’ve actively excluded a few of the most outrageous – not as in ‘oh Margerie how outrageous! We must call the authorities!’, but as in ‘what the hell was that? Is my headphone jack broken? Is there a burst of solar radiation making my Senns trip out?’ – artists. Metal is a great example of this; there is some beautiful music in the genre, but there are some artists whose white-noise offerings are made yet more offensive – to the senses, not just morals – when you Google the ‘lyrics’, or even the band’s name, in some cases.

Sixthly, no remixes. That’s another playlist for another time.

(Incidentally, if you were curious as to when the spell checker would start rejecting my lazy efforts to cannibalise ordinal numbers into adverbs, the threshold is ‘eleventhly’.)

In short, this playlist contains whatever I want it to contain; there are vague stipulations that it has to be music I like, or at least would listen to, alongside transient capricious exclusions based on whims, but this is the most inclusive and diverse playlist I could construct, which is what I set out to do.

I’m always stumbling upon new veins of music, so I’ll be keeping this updated as I go, or for as long as I remember/have the interest.

Master Mixtape, on Spotify (Listen on shuffle, or alphabetically, it makes no difference.)

Misery

I know it’s cliche to say this, but this film is not as scary or as good as the book.

Although the film adaptation is scary, creepy, dark, and unnerving in its own way, the book exudes a visceral and insidious terror that devours the story from the inside out, and cannot be adequately described to someone who hasn’t read it and experienced it for themselves. It’s easily Stephen King’s most terrifying work, while being one of the few to feature literally no supernatural elements.

The film slots into that mid-budget range that seemed popular in the late-80s/early-90s, but has all but vanished from Hollywood now. Rob Reiner provides mediocre direction, James Caan’s portrayal of Sheldon is tepid at best, and although Kathy Bates is absolutely on form as Annie Wilkes, everything is ultimately limited by the adaptation of the story itself.

Too many extra elements and characters were shoe-horned in to appeal to the contemporary cinema zeitgeist, all at the expense of the story to be told, and the horror therein.

Frankly, I think Misery is ripe for a remake. Mainstream 80s cinema seems to contain so much spoon-feeding for the audience, and although I’m aware that many mainstream films released today are just as bad, filmmakers these days can get away with far more oblique offerings, such as Upstream Colour, The Master, Under the Skin, and Frank, an atmosphere for which the core of Misery seems well suited.

There are dozens of great contemporary filmmakers who could spin an exceptional low-to-mid budget adaptation in this style, with a more taut, sharp narrative truer to the novel, and with less of the cutesy parochial Reiner-esque intrusions.

Lettre aux escrocs de l’islamophobie qui font le jeu des racists

2015-05-05 16.42.13The subject of Islam in the world at the moment is a subject mired in labyrinthine historical and sociological complexity, and surrounded by constant irrational spittle-flying vitriol from all sides. Much as I would love to write a long introduction about the incessant and belligerent labelling and daft assumptions that fly in all directions, I just don’t have the time or inclination.

So I’m not going to write much about this, only to say that I’m tired of this fight, and the only voices I find even slightly compelling are those who talk in wise Dumbledorian tones, saying ‘now calm down, sit down, use your inside voice, and let’s just talk about this.’

I was quite affected by the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January this year, partly because the publication was a mainstay of shelves everywhere I went in France for a year and I have several well-loved copies lying around, but also because it epitomises this whole issue. The publication satirises and mocks every religion without prejudice, making it rather egalitarian in that way, but it was its fun-poking of Islam that ultimately brought it the most trouble.

In much the same way as in the aftermath of Lee Rigby’s murder, every ISIS atrocity, and even the 9/11 attacks, questions come forward like ‘what is a true Muslim?’ ‘Is it okay to mock someone’s religion?’ ‘Is it okay to be offended when your faith is mocked?’ ‘Is freedom of speech really a right, or should blasphemy or offensive speech be illegal?’ ‘Should Muslims be allowed to spread throughout the world?’ ‘What can we say or do without offending people?’

My own thoughts on these questions are probably just as confused and definitely just as irrelevant as everyone else’s, but sometimes there is a ray of lucidity and understanding, or even enlightenment that seems to shine through the haze.

Two days before his death, Stéphane Charbonnier – journalist and cartoonist, notably the late director of Charlie Hebdo, killed in the January attacks – completed a letter, published in book form, in response to the constant accusations of racism Charlie Hebdo received as a result of its mocking of Islam.

The copy I ordered arrived this morning, and I haven’t had time to read the book yet, but I have dipped into it, and if the two page foreword is anything to go by, then I think this may well be as clear and concise an explanation as we can hope for on this subject, and I look forward to it.

I’ve translated the foreword into English – as best I can – for those who are interested, as follows:

 

If you think that criticising religion is racism,

If you think that ‘Islam’ is the name of a people group,

If you think that people can make fun of everything except what is sacred to you,

If you think that condemning people for blasphemy will open the door to paradise,

If you think that humour is incompatible with Islam,

If you think that a cartoon is more dangerous than an American drone,

If you think that Muslims are incapable of understanding irony and subtle humour [‘le second degré’. Might have mistranslated, but seems to make sense],

If you think that the atheists of the Left are playing into the hands of fascists and xenophobes,

If you think that a person born to Muslim parents can only be a Muslim,

If you think that you know how many Muslims there are in France,

If you think that we must classify people by their religion,

If you think that popularising the notion of islamophobia is the best way to defend Islam,

If you think that defending Islam is the best way to defend Muslims,

If you think that the Quran forbids drawing the Prophet Mohammed,

If you think that drawing a funny cartoon of a jihadist in a ridiculous position is an insult to Islam,

If you think that fascists are predominantly attacking Muslims when they target an Arab,

If you think that every community should have its own dedicated anti-racism organisation,

If you think that islamophobia is just like anti-Semitism,

If you think that the Zionists who run the world paid a negro [un nègre; avoiding the ‘n-word’, but that’s what this means] to write this book,

Then you should read this, because this letter was written for you.

A Post-Mortem of Student Politics

A few weeks ago, my university’s students’ union held its annual elections for the executive body. Positions such as Vice President of Welfare and Diversity, and Vice President for Union Affairs were contested by two or three barely distinguishable candidates, and subsequently divvied out based on who had won the most student votes, as one would expect. This has happened each year for as long as I’ve been an undergraduate, and for the many decades preceding my arrival.

What separates this year from other iterations of these elections are some unfortunate oversights that epitomise and harshly reveal a growing problem in the sphere of British student politics.

The problem is a self-perpetuating feedback loop of apathy, ignorance, and disenfranchisement; it has fundamentally undermined the efficacy of student politics to the point where it now fails to amount to anything more than a farcical popularity contest wielding nominal power at best.

In order to understand what has brought the situation here to a head, I must draw your attention to one particular man, a fellow undergraduate student at my university, who drunkenly assaulted a girl in our students’ union some months ago. His punishment came in the form of a ban from the union, but his victim suffered no lasting injuries, and the police were never involved.

This should have been the last we heard of this incident, but over the course of these elections, it has been dug up and publically displayed like a monster on a morgue slab, and couched in terms not dissimilar to those of a Nixonian smear campaign.

The reason for this is that the man, who assaulted a fellow student and was consequently banned from the students’ union, has just won the executive presidential candidacy, and is now the president elect of our students’ union.

Since this announcement, the mood among the student body here has been one of chaos-tempered confusion. The discourse witnessed on social media and around campus is mind-boggling, because no one really knows how this has happened, and no one can decide what should be done next, if indeed anything can or should be done.

Part of this discourse has manifested itself in the continual assertions from a vocal minority that he was democratically elected, and that we as students had the right to vote for another candidate, and the chance to contest his nomination, but that we chose not to take it.

Some did, but to ascribe his victory to some functioning model of democracy is to assume too much, and gives a wildly undue amount of respect to the feeble mechanism of student politics.

While some may choose to believe that these elections are indeed the noble efforts of people wanting only to serve their fellow students, the reality is that this is simply not true, at least not in any ascertainable way.

I don’t mean to imply malice or corruption, as this isn’t the case. What I mean is that the students’ union has an increasingly negligible impact on the lives of undergraduates and, from my perspective, has been little more than a gaudy background event happening in another room, in another sector of society, and one that does not affect me.

I do not recall the names of the incumbent officers of our students’ union. I do not remember a time at which anyone I know has had reason to contact them, nor they contact us for reasons other than promoting upcoming discounts on alcohol at the union on a Friday night. It seems to be an ineffectual body; it does not serve any apparent purpose other than nominal leadership of an institution that appears to have no real need of it.

This is demonstrated no more effectively than by the ‘union exec’ election campaign. The weeks preceding the polls are a meaningless and omnipresent Vaudeville of high-publicity events and personas; the ludicrous performances put on by candidates, in an attempt to win votes by merit of their entertainment, and not their policies, which receive only passing mention, if any at all.

In order to entice more students to support their candidacy, petty bribery in the form of sweets is commonplace, as is an organic undercurrent of casual nepotism – friends voting for friends, and friends of friends and so on. What few policies and politics exist are made conspicuous only by their absence.

It is this culture of performance and social manipulation – coupled of course with self-perpetuating apathy – that prevents many students from considering running for a position in the Union Executive.

If one is not attractive enough, or doesn’t have enough friends and connections in their halls of residence, or doesn’t ‘play the game’ and engage in the ritual degradation of the campaign and hustings, or isn’t a member of the BNOC – Big Name On Campus – circle, then one is virtually barred from the realm of contemporary student politics.

This is the root of the problem. All but the most socially popular, the most extroverted, and the most attractive students are ostracised from representation.

I consider myself a politically active person. I am a long-time supporter of a national political party, and I have no compunction in advocating policies I support when appropriate, and rationally debating with those who do not share my views.

I would be lying if I said that the thought of running for a position in the Union Executive had not occurred to me during the naïve early days of my first year, before I joined the ranks of the indifferent.

However, despite my political activity, I am innately and totally disenfranchised from student politics, because I am not a Big Name On Campus. I do not have a persona that precedes me in the university, either through my reputation in my halls of residence or my prominent presence on a sports team.

I do not have an army of sycophantic gilet-clad friends to charm and sweet talk people into voting for me. I do not have the desire to encase myself in a neoprene broccoli suit and parade myself around town as one candidate did a few years ago.

This, to me, is grotesque, infantile, and a stark indication of how truly divorced student politics has become from genuine, respectable political discourse and activity.

To return to the subject of our new president – who fulfils many of the above criteria, – there have been some developments since the announcement. In the last couple of days, a friend of mine started a petition on Change.org campaigning for the president elect’s immediate resignation. The support for this campaign was enormous, and was matched only by the simultaneous vitriolic backlash it received from his friends and those who support him, despite this violent incident and his ban.

Many students are appalled that a man attacked a woman, ‘got away with it’, and is being rewarded with a presidency. Many more are appalled that a student attacked another student, and now supposedly represents all students, even if only symbolically.

Myself, while I agree with both of these complaints, I think the real issue is that his candidacy was ever allowed to continue this far, by either the union’s policies or the students at this university themselves. The fact that it did is simply indicative of the failures of the union, the BNOC culture pervasive in student society, and the apathy and indifference towards representation that follows in its wake.

It is true that he won the election, but this does not mean that he won it democratically, and it certainly does not mean that we, as a student body, should not subject ourselves to hindsight. The fact is that his electoral victory is an unfortunate accident, an all too familiar fluke of the system, something that comes to light no more clearly than when one accurately and succinctly describes him as both the leader of the union, and banned from the union simultaneously.

Ultimately, whether or not our president is forced to resign is immaterial. His actions in office will have virtually no impact on my life as an undergraduate on the peripheral radar of the BNOC scene, and I would be surprised if I heard his name more than a few times before next year’s elections, had it not been for this incident.

The chair, for all intents and purposes, could be vacant, and student life would continue on. It is entirely meaningless. Sadly, this apathy is not unique to me, but pervasive among the student body, save for the precious few who aspire to these offices for reasons of egotism, desire for attention, naïve interpretations of the union taken at face value, or whatever else spurs people to seek power in a short-term institution such as this.

Having said that, the fact remains that the president of a body purportedly representing me and my peers to our university is someone who was banned from that very institution of which he is now president, for violently assaulting a fellow student. From a symbolic perspective, this is highly disturbing.

His continuation as union president would be a death rattle of student politics at this university; the tacit admission that it simply does not matter who represents the students, because no one cares, and more worrying still, no one is concerned that this is the case.

His resignation or removal, on the other hand, could show that students do care about their union, and their representation to the university. It could, if one were inclined to a certain level of optimism, lead us to more effective, interesting, and cogent elections in the future, in which less well known students do not shy away from nominating themselves and their beliefs, and the student electorate would vote for candidates based on their politics and policies, not their puerile performances.

While I advise retrospection on the part of all students, regardless of your university or college, I would also advocate a degree of introspection as well. If we as students want to form truly effective representative bodies, even if it is just within the inconsequential microcosm of the campus, then we should not bow down and be absorbed by this culture of transient social popularity, the debased and degrading campaigning that accompanies it, and the meaningless soap opera of campus life in which we can either participate, or ignore and be ignored in return.

Student politics should not be the unattainable echelon occupied by a pitiable and transient social elite, one that only the loudest and most socially popular can achieve. Instead, it should be a purely democratic process, in which students vote for the people who represent them and the policies that would help them, and are not afraid of putting themselves forward as candidates. It would lead to a much greater positive involvement by the union in their university careers.

Sadly, it is not, and no one seems to care.

The Man Behind the Pages

I won’t say much; I’m aware of the idiocy of publishing too much information on the internet for all the wired and wireless world to see. Nonetheless, it may help to know a little about who I am, where I am and what I do.

For starters, I was born and bred in Leicester, England for the majority of my life, but I currently live in King Williams Town, South Africa. I have plans, none of which are too specific or adequately detailed, but I have more-or-less planned the next year of my life. Where I go from there is anyone’s guess.

One other thing: this is the second incarnation of my blog; the previous having been lost along with my old server. I’m still hunting down backups; when I find them, I’ll repost them here.

Enjoy.

Roni, Myself and Amar; taken in 2008.