#142 Arguments against black lives matter

Last week I had a big argument with my Father-in-law about the incident at the Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League group game with Istanbul Basaksehir which was abandoned following an alleged racist incident.

His argument, which I believe is a commonly held view, is that why shouldn’t the fourth official refer to a big black man, surrounded by whites, as a big black man, after all, isn’t it just a form of identification? My argument was that the protest was illustrating the fact that we identify black people via their race in situations where we wouldn’t necessary identify white people in the same way, for example, that big white guy and that the very fact that the protest resulted in us having a conversation about these issues (in fact it was a heated argument) can only be a good thing..

In Brazil, it is common to identify individuals by race, a Brazilian with pale skin would be called Alemão (German), an asian looking Brazilian will be called Japones (Japonese) despite the fact they are Brazilian and even if their ancestry is not Japonese. Any American or European born foreigner, like myself, will be called Gringo lumping all immigrants in a general group. Do I like being called a Gringo? No, I do not. It is a pejorative term that lumps me in a group of people with whom I probably have very little in common but it plays to the stereotypical prejudices held by the Brazilian general public.

The basic problem with these monikers is that they satisfy a need of the individual to pidgeon-hole other people into groups to which they can then safely apply their prejudices. It removes the need to find out about the individual personally, including their name, origin, family background, situation. It de-personalises society and means that we can deal with people as objects that are part of a group rather than individuals who have the same complex needs and experiences as we do.

The same argument is used by Brazilians to complain about why they shouldn’t be allowed to use the pejorative term viado (fag) for gay people.

My Father-in-law did not accept that blacks had a justifiable argument to be treated more fairly than they have been for the last 500 years, since their ancestors were traded as slaves, a travesty from which their communities have still to recover. He described them as being mimado (which translates as spoiled), a common view amongst right-wing Brazilians, and the right wing world wide, I would suspect.

I argued that the darker your skin in Brazil, the fewer opportunities you are likely to receive. As evidence for my argument I used the international, fee paying, school in which I work where the majority of students, teaching staff and leadership are white while the majority of maintenance, cleaning, kitchen staff and security are black or darker skinned.

More evidence for this is the demographic of the favelas (Brazilian slums), if black people receive the same opportunities in Brazil then why isn’t the ethnic make up of these communities the same as the ethnic make up of the nation overall? After tabulating 2010 census data from Brazil’s federal statistics agency, the most recent available, Hugo Nicolau Barbosa de Gusmão created a series of maps of Rio using free open-source software.

“The Zona Sul [South Zone] of Rio is about 80 percent white — 80 percent!” Barbosa said. “I knew it would be high, but I didn’t think it would be that stark.”

According to Barbosa’s research, one neighborhood, Lagoas, was almost 90 percent white. Nationwide, the share of Brazilians who identified as white in the census was only 48 percent. The figure of whites in the Brazilian population is probably, in reality, less because people used to identify as white, even though they weren’t and the black lives matter campaign is reversing this trend.

“I wanted these maps to be available because here in Brazil there’s a lot of talk about how there isn’t any racism,” Barbosa said. “That’s wrong, and I think these maps are a good visualization of that.”

According to DataFavela, a study conducted by the Data Popular institute in partnership with Celso Athayde, former head of the Central Única de Favelas (CUFA), and based on a projection that crossed IBGE and national census (PNAD) data, The self-reported ethnicity remains predominantly black, but showing an increase from 61% to 67% of the total favela population. The percentage of blacks in communities on the urban periphery is higher than in the general population: 67% versus the 52% national average.

Citizens born in these poor communities tend to be darker skinned, they go to schools that tend to be a poorer standard, they tend not to be able to get jobs that provide sufficient disposable income to attend university or better their living standards enough to move to a more affluent area where the educational opportunities and therefore the job opportunities are better and, as a result, the cycle is perpetuated.

Then comes the argument that there are white people living in these poor communities, doesn’t that prove that it is not an issue of race, as if for racism to exist 100% of the slums would need to occupied by blacks and 100% of the affluent areas occupied by whites. It is this black and white thinking that individuals fall back on to justify the status quo, they worry that, in order to right the injustices, their world will have to be turned upside down. The fact is that the world does have to be turned upside down but that doesn’t mean that the political correctness police are going to come and steal the contents of their fridge. It doesn’t even mean that they have to stop being racist, it just means that the state should ensure that all citizens should receive the same opportunities in life, regardless of their ethnicity and regardless of the views of the racist citizens in the community.

This fear of left-wing liberals bursting into homes to steal their property was highlighted in the recent mayoral elections in Sao Paulo between Bruno Covas of the central Social Democratic party (PSDB) and Guilherme Boulos of the left wing Socialist and Liberty party (PSOL). Boulos is a member of the National Coordination of Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) which struggles to reduce Brazil’s housing deficit by staging squatters’ occupations in abandoned government buildings in Brazilian cities.

In an interview in 2015 with The Nation Boulos said: “Quotas that gave blacks and the poor access to college were a shock to the privileged too. Even these small changes were enough to generate discontent for a very conservative urban upper middle class.”

“It’s a bad thing” “Either he will lock you in your house” “Or he will invade your house”

On social media, the right-wing portrayed the mayoral choice as being between a centre candidate who wanted to lock you in your house because of a pandemic that many believed was a fiction created by the Chinese for economic reasons or a left-wing candidate who would invade your home to give it to homeless people.

Incidentally, there are many who want to refuse to take the vaccine here in Brazil because it is made in China. Even the president, Jair Bolsonaro, said it would turn you into a crocodile.

In November, João Alberto Silveira Freitas, a 40-year-old black man, was beaten to death by security guards at a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre in the South of Brazil on the day before Brazil’s black consciousness day. Violence erupted and the Brazilian Vice President, Hamilton Mourao, said: “Racism doesn’t exist in Brazil. That is something they want to import here. I lived in the United States. There is racism there.”

Black and mixed-race people account for about 57% of Brazil’s population but are 74% of victims of lethal violence, and 79% of those killed by police, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, a nongovernmental organization.

In response to the death of João Alberto, the President’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro tweeted: “They managed to get their George Floyd, under the pretext of fighting racism, in an organized way [they will] destroy everything until maybe they [manage to] get a new constituent”.

He went on to tweet: “Those who believe that anything goes for power will adhere to acts of vandalism conveniently calling their actors “demonstrators”” and then posted two quotes in Portuguese, attributed to Edmund Burke which translate as: “For evil to triumph it is enough for the good to sit idly by” and “people who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it.”

This seems strange in a country that, having only escaped from military dictatorship 35 years ago, seems so keen to return to it.

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#141 The Top Ten Posts of 2020

I know it is still only the middle of December but I thought it was a good time to share with you the top posts on the blog this year.

10. Reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Faulks novel made excellent background reading for my forthcoming novel Albert & Maria with the protagonists of both our novels finding themselves in tunnels during the First World War. Read more…

9 Living with Lockdown

When I wrote this post at the end of March, I don’t think any of us realised quite how long our isolation was going to last. While matters returned almost to normal for a brief period in Europe, here in Brazil, the first wave merged almost straight into the current wave. Read more…

8. Watching Sao Paulo flood

While Covid was beginning to spread from Asia, Sao Paulo had already experienced a bad start to 2020, with flooding and, of course, the wild fires in the Amazon and then later the Pantanal. Read more…

7. Reading The Man in the High Castle

A friend of mine told me he had started watch the Amazon Prime series The Man in the High Castle, so I thought I would give it a go. I was already a couple of episodes in before I realised I had picked up a copy of the Philip K Dick novel from a backpackers hostel while on a stag weekend in Rio de Janeiro. This was my review. Read more…

6. Worrying about the Coronavirus

This was posted at the end of February when the face case was identified in Brazil. At that time there had been less than 3,000 deaths and the European Football Championships were still going ahead. Read more…

5. What if the UK monarchy was abolished?

Scandals involving Prince Andrew and Prince Harry had put the future of the monarchy in the spotlight again. In my current work in progress, a prequel to my dystopian novel, WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY, an increasingly authoritarian government takes the death of the King as an opportunity to transfer the monarch’s powers to the Prime Minister who becomes defacto president. The move follows a decades long political slide to right but is not unimaginable. Read more…

4. The Economic impacts of Covid-19 in Brazil

Written in May, only 55 days into the pandemic, the situation in Brazil has not really changed with the exception that cases are now on the rise again and the right wing are trying to debunk the vaccine. Read more…

3. Interview with Sam Fires, author of Dog Meat

My interview in June with dystopian fiction author, Sam Fires proved very popular. Read more…

2. Reading Space Team by Barry Hutchison

The second most popular post this year has been another review, this time of Barry Hutchison’s hilarious Space Team. Read more…

  1. Trying to get a Brazilian Driving license

The most popular post of the year so far, by a long way, has been how to get a Brazilian driving license. I posted some images of the tests on Pinterest and it seems to have become a source of reference. Read more…

If you have any suggestions for topics I should cover in 2021 then please let me know

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#140 Reading How Democracies Die

I downloaded this book as part of my research for my forthcoming Collapse series. Book one, Hatred, is all about the rise of an authoritarian regime, book two, Collapse, is the moment when society collapses due to resource depletion and book three, Insurgency, I previously published as When the Well Runs Dry, explores the post-collapse world.

How Democracies Die is a 2018 book by Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt about how elected leaders can gradually subvert the democratic process to increase their power.

The book warns against the breakdown of “mutual toleration” and respect for the political legitimacy of the opposition. This tolerance involves accepting the results of a free and fair election (sound familiar?) where the opposition has won, in contrast with advocacy for overthrow or spurious complaints about the election mechanism (hmm). The authors also assert the importance of respecting the opinions of those who come to legitimately different political opinions, in contrast to attacking the patriotism of any who disagree, or warning that if they come to power they will destroy the country.

The authors point out that the various branches of government in a system with separation of powers have actions available to them that could completely undermine the other branches or the opposition. The authors warn against ramming through a political agenda or accumulating power by playing “constitutional hardball” with tactics like court packing (look at the US Supreme Court), stonewalling nominations, or abusing the power of the purse, and recommend “forbearance” and some degree of cooperation to keep government functioning in a balanced fashion. Other threats to democratic stability cited by the authors include economic inequality and segregation of the political parties by race, religion, and geography.

The authors dedicate many chapters to the study of the United States, President Donald Trump, and the 2016 presidential election, but also apply their theory to Latin America and European countries, especially Venezuela and Russia. According to them, the United States has, until 2016, resisted the attempts to undermine democracy thanks to two norms: mutual toleration and forbearance, the latter defined as the intentional restraint of one’s power in order to respect the spirit of the law if not its letters. They finally predicted three potential scenarios for the post-Trump United States.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Harvard professors, study the prospect of the democratic system in an holistic approach, and take a critical stand of the Trump presidency. They describe their work as a study of how democracies die. The main subjects are drawn in the introduction: the authors argue that in our time, democracies still die but by different means, “less at the hand of men with guns and more by elected leaders”. The methodology used is mainly based on the “comparative method” and it is a book that tries to “reveal about our future” based on history, more specifically on historical comparisons (finding similar dynamics, presenting models of “gatekeeping” and the “rhymes” of history). The object of the study is the president Trump as an “autocrat in becoming” and, a comparison with state failures and autocrats. The study assesses the risk of his presidency and try to identify the pattern of autocratic tendencies.

Levitsky and Ziblatt accept the fear of the Trump presidency as legitimate and pledge for the protection of the democracy. Particularly the last chapter saving democracy, put emphasis on political recommendations to save democracy in a pledge. It was written before the recent presidential election but the content is still relevant

And they make recommendations for the Republicans. They must build a more diverse electoral constituency and they must find ways to win elections without appealing to white nationalism, the sugar high of populism, nativism, and demagoguery. They realize that the president could inflict real damage on our institutions in the long term.

Although the Democratic party has not been the principal driver of America deepening polarization it could play a role in reducing it. Democrats could consider more comprehensive labor market policies and it is imperative that Democrats address the issue of inequality.

The New York Times called the book an essential guide to what can happen in the United States. The Washington Post said the book offers a sober look at the current state of affairs. The Wall Street Journal called it an unintentional clarifying lesson. In the United Kingdom, The Guardian called it provocative but also unsatisfying. The magazine Foreign Affairs concluded it is an important study. Fair Observer called it an original contribution valuable to researchers, policy makers, and citizens. Columbia University historian Adam Tooze described the book as the “most thought-provoking book comparing democratic crises in different nations.”

I think the authors have identified accurately the factors that lead democracies to backslide into autocracies and their theories provide good source material for my own stories.

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#139 Reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments is the Booker Prize winning sequel to the Booker Prize finalist The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

The novel is set 15 years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale. It is narrated by Aunt Lydia, a character from the previous novel; Agnes, a young woman living in Gilead; and Daisy, a young woman living in Canada.

The public had to wait 34 years for this sequel which was not only well-received but encouraged the Booker Prize jury to split the prize between two authors for the first time in its history, the other winner being Bernardine Evaristo, the first black female winner and the first black British winner for her novel Girl, Woman, Other.

Canadian, Atwood has published 18 books of poetry, 18 novels, 11 books of non-fiction, nine collections of short fiction, eight children’s books, and two graphic novels, as well as a number of small press editions of both poetry and fiction. She had won the Booker Prize previously with her 2000 novel, The Blind Assassin.

While writing The Testaments she coordinated the plot with the ongoing television adaptation of The Handmade`s Tale so that none of the characters would impact on the characters in the series.

For fans of The Handmade`s Tale, The Testaments is essential reading, expending the universe and revealing backstory and sub-plots. The plot is revealed slowly and while some of the developments might be guessed at the execution is worth the wait.

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#138 Reading Regeneration by Pat Barker

Seeing as though my work in progress, ALBERT & MARIE is largely set in the First World War it makes sense to read or listen to the most renowned novels about the period.

Having read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to learn more about the pre-war period and Birdsong because of its links with the tunnellers of the trenches, Regeneration seemed the obvious next step.

Like ALBERT & MARIE, Regeneration is based on a true story, the story of war poet Seigfried Sassoon who was decorated for bravery on the western front. He wrote a ‘Soldier’s Declaration’ in 1917 as a protest against the war which resulted in him being admitted to a military psychiatric hospital where he met another war poet, Wilfred Owen, who was greatly influenced by Sassoon’s work.

First published in 1991, Regeneration was nominated for the Booker Prize and is set in Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland where psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers treated Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Rivers pioneered treatments of posttraumatic stress disorder during and after World War I and the novel’s title refers to research into “nerve regeneration”.

Barker draws extensively on the writings of First World War poets and W.H.R. Rivers for the book and the main characters are based on historical figures, such as Robert Graves, Alice and Hettie Roper (pseudonyms for Alice Wheeldon and her daughter Hettie).

The book was adapted into a film in 1997.

She went on to write two more books in what is now known as the Regeneration Trilogy – The Eye in the Door (1993), and The Ghost Road (1995). The latter won the Booker Prize in 1995.

Barker was born to a working-class family in Thornaby-on-Tees in the North Riding of Yorkshire, England. According to The Times, her mother became pregnant “after a drunken night out while in the Wrens.” In a social climate where illegitimacy was regarded with shame, she told people that the resulting child was her sister, rather than her daughter. They lived with Barker’s grandmother Alice and step-grandfather William, until her mother married and moved out when Barker was seven. Her grandparents ran a fish and chip shop which failed and the family was, she told The Times in 2007, “poor as church mice; we were living on National Assistance – ‘on the pancrack’, as my grandmother called it.”

Her first three novels were never published and, she told The Guardian in 2003, “didn’t deserve to be: I was being a sensitive lady novelist, which is not what I am. There’s an earthiness and bawdiness in my voice.”

Her first published novel was Union Street (1982), which consisted of seven interlinked stories about English working class women whose lives are circumscribed by poverty and violence. It was rejected by publishers for ten years until she sent it to Virago.

Regeneration is an excellent exploration of the trauma of war and its effects. It is very difficult to express the horror of the western front but Barker manages to evoke the unimaginable. She also does an expert job of taking historical records and bringing them alive by mixing historical figures with fictional characters.

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#137 Reading Another Now by Yanis Varoufakis

Imagine if Occupy and Extinction Rebellion actually won.

In Another Now world-famous economist Yanis Varoufakis shows us what such a world would look like. Far from being a fantasy, he describes how it could have come about – and might yet. But would we really want it?

Varoufakis’s boundary-breaking new book confounds expectations of what the good society would look like and reveals the uncomfortable truth about our desire for a better world…

To describe this book as a fictionalised economic treatise would do it a disservice. Varoufakis has used fiction to articulate his ideas much as Robert Tressel did in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and whilst the reader might not empathise with Varoufakis`s characters as much as Tressel`s but the effect is more or less the same – we empathise with the system he is proposing, at least to some extent.

Another Now is essentially a science fiction novel in that it is set in 2025 and relies on a wormhole between universes for the premise to function, which it does reasonably well.

A Greek economist, Varoufakis was the Greek Minister of Finance in 2015 and Another Now explains clearly the system which landed Greece with the financial problems it has suffered as clearly as Tressel explains the money trick in his novel.

Born in Athens, he studied in Essex and Birmingham in the UK where he gained his Phd in economics. After Thatcher`s Government was elected for the third time in 1987, he left the UK and moved to Australia where he taught at the University of Sydney. HIs feelings about Thatcher are explored by the characters in his novel.

After acquiring Australian citizenship, he returned to Greece to lead the doctoral programe at the University of Athens and advised the Greek Prime Minister before moving to the US to teach at the University of Texas in Austin.

In January 2015, Varoufakis was appointed Greek Minister of Finance. He led negotiations with Greece’s creditors during the government-debt crisis. However, he failed to reach an agreement with the European troika (European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund) leading to the 2015 bailout referendum. The referendum rejected the troika bailout terms, and the day afterwards Varoufakis resigned as Minister of Finance. Another Now outlines a system in which the Greek debt crisis would never have been possible.

Varoufakis is the author of several books on the European debt crisis, the financial imbalance in the world and game theory. Adults in the Room was made into a feature film in 2019, directed by Costa-Gavras. A Modest Proposal is a set of economic policies aimed at overcoming the euro crisis. Truman Factor features select articles by Varoufakis in English and in Spanish.

The Global Minotaur constructs a historical narrative and metaphor which Varoufakis uses to describe the world economy from the mid-1970s to the 2008 crash and beyond. He argues that the global economy since the 1970s can be viewed as being built around the financing of the twin deficits of the United States – its trade deficit and government deficit. Varoufakis argues that the United States powered the global economy by consuming the exports of the rest of the world, and then the surpluses flowed back to the United States by going to institutions on Wall Street or being used to buy U.S. Treasury debt. He suggests the recycling back to the U.S. happened naturally due to the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency, and because of the profitability of U.S. corporations and returns on Wall Street. However, when the U.S. economy and banking system faltered in 2008, the United States’ ability to consume vast quantities of imports decreased, and investing in Wall Street became a much less inviting prospect, so the system seized up. This explains why the 2008 recession was felt so heavily around the world.

Another Now reminds me of some of the economic ideas in The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver and my own work in progress on the prequel to When the Well Runs Dry. My only reservation is that the world in which his ideas are adopted relies on a series of fortunate successes by activists to succeed. My own premise is that the kind of ideas he proposes will never be adopted until the current system collapses which is what I intend to happen in the prequel.

Give Another Now a go, I was pleasantly surprised how well this economist had used fiction to articulate in simple terms, very complicated concepts.

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#136 Reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

My work in progress, ALBERT & MARIE, is not only set in World War One but one of the main characters, Albert, becomes a tunneller in the Royal Engineers.

Faulks’ father was awarded the Military Cross and later became a solicitor and circuit judge. His brother Edward Faulks, Baron Faulks QC, a barrister, became a Conservative Government Minister and his uncle was Sir Neville Faulks, a High Court judge. He read English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and participated in University Challenge, a British quiz programme. After graduating, Faulks worked as a teacher at a private school in Camden Town, and then as a journalist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. He became the first literary editor of The Independent in 1986 and deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday in 1989. In 1991 he left The Independent. He wrote for various newspapers as a freelancer for the next ten years. Following the success of Birdsong (1993), Faulks quit journalism to write full-time. He has since published eight novels, the most recent being A Possible Life (2012), Where My Heart Used to Beat (2015) and Paris Echo (2018). Faulks was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1993 and appointed CBE for services to literature in 2002.

My father was a motor mechanic. My sister works for a community arts project and my Uncle ran an off-licence (liquor store). I studied for a Higher National Diploma at Dorset Institute of Higher Education before it became Bournemouth University and then completed my Bachelors and Masters degrees at Open University while I worked at an environmental charity and as a teacher in Brazil. I’ve worked in McDonalds, as a copywriter, a project manager creating websites when they were new, working in schools with an environmental charity and taught Drama in Brazil. I have published five novels and four novellas but my talents have yet to be recognised by the Royal Society of Literature or Her Majesty the Queen.

I think the differences in our backgrounds, education and employment are reflected in the protagonists we have created in our novels. Birdsong begins in 1910 when Stephen Wraysford visits and lives with René Azaire, his wife Isabelle and their children in Amiens, France. Stephen was an orphan who was rescued by a benefactor who wanted nothing to do with him. Although Stephen’s origins were poor and misfortunate, he enjoyed the benefits of a good education and has obtained a position in the textile industry which has enabled him to travel to France on industrial research.

My character is based on a real person, my Great Uncle Albert, though my knowledge of his life is so limited that the majority of his experiences, like Faulks’ Stephen, are based on the testimonies of World War One veterans who might have been in a similar position to our characters.

Uncle Albert was a miner in County Durham who signed up with the Yorkshire Light Infantry but was soon transferred to the Royal Engineers as the demand for tunnellers increased. Albert was a pioneer, the Royal Engineers equivalent of a private, while Stephen was a lieutenant.

Both Samuel West, who narrates the audiobook of Birdsong and Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen in the BBC mini series managed to create a young character who is incredibly posh and irreversibly changed by the horrors of war.

Both Faulks and I have deliberately avoided research with secondary documents, such as historical monographs, instead focusing on veteran interviews and period primary sources. In November 1988 he went on a trip to Flanders with half a dozen old soldiers in their 90s whereas I have had to rely on interviews given my soldiers to the Imperial War Museum or memoirs written soon after the events, untarnished by the Second World War.

Faulks felt that the published version of Birdsong did not fully do justice to the experience of war: it did not provide readers with “a full appreciation of the soldiers’ physical experience; and, perhaps more importantly, a philosophical understanding of what it meant to be part of the first genocidal event of the century – the one that made the others imaginable”.

I have to admit that I found the romance at the beginning of Birdsong a little irritating as I did with Stephen’s infatuation with Isabelle throughout the book. However, His descriptions of the scenes in the tunnels and the trenches more than makes up for it.

The BBC mini-series makes good use of cross cutting so that the romantic first section is distributed more evenly through the episodes. As expected, the screenwriters have taken liberties with the book but unlike some adaptations, in this case I think they have done a good job.

Birdsong is right up there with Atonement and the Regeneration Trilogy as one of the classic war stories.

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#135 Reading Space Team by Barry Hutchison

The cover of Space Team by Barry J Hutchison

The galaxy just called for help. Unfortunately, it dialed the wrong number.

Small-time conman, Cal Carver, is having a bad day. Imprisoned and forced to share a cell with a cannibalistic serial killer, Cal thinks things can’t possibly get any worse.

He is wrong.

It’s not until two-thirds of the human race is wiped out and Cal is mistakenly abducted by aliens that his day really starts to go downhill.

Whisked across the galaxy, Cal is thrown into a team of some of the sector’s most notorious villains and scumbags. Their mission should be simple enough, but as one screw-up leads to another, they find themselves in a frantic battle to save an entire alien civilization – and its god – from total annihilation.

Featuring epic space battles, alien gangsters, and several thousand flying Tobey Maguires, Space Teamis the first book in the internationally bestselling series by award-winning author, Barry J. Hutchison, and is perfect for fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide and Guardians of the Galaxy.

I had to use his blurb to describe the first book in the series because I don’t think I would have done it justice. I really really enjoyed listening to this on Audible, I thought the high joke rate per paragraph was going to get annoying, but it didn’t. This isn’t some teenager shoving as many gags into a story as possible, this is a well-crafted story with well-developed characters, a lovely narrative arc, lots of lovely devices to get lots of swearing in the dialogue without actually swearing at all and the ability to pick holes in it’s own plot and answer it before the pedants get started.

If I had enough time I would plough through all twelve books in the series right now but instead I have settled for downloading the book of short stories which comes free when you sign up to his email list.

He does have two other series: Dan Deadman which, judging by the cover, is comic noir space detective, and Sidekicks, which looks hilarious:

When sworn protectors of Earth, the Justice Platoon, are all horribly killed, their former arch-enemies come crawling out of the woodwork. Outnumbered, outgunned, and out of options, the US Government has no choice but to activate the Sidekicks Initiative, dragging the Platoon’s middle-aged ex-sidekicks out of retirement.

In 2010, HarperCollins Children’s Books published his Invisible Fiends horror series about a boy whose childhood imaginary friend comes back when he’s a teenager and tries to kill him. It went on to win some prizes, sell to some foreign countries, and marked the start of his professional writing career.

Now he’s had around 70 books published, all aimed at children or teenagers. He’s written for publishers such as Penguin Random House, Nosy Crow, Egmont, Stripes and Little, Brown. He’s written 30+ episodes of children’s comedy for CITV, and regularly contributes to comics like The Beano.

If you like the Mastery of the Stars series, then you’ll love Space Team, I’ll certainly be reading more of this shizz.

p.s. anyone recognise the ship?

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#134 The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

Robert Tressell, born Robert Noonan in Dublin, Ireland, emigrated to South Africa where he became skilled as a signwriter. In 1901, he moved back to England and lived in Hastings on which the fictional town in his novel is based. He had tuberculosis which eventually killed him in 1911 and he took the pen name Tressell from the tables used by signwriters and house painters.

The novel was not published until after his death in an abridged edition in 1914 and a further abridged edition in 1918 which truncated its political polemic. An unabridged version did not appear until 1955.

Tressell shows in vivid detail, the effects of capitalism on the working classes of that period and although great steps forward have been made since that time such as a living wage, a National Health Service and a welfare state, many of the themes of corruption and the willingness of the masses to be exploited so blatently by those in power remain frighteningly relevant today.

Many of the recommendations Tressell suggests in the book may seem outdated following the failure of collectivism in the Soviet and Chinese agricultural policies but his basic principles of the failure of money to provide for an equitable society and the ridiculousness of the principle of trickle-down economics are lessons well worth listening to.

He ironically names the worker philanthropists because they enrich their employers through their labours while receiving the meanest of rewards from businessmen who remorselessly cheat them.

One of the greatest moments in the book is when the protagonist attempts to explain the ‘Money Trick’ to his colleagues:

‘Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.’

‘Prove it,’ said Crass.

Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it into his pocket.

‘All right,’ he replied. ‘I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.’

Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left would give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives they used to cut and eat their dinners with from Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them as follows:

‘These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created by the Great Spirit for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.’

… ‘Now,’ continued Owen, ‘I am a capitalist; or, rather, I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, or whether I have any real right to them; the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the Landlord and Capitalist class. I am that class: all these raw materials belong to me.’

… ‘Now you three represent the Working Class: you have nothing – and for my part, although I have all these raw materials, they are of no use to me – what I need is – the things that can be made out of these raw materials by Work: but as I am too lazy to work myself, I have invented the Money Trick to make you work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent – all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins’ – taking three halfpennies from his pocket – ‘represent my Money Capital.’

‘But before we go any further,’ said Owen, interrupting himself, ‘it is most important that you remember that I am not supposed to be merely “a” capitalist. I represent the whole Capitalist Class. You are not supposed to be just three workers – you represent the whole Working Class.’

… Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.

‘These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent – a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth – one pound: and we will suppose that each of these ha’pennies is a sovereign. …

‘Now this is the way the trick works -’

… Owen now addressed himself to the working classes as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.

‘You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you Plenty of Work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is – you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine, to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.’

The Working Classes accordingly set to work, and the Capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.

‘These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is – one pound each.’

As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the kind Capitalist’s terms. They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of the things produced by the labour of the others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they started work – they had nothing.

This process was repeated several times: for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pile of wealth continually increased. In a little while – reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each – he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended upon it.

After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools – the Machinery of Production – the knives away from them, and informed them that as owing to Over Production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.

‘Well, and what the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?’ demanded Philpot.

‘That’s not my business,’ replied the kind-hearted capitalist. ‘I’ve paid you your wages, and provided you with Plenty of Work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at present. Come round again in a few months’ time and I’ll see what I can do for you.’

‘But what about the necessaries of life?’ demanded Harlow. ‘We must have something to eat.’

‘Of course you must,’ replied the capitalist, affably; ‘and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.’

‘But we ain’t got no bloody money!’

‘Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for me for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!’

The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed; and then the three unemployed began to abuse the kind-hearted Capitalist, demanding that he should give them some of the necessaries of life that he had piled up in his warehouses, or to be allowed to work and produce some more for their own needs; and even threatened to take some of the things by force if he did not comply with their demands. But the kind-hearted Capitalist told them not to be insolent, and spoke to them about honesty, and said if they were not careful he would have their faces battered in for them by the police, or if necessary he would call out the military and have them shot down like dogs, the same as he had done before at Featherstone and Belfast.

Tressell outlined in reasonable detail how he envisaged a socialist society might work. This was heavily reliant on the benefits of technology which many believed would make life easier for humanity. In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that as a result of technological advancement we would only need to work a 15 hour week. This uptopian dream did not come about because of the resurgence of a hard-edged version of capitalism, variously referred to as neoliberalism, Thatcherism and the Washington Consensus which ensured that the benefits of technology were used to get more production from the workers rather than the benefits being enjoyed by the workers themselves.

I intend to use Tressell’s vision as a model for Freetown in the upcoming prequel and sequel to my near future dystopian novel When the Well Runs Dry. Tressell’s vision never came about because the money system always allowed greed to overide any efforts for a more equitable society. But if the money system collapses completely then an equitable socialist solution might be a viable alternative.

You can read Tressell’s ideas now but if you want to see my interpretation you’ll have to wait until I release the prequel to When the Well Runs Dry, hopefully before the end of the year.

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#133 Was Jesus a socialist?

statue of jesus

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The HuffPost thinks so. They say Jesus’ ideas inspired many prominent socialists and critics of capitalism including Pope Francis who has has consistently criticized the human and spiritual damage caused by global capitalism, widening inequality, and corporate sweatshops.

When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy advising him regarding his responsibilities his ministry in Ephesus, he wrote that we brought nothing into the world and can carry nothing out but if we have food and clothing we will be content with these. Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. By craving it, some have wandered away from the faith.

Earlier in the letter, Paul wrote that if anyone teaches another doctrine and disagrees with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and with godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. Instead, he has an unhealthy interest in controversies and semantics, out of which come envy, strife, abusive talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind who are devoid of the truth. These men regard godliness as a means of gain.

Matthew’s Gospel reports Jesus as saying: Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or a thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

This lengthy passage suggests that it is the duty of a christian society to feed the hungry, home the homeless, support the poor, the sick and and those who have committed crimes. It suggests a welfare state, a comprehensive health service, universal and free at the point of delivery—a health service based on clinical need, not ability to pay, and a prison system based on the rehabilitation of criminals.

Earlier in the gospel, during the sermon on the mount, Jesus said: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. So why do the world’s richest 1 percent own twice as much as bottom 90 percent?

In John’s first letter he warns not to love the world or anything in the world and Matthew reports Jesus as telling his disciples it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Yet so many self-styled ‘Followers’ of Christ have made the accumulation of money the principal business of their lives.

In 2016, Pope Francis blamed the “god of money” for the extremist violence that is taking place around the world. A ruthless global economy, he argued, leads marginalized people to violence. In 2013 he attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny,” criticized the “idolatry of money,” and urged politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” he wrote.

The HuffPost reports that few Americans call themselves socialists, but many of them share socialists’ critiques of American-style capitalism, including the widening gap between the rich and the rest, the greed of the super-rich, the undue influence of Wall Street and big business in politics, and the persistence of widespread poverty and hunger in our affluent society.

“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus says in Matthew 6:24. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

In Luke 12:15, Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

Bertell Ollman argued that socialism is practical Christianity: “Jesus’ life, as well as his teachings, was a model of concern for his fellow human beings. Though poor in material things, he and his disciples shared what they had with all about them. For centuries afterwards, those who called themselves Christians were most noteworthy for the cooperative fellowship that characterized the community in which Jesus lived.”

“Next time someone calls you a socialist for being a progressive,” wrote Ivonne Rovira, a public school teacher, mom and research director for Save Our Schools Kentucky. “Here’s what to do: make your face light up and say, ‘Thank you! I try to be a good Christian!’”

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