Are youth workers chatting critically about their compliance with or resistance to the closing down of young people’s lives?

Back in January, I published a post, What about Children and Young People? Are they no more than collateral damage? The opening sentence declared, ‘from the very beginning, March 2020, of the utterly undemocratic imposition of COVID-inspired sweeping restrictions on social existence I feared for children and young people.’

I was perplexed from the outset at what seemed to be the absence of debate and the utter lack of opposition to the demanded closures of children’s and young people’s provision – from playgrounds through schools and youth facilities to universities. I am being diplomatic. I was pissed off and angry. It was plain that such draconian, disproportionate action would be deeply damaging. The belated acknowledgement in the summer of 2021 that the lockdown was creating serious mental health issues for the younger generation, crocodile tears, merely confirmed my angst. Then, a humble breath taken, I recognised it was easy for me to be so moved. If I was still a practising youth worker. teacher or lecturer what would I have done during the last two years?

Towards the end of the piece I commented:

Certainly in the coming weeks, as the pandemic narrative unravels, it would be revealing to hear the thoughts of UK youth workers, teachers and lecturers about their sense of the impact upon children and young people, upon themselves of the two years lost.

I’m still waiting but prodded by an Opinion article in the Guardian, ‘Evidence grows of lockdown harm to the young. But we act as if nothing happened‘ by Martha Gill, I’ll return to the issue by way of a recent criticism of lockdown.

Written by Dr Zenobia Storah, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, it is entitled, ‘Reflections of a Child Psychologist on the Pandemic Response, 2 years on.’ It deserves to be read in full, particularly perhaps by professionals in the fields of welfare and education. At one point she muses.

Something unexpected happened in Spring and Summer of 2020. I found myself standing apart from my colleagues. I could understand that in the initial stages of the pandemic, due to the particular threat that Covid posed to the elderly, the government’s decision had been to focus on the protection of older members of the population. But as the weeks wore on and I imagined the harm being done to children across the country, informed both by my training and my professional experience, it was clear to me that too much weight was being focussed on the protection of adults at the enormous expense of the less obvious (but more long-term) damage to the future and well-being of children and young people. And yet those who I would expect to be my natural allies due to shared knowledge and experience remained silent. There was no national, grown-up discussion anywhere about how we might balance the need to protect the most vulnerable from Covid with the interests of the young, and how we could remain faithful to our national commitment to children’s best interests being paramount. Any attempt to introduce such discussion was met with derision and accusations of moral decrepitude. To my astonishment, this was also the case on professional online forums, where it became increasingly difficult to raise concerns. It seemed to me that psychologists, who describe themselves as ‘scientist-practitioners’, should be asking serious questions about society-wide decisions to impose restrictions and mandates that would inevitably harm children and young people (and other vulnerable groups). At the very least, they should all be calling for a broader discussion, which they would be uniquely placed to inform, and at best, an extremely high bar (in terms of cost-benefit analysis) for the introduction of such measures. Yet the general view amongst those working with children and young people – and the official view of most professional bodies including my own – was that the moral responsibility of child professionals was to support government policy (at whatever cost to society and whilst asking no questions – or so it seemed to me) and then to work to mitigate the impact on mental or physical health. The alternative view – that policies that kept children out of schools, cut them off from families and friends, kept them from participating in outdoor sports, normal play, activity and socialising and prevented them from accessing healthcare and other support services should not be in place at all – was anathema. This was disturbing and confusing. I could not understand how, given the values and knowledge we had all shared before March 2020, this had come about.

She concludes.

We always knew what circumstances and experiences children needed in order to thrive, to be physically well and to be mentally healthy, and we knew that the unprecedented social experiment that took place from March 2020 deprived them of many of these things and would put many at risk of serious harm. The collateral damage outlined in all these studies and reports could have been foreseen and warned against by many more child professionals than ever spoke out. In moving into the post-pandemic era, it is essential that we continue to speak of these harms, to measure and describe them and to share these findings with our colleagues and the general public. We need to welcome into the discussion the concerns of many people who, at the time, were persuaded that reduced transmission of Covid trumped everything else, including the safety and mental and physical health of children and young people. It would be good to reach a point where there is full acknowledgement of the harms caused and the catastrophic errors made that led to them. Perhaps the Covid Inquiry will lead society to ask itself how we ever got to a point where children and young people were routinely subjected to harmful and unevidenced interventions and restrictions. As we support recovery, all those working with children and those in government must re-commit to the principles of the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child. And we must ensure that we never subject a generation of children to such experiences ever again.

Speaking purely of youth workers, managers and lecturers, fond of proclaiming themselves to be critical practitioners par excellence, to what extent at a local, regional and national level are they coming together to consider what has been going on over the pandemic years? To what extent are they encouraging young people to discuss the rights and wrongs of the authoritarian clampdown on their lives? Or is the profession pretending the last two years never happened? Such collective myopia bodes ill for a future, within which an emboldened ruling class is confident that its diktat will be fearfully obeyed and that amongst its messengers of anxiety will be indeed youth workers, managers and lecturers.

‘It’s doing my head in’ – context and contradiction. The era of disinformation.

What seems yonks ago, I excused my failure to engage with the harm being reeked via the COVID narrative by way of a self-centred concern about what people might think of my doubts. I got over the feeling or did I? In the last few months, I’ve found myself in danger of being in the same place re the Ukraine. All the more so as commenting on what were initially fast-moving events felt pompous and pretentious. Now we are 120 days in. There’s something about offering your thoughts on what’s going on in the world that suggests you are some sort of self-styled expert or a tiresome anorak, who has too much time on their hands; or someone, who is detached from everyday existence yet claims to understand it better; or indeed someone, who is deep up their own rectum.

No doubt I do spend too much time prostrate before the computer, suffering the relentless assault on my thoughts waged by the powerful before searching assiduously for alternative interpretations. In both cases, I try as best I can to be both critical of the competing sources and content, self-critical in terms of my own history, assumptions and prejudices. I try not to be a useful idiot in anyone’s pocket.

Outside of this political obsession, strange, though, it may seem, I do have other interests and concerns, many of them very ordinary. I was going to say normal but the word has latterly taken on a different emphasis. It is said to require capital letters, the New Normal, towards which we are being propelled – a world of increased surveillance and control for ‘our own good’. To think in terms of a return to lower-case normal is perceived as backward, whilst believing that perhaps there might be a liberating future Abnormal, within which the world is turned upside down, is scoffed at as mere utopianism.

And ordinary normal is. of course, contradictory. It is an expression of accommodation and resistance to the capitalist imperative, to relations of power. It can be both, at one and the same time, lifeless or lively. It is what on the ground makes the world go round. Thus in the last few weeks, to my astonishment I’ve celebrated with some caution my birthday in our beautiful garden, wallowing in the unique sound created by Maria Manousaki and the Hot Club de Grece – wonderful musicians confined to barracks for most of the last two years. Folk evidently enjoyed themselves. At the same time, I’ve observed believers in masks and social distancing, given the green light by the authority to whom they have been obedient, returning to some semblance of sense, casting off the muzzles, hugging one another, yearning to be human. I’ve accompanied Glyka, our ageing dog, morn and eve, on her leisurely and olfactory rambling, never a smell to be ignored. What tales she could tell. And, true to my long-standing athletic obsession, I’ve continued, aching joints aside, to walk, cycle and occasionally run along the olive-lined lanes beyond our house with only the bleating sheep and gymnastic goats for company. And, I continue to sing, of a fashion.

Our John, my son, is well-known for his frustrated turn of phrase, ‘it’s doing my head in’ when faced with the welter of contradictions life throws up. I share his exasperation. One minute we are told we are fighting a war against a life-threatening and cunning virus. Yet, in the time it takes to be jabbed, the advocates of COVID’s deadliness beat a tactical retreat. In the next moment, it’s said we are fighting a war against a demonic and cunning dictator. For now, a tragic stalemate hangs over the Ukraine. Almost seamlessly one tortured narrative of intertwined fear and anxiety, intertwined compassion and intolerance replicates the other. Rainbow NHS logos are replaced on Facebook by the colours of the Ukrainian flag. How many of those signalling their virtue defended the NHS against privatisation or indeed had until yestermonth not a clue about Ukraine’s whereabouts, never mind its turbulent history and politics. To question the unanimity of the orchestrated consensus around COVID or Ukraine, being relayed 24/7 everywhere from the supermarket to the sports stadium, is to expose oneself as an anti-vaxx conspirator or a Putin pawn. Or as the favoured fatuous and contemptuous dismissal of doubt goes, ‘don’t you care, people are dying?’ In some mysterious way, those signing up to the dominant orthodox narrative are touched with a sensitivity to the human condition denied to those of a marginal heterodox disposition. Only the former really care. Only they shed tears of authentic concern. As for analysis or indeed its conspicuous absence, I am told with a patronising sigh, empty of any meaning, that the world is crazy, more specifically to clinch the argument that it’s all down to Putin being a deranged narcissist. To be sure he’s mightily fond of himself and yet……

A simple Manichean scenario is proposed. Good is battling with Evil so what to do but side with the Good? Case closed, debate rendered superfluous. Forgive the repetition, to chat critically is regarded as deviant.

Yet, to an inquiring mind, aren’t there reasonable questions.?

  1. Is it possible to grasp the contemporary situation in the Ukraine without an informed feel for a country’s turbulent history, which, as best I can see, is far from that of a freedom-loving democracy?
  2. Was the dramatic 2014 change of government in the Ukraine an emancipatory ‘velvet’ revolutionary happening or an orchestrated anti-Russian coup supported by the CIA with the involvement of influential Far Right/Nazi forces?
  3. Isn’t it stretching things to see the USA/NATO configuration as defensive and benign? Back in 2019 the Rand Corporation, widely regarded as the most influential think tank in North America, partially funded by the USA government itself, published a report entitled, Overextending and Unbalancing Russia, which argues a range of options necessary to keeping Russia in its place when it comes to the World Order. Is it ridiculous somehow to suggest that the USA/NATO military alliance appears to have been edging ever closer to encircling Russia with all its possible consequences?
  4. Of course, my questions reveal a deep-rooted suspicion of the motives of American imperialism that dates back to Chile and Vietnam. Given the USA’s track record of blatant, oft barbaric interventions into the affairs of countries far from its shores, to mention only Libya and Iraq and its history of pursuing regime change whatever the cost, I do feel nauseous faced with the stench of hypocrisy emanating from the White House, the Houses of Parliament, the National Assembly, the Bundestag or its namesakes. None of this excuses Moscow’s aggression but it refutes the right of any party involved to be claiming the moral high ground.

Now, if anyone of import, perhaps one of either an ‘influencer’ or a fact-checker had the slightest interest in my observations I might well be outed as a purveyor of misinformation and/or disinformation. As I understand it, if I’m misinforming you it’s down to me getting hold of the wrong end of the stick. It’s a matter of ignorance or stupidity. If I’m disinforming you I am deliberately leading you astray up the proverbial garden path. It’s calculated deceit.

At this very moment, the European Union has published guidelines. entitled 2022 Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation.

“Disinformation related to the coronavirus crisis and Russia’s war in Ukraine clearly show that we need stronger tools to fight online disinformation. [Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency]

It was very tempting to presume the code of practice was bureaucratic bollocks and be done with it. To my credit, eternal or otherwise, I downloaded and started to read. Forgive me, but I didn’t get to the end, the 48th page of painstaking instructions to relevant and compliant signatories. Not least indeed because it was in fact bureaucratic and disingenuous bollocks. Conspicuous by its absence was any definition of what constitutes disinformation. That is, apart from this really helpful explanation – ‘Disinformation, which for the rest of the Code is considered to include misinformation, disinformation information influence operations and foreign interference in the information space.’ However, do not fear, tucked away in a cascade of footnotes is to be found the following. ‘the notion of “Disinformation” does not include misleading advertising, reporting errors, satire and parody, or clearly identified partisan news and commentary, and is without prejudice to binding legal obligations, self-regulatory advertising codes, and standards regarding misleading advertising.” Fair enough I might be short of a few slices to fill a sandwich but, at first glance, I’m none the wiser. Isn’t all of this a contradictory mess? Of course, I’m being naive, this is the name of the game – creating confusion rather than clarity, being opaque as opposed to being transparent.

Other officious initiatives are also muddying the waters. In the UK we find something called ‘the counter-disinformation unit,’ set up by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. The task of this unit is to identify ‘misinformation’ and then liaise with social media companies to make sure this content is removed. It appears all it takes for the unit to brand something as ‘misinformation’ and press the tech companies to censor, is that its staff find the content therein to be ‘inappropriate.’ I’ll resist lapsing into obscenity. This is banal and ludicrous – inappropriate in what sense? Over in the USA, the Biden administration put in place what it called a ‘Disinformation Board’, housed inside the Department of Homeland Security. Glenn Greenwald, dissident lawyer and commentator asked, under what circumstances is a domestic law enforcement agency allowed to decide what is true or false? Politico’s Jack Schafer wrote:

Who among us thinks the government should add to its work list the job of determining what is true and what is disinformation? And who thinks the government is capable of telling the truth? Our government produces lies and disinformation at an industrial scale and always has. It overclassifies vital information to block its own citizens from becoming any the wiser. It pays thousands of press aides to play hide the salami with facts….

In the event, the draconian initiative, following a vociferous backlash, is now ‘on pause’.

Over in New Zealand Te Pūnaha Matatini (TPM), a research group that receives Centre of Research Excellence government funding came up with the notion of ‘dangerous speech’, rhetoric that is a threat to us all. In essence, this catch-all concoction sought to silence any criticism of Jacinda Arden’s Zero-Covid policies. To return to the EU the bottom line of its Code of Practice is the necessity to cut off funding to what it deems to be ‘malicious actors’. Its goal is to demonetise dissident opinion. In terms of doing any disinforming not a single word of criticism is aimed at the mainstream or ‘legacy’ media. Not a single dilemma is raised about the financial and ideological control imposed on the mainstream by a handful of billionaire capitalists.

Ta to beconnected.esafety.gov.au

When push comes to shove ‘disinformation’ is whatever state or corporate power decides is at odds with their version of the truth. All else is ‘fake news’ – a meaningless construct if ever there was one.

The hardly hidden objective is to buttress government pronouncements and their sustenance by the mainstream media while systematically curtailing freedom of expression and critical analysis wherever it rears its awkward and annoying head. Obviously too it desires to prevent grass-roots financial support for dissent.

As to how we monitor what is right or wrong, a self-evidently simple task, the EU has the answer. It is the supposedly independent International Fact-Checking Network set up by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Amongst its impartial funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google, along with Omidyar Network. With this army of fact-checking journalists, Jack and Jills of one trade, masters and mistresses of none collaborating with Facebook, Google and company in defence of the truth, we can rest easy in our beds.

Enough is enough for now. I am weary from trying to keep up with the many sides of what’s going on. In the end, I am left thinking that I need return to what is meant by propaganda. How this concept relates to the discourse of ‘informations’? Not so long ago Propaganda Studies was a recognised field of intellectual and political exploration. It sought to scrutinise the contesting opinions on offer in the public sphere.Today this method of inquiry is rendered redundant by the rise of an army of ‘disinformation graduates and scholars’ whose raison d’etre is to define the boundaries of debate in accord with what is acceptable to the ruling class and its minions. I will endeavour to pursue.

FREE JULIAN ASSANGE

I’m near to a meandering attempt to write about the increasing suppression of views opposing the voices of the powerful. As I prevaricate Priti Patel approves the extradition of Julian Assange. Indeed it is a dark day for freedom of thought, expression and interpretation. As for British democracy, it is revealed yet again as no more than at best a liberal oligarchy with no genuine accountability to its citizens.’

Extradition Statement: Patel approves extradition

Don’t extradite Julian Assange

This is a dark day for Press freedom and for British democracy. Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed that the Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that plotted his assassination.
Julian did nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.

It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead, she will forever be remembered as an accomplice of the United States in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise.

Foreign laws now determine the limits of press freedom in this country and the journalism that won the industry’s most prestigious prizes has been deemed an extraditable offence and worthy of a life sentence.

The path to Julian’s freedom is long and tortuous. Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the legal system; the next appeal will be before the High Court. We will fight louder and shout harder on the streets, we will organise and we will make Julian’s story known to all.

Make no mistake, this has always been a political case. Julian published evidence that the country trying to extradite him committed war crimes and covered them up; tortured and rendered; bribed foreign officials; and corrupted judicial inquiries into US wrongdoing. Their revenge is to try to disappear him into the darkest recesses of their prison system for the rest of his life to deter others from holding governments to account.

We will not let that happen. Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms. We will fight to return Julian to his family and to regain freedom of expression for us all.

Thanks to Tim Dawson

Yanis Varoufakis

Politician, DiEM25, Greece

“The game is up. Years of lies exposed. It was never about Sweden, Putin, Trump or Hillary. Assange was persecuted for exposing war crimes. Will those duped so far now stand with us in opposing his disappearance after a fake trial where his lawyers will not even know the charges?”

Alice Walker

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist

“Years from now people will say: Oh, if only I had known what we were losing when they abused this decent and courageous man!
I would have done something! But now, what can I do, since these days I don’t dare express what I know and think! Regret is too often the fruit of silence.”

Mairead Maguire

Nobel Peace Prize winner

“Julian Assange and his colleagues in Wikileaks have shown on numerous occasions that they are one of the last outlets of true democracy and their work for our freedom and speech”

Dunja Mijatović

Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe

“Allowing Mr Assange’s extradition… would have a chilling effect on media freedom, and could ultimately hamper the press in performing its task as purveyor of information and public watchdog in democratic societies.”

Reflections on the Meaning of Existence whilst Leaning on a Lamp-Post

The audience starts to assemble. Ta to Xavier

Further to my self-centred announcement of my 75th birthday, the following seeks to offer an insight into the tribulations plus a number of images of the celebratory event held at our house. I’m hoping that doing so might kick-start me into renewing the momentum of this blog. We will see. Perhaps predictably I’ve found myself in the past few days, as befits my three scores and fifteen, dwelling upon the question of what I’ve been up to in my life. Living in the birthplace of Western philosophy demands such reflection. For now, though this musing remains hazy in keeping with me being dazy for the past week or so.

My dazed condition dates back to an alarming moment when, on a longish journey home, the brakes on our stalwart Suzuki car failed. One tortuous way and another we limped to the garage where the dear girl, 22 years old was declared beyond repair. With the birthday bash only two days away, without transport, our predilection to be anxious reared its nagging head. Fortunately, neighbours and friends came to our aid as we remembered, yet again, something else we had forgotten, notably, παγάκιa, the essential ice cubes. The temperature was forecast to be 32 degrees.

A glimpse of our eclectic assortment of chairs/kαρέκλες and indeed friends. Ta to Xavier

Not a single eddy disturbed the tranquil opening to Sunday itself. Not a wisp of a breeze could be discerned. Only the animated birdsong and a cock crowing pierced the silence. It was going to be bloody hot. The start of the evening’s delights would have to be delayed. Nevertheless, the first task if we were to be ahead of ourselves was arranging the seating. Over 40 chairs had been begged and borrowed. Being diverse and inclusive by nature rather than being in thrall to some Johnny-come-lately Human Relations influencers, we refused none on the grounds of shape, size or colour. Thus, when completed, the eclectic composition of kαρέκλες fitted perfectly the natural amphitheatre provided by our back garden. We were pleased with ourselves which was to be our undoing.

Despite the resplendent garden defying our horticultural ignorance, Marilyn ventured that a couple more bursts of colour wouldn’t come amiss. All the more so as our neighbourhood pine marten seemed to take great pleasure in digging up and destroying the prettiest of our flowers. Despite it being the day of repose Mark and I volunteered to go in search. Intuitively perhaps we knew. The charming little florist in the next village, Vamos, was indeed closed. However, opposite was situated the seductive sight of the Mosaico cafe. It seemed irreverent on a hot Holy Day not to seek refreshment. Two pale ales and toast later we realised we best return at speed except we were empty-handed. In a last throw of the dice, we dashed to nearby Kalives where alas the florist was also closed. Yet two rows of plants had been left outside on the narrow pavement and this was Crete. Thus I chose two colourful offerings, nipped into the next-door craft shop where I left the money owed in the helpful hands of the unphased, artistic owner. Σε ευχαριστώ πολύ.

Mutterings aside and acknowledging the flowers in hand, Marilyn and Sara forgave our boyish antics but nonetheless, the preparations had been concertinaed. Before we knew where we were, folk were arriving, not least Maria Manousaki and the band, Hot Club de Grece. In fact, these brilliant musicians were no trouble, escaping into the shade to practise together.

Yiannis inseparable from his guitar even during a break. Ta to Xavier

As for ourselves, our brains fled to the mountains. We forgot all sorts – the aforesaid ice, the bread, the prosecco, the beers and much more. If we’d ordered pies, them too, for sure. Meanwhile Francesca, in charge of the canapes, was serenity itself. Whilst Linda, Lizzie and Marie recognising our plight mucked in on plying guests with drinks and nibbles.

Marilyn arrives with Rosemary’s glorious orange drizzle cake. Ta to Sara

As for Marilyn and I being by default master and mistress of ceremonies we sought to pull ourselves together, to stop being mard-arsed. Marilyn floated amongst our guests, exuding welcoming warmth. I ventured to the front of proceedings with an eye on a retreating, still blazing sun, ready to capture the audience’s attention. In doing so I set aside half a century of experience. It was my wont never to speak publicly without rehearsing, indeed almost memorising the script I had written in long hand. Thus armed, I scarcely ever looked down at my scribbling. I strutted the lecture and conference hall with confidence.

Dazed but not drunk, forgetting my lines. Dimitris, our dear neighbour, who climbed up our back wall from his olive grove below, looks concerned. Ta to Sara

Yet there I was without a note in my hand. The rest is an embarrassing blur. I said something about being fortunate to grow up at a time when, under proletarian pressure, Capitalism had made a number of profound concessions to the working class, notably free education from cradle to grave. I muttered something about education being to do with the creation of questioning, active citizens, not the indoctrination of obedient, passive consumers. I declared that we were at a crossroads in a clash between the struggle for authentic democracy and the imposition of technocratic authoritarianism. All of which needed much explanation. It was neither the time nor place but whenever is? Time for a ditty though?

Thus I sang ‘Ol’ Man River’, a song of age, conformity and resistance with a falter before intoning Paul Robeson’s rewriting of the closing lines – ‘I’ll keep laughin’ instead of cryin’, I must keep fightin’ till I’m dyin’. At the end of which I departed dizzily stage left without even introducing Maria, Yiannis, Antonis and Georgos, the Hot Club. Fortunately, there was no need for such niceties. From the first strum, la pompe, the voices of violin, guitars and double-bass intertwined seemingly effortlessly in a tour de force of jazz manouche. We swung and were captivated.

Maria swinging with the Hot Club. Ta to Xavier

At the break Marilyn and I had decided, given our advancing years, to allow ourselves a nostalgic glance back to growing up in Lancashire, sitting in front of the telly watching the comic films of Gracie Fields and George Formby.

Hence I began by singing our Gracie’s signature tune, ‘Sally in our Alley’. It is now claimed there wasn’t a dry eye in the garden. Tears of emotion or laughter, we shall never know.

After which I was joined by the Backyard Boys, Phil on ukulele, John banjo and Ian washboard to deliver George’s greatest giggle of a hit, ‘Leaning on a Lamp-post’. Their consummate backing was much admired. As was Phil’s account of a touching poem penned by Linda Manousaki.

Begging Sally to marry me. Ta to Sara
Leaning on a lamp-post waiting for a lass called Marilyn to pass by. Ta to Xavier
Phil reads Linda’s generous tribute to my scribbling. Ta to Xavier

Maria and the Hot Club opened the second set by generously accompanying my effort to do justice to a popular Greek number, ‘Τι είναι αυτό που λένε αγάπη;’ translated as ‘What is this thing called love?’. I will take solace in the fact that Anastasia was impressed with my performance. Once I was out of the way Maria and the Hot Club returned us to the joys of their musicianship.

Honoured to be singing ‘Τι είναι αυτό’ with these wonderful musicians. Ta to Rod
Anastasia evidently pleased with my rendition of ‘Τι είναι αυτό’ . Carsten can’t quite believe what he is hearing. Ta to Xavier

It was at this point that Marilyn and I cast off our cloak of anxiety, tried to stop stressing and sought to bask in the atmosphere of shared pleasure created in our idyllic back garden. To add to our delight the band played her special request, ‘Misty’. At the end, rapturous applause rang down our lane and folk went their separate ways.

It’s tempting to think Marilyn is listening to the ageless melody of ‘Misty’. Ta to Xavier

At a pivotal moment when the ruling class would like to divide us and consign us to a virtual world of their making, a collective experience created by improvisatory live music cocks a snook at the powerful. It belongs to us and no one else. Our gratitude is due to everyone for being involved in all manner of supportive and helpful ways. On the Sunday itself, we vowed ‘never again’ but with each passing day our affection for the occasion grows. Whatever transpires in the future as the old song goes, ‘Thanks for the memories’. The struggle ever continues but between whom?

Well, Linda and Maria seem to have enjoyed the occasion. Ta to Sara
Thanks all round. Ta to Sara
The party’s over. Ta to Xavier

Many thanks to Xavier Rouchaud, Sara Gilding and Rod Waters for the atmospheric photos.

Our bucket collection raised 325 Euros towards Medical Aid for Palestinians. Much appreciated.

Postscript.

Thanks to Rod or not as the case might be – Leaning on a Lamp-post live from Gavalohori with the Backyard Boys! Eat your heart out, George.

IN LOVE AND STRUGGLE: TONY’S 75th BIRTHDAY

Across the last two months, I’ve been struggling [that word yet again] to say something worth saying about the Ukrainian debacle. My effort has been so tardy that I’m but a few weeks away from my next birthday. Whether any of my scribbling is worth the light of day remains to be seen. In the meantime, I thought you might be amused to hear of my faltering attempt to be fun-loving and light-hearted by way of holding a concert in our garden here in Gavalochori on Crete.

Marilyn’s painting of the entrance to our garden

IN LOVE AND STRUGGLE: TONY’S 75th BIRTHDAY

SUNDAY, JUNE 5th IN OUR GARDEN

A boy soprano in 1957
Up and coming race walker 1969

You are cordially invited to celebrate and/or commiserate with me on my grudging arrival at the grand old age of 75. Well over half a century ago I dreamt of the demise of capitalism, the creation of an authentically democratic society. Today that vision seems far, far away as many seem to be sleepwalking into an authoritarian dystopia.

On a picket line 1979
Speaking in support of JENGbA – Fighting Injustice, Wigan 2015

Yet ordinary life goes on with all its personal highs and lows. Hence I will cease being a curmudgeon and look forward to a delightful early evening of jazz performed by the wondrous Maria Manousakis and the brilliant Hot Club De Grece.

Maria and the Hot Club

On arrival at around 6ish canapes will be served, together with wine as befits our status as middle-class pensioners in exile. If we’d been in Wigan it would have been real ale and pies but you can’t have everything. The concert will kick off at 6.30 after which you will be thrown out to do as you please! No presents but, if you so wish, a bucket donation to Medical Aid for Palestinians gratefully accepted.

LA LOTTA CONTINUA  Ο ΑΓΏΝΑς ΣΥΝΕΧΊΖΕΤΑΙ  THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Sanitising and commodifying International Women’s Day

From the inspiring 1908 struggle of garment workers in New York – demanding higher wages and better conditions

(Kheel Center / Flickr)

From Petrograd, March 8, 1917demanding Bread and Peace

To sipping bubbly in the heart of Singapore’s financial centre, 2022

Zafferano

Credit Zafferano

Italian restaurant Zafferano is raising a glass to International Women’s Day with a Bellini cocktail promotion on March 7 and 8, 2022. Priced at $50++ for two glasses, the cocktails will be finished tableside with a pour of Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve NV, the signature champagne of a sixth-generation family-owned champagne house.

 Zafferano is at Ocean Financial Centre Level 43, 10 Collyer Quay, Singapore 049315.

I ask myself what am I playing at and David Bell asks, “is Vaccine Equity so obviously a good thing?”

I’d like to escape the seductive embrace of this laptop. I don’t want to be a member of the laptop class, who from behind their virtual screens, know better than those engaging physically and essentially with the material world. I tell myself it’s time to retreat into the olive groves, to inhale the sweet aroma of the herbs and flowers , to taste the pungent odour of my favourite flock of anarchic goats. I tell myself to do this is running away. In the end my ability to access both the vociferous unison of voices within the dominant class and the contradictory chorus of oft subdued voices in opposition offers in equal measure despair and hope. Hence, especially over the last two years. I’ve spent far too much time in my Greek garret ‘surfing the net’, to use an already old-fashioned turn of phrase, seeking critical thought from whomever and wherever. It has felt an obligation to do so. In the tiniest of ways it felt a contribution to that vital questioning of the status quo, of the motives of the powerful, without which, I fear. our hard-won rights and freedoms are in grave jeopardy.

With this in mind, I intend to be more relaxed about pointing you to pieces of writing, which I find stimulating. Whilst it’s always fruitful to try to find one’s own words and good for oneself, it’s not at all always necessary. In this light I recommend this article by David Bell, a public health physician based in the United States. After working in internal medicine and public health in Australia and the UK, he worked in the World Health Organization (WHO), as Programme Head for malaria and febrile diseases at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva, and as Director of Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund in Bellevue, USA. He consults in biotech and global health. MBBS, MTH, PhD, FAFPHM, FRCP.

The COVAX Delusion Reinforces Pharmaceutical Colonialism

He begins:

Mass vaccination of those at minimal risk, with a vaccine that does not reduce transmission, is poor public health practice. Where this diverts financial and human resources from diseases of greater burden, it becomes a public health negative. This is orthodox, normal, and should not be controversial.

While the West is absorbed in its internal bunfights over vaccine mandates, masks and freedom, there seems one thing upon which all agree: ‘Vaccine Equity’- Ensuring those in low- and middle-income countries have the same access to Covid-19 vaccines as high-income populations. Even those skeptical of mass vaccination have been promoting the transfer of stocks to low-income populations, in preference to Western booster programs. Giving stuff to the poor is a good thing – that no good person could oppose – it shows we really care. A “global good.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi Alliance, CEPI, the World Economic Forum and governments globally are flying the humanitarian flag under the ‘COVAX’ umbrella, echoing the catchphrase “No one is safe, unless everyone is safe.”

A beguiling slogan, one that perfectly underlines the fallacy that is this entire charade and the shrewdness of its selling. If the vaccine is protective, the vaccinated are safe. If this is not true, if all remain unsafe, then this vaccine is not fit for this particular purpose. An international program costing many billions of dollars is based on empty, incoherent jargon.

To emphasize the absurdity, UNICEF has joined the rush to sell and implement this program whilst simultaneously recording the unprecedented harms the mono-virus focus of the Covid-19 response has caused to the children whose welfare UNICEF is supposed to protect. Humanity, and particularly those who claim humanitarian ideals and principles, need to pause, analyze this phrase, and then ponder a little deeper. Complacency is a betrayal of ourselves and others.

He concludes:

In the end, this is about truth, and speaking it. The mass media, sharing ownership with key pharmaceutical companies, is no longer able to speak truth to power. 

COVAX is a vehicle by which a very powerful and wealthy group seeks to impose a new paradigm on global public health, with centralized, pharma-based interventions replacing community-driven healthcare and national health sovereignty. We cannot afford to leave it as a side issue to the local battles that we face, or our successes will be pyrrhic. The corporatist, centralized health paradigm that COVAX epitomizes is a fog of delusion that seeks to ensnare us all.

Rose-tinted spectacles indeed: Dave Backwith questions my naivete

In this guest blog, Dave Backwith, a dear friend and comrade takes me to task in respect of my naive support for the truckers and their supporters in Canada. In the end I continue to disagree with him about how best to understand what’s going on. Momentarily it’s tempting to enter into a point-scoring argument, which might remind us both of our involvement in Marxist polemics back in our younger days. This would be deeply unhelpful. As it is I’m scribbling something about ‘why I believe what I believe’, which seeks to trace the conflict between dominant and dissident ideas in the unfolding of my consciousness, however false and flawed. In doing so I end up musing upon why I find it ground-breaking that we can now watch live streams of what’s happening on the ground in Ottawa, of interviews with participants and of daily press conferences as a counter to the opinions expressed in the mainstream media or that of a hate researcher! Of course. both must be gazed upon with a critical eye.

SHOULD WE KEEP ON TRUCKING?

Tony says readers, “might be wary of my rose-tinted version of events”.  Well, yes: rose-tinted is certainly how it looks to me.  I don’t get the unqualified support for the truckers and it’s not obvious to me that the blockade is a ‘joyous festival of the oppressed’ which the left should welcome – far from it.

The global spread of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ movement and that the Canadian Truckers’ ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ had over 300,000 signatures before it was withdrawn, suggest that the truckers’ grievances are widely held.  But what those grievances are isn’t entirely clear.  According to David Maynard, the Ottawa resident Tony quotes at length, their “overwhelming concern” is that Covid vaccine mandates are “creating an untouchable class of Canadians”.  The truckers, Maynard asserts are:

“…our moral conscience reminding us – with every blow of their horns – what we should have never forgotten: We are not a country that makes an untouchable class out of our citizens”.

This claim about the country Canada is doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, as the history of its indigenous peoples shows.  It also overlooks the fact that capitalism, by its nature, marginalises and ostracises people all the time.  Maynard, nonetheless, seems to have arrived at this view because he went out his front door, talked to some truckers and found that they are run-of-the-mill, friendly folk and not “a monstrous faceless occupying mob”.

It seems to me that Maynard sets up a false dichotomy: the ‘monstrous mob’ against the conscience of the nation.  On one side are the horn-honking, racist neo-Nazis, on the other the culturally diverse, polite, friendly folk he meets.  Maynard seems to accept a truckers’ claim that, “No one’s a Nazi here” and finds, “not a hint of anti-vax conspiracy theories or deranged ideology”.  During his stroll among the truckers Maynard doesn’t meet any racists, misogynists or Nazi’s. 

The implication is pretty clear. The, “white supremacists, racists, hatemongers, pseudo-Trumpian grifters, and even QAnon-style nutters” which, according to Maynard, the media say are encamped outside his window, are an invention of reporters remote from the blockade: they don’t really exist.  And yet reports of less than saintly behaviour by the truckers are not hard to find.  The Guardian, for instance, reports spreading anger at the protest among Ottawa residents and finds, “that truckers and their supporters had harassed or threatened locals”. Reuters, meanwhile, reports that:

  • Some convoy participants have been photographed with racist flags and accused by residents of vandalizing pro-LGBTQ businesses.
  • Cornerstone Housing for Women, an emergency shelter, said in a statement that “Women and staff are scared to go outside of the shelter, especially women of color.”

The reporter, Julie Gordon, adds that, “three women were heralded as heroes in shawls after a photo of them blocking a truck on a residential street went viral on social media”. She quotes one of the women, Marika Morris, as saying, “That was the only way to communicate that we don’t want them to terrorize us and we don’t want them to occupy our streets”.  Meanwhile Pam Palmater,  an Indigenous lawyer, contrasts the apparent reluctance of the police to remove the blockade with the policing of  indigenous people’s protests, “It’s OK if angry white men do it, because they are politically aligned with you, but it’s not OK if Indigenous people peacefully protect their own rights”.

All this amounts to a very different view of the protest from Maynard’s. These and other reports suggest to me that the picture is a lot more nuanced and contradictory than the one he paints.  They also raise the question of whose freedom the ‘Freedom Convoys’ are so determined to defend.  The vast majority (over 80%) of Canadians have been vaccinated against covid – as have most truckers.  Vaccination does not, of course stop transmission of the virus and it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get covid.  But it is very effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19  (Canada.ca).  Yet Maynard perversely claims that “refusal to take the vaccine, however misguided, only hurts the unvaccinated person”.  This is nonsense and suggests a very individualistic mindset.  Humans are, lest we forget, social beings who live in complex societies.  What we do, what happens to us, inevitably affects other people (e.g. health care professionals, friends and family). The freedom asserted by the protestors is individual freedom; it is, as George Monbiot puts it, “freedom from the decencies owed to other people, freedom from the obligations of civic life”.

Another reason why I’m wary of Tony’s endorsement of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ is the similarities the convoy has with the populist mob which stormed the US Capitol last January last year. Tracey Lindeman describes the Ottawa protest as “overwhelmingly white” and says that what began,

“as a demonstration against vaccine mandates for truckers… has morphed into protest against broader public health measures – and as a rallying point for both conspiracy theorists and opponents of the government of Justin Trudeau”.

According to ‘hate researcher’ Dan Panneton, the Ottawa convoy includes, “a motley array of Western separatists, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, antisemites, Islamophobes and other extremists”.  And, he says, “Several of the convoy organizers have a history of white nationalist and racist activism; and (according to George Monbiot) of attacks on trade unions.  The convoys have also been endorsed by the likes of Donald Trump and Elon Musk.   To all this Lindeman detects the ‘same undercurrent of populism’ as fed the Capitol insurrection’, “a powerful current fed by disinformation, conspiratorial thinking and deepening social divides”.

Monbiot depicts the Freedom Convoy as an ‘incoherent protest’, typical of recent popularist demonstrations.  These are, he says:  

“gatherings whose aims are simultaneously petty and grandiose. Their immediate objectives are small and often risible… The underlying aims are open-ended, massive and impossible to fulfil”. 

Thus the Freedom Convoy’s demands go from the lifting of vaccine mandates, to removal of all Covid related public health measures to removal of the government.  Monbiot says such movements are likely to occur in hard times, particularly with growing inequality. After decades of neo-liberalism the Covid pandemic, gave a further boost to inequality.  During the pandemic the world’s 10 richest men have more than doubled their wealth, while 163 million people have been pushed below the poverty line.  Inequality is socially corrosive; it eats away at solidarity and fosters individualism.  In doing so it plays to conspiracy theories.  It is after all true that, in the age of tech billionaires, a very wealthy, largely unaccountable elite wield enormous power.  

Truck drivers have not been spared the ravages of neo-liberalism: it’s a tough, insecure, badly paid job.  And the left is, as Tony says, weak, struggling to offer a convincing alternative to people on the wrong end of the growing social divide.  So it’s not hard to see why popularism might have its appeal. That’s one thing. Portraying the ‘Freedom Convoy’ as, “the spontaneous rise of struggle from below” which we should celebrate is another.

Dave Backwith

POSTSCRIPT

I cobbled this together last night and intended to put it up without further comment but time stands still for no person. The police have moved in and arrested some of the organisers. And, evidently, even my bank account is under threat of being frozen because I’ve sent a donation to the truckers and have supported ‘indirectly’ their protest. Perhaps this is what I have come to, a hapless supporter of violent, illegitimate right-wing insurrection. And, thus, I presume all those dismissive of the Freedom Convoy’s credentials can only welcome in the interests of democracy the ‘necessary’ assault on its presence and motives.

For what it is worth a lawyer, sympathetic to the protest, offers a differing interpretationto be viewed with a critical eye

And this Canadian writer, Matthew Ehret writes as follows to be read with a critical ear

Ottawa Freedom Convoy Tears Down Illusion of Democracy in North America

Fifty Years since Saltley and the Closing of the Gates

It’s a few days late, but not too late to remember the remarkable expression of solidarity displayed on the streets of Birmingham fifty years ago. It was a significant moment for me. In many ways, I was up my own arse in my obsessive focus on my athletic goals but the strain of self-centredness was beginning to tell. I was increasingly perturbed by the day-to-day inequalities haunting the lives of many of the children in the primary school, within which I taught. However, I didn’t really have a grip on any social or political analysis of the reasons for this social injustice. Being a miner’s son, though, meant that I was following the escalating dispute between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Tory government. I was confused but the gut feeling of respect and admiration prompted by the events of February 10th, 1972 marked a first stumbling step on my still unfinished political journey. There are more than a few, who think that my support for the growing collective resistance to the authoritarianism of the State today, however imperfect and contrary, is a sign that I’ve gone off the rails. I don’t think so and it’s interesting to quote Arthur Scargill, who I respected but never hero-worshipped, on his reading of the Battle of Saltley Gate.

To the eternal credit of the workers in Birmingham, they joined the miners on 10 February 1972.

These workers were not merely supporting a struggle on their own behalf: they were supporting their brothers and sisters in a struggle, not against an employer, but against the state.

On that day, everything I believed in, as a trade unionist and as a socialist, crystallised.

I would recommend this article by Emily Ingram in the Tribune for a revealing insight into memories of that momentous week – Fifty Years since the Battle of Saltley Gate

THE SALTLEY GATE MURAL – Thanks to news.limited

And to get a feeling of the atmosphere see this video from the outstanding Banner Theatre.