Saturday, 29 November 2008

Crusaders review on Bookgeeks: New URL

Purely for the purpose of one's private web archiving.

Mumbai: Patrick Cockburn's not soft on Pakistan

Looking over the early analysis of the Mumbai atrocity I might have been overly keen to hear something original, in the hope that it would prove more discerning. But in today's Independent the very reputable Patrick Cockburn weighs in to argue that the truth, banal and horrible, is that Pakistan is to blame, and that the Western powers and media are deliberately "downplaying foreign involvement. Indian allegations about "external linkages" of the terrorists is wearily reported as an unfortunate resumption of Pakistani-Indian finger pointing."
Backing Cockburn's contention, Sky continues to report that 'a number of Indian officials' place the blame on Lashkar-e-Taiba. Cockburn raises the spectre of Bush's long and forlorn courtship of Musharraf, and presumably believes the West is still trying to make an ally of a scorpion. He goes on to take issue with what we might call the Tariq Ali position of a few days ago: "… supposed experts now emphasise the alienation of Indian Muslims and suggesting that the origin of the terrorist assault on Mumbai is home grown, the fruit of the radicalisation of Indian Muslims by systematic discrimination against them by the Indian state."
He concludes: "…It is self-defeating hypocrisy for the West to lecture the Indian government now about not over-reacting and not automatically blaming the Pakistani government or some part of its security apparatus for Mumbai… It may be that the monster the ISI created is no long under its control, but it is ultimately responsible for what has happened."
I wonder if Cockburn thinks there is any negotiating with Pakistan on these matters - by India or Western powers? He suggests a big headache is on its way for President Obama. But we already know from the campaign how Obama feels about Pakistan's terror-by-proxy, don't we?

Friday, 28 November 2008

Crusaders noted in the Independent's choice of 2008 fiction

The Independent was very good to my debut novel on more than one occasion in 2008, and literary editor Boyd Tonkin's generous mention in the paper's year-end round-up gives me a spot in the midst of more distinguished company:
"In Crusaders (Faber, £8.99), Richard T Kelly used Newcastle politics on the eve of the New Labour landslide as the action and ideas-packed stage for a chronicle of change."

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mumbai: another day for the jackals

The ever more resonant image of India as a 21st century superpower has also had its attendant shadows and ghosts: such as the off-putting strangeness of India's systems of class, caste and religion, and the grim disparities of wealth so evident in Mumbai (which provide the premise and backdrop to the new hit movie Slumdog Millionaire.) Moreover, BBC Newsnight reported tonight that India has been taking its share of the pain of the global economic crisis – the stock market 50% down on the year, the rupee down 20%, £13 billion worth of investment pulled out - even before yesterday’s atrocity, and the loathsome CCTV pictures from Mumbai of those ghouls in sweatshirts and jeans, their backpacks heaving with grenades and spare magazines for the AK-47, stalking the softest of soft targets in hotels and train stations.
If, as they liked to say in the 1970s, 'political terror' is a form of 'communication', what are these ratbags trying to tell us? The rumoured hunting down of British and American passport-holders proposes one horrible interpretation – that these were Islamist jackals, unleashed from Pakistan or Kashmir or recruited by al-Qaeda, taking their glorious stand against the glaring evils of modernity and pluralist poly-ethnic democracy.
Tariq Ali, characteristically, and in Counterpunch, has countered the rush to this judgement: ‘The Lashkar-e-Taiba, not usually shy of claiming its hits, has strongly denied any involvement with the Mumbai attacks.’ Ali also sets out a list of grievances among Indian Muslims – ‘the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in shining Gujarat… supported by the Chief Minister of the State and the local state apparatuses’ and ‘the continuing sore of Kashmir.’ In short, Ali is warning India to get ready for the national angst of learning that these were homegrown murdering scum.
Shuja Nawaz draws a similar conclusion in the Huffington Post: ‘Chances are that this is a homegrown outfit’, and that they are "communicating" on behalf of ‘the Muslims of India, who despite being close to 150 million strong have a disproportionately tiny share of India's burgeoning wealth.’ But the real message Nawaz believes is being sent out is one designed to throttle some promising political progress, by the arousal of hatred: ‘This incident may spell danger for India-Pakistan relations at a time when a much-needed thaw seems to be emerging… Just one day before the attack, at a meeting in Islamabad of the Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan, an agreement was reached on a wide range of measures aimed at combating terrorism.’
Here's to that spirit and those measures, then, and let's be having them.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Recession: Hitting You Where You Live

The excellent today reports that Newcastle will be passing on the imminent reduction in the VAT rate to supporters buying match tickets. Cheapest adult admission now £29 - alright, it's not back to what your Da used to pay, but it's summat. Meanwhile, my bittersweet experience of buying the Guns n' Roses album at Woolies on Monday, reported at extravagant length below, has got a bit more bitter, with Woolworths today entering administration - presumably the end for 100s of stores and 1000s of jobs. My local store is 50 yards away, has been a huge boon for me and my family, and I'm really sad about what I fear will be its fate.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Chinese Democracy: one more for the old record collection, then

I went into a record shop today and bought a newly released record: a treat I used to give myself about three or four times a week back in my adolescence, and which I now do roughly once a year. To be strictly accurate, I went into Woolworth's (still there, at time of writing...) and bought a compact disc - that increasingly forlorn and discredited format that even in 1987 was being slated as 'the rich man's eight-track tape.'
Given this was my once-a-year musical treat, and the 'record' in question a much-anticipated collection by a bestselling artist, I was rather hoping to pluck a gleaming shrink-wrapped CD from some conspicuous cardboard tower right at front of store, then join a lively queue at the counter while the instore stereo blared out the opening track... But, no, I had to really search to find a display copy of Chinese Democracy in the humdrum racks of the CD section, a long way behind the top sellers from Pink and Dido, and the new one from the girl who won Strictly Come Dancing last year. Still, the 50-ish lady at the counter gave me a friendly smile: 'Guns and Roses', she murmured uncomprehendingly as she went to exchange my dummy case for the real goods.
Funnily enough, if I'd been listening to the Today programme this morning (though frankly I'd rather give myself an Axl-esque tattoo with a razor blade) I could have heard a discussion of the merits of said record by two 'rock critics' (scroll down) - no doubt some light sandwich filler between keen anticipation of the PBR (see entries passim).
Instead, when the time permitted, I had a look round the web and found quite a few droll and touching testimonies from American rock writers/fans who had wistful experiences much like my own Woolies moment at branches of the US retailer Best Buy, where Chinese Democracy went on sale exclusively on Sunday. Best Buy doesn't go in for 'midnight madness', so no excited queues there either... I've lost track of the funniest bit of writing I read in that vein, but this MTV report captures the general mood.
It should be said that Chuck Klosterman's review for The Onion has done the hard thinking for all of us oldsters on the preceding issue: "Chinese Democracy is (pretty much) the last Old Media album... the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file. This is the end of that."
How many more trips to Woolies for this old stager then? In the meantime, I like my new record a great deal and look forward to that all-important second play. Today I think the track I liked best was 'Better'.

Pre-Budget Report: Mark the Sequel

How do you like that fine old Tory campaigning poster (left) c. 1929?
Meanwhile, curious... Looking around the news sites this evening I learn that the BBC's online 'live text' coverage of the PBR was punctuated by citations of assorted bloggers, and that at 15:26 they edited together (rather sloppily) a chunk from my earlier post of today and stuck it up, amid comments from MPs and more regular/zealous political bloggers.
It's curious, too, to see the way this BBC coverage has since been combed by blogosphere invigilators, conspicuously Conservative (and calling their soul their own, one hopes) - one of whom I take to be the Mike Rouse who added a comment to that earlier post of mine, asserting that Cameron's 'bashing' in the polls was actually no such thing. It just goes to show that Cameron's Tories really boss the web these days when it comes to its coverage of politics.
I daresay it also goes to show why I'm not to be counted as a regular/zealous political blogger in the modern-day manner: namely, I don't belong to any party and I don't look at polls every day. I understand the latest from ICM has the Tories back up to 11 points in front? Over the last week I saw other polls had them variously in front by 3 or 5. But back at the start of October, weren't there Tory leads of 19 or 20?
Yeah, so I think I'll stand by my story - Cameron's lead has, on the whole, taken a bit of a bashing in the last eight weeks, so disturbing his composure somewhat, and hastened the striking of a few postures that he surely wouldn't have struck if matters had kept proceeding effortlessly in his favour post-Conference.
Meanwhile, the FT's sad verdict on the day's Big Question: "The route back to financial sustainability was unconvincing – both as individual measures and taken as a whole."
The FT also offers some succour for all those Tory watchmen who fear the slightest misunderstanding of their Party's no-doubt coherent, principled and undyingly popular (cf. ICM) stand in opposition to that shower of Scots taxers-and-spenders in government: "It is clear that the current strangeness in British politics of Labour proposing tax cuts while the Tories oppose them will be short-lived. The battle lines for the next election will again see Labour accused of increasing taxes to pay for its profligacy, despite the restraint implied in yesterday’s figures, while the Conservatives will face charges of slashing public services."
There you go then - business as usual. Now I'm just going to write a quick something about Guns n' Roses, which - with a bit of luck - might even provoke some Heavy Metal blogger/master of blogs out there to stick up a Comment in rebuttal, insisting that the best track on the album is actually 'Shackler's Revenge'...

Hey Hey, it’s Pre-Budget Report Day!

I have a distinctive recollection of what I felt, sitting in the big auditorium at last month’s Tory Conference, as George Osborne made that indigestive ‘grave’ face of his and asserted that Cameron’s (and his) Tory Party was committed to the principle of ‘sound money.’ I was thinking this was a very old-fashioned tune for a moderniser to be singing, but that presumably its cadences would delight the Tory faithful, and also play well on the news during a week when money, like many other allegedly solid objects, looked to be melting into air.
This week that tune is sounding creakier still, and yet at the same time no more ancient than the regime of John Major, when any weakness in sterling was held to be a mortal sin and a national disgrace. Today the present weakness of sterling is generally reckoned to be a necessary evil, per the Bank of England’s swingeing rate cuts. A weak pound offers a road to salvation. The Tories as a party seem to find this proposition terminally indigestible.
That Conference week, of course, was the last encouraging one (to date) that the Tories have enjoyed this Autumn, and even that was a rather nervy and rain-soaked affair that got pushed off the front pages by other Events. Today, incredibly, finds Brown and Darling riding a (shaky, treacherous) wave of momentum. ‘It is all very odd’, says today’s FT leader. ‘Here is a Labour government wanting to cut taxes, and a Conservative opposition braying nay… The government is taking a gamble but, on the face of it, it looks like the Tory gambit is riskier.’
I don’t believe Cameron believed any of this before his poll lead took a bashing… but it seems he’s now prepared to argue only for ‘fully funded’ tax cuts. Who can afford to wait around for that day that never comes? Meanwhile the Darling/Brown prescription seems to be a short, sharp fiscal stimulus to boost consumption (a cut in VAT, more income tax ‘allowance’ for the lower paid.) The sceptics will naturally ask what provisions this newly whizkid-like PM and Chancellor are making for our pathway back to fiscal prudence. As the Sun and many others are warning today, we the people are going to pay for all of this, fairly soon too. It’s all a bit too dramatic, really; a good job that it’s only our lives and livelihoods that are at risk here.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Paddy Considine: Winshill's Finest

Effin' top-of-the-range man, that Paddy Considine. I really, really enjoyed the onstage interview I did with him at the Encounters Festival in Bristol on Friday night - enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I rather messed up the running time of the evening by letting the conversation gan on a bit too long in-between the copious clips. But I don't think anybody really minded: you can get a drink in Bristol until quite late, after all.
Perhaps my only real infringement was to suggest to the audience near the end that, in light of the late finish, we needn't bother to look at a prepared clip of Paddy's work in Hot Fuzz... Well, they shouted that suggestion right down, so up went the clip and they laughed like gurgling drains all the way through it, followed by a huge ovation. There's a lesson for me, then: Never underestimate the size of the Pegg/Frost/Wright cult.
Paddy's own cult, of which I suppose I'm a keen member now, is pretty considerable too - lots of very young mad-keen people in the audience, all wanting autographs and arm-round-the-shoulder photos at the end, which is great, and Paddy was extremely gracious on that score. He was already up in the pantheon for me, having taken the time over dinner to say that he'd read my book on Alan Clarke a couple of times. That was exactly the purpose it was intended for.

Chelsea 0 Newcastle 0: Cakes all round!

The Telegraph subs are rather looking at matters through blue goggles to be titling their match report "Newcastle United cause Chelsea to lose two points with spoiling tactics", but then 'Paddy' Barclay's actual write-up is an even-handed affair that probably sums up what Toon fans will have taken from the game by way of encouragement. I can't agree with Barclay that "Newcastle’s 10th point in eight matches" constitutes grounds to say that "the threat of relegation, though still present, has receded." Stoke and Bolton won yesterday, Fulham drew with Liverpool. So, a nice and welcome point for NUFC then, but sadly worth no more than the one taken at home against Wigan, and it'll be fast forgotten should we get turned over at the Burra next weekend.
But this is what I like, as noted by Barclay: "What a player (Jose) Bosingwa is; with (Habib) Beye on the other side, it was arguable that we were watching the top two right-backs in the country. Beye’s display was described as ‘’magnificent’’ by Kinnear, who also lauded the centre-backs Sebastien Bassong (Taylor’s replacement) and Fabricio Coloccini."
Could this be the makings of a proper solid NUFC back-four? I've also liked Jose Enrique on the left, at times... though some say he's not got the grit for England's first division. But Bassong is looking pretty good, and Coloccini's really good games make you forget his occasional lapses. As for the man known as 'Whitley' Beye, it was my dream that he would boss it for the Toon as he used to do for Marseilles, and maybe now the hour hath come.

Penn biog sighted/cited in San Francisco

A short piece on Sean in relation to Milk appeared in the San Fran Chronicle this weekend, by one Steven Winn, and it made nice reference to my authorised biography of SJP, the US publication of which passed away like breath off a razor-blade back in 2005. "I guess if there's any responsibility that anybody in film or any of the arts has," Penn told Kelly, "it's being aware of the times you live in and making things that address them, whether you're making a statement or just shining a light on it. Or questioning it for yourself." I did always rather hope that the book would serve as a database for journalists looking to profile Sean without the usual cliches and hearsays and inconsistencies - though inevitably a lot of 'entertainment journalists' would rather persist with that mouldy old stuff than to try getting at the truth.
Steven Winn also quotes the following: "Sean has no limitations as an actor," Jack Nicholson once said of his friend and colleague (they worked together on the 2001 film "The Pledge"). "I always say, 'Really good actors, if the time came, they could play their own grandmother.' And Sean's one of those."" Were I a pedantic sort of a sod I would point out that in fact Nicholson said that to me, and it's just one of many such jewels of insight contained in Sean Penn: His Life and Times, blah blah, etc...