Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet, Publisher, Activist and Bedrock of the Beat Generation dead at 101.

 Lawrence Ferlinghetti,,poet, painter, activist, publisher (and co-owner) of the world-famous City Lights Bookstore and literary icon  died on Monday at his home, his son Lorenzo Ferlinghetti said. A month shy of his 102nd birthday, Ferlinghetti died " in his own room," holding the hands of his son and his son's girlfriend, "as he took his last breath." The cause of death was lung disease. Ferlinghetti had received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last week, his son said Tuesday Ferlinghetti epitomized the soul of San Francisco counterculture for generations of artists and writers. As the founder of City Lights, a bookstore and publisher that grew from a small, avant-garde press to a literary institution, he provided a bedrock of support for scores of groundbreaking writers, from the Beat Generation onwards, staunchly defending the work that risked erasure and oppression from authorities.
 “We intend to build on Ferlinghetti’s vision and honor his memory by sustaining City Lights into the future as a center for open intellectual inquiry and commitment to literary culture and progressive politics,” City Lights said in a statement“Though we mourn his passing, we celebrate his many contributions and give thanks for all the years we were able to work by his side. 
We love you, Lawrence.
 Often concerned with politics and social issues. Ferlinghetti's  work countered the literary elites definition of art and the artists role in the world. Though  imbued with the commonplace, his poetry cannot be simply described as polemic  or personal protest, for  it stands  on his craftmanship, thematics and grounding in tradition. An  activist who was  brave enough and daring to challenge peoples beliefs.His life  saw him act as a catalyst for numerous literary careers and for the Beat movement itself, publishing the early work of Allen Ginsberg,Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder.
Making poetry accessible to all, with his lucid views he has long watered my senses. I've admired his work since getting hold of copy of Penguin Modern Poets No 5 (where he was alongside Ginsberg and Gregorry Corso) His bookstore quickly became an iconic literary institution that  has embodied social change and literary freedom. A truly remarkable person, and a great inspiration.
The youngest of five children he was born Lawrence Monsanto Ferling in Yonkers, N.Y., on March 24, 1919. His Italian father, an estate agent who changed the family name after arriving in America, died before Lawrence was born. Soon after, his mother was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown and his family was split up.
Lawrence was sent to live with an uncle, Ludovic Monsanto, and his French-speaking wife, Emily, when he was 2. When the Monsantos’ marriage collapsed, Emily took Lawrence to France. When they returned to New York, she put Lawrence in an orphanage (of which his sole memory was "undercooked tapioca pudding") but later retrieved him. 
She took him to live in the Bronxville household of the wealthy Bisland family, which had hired her as a governess. But his life was ruptured again when Emily disappeared mysteriously, never to return.
The Bislands, who had lost a son, coincidentally named Lawrence, raised him like their own. They nurtured a love of books and sent him to private schools, but they were emotionally reserved and Lawrence, who would later dub himself the “Director of Alienation” in one of his poems, often felt lonely.
His happiest time came during the Depression when the Bislands sent him to board with another family, the Wilsons, and attend a Bronxville public school. He formed a close bond with one of the Wilson sons, played sports, had a paper route and was a Boy Scout. He also engaged in minor hooliganism with a group of street youths called the Parkway Road Pirates, whose activities brought certain ironies into his young life:

I got caught stealing pencils

from the Five and Ten Cent Store

the same month I made Eagle Scout

The shoplifting incident ended his idyll with the Wilsons. He was enrolled at the Mount Hermon prep school in Massachusetts, where he led a disciplined life of prayer, work and study. He discovered the work of Thomas Wolfe and later studied at Wolfe’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Ferlinghetti earned a bachelor’s degree in 1941.
Later that year, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy. He commanded a 30-man submarine chaser, part of the so-called "Donald Duck Navy" of tiny wooden craft, which were nonetheless entitled to call in as many supplies as a battleship – a loophole he used to request a full set of the Random House Modern Library and copious amounts of "medicinal" brandy. The war went by with Ferlinghetti "enjoying every minute of it", until as part of the American occupation in Japan, he toured Nagasaki after the atomic blast that killed 70,000 of its residents. The monstrous sights (“hands sticking out of the mud broken tea cups hair sticking out of the road”) turned Ferlinghetti into a pacifist and political activist.
After the war, he earned a master’s degree on the GI Bill at Columbia University.In 1946 he moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne where he received a doctorate.he met his future wife, Kirby, on the ship over. They had two children, Julie and Lorenzo, and separated in 1973, but remained close until Kirby's death in 2012. Though Ferlinghetti settled with Lorenzo in North Beach, for much of his life he travelled compulsively. "Why do I voyage so much? And write so little?" he once wrote, on a bus to Mexico. The answer may come from his nomadic childhood., Ferlinghetti moved several times during his childhood. 
In 1951, he arrived in San Francisco, where his work would pave the way for a national literary movement while stoking a vibrant local literary scene.In San Francisco, Ferlinghetti taught French, painted, wrote art reviews and translated the poetry of Jacques Prevert and Guillaume Apollinaire. In a 2019 interview with The Paris Review, he described what he first encountered there:
When I arrived in town the only bookstores were like Paul Elder’s, downtown. None of them had periodicals. I felt right from the beginning there was no locus for the literary community. These bookstores all closed at five o’clock, they weren’t open on the weekend. What’s a literary person supposed to do, where is he supposed to go? From the beginning, when Peter Dean Martin and I started City Lights Bookstore in 1953, our idea was to create a locus for the literary community. We used to run a one-inch ad in the San Francisco Chronicle saying, “A literary meeting place since 1953.” That was our original line.
He also launched a friendship with Kenneth Rexroth, dean of the avant-garde poets driving the city’s literary scene. whose show on the Berkeley community radio station KPFA captured his imagination. He told Interview in 2012:
He didn’t just review books, he knew every possible field-geology, astronomy, philosophy, logic, classics. It was a total education listening to him. It was a radical position. I used to go to his soirees on Friday nght. There were a lot of poets that would show up. He lived in the Fillmore District, which was black at that time. He lived at 250 Scott Street, above Jack’s Record Cellar. Anyway, Friday night soirees at his house were old and young, but just poets. That’s where I met Kerouac and [Neal] Cassady and Gregory Corso . . .
Ferlinghetti and Martin each invested $500 to open City Lights Pocket Book Shop in 1953 at 261 Columbus Avenue. The store sold only paperbacks, a bold choice for a time when publishers were not particularly invested in the format; the decision reflected Ferlinghetti’s belief in making literature accessible to a mass audience.The bookshop, renowned for its bohemian atmosphere and vast collections of international poetry, fiction, progressive political journals and magazines  in 1956 spawned a literary press, City Lights Publishers, aiming to encourage an “international, dissident ferment.”
He first encountered Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl" at a reading that same year. The following year, City Lights published it. (Ferlinghetti had given notice to the American Civil Liberties Union in advance.) Then, on June 7, 1957, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an intriguing headline on page two: "Bookshop Owner Surrenders." A warrant had been put out for Ferlinghetti's arrest, for printing and selling "obscene" materials.
The prosecutor, a self-proclaimed "specialist in smut cases", ignored Ginsberg's tragic, era-defining portrait of "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked", instead totting up the four-letter words. Unexpectedly, the judge – a conservative Sunday school teacher – found Ferlinghetti not guilty, declaring that unless a book "is entirely lacking in 'social importance' it cannot be held obscene".

 This victory for freedom of expression would  set a legal precedent for other authors who faced obscenity charges in subsequent years, including William S. Burroughs, D.H. Lawrence, and Henry Miller and cemented the idea of the Beat Generation. .
 Ferlinghetti pointed out that the Beats were self-mythologising from the start, because Ginsberg "was a very clever publicist for his group of poets. Without Allen Ginsberg there would not have been the Beat Generation. It was a creation in Allen Ginsberg's mind."
 He notably did not think of himself as a Beat poet, though others would assign him the label throughout his life; in a 2006 interview with The Guardian, he called himself “the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats.” 
When Ginsberg tried to push  Ferlinghetti to publish more of his friends, he replied: "I'm not out to run a press of Poets That Write Like Allen Ginsberg." To his credit, he didn't. City Lights soon established itself as a vital publisher of progressive, experimental, and high-quality literary projects, City Lights' eclectic list ranged from Denise Levertov. Malcolm Bradbury, William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Patchen and Pablo Picasso. As editor, Ferlinghetti had an eye for talent, sensitivity and patience. He wrote Frank O'Hara postcards for five years saying he would "starve" without a full manuscript for his Lunch Poems, before O'Hara finally handed one over. ("I am very happy that you have stayed hungry," wrote O'Hara. "Lunch is in toaster and I hope you like it.") 
Gregory Corso who he also published, ( once raided the shop till; Ferlinghetti calmly deducted the cash from his royalties).
Ferlinghetti would also release Jack Kerouac's Book of Dreams, prison writings by Timothy Leary and Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems. Whist Ferlinghetti had risked prison for Howl, he rejected William Burrough's  classic Naked Lunch worrying that publication would led to 'sure premeditated legal lunacy.
As a gathering space for artists and intellectuals, the City Lights Bookstore its events, along with Ferlinghetti himself, became a hub of collaboration, artistic invention, and literary dialogue.City Lights became a meeting point for Bohemian writers who refused to accept what Ferlinghetti dubbed the "Coca-Colonization" of America. 
City Lights' goal was not to promote "our gang" but to start "an international, dissident, insurgent ferment", open to hepcats and "Red Cats" (Soviet poets) alike. Shunning the "Beat" label, Ferlinghetti always preferred the term "wide-open" – which is how Pablo Neruda, another City Lights poet, described Ferlinghetti's verse when they met in Cuba in 1960.
There, over dinner, Ferlinghetti looked up to see a "big guy with beard wearing fatigues and smoking cigar come out of restaurant kitchen". It was Fidel Castro. The poet realised they had an acquaintance in common: "Soy amigo de Allen Ginsberg." This was enough to win him a "big smile" and a "soft handshake".
A self confessed moral anarchist and socialist, Ferlinghetti  never shied away from making his political beliefs known and using avenues such as poetry to express them. He has been credited with helping to bring poetry out of the academic arena and back to the public. He travelled widely, and in the ensuing years, Ferlinghetti intensified his political activities. He visited Chile and Cuba. He demonstrated against the Vietnam War and was arrested with 67 others, including folk singer Joan Baez, after participating in a 1967 protest at an Oakland Army induction center. Ferlinghetti's activism did not fade away like that  psychedelic summer of '67, it lived on in his words and deeds. In 2012, he turned down a literary award partly funded by Hungary’s government due to concerns about human rights in the country.  , And on  the day in 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq, he closed the bookshop in protest.
To be disengaged is to be dead,” he once said in a critique of the Beat philosophy of detachment.
City Lights expanded in 1987 to include a revered poetry room which encourages readers to enjoy their books before purchasing. Ferlinghetti  also defied history. The internet, superstore chains and high rents shut down numerous booksellers in the Bay Area and beyond, but City Lights remained a thriving political and cultural outlet, where one section was devoted to books enabling "revolutionary competence," where employees could get the day off to attend an anti-war protest. 
"Generally, people seem to get more conservative as they age, but in my case, I seem to have gotten more radical," Ferlinghetti told Interview magazine in 2013. "Poetry must be capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this means sounding apocalyptic." 
The bookstore is so important to San Francisco culture that during the coronavirus outbreak, when it was forced to close and required $300,000 to stay in business. A GoFundMe campaign quickly raised $400,000.
Ferlinghetti published more than 30 books of poetry in his lifetime. His work, including the well-known poem “Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower,” often explicitly dealt with the social and political upheavals of the late 20th century,his  collection A Coney Island of the Mind  published by New Directions in 1958, received mixed reviews from critics. Typical was Harvey Shapiro’s critique in the New York Times, which called it “a grab bag of undergraduate musings about love and art, much hackneyed satire of American life and some real and wry perceptions of it.” Yet it remains one of the most-read books of modern American poetry, and is one of the best-selling poetry collections of all time, according to City Lights. A well thumbed copy is among my bookcases. In “A Coney Island of the Mind” he wrote several poems with jazz accompaniment in mind. He recorded two of the poems , “Autobiography” and “Junkman’s Obbligato” with the Cellar Jazz Quintet of San Francisco on a 1957 album with Rexroth called “Poetry Readings in the Cellar.”

Serious critics and even some of his friends dismissed him. Corso and others in the Beat circle “consider me a business man with a loose pen,” he wrote in a letter to Ginsberg included in the 2015 volume “I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, 1955-1997.”
His admirers (which I definitely consider myself to be one) have been vociferous in their admiration. Well into his 80s, Ferlinghetti performed his poetry on college campuses, where audiences greeted him like a rock star, shouting out the titles of favorite poems. Hundreds showed up at City Lights for his 100th birthday in 2020. To celebrate Ferlinghetti's  birthday, its storefront displayed a line from his manifesto "Poetry as Insurgent Art" (2007): "Paper may burn but words will escape." 
 Among the events at City Lights' was a celebration of Little Boy, Ferlinghetti's newly released, stream-of-consciousness novel. Ferlinghetti had been working on the book for close to a dozen years before it was released in 2019. It was mostly written by hand, due to his dwindling eyesight, but otherwise he was known to be in fairly good health. The book was a fictionalized account of the author’s life growing up. Ferlinghetti's assistant, Garrett Caples, also an editor and poet, said in an interview back then that Little Boy showed how the author filtered through his own experiences as he wrestled with the cosmic questions facing a 100-year-old man, such as "What is life all about?" The publisher Doubesday
said it was “a story, steeped in the rhythmic energy of the beats, gleaming with Whitman’s visionary spirit, channeling the incantatory power of Proust and Joyce.”
Ferlinghetti, tall and bearded, with sharp blue eyes, could be soft-spoken, even introverted and reticent in unfamiliar situations. But he was the most public of poets and his work wasn't intended for solitary contemplation. It was meant to be recited or chanted out loud, whether in coffee houses, bookstores or at campus gatherings. "I have committed the sin of too much clarity,” he told a biographer, reflecting  on the critical neglect. Poetry, he wrote in “Americus, Book I” (2004), “is eternal graffiti in the heart of everyone.
 His other collections include Pictures of the Gone World (1955)  Endless Life(1984)  Selected Poems (1981). These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems, 19551993A Far Rockaway of the Heart (1997), Poetry as Insurgent Ar (2007), and Time of Useful Consciousness  (2012). He also  wrote plays, novels and broadsides, notably “Tyrannus Nix” (1969), an attack on the Richard M. Nixon presidency.
Whilst the poets of the Beat Generation garnered much of the attention at the time, Ferlinghetti’s own poetry was based firmly in the lyric, narrative traditions of the past. His theme was often the common man and the broken promise of democracy and how the individual thrives as part of the masses. 
 Few poets of the past 60 years were so well known, or so influential. His books sold more than 1 million copies worldwide, a fantasy for virtually any of his peers, and he ran one of the world's most famous and distinctive bookstores, City Lights. Although he never considered himself one of the Beats, he was a patron and soul mate and, for many, a lasting symbol. 
 Ferlinghetti began his career at a revolutionary time in arts and music. In 1994, he still believed art could make a difference. "I really believe that art is capable of the total transformation of the world, and of life itself," he said. "And nothing less is really acceptable. So I mean if art is going to have any excuse for, beyond being a leisure-class plaything — it has to transform life itself."
Through more than half a century of writing and publishing, Lawrence Ferlinghetti did. 
Despite Ferlinghetti's eyesight being  poor in recent years,  he continued to write and to keep regular hours at City Lights. The establishment, meanwhile, warmed to him, even if the affection wasn't always returned. He was named San Francisco's first poet laureate, in 1998, and City Lights was granted landmark status three years later. He received an honorary prize from the National Book Critics Circle in 2000 and five years later was given a National Book Award medal for "his tireless work on behalf of poets and the entire literary community.
"The dominant American mercantile culture may globalize the world, but it is not the mainstream culture of our civilization," Ferlinghetti said upon receiving the award. "The true mainstream is made, not of oil, but of literarians, publishers, bookstores, editors, libraries, writers and readers, universities and all the institutions that support them."
"Poetry should be dissident and subversive and an agent for change" wrote Ferlinghetti in his 2007 book, Poetry as Insurgent Art "Question everything and everyone, including Socrates, who questioned everything, Strive to change the world in such a way there is no need to be need dissident, A natural-born nonviolent enemy of the state,"
 Ferlinghetti also suggested that every poet must decide whether birdsong is joyous or sad, "by which you will know if you are a tragic or a lyric poet". Readers of Ferlinghetti's poetry, often funny, always alive with music, and "constantly risking absurdity" – might have imagined him to be in the lyric camp. But the final words of Little Boy make his choice clear: "the cries of birds now are not cries of ecstasy but cries of despair"..
Throughout Ferlinghetti’s long life, the revolutionary poet and born maverick had been beholden to none. Part of his nonconformist side was revealed in the courage he displayed in defending freedom of the press at a time when few did so. A poet and publisher with a conscience, producing clear, direct, redeeming work about social responsibility, beauty, and spirit. Ferlinghetti’s poetry welcomed me and millions of readers to art and the idea that it can have a meaningful impact on the world.As an iconoclast and provocateur, he actually shared the same principles as the beats, in that poetry and literature and poetry can serve as a cultural counterforce for change
And though  saddened immensely by his passing, Ferlinghetti at least gracefully outlived all his flashier friends and contemporaries. He never disintergrated ,like Jack Kerouac into 'drunk uncle ; rants about how 'hoodlums and communists' were infiltrating his Beat movement,; and he never grew obsessed with his own mythology, like Allen Ginsberg, endlessly recounting how the 'best minds' of his generation just coincidentally happened to hang out with him. He was a  modest man of great dignity. And unlike many Fifties-era radicals, Ferlinghetti never shrank from promoting socialist principles on the world stage as a poet, an activist, a publisher and a businessman, repeatedly calling out the crimes of the American empire, from Eisenhower and Johnson to Obama and Trump,
Ultimately Ferlinghetti deployed his many talents in support of world peace, equality and justice, subsequently his  rich legacy is guaranteed, he will forever be remembered  as a significant figure in contributing to the betterment of society.  Ferlinghetti is survived by his son, Lorenzo; a daughter, Julie Sasser; and three grandchildren. In  these dark days  I am reminded that some manifestos still matter,  thank you Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Rest in power. 
Populist Manifesto No,1 - Lawrence Ferlinghgetti  (1976) 
 Poets, come out of your closets,
Open your windows, open your doors,
You have been holed-up too long
in your closed worlds.
Come down, come down
from your Russian Hills and Telegraph Hills, 
your Beacon Hills and your Chapel Hills,
your Mount Analogues and Montparnasses, 
down from your foothills and mountains, 
out of your teepees and domes. 
The trees are still falling
and we’ll to the woods no more. 
No time now for sitting in them 
As man burns down his own house 
to roast his pig
No more chanting Hare Krishna 
while Rome burns.
San Francisco’s burning, 
Mayakovsky’s Moscow’s burning 
the fossil-fuels of life. 
Night & the Horse approaches
eating light, heat & power, 
and the clouds have trousers. 
No time now for the artist to hide 
above, beyond, behind the scenes, 
indifferent, paring his fingernails, 
refining himself out of existence
No time now for our little literary games, 
no time now for our paranoias & hypochondrias, 
no time now for fear & loathing, 
time now only for light & love. 
We have seen the best minds of our generation 
destroyed by boredom at poetry readings. 
Poetry isn’t a secret society, 
It isn’t a temple either. 
Secret words & chants won’t do any longer.
The hour of oming is over, 
the time of keening come, 
a time for keening & rejoicing 
over the coming end
of industrial civilization
which is bad for earth & Man.
Time now to face outward 
in the full lotus position 
with eyes wide open, 
Time now to open your mouths 
with a new open speech, 
time now to communicate with all sentient beings, 
All you ‘Poets of the Cities’ 
hung in museums including myself,
All you poet’s poets writing poetry 
about poetry, 
All you poetry workshop poets 
in the boondock heart of America, 
All you housebroken Ezra Pounds, 
All you far-out freaked-out cut-up poets, 
All you pre-stressed Concrete poets, 
All you cunnilingual poets, 
All you pay-toilet poets groaning with graffiti, 
All you A-train swingers who never swing on birches, 
All you masters of the sawmill haiku in the Siberias of America, 
All you eyeless unrealists, 
All you self-occulting supersurrealists, 
All you bedroom visionaries and closet agitpropagators, 
All you Groucho Marxist poets 
and leisure-class Comrades 
who lie around all day and talk about the workingclass proletariat, 
All you Catholic anarchists of poetry, 
All you Black Mountaineers of poetry, 
All you Boston Brahims and Bolinas bucolics, 
All you den mothers of poetry, 
All you zen brothers of poetry, 
All you suicide lovers of poetry, 
All you hairy professors of poesie, 
All you poetry reviewers 
drinking the blood of the poet, 
All you Poetry Police –
Where are Whitman’s wild children, 
where the great voices speaking out 
with a sense of sweetness and sublimity, 
where the great new vision, 
the great world-view, 
the high prophetic song 
of the immense earth 
and all that sings in it 
And our relations to it –
Poets, descend 
to the street of the world once more 
And open your minds & eyes 
with the old visual delight,
Clear your throat and speak up, 
Poetry is dead, long live poetry 
with terrible eyes and buffalo strength. 
Don’t wait for the Revolution 
or it’ll happen without you, 
Stop mumbling and speak out 
with a new wide-open poetry 
with a new commonsensual ‘public surface’ 
with other subjective levels 
or other subversive levels, 
a tuning fork in the inner ear 
to strike below the surface. 
Of your own sweet Self still sing 
yet utter ‘the word en-masse –
Poetry the common carrier 
for the transportation of the public 
to higher places
than other wheels can carry it. 
Poetry still falls from the skies 
into our streets still open. 
They haven’t put up the barricades, yet, 
the streets still alive with faces, 
lovely men & women still walking there, 
still lovely creatures everywhere, 
in the eyes of all the secret of all 
still buried there, 
Whitman’s wild children still sleeping there, 
Awake and walk in the open air

Monday, 22 February 2021

Sailing against the wind

(Dedicated to Matt Hancock)

Life is a constant battle, in the evening it's always dark
Old friends and lovers, gone forever, now just a spark,
On worlds stage, games play on, degrees of separation
In times of sorrow some planting seeds of division,
Leaving afternoons of waiting, searching for meaning
To sustain and nurture, overtake certain kinds of feeling,
While many in amazement gaze as truth lays bare
Tory Politicians mangling without a fucking care,
Liars and thieves in control that  keep on deceiving
The darkness takes hold, after voices distorting,
We must remember to find strength, never stop fighting 
As springs flowers and releases beautiful offering,
Best keep hanging around and know where to cast the blame
Beyond their deceit, we have no need to hang heads in shame,
Full of hearts of anger, running empty on fuel
The flicker of hope, keeps delivering beyond the gruel,
We cant afford to let go, until the shit finally ends
Cling on to the power of veracity that always extends.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Can't Get You Out of My Head - An Emotional History of the Modern World (2021)


The highly anticipated new work from journalist and Bafta award-winning filmmaker, Adam Curtis  premiered exclusively on BBC iPlayer on 11 February 2021.
Spanning eight hours over six episodes, the series presents an audacious and frequently mind-boggling attempt to explain how we got to the present moment: turbulent and chaotic times in which nothing ever fundamentally seems to change, during which those in power have lost the ability either to make sense of it or offer a way out to something better. It is an exploration of how, throughout history, different characters from all over the world have sought to break through the stasis and corruption of their time and transform reality – and how very often in so doing, have unleashed powerful forces that would ultimately lead to their destruction. And why both those in power - and we - find it so difficult to move on.
The films trace different forces across the world that have led to now, not just in the West, but in China and Russia as well. It covers a wide range - including the strange roots of modern conspiracy theories, the history of China, opium and opiods, the history of Artificial Intelligence, melancholy over the loss of empire and, love and power. And explores whether modern culture, despite its radicalism, is really just part of the new system of power.
Adam Curtis says: “These strange days did not just happen. We - and those in power - created them together.”
The world is an exciting, maddening and confusing place. As a documentary-maker and visual historian, Adam Curtis' films have been a perfect cipher for those elements to run wild. Packed with eclectic soundtracks and images that tantalise, horrify and baffle, allied to Curtis' simultaneously soothing and scary narration of his own scripts, his work begins with a grand theme and aims to throw as much at the wall as possible in order to build up a picture that persuades the viewer of his case.
The joy of an Adam Curtis film resides in following his journey which is never less than richly coloured and compactly detailed, with surprising (and yes, extraordinary) stories of those who often played a marginal role alongside the real players of history. So we have the tragic arc of Mao's seemingly Machiavellian wife Jiang Qing, or social activist Michael X, the UK's wannabe Malcolm X, who ended up paying a terrible price for his own vaulting ambitions and psychological flaws.
We are indeed living through strange days. Across Britain, Europe and America societies have become split and polarised. There is anger at the inequality and the ever growing corruption - and a widespread distrust of the elites. Into this has come the pandemic that has brutally dramatised those divisions. But despite the chaos, there is a paralysis - a sense that no one knows how to escape from this.
 Few documentary filmmakers care more about music than Adam Curtis. Since his award winning 2002 film, The Century of the Self, Curtis’ baroque style has returned – year on year – to haunt the BBC airwaves like a spectre, each time supported by an extraordinary soundtrack. Reportedly, Curtis delayed the release of his new six-part series, Can’t Get You Out of My Headbecause he couldn’t think of the right song to end it on. 
If you sit down to Can't Get You Out Of My Head to receive all the answers about this mystifying planet, ultimate frustration lies in wait.Adam Curtis is after all a  populist and a lot of what he offers  is pure escapism.and a form of ambient soup. But nevertheless does allow us to learn some intriguing unheard stories and raise many  questions  it's also totally mesmerising, so different from the norm that we usually see, so much needed right now in the current climate, so cheers Adam Curtis.

All episodes available now on BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Remembering the White Rose Movement and their brave non-violent resistance to Nazi Germany

 Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, White Rose Society 1943

The morality of every person dictates the innate wrongness of genocide, and yet the world stood by as the Nazis sent millions to the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Historians and social scientists often attribute this moral failure to the blissfully feigned ignorance of the German people, enveloped in a blanket of fear propagated by the Nazi regime, and the indifference and prejudice of other nations. Yet a few brave college students in Munich proved to the world that conscientiousness still existed in the Fatherland. It is for their willingness to die to end the silence that The White Rose Movement has since become legendary.
The White Rose Movement was an informal group made up of students who attended Munich University and their professor who sought to oppose the war, Hitler and the fascist Nazi regime with non-violent resistance. It was founded in early 1942 by Hans Scholl, Willia Graf and Christoph Probst after the mass deportation of jews had begun, who were fully aware of the atrocities that were being committed against certain non-Aryan minorities. They had seen clearly the loss of liberty, the shredding of human rights, and the disturbing reality that the war was probably already lost. By the summer of 1942, knowing  that resisting Hitler in any form was a capital crime, and who were fully aware of the existence of Nazi concentration camps and that hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been murdered in them, to keep secrecy under these extremely dangerous circumstances  kept membership of their group very small.They took their name, The White Rose, from the book La Rosa Blanca, about struggling campesinos rising up against capitalist landowners in Mexico.
Between June 1942 and February 1943, they prepared, wrote and distributed six different leaflets, in which they called for the active opposition of the German people to Nazi oppression and tyranny and clandestinely distributed them across Munich.
The leaflets of the White Rose contained messages, such as :- ”Nothing is so unworthy of a nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by a clique that has yielded to base instinct…Western civilization must defend itself against fascism and offer passive resistance, before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield.”
However, this was Nazi Germany which kept a high degree of surveillance on any resistance activity and there were informants everywhere. After leaflets were found in the University of Munich, the local Gestapo stepped up its efforts to catch the resistors. Hans, Willi and Alex also began a grafitti campaign painting anti-Nazi slogans like "Freedom" and "Down with Hitler," and drew crossed-out swastikas on buildings in Munich.
On February 18, 1943, members of the group including Hans sister, Sophie Scholl were arrested distributing anti-fascist leaflets at Munich University. Sophie and Hans were interrogated by Nazi officials and despite trying to protect each other, on February 22, 1943 were bought before the Peoples Court which had been set up try people accused of political offences against the Nazi state. The trial was presided over by Roland Freisler, chief justice of the People’s Court of the Greater German Reich. Freisler was an ardent Nazi and with great vigour and a manic intensity, frequently roared denunciations at the accused.
Despite the hostility, and appearing in court with a broken leg after her interrogation. Sophie replied to the court,“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”
She also said:“You know the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it?”
No defence witnesses were called and, after what amounted to a short show trial, the judge passed a guilty verdict, with a sentence of death. The sentence was to be carried out early the next morning by guillotine.
Walter Roemer, the chief of the Munich district court, supervised the execution, he later described Sophie’s courage in facing her execution. He reports that Sophie’s last words were:-
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

 Susanne Hirzel

Gestapo photographs of Sophie Scholl (18th February, 1943)

The guards were impressed with the courage of the resistors, and relaxed the rules to allow Hans, Christoph and Sophie to meet before their execution. After the execution of Sophie, Hans and Christoph, the Gestapo continued their relentless investigation.

 Susanne Hirzel

Gestapo photographs of Christope Probst  (20th February, 1943)

Later that same year other members of the White Rose, Alexander Scmorell, Willi Graf and Kurt Huber were also tried and executed. Most of the other students convicted for their part in the group's activities received prison sentences.
Before their deaths members had believed that their executions would stir other university students and other anti-war citizens into a rallying call against Hitler and the war, but accounts clearly suggest sadly that most university students continued their studies as usual, the public said nothing, many actually seeing the movement as treacherous and as anti-national such was the grip of madness in Nazi Germany at the time.
Yet reports of mass killings of Jews, were widely shared by members of the White Rose. This features in the second White Rose pamphlet :- "Since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity…Germans encourage fascist criminals if no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds. An end in terror is preferable to terror without end.”
The members of the White Rose remain heroes who sacrificed their lives for the basic principles of freedom and the preservation of human dignity, and a potent symbol of how people can take a courageous action to resist,speak out ,even against the most brutal totalitarian regimes. Today again those with conscious must defend itself against the dark forces of fascism and offer resistance.
This is an archive of their leaflets:

Monday, 15 February 2021

Celebrated Palestinian Poet Mourid Barghoutti dies at the age of 76

The celebrated Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, died on Sunday at the age of 76.There has been no immediate announcement on the cause of his death. On his official Facebook page, his son, the well known poet Tamim Al Barghouti, mourned his father. 
Barghouti, was born on the 8th of July in 1944 in the mountainous village of Deir Ghassanah, west of the River Jordan in Palestine. The cluster of villages was dominated by the Barghouti clan (the name he delights in means flea) of politicians, poets and landowners. His father worked the land, then joined the Jordanian army. Aged four when the state of Israel was declared, Barghouti learned of the Palestinian nakbah, or catastrophe, as non-Barghoutis with different dialects appeared in his village. "I was told they were refugees. The story unfolded of the destruction of villages, and the policy of ethnic cleansing that drove them away." Hearing of a massacre at Deir Yassin in April 1948 was "the nakbah for me as a child - stories of those killed in cold blood that were disseminated all over Palestine. They were meant to be, to encourage people to flee". The second of four brothers, he moved with his family to Ramallah, aged seven. At school he admired the Iraqi modernist poet of the late 40s, Badr Shakir Al Sayyab, who broke the classical Arabic poem that had survived for 15 centuries unchanged, during the surge of Arab liberation movements against British and French occupation.
He moved to Cairo in 1963 to study English literature at Cairo University and graduated in 1967, after which he didn’t go back to Ramallah for 30 years. It  was in Cairo that he met the love of his life, the Egyptian novelist Rawda Ashour who he married in 1970, staying together until her death in December 2014.In 1977 he was deported from Egypt after his opposition to the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The poet headed for Beirut, then left in 1981 for Budapest, where he lived for 13 years. He returned to Egypt in 1994 to be reunited with his wife and son.
He visited his birthplace in Palestine only after the peace agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1993.The event inspired his autobiographical novel Ra’aytu Ram Allah (I Saw Ramallah), published by Bloomsbury in 2004 in a translation by Ahdaf Soueif, that first won him an international audience.It was translated to English by his late wife..The book won him the Naguib Prize in Literature in 2017. The late Edward Said saw it as “one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement” 
Reflecting on crossing the bridge from Jordan to his West Bank birthplace in 1996 after 30 years' exile - a visit under Israeli control that he refused to call a return - he described a condition of permanent uprootedness and the harrowing experience of a Palestinian who is denied the most elemental human rights in his occupied country, and in exile alike. It provided a view of Palestine that has been dispossessed and changed beyond recognition by usurpers. All writing, for him, was a displacement, a striving to escape from the "dominant used language" and the "chains of the tribe - its approval and taboos".
 I Saw Ramallah, was followed by another book I Was Born There, I Was Born Here after Barghouti returned to the Occupied Territories. Barghouti weaved into his account of exile poignant evocations of Palestinian history and life - the pleasure of coffee, arriving at just the right moment and as an exile, the importance of being able to say, 'I was born here', rather than 'I was born there'.
In all Barghouti published 12 poetry books in Arabic since the early 1970s, as well as a 700-page Collected Works (1997). Midnight and Other Poems was his first major collection in English translation.
He reflected on the cruelty of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, in particular the siege of Jenin in 2002 and wrote, “We have been subjected to massacres at intervals throughout our lives. Thus we find ourselves competing in a race between quickly realized mass death and the ordinary life that we dream of every day. One day, I will write a poem called “It´s Also Fine.”

It’s also fine to die in our beds
on a clean pillow
and among our friends.
It’s fine to die, once,
our hands crossed on our chests
empty and pale
with no scratches, no chains, no banners,
and no petitions.
It’s fine to have an undusty death,
no holes in our shirts,
and no evidence in our ribs.
It’s fine to die
with a white pillow, not the pavement, under our cheeks,
our hands resting in those of our loved ones,
surrounded by desperate doctors and nurses,
with nothing left but a graceful farewell,
paying no attention to history,
leaving this world as it is,
hoping that, someday, someone else
will change it.

His poems were translated into several languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Russian. He read his poetry and exhibited his books around he world, and lectured on Palestinian and Arab poetry at universiiies in Oxford, Manchester, Oslo, and Madrid, among others.
Although he was a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Barghouti did not identify with any political party. He spent years as the body's cultural attache in Budapest.Few poets managed to evoke the existential complexities of living in exile and being stranded from a homeland as eloquently as Barghouti did. Barghouti reflected on his life under many regimes, seeing and witnessing in them all the corruption of power and at the same time the indomitable courage and resilience of the Palestinian people, their daily acts of resistance to occupation who in  just trying to live a normal life is an act of resistance. .
The homeland does not leave the body until the last moment, the moment of death.The fish, Even in the fisherman's net, Still carries The smell of the sea."” Mourid Barghouti wrote in his award-winning autobiographical novel I Saw Ramallah. the quote is now one of many by Barghouti being shared online as people pay tribute to the Midnight poet.
The Palestinian Minister of Culture, Atef Abu Seif, mourned the late poet, saying that Palestinian and Arab culture had lost with his death “a symbol of creativity and the Palestinian national cultural struggle.
Abu Seif pointed out that Mourid Barghouti was “one of the creative people who devoted their writings and creativity in defense of the Palestinian cause, the story and struggle of our people, and Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian existence.”
 He may have envisioned his homeland leaving his body upon death, but his contributions to Palestine and Arab literature will survive long after he is gone. However, his death marks a great loss not just to Arab poetry but to world literature as a whole. Mourid Barghotti Rest in Power.
 “People like poetry only in times of injustice—times of communal silence—times when they are unable to speak or act. Poetry that whispers and suggests—can only be felt by free men.

"Silence said:/truth needs no eloquence./After the death of the horseman,/ the homeward-bound horse/says everything/ without saying anything." -  Mourid Barghotti

Friday, 12 February 2021

There is always Beauty

There is always beauty to comfort
More precious than silver or gold,
Harmonious thoughts passing through
Beyond the troubled world that contains us ,
Songs of hope to advocate and release
The power of love, affection, peace,
Cloudbursts of honesty and integrity
Gifts of protection, care, sincerity, 
The  flickering constellations of stars
Planets, moons, and rain that showers,
Laughter that keeps escaping our lungs
Dreams of better times, soothing tonques,
Voices of truth and reason in every season
Doggedly working, shielding us with light,
In trees, the breeze, rippling leaves
Passion bringing corrupt governments to knees,
Blooming flowers on a clear spring day
To relieve the tensions impaling our way
Good samaritans with hearts of kindness
Delivering  phone calls to console the lonely,
Air full of fragrances of love and passion 
The warmth of companionship and solidarity.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Tom Paine's Bones

Thomas Paine was an English/American political activist, author and political theorist, whose words helped shape modern Britain and France, Born to a Quaker family of Thetford, England, on January 29th , 1737 ( or February 9th, 1737 according the Gregorian calender) ,the son of an artisan, he was well educated at Thetford Grammar School but soon chafed at the constraints of his home town. His chequered career eventually led him to the American colonies where he emigrated in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin. There he found his calling, as a revolutionary writer.
 Thomas Paine played a crucial part in the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789, after his popular pamphlets Common Sense and The American Crisis swept through the Western worlds, both new and old, placing before the public eye in simple, yet dramatic terms, the virtues of self-government and individual liberty.
On  January 10 1776, his pamphlet Common Sense  was published for the first time ( though anonymously,because of its treasonous content.). Here he delivered his uncompromising message to the common people, which set the seeds for the American  Revolution.In this important document, he passionately urged the American to create a new form of government - a modern republic, based entirely on popular consent. He believed all men were born equal, so saw no need for Kings and Queens, he also distinguished  between governments and society, at the root of all governments is evil but the root of society lay good. The pamphlet called for the end of British tyranny in the American colonies and a break with a country ruled by kings. Common Sense made its appearance at a crucial moment as the debate for American independence reached a tipping point.
Common Sense ignited a wildfire.The numbers were astonishing—150,000 copies were in print within a few months (roughly equivalent to 15 million copies today). But its real impact can best be measured in the way that colonists from Massachusetts to South Carolina moved in the direction that Paine prescribed. “Without the pen of Paine,” as one contemporary wrote, “the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.” 
He became a champion of equality and liberty and went on to support struggles in Britain and France, he  despised tyranny and oppression, the divine right of kings, organised religion, the death penalty and slavery.  He loved reason, freedom, the emancipation of mankind and was the first person to coin the term “the United States of America” and to use the term “democracy” as something other than a pejorative.
 Paine thought the revolution in America did not go far enough since it did not abolish black slavery and he thought the revolution in France went too far since it became entrenched in medieval violence and bloodshed. He took bold private stands in both revolutions against his own friends, colleagues and comrades, never willing to compromise his conscience, but always ready to go it alone if that’s where the courage of his convictions took him – and it nearly always did.
Returning to Europe in 1787, and in response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, he published his most famous work, The Rights of Man, 1791-2,  dedicated to Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, Rights of Man extensively lays out Paine’s Republican utopianism and envisions a society where man’s natural rights are respected, all forms of hereditary government such as monarchy and aristocracy are abolished, and the welfare of the poor are taken care of. Paine’s work resulted in him receiving honorary French citizenship as a reward, as well as a seat on the French Constitutional Committee.
Paine fled to France and was briefly elected to the French National Convention. Imprisoned in the Bastille for opposing the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, Sentenced to death by Robespierre, he escaped his fate only by a miraculous accident (the executioners marked his cell door on the wrong side). Free again, Paine lashed out at President Washington, whom he blamed for not coming to his rescue.This alone would have been enough to secure his lasting ignominy in America, but Paine had more in mind. 
In 1795, he released the final, and most daring, chapter of his classic trilogy. The Age of Reason, an attack on traditional religion and the Christian church, made him one of history’s great apostates. He returned to America in 1802, his promotion of the concept of human rights greatly influenced the American Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
However scurrilous attacks followed him in his waning years. It was symbolically appropriate that, as he tottered around New York City, he could find no place to be buried. (Even the arch liberal Quakers spurned his request.) His last years in America often depressed, drunk and in poverty. When he died on the 8th of Jine 1809, tragically only six people attended his funeral in New Rochelle, New York, and his tombstone was desecrated soon afterward.
His isolated grave was all but forgotten until a onetime foe, then later admirer, radical newspaper editor William Cobbett, dug up his skeleton, without permission ten years after his death. Cobbett was horrified when he visited Paine’s neglected grave in 1819 and deeply felt that the man had not been given his posthumous due. He decided that since America had turned its back on its revolutionary hero, he would rebury him in England,with grand plans for a memorial that would inspire England’s democracy movement.
After disinterring Paine’s grave, he shipped the bones in a common merchandise crate and predicted their momentous effect. “…those bones will effect the reformation of England in Church and State.” Unfortunately for Cobbett, the bones failed to stir England and Cobbett became a laughingstock, the subject of vicious caricatures and grim jokes.
Despite Cobbett’s noble motive, the public responded in horror to the desecration of the grave, especially because of the surreptitious way he went about it. Lord Byron even wrote about the incident, which was quoted at the time:

“In digging up your bones, Tom Paine,
Will Cobbett has done well;
You visit him on earth again;
He’ll visit you in hell”

 The memorial never materialized and when Cobbett died a bankrupt in 1835, Paine’s bones remained above ground, in debtor’s limbo. Surviving the auctioneer’s hammer as a matter of taste, different fragments or parts of Paine’s bones were then over time dispersed and scattered over four corners of the earth.Parts of Paine might still be in England, possibly in the form of buttons made from his bones. There might be a rib in France. A man in Australia who claims to be a descendant says he has Paine’s skull. No one really knows where the skull that held the mind which one day long ago opined, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” For  such a 'Citizen of the World', his mortal remains have no final resting place.
Paine remains ,an icon of defiant, unorthodox idealism. and his promotion of the concept of human rights influenced the American Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.After his death, Napoleon is said to have suggested that every ‘free-thinking city’ should have a gold-plated statue of Paine. Instead, he is commemorated with a gilded bronze statue outside Thetford town hall commissioned by American philanthropist Joseph Lewis, who believed Paine was the true author of the American Declaration of Independence.  Paine’s work continues to be a great inspiration to politicians and activists he was a truth-teller, contentious and bold, who was adamant about holding accountable the brokers of authorised versions of history,calling out their hypocrisy, omissions and mistruths. I wonder what he would say in this age of tyranny, the rage spreading across the land of liberty, the urgent global crisis that we collectively face.would he still be speaking truth to power?,  His own basic philosophy, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion,” has never  been more timely. Hail to thee Tom Paine.
Here is  Dick Gaughan singing about the revolutionary 18th century thinker and propagandist The song  was written by Graham Moore.

Dick Gaughan - Tom Paine's Bones

As I dreamed out one evening
By a river of discontent
I bumped straight into old Tom Paine
As running down the road he went
He said, "I can't stop right now, child, King George is after me
He'd have a rope around my throat
And hang me on the Liberty Tree" But I will dance to Tom Paine's bones
Dance to Tom Paine's bones
Dance in the oldest boots I own
To the rhythm of Tom Paine's bones
I will dance to Tom Paine's bones
Dance to Tom Paine's bones
Dance in the oldest boots I own
To the rhythm of Tom Paine's bones "I only talked about freedom
And justice for everyone
But since the very first word I spoke
I've been looking down the barrel of a gun
They say I preached revolution
Let me say in my defence
That all I did wherever I went
Was to talk a lot of common sense"
Old Tom Paine he ran so fast
He left me standing still
And there I was, a piece of paper in my hand
Standing at the top of the hill
It said, "This is the Age Of Reason
These are The Rights Of Man
Kick off religion and monarchy"
It was written there in Tom Paine's plan
Old Tom Paine, there he lies
Nobody laughs and nobody cries
Where he's gone or how he fares
Nobody knows and nobody cares But I will dance to Tom Paine's bones
Dance to Tom Paine's bones
Dance in the oldest boots I own
To the rhythm of Tom Paine's bones
I will dance to Tom Paine's bones
Dance to Tom Paine's bones
Dance in the oldest boots I own
To the rhythm of Tom Paine's bones 

 I think that  writer/artist Paul Fitzgerald’s bid for funding to support Tom Paine’s Bones – his graphic retelling of the story of Thomas Paine is well worth supporting. The artist from Hulme in Manchester also known as Polyp,He has been busily working to take Tom Paine out of stuffy lectures on politics and philosophy and onto the illustrated novel page. He has launched a Kickstarter campaign for £15,000 to get the project published and I would urge you to help out if you can. Just click on the link and make your donation,

Source: Breathing life back into Tom Paine’s bones – graphic novel aims to resurrect neglected political reformer – The Meteor

Sunday, 7 February 2021

The Fuse of Cognition

The world is full of constant sorrow
Darkest hours.and the longing,
Politicians creating climates of fear
Releasing pain across the land.

The world is full of inquisitors
Poking daily against reason,
Hearts of darkness, chords of division
Emissaries of death, hovering over misery.

The world is full of conspirators
Malignant forces  that do not discriminate 
Killing hope, releasing unfriendly fire
Condemning and intimidating all in reach.

The world is full of vultures
Devouring and masticating,
Preying on us, with deadly intent
Feasting persistently without regret,

The world is full of waves washing over
Dragging us down, lower than we've ever fallen,
Into dungeons of time that does not cease
Deeper and further into the abyss,.

The world is full of walls of indifference
Mirrors of illusion, enabling complicit voices,
Tyranny and oppression, that brutalize and dehumanise
Crushing and delivering weights of burden.

The world despite all this is full of love
Those that are tired never give up their struggle,
To a war that never ends, will never ever surrender 
Continue resisting creating a new world.

The world is still full of seeds of reason
Ever flowering, augmenting our deepest wounds,
Fruitful pastures, stemming the flood of tears
Beyond hurtful paradigm, healing balms to share.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

World Cancer Day 2021: I Am And I Will


Today (4 February) marks World Cancer Day 2021, a global event  designed to prevent cancer, promote research, improve patient services, raise awareness, and “mobilise the global community to make progress against cancer”.
The day was set up by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) – the largest and oldest international cancer organisation – and was first marked in 2000.
The theme for 2021’s World Cancer Day is: “I Am And I Will”.
The UICC says this year's event marks the final year of a three year campaign, which offers “a chance to create long-lasting impact by increasing public-facing exposure and engagement, more opportunities to build global awareness and impact-driven action.”
They describe 2021 as “the ultimate year of the ‘I Am and I Will’ campaign”, and say “more than ever, our actions are also being felt across borders and oceans.
"This year is a reminder of the enduring power of cooperation and collective action. When we choose to come together, we can achieve what we all wish for: a healthier, brighter world without cancer.”
World Cancer Day 2021 comes as people are being urged to seek help for potential symptoms of cancer after it emerged that fewer are coming forward during the pandemic.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that the latest NHS data for England shows fewer people are being referred for helpfor lung cancer and urological cancers because they are not coming forward for help.
As a result, the Health Secretary and NHS clinical director for cancer are calling on the public to speak to their GP if they are worried about symptoms.
They stressed that cancer diagnosed at an earlier stage is more likely to be successfully treated, and the NHS has robust measures in place to protect cancer patients, and those being screened for cancer, from Covid-19.
“This World Cancer Day we should come together to commit that diagnosing and treating cancer is a top priority,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock. “If you notice any unusual symptoms which last more than a few weeks, however mild you think they might be, please come forward and discuss it with your GP.
“The sooner you speak to your GP, the sooner a diagnosis can be made, the sooner treatment can start, and the more lives we can save.” 
For more information on World Cancer Day 2021, head to the UICC’s website 
To support World Cancer Day this year, you can make a donation to a number of registered cancer charities, including Cancer Research UK.
Cancer Research say their vital work has been "slowed down"by Covid-19 and are urgingg supporters to “donate now to get us back on track”.
You can donate to the charity by heading to their website, and can even choose which area of cancer research your donation goes to. They’re also offering some fun fundraising ideas for this year, including virtual quiz or games nights, home exercise challenges or head shaves.
You can also display your Cancer Research UK Unity band with pride this World Cancer Day.
The Unity Band is the charity’s symbol for support for World Cancer Day 2021, representing unity and showing support for those affected by cancer. You can get your Unity Band online today.
World Cancer Day 2021 comes as a study carried out by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found the UK is at the bottom of a list of countries ranked by survival rates of some of the deadliest cancers.
The UK came 25th, 26th and 27th out of 29 countries for its five-year survival rates of pancreatic, stomach and lung cancer respectively, research – first published in 2018 but shared to mark World Cancer Day – shows.
For cancers diagnosed between 2010 and 2014, the UK had an average five-year survival rate of just 15.97 per cent compared to South Korea, which had a rate of 32.78 per cent.
It ranked 14th for oesophagus cancer, 21st for liver cancer, and 22nd for brain cancer. Less survivable cancers make up around half of all common cancer deaths in the UK.
These numbers are likely to be impacted further by the pandemic, which has seen people having a much harder time dealing with their ailment, and people are being urged to seek help for potential symptoms of cancer after it emerged that fewer are coming forward
Cancer is a disease that causes  great physical and mental suffering, and yes death, and its management always requires great dedication in terms of time, investment, means and good organisation. Throughout the disease , may  unforseen  and delicate situations arise that require great individual adaption to overcome them.
Because of the pandemic added challenges have been added. We could not imagine that the pandemic caused  by covid-19 would affect cancer patients so much, fundamental tests and treatments are being put on hold such as radiology, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. All these changes are causing a significant delay both in diagnosis and treatment. An extremely stressful and anxious time for all concerned. 
Cancer is a  disease that will kill more than  eight million people worldwide this year . The world needs to unite against this disease that knows no borders and represents one of humanity's most pressing concerns.
Moreover , understanding and responding to the full impact of cancer on emotional , mental and physical wellbeing  will maximise the quality of life for patients, their families and care-givers. Every citizen should have access to  free treatment options and care.
 Like other wars, real and imagined, the war on cancer is a gift to opportunists of all stripes. Among the vultures are travel insurers who charge people with cancer ten times the rate charged to others, the publishers of self-help books and the promoters of miracle cures, vitamin supplements and various ‘alternative therapies’ of no efficacy whatsoever.
But most of all, there’s the pharmaceutical industry, which manipulates research, prices and availability of drugs in pursuit of profit. And with considerable success. The industry is the UK’s third most profitable sector, after finance and tourism, with a steady return on sales of some 17 per cent, three times the median return for other industries. Its determination to maintain that profitability has seen drug prices rise consistently above the rate of inflation. The cost of cancer drugs, in particular, has soared.
The industry claims high prices reflect long-term investments in research and development (R&D). But drug companies spend on average more than twice as much on marketing and lobbying as on R&D. Prices do not reflect the actual costs of developing or making the drug but are pushed up to whatever the market can bear. Since that market is comprised of many desperate and suffering individuals, it can be made to bear a great deal. The research that this supposedly funds is itself warped by the industry. When it comes to clinical trials of their products, they engage in selective publication and suppression of negative findings and are reluctant in the extreme to undertake comparative studies with other products
Taking political action is also key to us preventing, treating and diagnosing cancer earlier in order for us to achieve survival of 3 in 4 by 2034. For those living with cancer, now and in the future (and that’s one in three of the UK population), the biggest threat is the coming public spending squeeze, cuts in NHS budgets and privatisation of services will mean more people dying earlier from cancer and more people suffering unnecessarily from it. Even better survival rates will become a curse, as responsibility for long-term care is thrown back on families. A real effort to reduce suffering from cancer requires a political struggle against a system that sanctifies profit – not a ‘war’ guided by those who exploit the disease. 
The target for treating cancer patients within 62 days of  urgent GP referral has not been met for over 5 years, despite the pandemic, and surveys evidence suggests that people are experiencing lengthening delays in getting GP appointments. Longer waits are a symptom of more people needing treatment than the  NHS has the capacity to deliver. As we remember Captain Tom  this week, he deserves are utter most respect  we should not forget the heartless uncaring hypocrites in government who are underfunding the NHS, that are continuing to put those that suffer from cancer further at risk, what better tribute than for out Government to increase funding for the NHS,, after all it was Captain Tom's sense of gratitude for the care he received for skin cancer that inspired him to take up his noble fundraising walk. We must not forget to hold out Government to accountable further down the road . We must not cower from politicising the deficiencies in the NHS that the crisis has revealed. 
Please also try and spare a thought  for all specialist cancer staff across the NHS who do so much for so many. They did everything they could to try and keep vital services running in 2020, and will no dock in 2021.
On World Cancer  Day any other day in fact, awareness  is so important, for the survivors and those who are not so fortunate, we should not be afraid to talk about it. For many affected by the disease it is a solemn one of reflection, personally a love of mine did not make it, but for others it's a time to become aware of this disease's impact and what is being done to help effect change for millions it impacts. A diagnosis of cancer does not mean that you have to live a painful and miserable life. Their is hope and positivity to. But it is so important to keep up the conversations. Best wishes.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Simone Weil (3/2/1909 - 24/8/43) - Into the Mystic


The French writer, philosopher, and mystic Simone Weil was born in Paris to wealthy agnostic parents of Jewish ancestry on the 3rd of February 1909. She was gifted from the beginning with a thirst for knowledge of other cultures and her own. Fluent in Ancient Greek by the age of 12, she taught herself Sanskrit, and took an interest in Hinduism and Buddhism. She excelled at the Lycée Henri IV and the École normale supérieure, where she studied philosophy. Plato was a lasting influence, and her interest in political philosophy led her to Karl Marx, whose thought she esteemed but did not blindly assimilate.
Very early, she demonstrated a strident, uncompromising compassion when she gave up sugar in solidarity with French soldiers in the First World War. While still a schoolgirl, she declared her solidarity with the communist left,and was active in workers demonstrations for trade unions, earning the nickname The Red Virgin. 
Though uncompromising in her persona at school, she was also brilliant and had the best education France could offer in languages, classics and philosophy.  While at the École Normale Supérieure, her tutor set her focus on the problem of man as an active being.  To address this she took Plato as her master and Descartes as her antagonist.  These influences remained touchstones in her intellectual life.  Despite the spiritual writings for which she is best known, her training and approach was that of a philosopher.
 After Weil became a teacher of philosophy in secondary schools, she continued her activism both in writing and in the streets.she demonstrated with striking workers, participated in labor union debates, taught adult education classes, and like a latter-day Francis of Assisi, Simone gave away her salary as a teacher to help the unemployed in Le Puy. Like George Orwell and Albert Camus, while Weil was very much on the political left, she distrusted revolutionaries no less than she did reactionaries. Certain that a Marxist regime, even more so than a monarchist regime, would lead to totalitarian rule, Weil threw her support to anarchist and syndicalist organizations.
For Weil, reality was rooted in the world of manual labor. Often, a morbid romanticism seems to drive her desire to experience this world. As she told one baffled fisherman who took her on as a deckhand even though she was mostly useless, her “misfortune” was that she had never been poor. Weil made the same confession to a farmer and his wife for whom she wished to work: “What I want is to live the life of the poor, to share their work, live their troubles, eat at their table.” The couple, stunned by this request from a well-to-do Parisian bourgeoise, reluctantly invited her into their lives. Less reluctantly, they disinvited her a month later. Chief among their reasons was that Weil never stopped peppering them with questions and did not eat when they sat down to a meal, explaining that the “children in Indochina are going hungry.
At one point she took a year off from teaching to work in factories incognito to help understand the experiences of the working class. Weil’s “year of factory work” (which amounted, in actuality, to around 24 weeks of laboring) was not only important in the development of her political philosophy but can also be seen as a turning point in her slow religious evolution.
In Paris’s factories, Weil began to see and to comprehend firsthand the normalization of brutality in modern industry. There, she wrote in her “Factory Journal”, “Time was an intolerable burden” as modern factory work comprised two elements principally: orders from superiors and, relatedly, increased speeds of production. While the factory managers continued to demand more, both fatigue and thinking (itself less likely under such conditions) slowed work. As a result, Weil felt dehumanized.  Weil was surprised that this humiliation produced not rebellion but rather fatigue, docility. She described her experience in factories as a kind of “slavery”. 
 Often, a morbid romanticism seems to drive her desire to experience this world. As she told one baffled fisherman who took her on as a deckhand even though she was mostly useless, her “misfortune” was that she had never been poor. Weil made the same confession to a farmer and his wife for whom she wished to work: “What I want is to live the life of the poor, to share their work, live their troubles, eat at their table.” The couple, stunned by this request from a well-to-do Parisian bourgeoise, reluctantly invited her into their lives. Less reluctantly, they disinvited her a month later. Chief among their reasons was that Weil never stopped peppering them with questions and did not eat when they sat down to a meal, explaining that the “children in Indochina are going hungry.”
Initially, her interests lay in the labour movement as well as pacifism.  Her judgment of the political weakness of the labour movement and more generally of social causes led to the qualification of her views on pacificism.  Violence, she then thought, could be a defense for human dignity against the Fascism that diminished it. 
 However, her exposure to the Spanish Civil War led her to contradict herself.  Force, she thought, could never be righteous.  Allowing that someone was the legitimate object of force inexorably nurtured tribalism, making murder seem natural.  Force controls those who would use it, an insight she saw in The Iliad which treated Greeks and Trojans alike as victims of force itself.
Her views on force were a singular example of how her developed perspective was at odds with received pieties in Western Culture, both those of the establishment and those who opposed it.  She denied the importance of political rights; of justice by due process; of state or private ownership; private choice in life; and legitimation by collective, public will. Instead she elevated as primary response to affliction; the inestimable significance of a human being; the needs of the soul as the basis for government; meaningful labour; and good and evil. Weil was unafraid of intellectual isolation, nor did she seek fellows,though she did publish her essays in intellectual journals.
On a trip to Portugal in August 1935, upon watching a procession to honor the patron saint of fishing villagers, she had her first major contact with Christianity and wrote that:

"the conviction was suddenly borne in upon [her] that Christianity is pre-eminently the religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, and [she] among others. (1942 “Spiritual Autobiography” 

In comparison with her pre-factory “Testament, we see that in her “Factory Journal” Weil maintains the language of liberty, but she moves terminologically from “oppression” to “humiliation” and “affliction”. Thus her conception and description of suffering thickened and became more personal at this time.
Weil participated in the 1936 Paris factory occupations and, moreover, planned on returning to factory work. Her trajectory shifted, however, with the advent of the Spanish Civil War. Critical of both civil and international war, on the level of geopolitics, she approved of France’s decision not to intervene on the Republican side. On the level of individual commitment, however, she obtained journalist’s credentials and joined an international anarchist brigade fighting alongside the Durutti column.On 20 August, 1936, Weil, who was known for her clumsiness and near sightedmess, stepped in a pot of boiling oil, severely burning her lower left leg and instep. Only her parents could persuade her not to return to combat and Weil went to Assisi to recover.
By late 1936 Weil wrote against French colonization of Indochina, and by early 1937 she argued against French claims to Morocco and Tunisia. Often, a morbid romanticism seems to drive her desire to experience this world. As she told one baffled fisherman who took her on as a deckhand even though she was mostly useless, her “misfortune” was that she had never been poor. Weil made the same confession to a farmer and his wife for whom she wished to work: “What I want is to live the life of the poor, to share their work, live their troubles, eat at their table.” The couple, stunned by this request from a well-to-do Parisian bourgeoise, reluctantly invited her into their lives. Less reluctantly, they disinvited her a month later. Chief among their reasons was that Weil never stopped peppering them with questions and did not eat when they sat down to a meal, explaining that the “children in Indochina are going hungry.”
In April 1937 she travelled to Italy. Within the basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli, inside the small twelfth-century Romanesque chapel  she prayed for the first time in her life amid an ecstatic experience in the same church where Saint Francis had prayed. As she would later describe in a letter, “Something stronger than I compelled me for the first time to go down on my knees” .She embraced Roman Catholicism, but stopped short of baptism, for she felt the Catholic Church was in too much need of reformation. Finding God’s will for her life became her new passion, not replacing her earlier social passions, but becoming the larger context for them.
 Weil received spiritual direction from a Dominican friar and learned much from the Catholic author Gustave Thibon She was especially rooted in Neoplatonic thinking in her spiritual writings. Yet her spiritual curiosity took her far. She learned Sanskrist to read the Bhagahvad Gita. She studied Mahayana Buddhism and the ancient Greek and Egyptian mystery religions. She believed that each religion, when we are within it, is true. But she was opposed to religious syncretism. She saw a blending of religions as diminishing the particularity of each tradition and the truth of that path to God. Though she learned from other faiths, she plunged deeper into her own Catholicism. For Weil truth was deeply personal and could only be approached through deep introspection. She wrote intensely about spirituality, mysticism, beauty and social struggle.  Her writings sought to develop the intellectual consequences of the religious experiences she was having.
From 1937–1938 Weil revisited her Marxian commitments, arguing that there is a central contradiction in Marx’s thought: although she adhered to his method of analysis and demonstration that the modern state is inherently oppressive,being that it is composed of the army, police, and bureaucracy,she continued to reject any positing of revolution as immanent or determined. Indeed, in Weil’s middle period, Marx’s confidence in history seemed to her a worse ground for judgment than Machiavelli’s emphasis on contingency.
 One of the most intriguing and conflicting aspects of Weil’s thought is her notion of justice, which figures prominently in the book. She certainly wouldn’t be characterized as a “social justice warrior” who promotes sanctimonious moralism. For Weil, justice converges into one aspect of life, encounters with God and other human beings, such as those on the French front. But unlike other mystics, for whom union with Christ was an interior experience of a relation between lover and beloved, Weil is a relational mystic for whom justice is one of the most important aspects of religious and spiritual experience. Her asceticism, so clearly visible at the end of her life, is inextricably connected to the suffering of the other.
According to Weil, everything in life is relational, and human relations are intention. We ought to choose self-denial, but only to help us love our neighbor. Imagining nameless people, stranded in a ditch, forgotten and overlooked by others, Weil writes that these very strangers are our neighbors, and “to treat our neighbor who is in affliction with love is something like baptizing him.
In order to empathize with others, we have to understand that we tend to 

  “live in the world of unreality and dreams. To give up our imaginary position at the center, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence.”

She was not celebrated in her lifetime, and almost all of her writings have been published posthumously and have invited both praise and criticism among disparate groups of people. Weil rejected her class upbringing and Judaism, she embraced working-class people (although she rejected Marxism), and she loved Christ but chose never to be baptized into the Christian church. 
As a Christian convert who criticised the Catholic Church and as a communist sympathiser who denounced Stalinism and confronted Trotsky over hazardous party developments, Weil’s independence of mind and resistance to ideological conformity are central to her philosophy. There is nothing moderate about Weil, she lived an extreme life bordering on madness while devoting her life to a rigorous regimen of study and political engagement. She studied with Simone de Beauvoir and debated with Leon Trotsky, and Albert Camus called her, of all the thinkers reckoning with the monumental philosophical crises raised by the world wars, “the only great spirit of our times.” though the force of her intellect was known. Many gave her a wide berth, because of her uncompromising manner, which was also evident in how she lived. 
When the Nazis occupied France, Simone Weil joined the French Resistance working in England. While working for the Free French in London on a manifesto for a transformed government in post-war France, her unyielding manner of living overcame her always-fragile health. Her final and most radical act was self-induced starvation in solidarity with French citizens during World War II, she refused to eat more than the French people were allowed under German occupation, despite being afflicted with tuberculosis. As a consequence, her body gave up, and she died at age thirty-four in a sanatorium  in Ashford, Kent at 34. The coroner’s verdict was suicide. 
 She was buried in Bybrook Cemetery in Ashford; a flat marker laid across her grave was engraved with her name and relevant dates:

Simone Weil

3 février 1909
24 août 1943

Weil’s grave, its location highlighted on the cemetery map, has since become one of Ashford’s most visited tourist sites. By way of acknowledging the constant stream of visitors, a second marble slab explains that Weil had “joined the Provisional French government in London” and that her “writings have established her as one of the foremost modern philosophers. 
Her celebrity came posthumously when her notes on Christian spirituality were published, influencing those within and without the Church.  Subsequently, her philosophical works have invited both praise and criticism among disparate groups of people. Weil rejected her class upbringing and Judaism, she embraced working-class people (although she rejected Marxism), and as a Christian convert who criticised the Catholic Church and as a communist sympathiser who denounced Stalinism and debated with Leon Trotsky. Weil’s independence of mind and resistance to ideological conformity are central to her philosophy. There is nothing moderate about Weil, she lived an extreme life bordering on madness while devoting her life to a rigorous regimen of study and political engagement. Though the force of her intellect was known. Many gave her a wide berth, because of her uncompromising manner, which was also evident in how she lived.
In her book Devotion (2017), the poet and rock star Patti Smith described Weil as ‘an admirable model for a multitude of mindsets. Brilliant and privileged, she coursed through the great halls of higher learning, forfeiting all to embark on a difficult path of revolution, revelation, public service, and sacrifice." The French politician Charles de Gaulle thought Weil was mad, while Albert Camus, called her, of all the thinkers reckoning with the monumental philosophical crises raised by the world wars, “the only great spirit of our times.
In her brief life she became a bright light for spirituality and social activism. As a teacher and philosopher she never shied away from a fight, and teaches us the art of revolt and rebellion through her philosophical, political, and spiritual work. Living in accordance with her philosophy, she denounced the legacy of colonialism and lived in accordance with her heartfelt beliefs .