Forms of Existential Angst (November 2018 Reading Review)

These are belated reviews of books I read across last year.  The delay is due to having read them to answer a feeling in myself.  I no longer feel the way I did last autumn, and as the feeling has passed the coherence of reviewing them together has loosened also.  I have given up trying to tie them together in any meaningful way, but perhaps putting them together here does make some sense.

  • Desert, Anonymous (2011)
  • The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, H.P. Lovecraft (1999 [1917 – 1935])
  • Out of Time, Miranda Sawyer (2016)

Continue reading “Forms of Existential Angst (November 2018 Reading Review)”

Overall Prediction for Brighton and Hove City Council elections in May 2019

I promised a local election prediction in my 2019 post, and I have been meaning to write one.  I’m writing it now as it’s already become reality thanks to Cllr Anne Meadows defection today.
Here’s the top line – a minority Conservative council following the Brighton and Hove City Council elections in May.
I’m not going to go ward by ward here now, but I predict both Tories and Greens will take a couple of seats from Labour.  This would be true based solely on the national politics of Brexit. Assuming an extension, Labour’s dishonest sophistry and fudge satisfies no-one outside of the hard core. The Greens have a clear remain line that will take seats from Labour in Preston Park and Hanover at least, and the Tories are likely to gain from a clearer leave position in some of the less central areas.  If we crash out or leave with a Conservative brokered deal then the position remains largely the same – Labour will be punished for not taking a clear remain line or supporting a second referendum, but won’t see any gain from Brexit supporters.  Add in the unpopularity of Corbyn amongst large groups of traditional voters and you don’t even need the malign incompetence of the local Momentum group to see Labour as likely to lose ground here in May.
As Niels Bohr supposedly said ‘Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future’, and these are febrile times with the parties suddenly becoming fissile.  So I don’t stake too much on this. However there is now no way I can see for Labour to gain a majority, or even retake control in the city.

Brexit, the Moral Identity of the EU, and the Return of the International

Late last year, Tony Abbott, the former Australian Prime Minister, was ridiculed for his contribution to the Brexit debate.   Abbott’s article for The Spectator in October, ‘How to save Brexit’ set out the basic point that not being prepared to walk away with no deal weakens the UK’s negotiating position, but then pushed a simplistic vision of the glories of a Britain trading under WTO rules.  So far, so usual edge of plausibility forgettable Brexit dream.

However, it was something he said in a later interview with Brendan O’Neill that caught my attention (the Brexit discussion starts from 47 mins in). In setting out why the EU would never give the UK a good deal he went beyond the usual strategic reasons of discouraging others from leaving, to move on to ‘theological’ territory; because the EU sees itself as a ’morally superior alternative to nation states” leaving is ultimately immoral, a going backwards, an atavistic return to the anarchic world of a warring states system.

This is an astute point I have not seen made that often.  The usual moral framing of the Brexit debate is to do with either sovereignty, or trade and economic impacts.  Yet it is precisely from this belief in the EU’s transcendence of the nation state that the EU derives its moral identity and self-image as a uniquely legitimate international actor. And, it is this self-image that in turn builds leaving into more than a damaging political and economic blow, to become an immoral act. Continue reading “Brexit, the Moral Identity of the EU, and the Return of the International”

Review: Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov (1951, 1952, 1953)

img_0712I liked the first book of the Foundation trilogy enough to push on through the remaining two, and I’m glad I did (Foundation review).  Although they retain some of the faults of the initial novel both Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953) retain the intellectually stimulating plot, broad scope, and good pace of the first, with the bonus of directly addressing, and developing the plot around one of my main complaints about the first book – the predictive sociology of the Seldon Plan. Continue reading “Review: Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov (1951, 1952, 1953)”

Review: 45, Bill Drummond (2001)

4img_07375 is a collection of essays written during Bill Drummond’s 45th year. It’s a mix of autobiographical sketches and anecdotes, and autobiographically inspired musings on a theme.  These range broadly from his early years of managing Echo and the Bunnymen, through to pre-publication of this paperback edition – the last three essays are a foreword to the book, and two on getting the foreword written and accepted for this edition.
At the beginning Drummond thinks of the title as linking his age to a 45rpm record, with the end of his music career and the beginning of his writing career having come at 33 1/3 years old (in fact, he kept making music. Pictured).  However, midway through he recollects asking his dad when the best period of life is, and his dad answering ‘45, son’. Who knows if this is true, but the answer and Drummond’s thinking around it – about the benefits of less hormones, less desperation – clearly informs this work. Drummond seems to battle throughout with what he knows is a childish need for attention and applause, for public approbation.  The lessening of this desperation allows him more space here.   Continue reading “Review: 45, Bill Drummond (2001)”

Review: Foundation, Isaac Asimov (1951)

img_0711 Foundation is the first of a now famous trilogy of sci-fi novels. It’s a compilation of five short stories, four of which had already been published separately, developing the initial story of the ‘Foundation’; a scientific institute founded on the edge of the inhabited galactic empire to preserve scientific knowledge and capability in the predicted event of imperial decline and collapse.
Let me first say that I really enjoyed this novel and intend to read at least the other two in the trilogy. (Asimov later expanded to a series including another four books).  The series has aged, and I enjoyed the classic feel of the novel, with a Galactic Empire and renegade planets, a focus on atomic power, and so on.   One of the early plot elements is the development of an Encyclopedia Galactica by a small team of specialists, which immediately brings one back in time to pre-Hitchhiker’s Guide sci-fi (let alone a pre-Wikipedia world). Continue reading “Review: Foundation, Isaac Asimov (1951)”


2018 was an intense year for me. The full cycle of life made itself felt with birth, illness and death within my family.  Despite the vicarious brushes with mortality (or maybe also because of them), the birth of my son made last year the best yet.[1] It was also, for good or ill, the year when I really started to feel like a middle-aged adult with a lot of responsibilities and very little time or energy. Continue reading “2019…”

Review: Milkman, Anna Burns (2018)

img_0580Milkman is an intense and claustrophobic novel. Anna Burns skilfully evokes a repressive social atmosphere, with constraining codes of appropriate behaviour and heavy social policing, saturated by the pervasive threat of serious violence. The struggles of her young female protagonist to both remain herself and remain safe by fitting in are affecting, while the eponymous Milkman generates real menace.   If that sounds heavy and gloomy, it’s not (or not all!): there’s also plenty of humour and wit, even while the tension is maintained. Continue reading “Review: Milkman, Anna Burns (2018)”

Review: The Word for World is Forest, Ursula K Le Guin (1976)

img_0465I picked up a 1976 paperback edition of this novel from the wonderful Ubu Books in Brighton’s Open Market.  Brighton used to be full of great second-hand bookshops: I have very fond memories of many of them from a period on the dole twenty years or so ago, when I’d spend afternoons wandering around town meandering through them, before taking my purchases to the Great Eastern pub and ensconcing myself in the corner there to read.  The great joy was the unplanned nature of the browsing, and the accidental discoveries it allowed.  Sadly, these biblio-havens are thinning out – but Ubu remains.  I recommend you visit if you are ever in that part of Brighton.
In my youth I read a fair few of Le Guin’s books, hooked by the A Wizard of Earthsea trilogy.  This was one I missed. Reading it now both took me back, through its recognisable style, and encouraged me to revisit more of her work. A happy accidental rediscovery. Continue reading “Review: The Word for World is Forest, Ursula K Le Guin (1976)”

Review: To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway (1937)

HAHN CoverI have fond memories of this book from reading it in my late teens.  In the following few years I read a few other books by Hemingway, but To Have and Have Not has always remained my favourite. I was surprised to subsequently discover that it is widely regarded as by far his worst book.  I was therefore a little nervous picking this up to reread it, but having seen the battered, and to me evocative, front cover of my ancient copy during some book re-shelving, I had to do it. Continue reading “Review: To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway (1937)”